It's the main event

Friday, November 11, 2005

It's the main event.

It's the moment many in the Crawfordsville and Greencastle communities have marked on their calendars -- Saturday, Nov. 12. The energy is rolling down Highway 231 south to the DePauw campus. The fans, the players, the hype, the hysteria, it's all awaiting one game and one rivalry, played for one bell, and all the bragging rights for an entire year.

It's time to battle for the Monon Bell.

"You can tell it's a different game this week," DePauw Head Football Coach Tim Rogers said. "I'd be lying if I said everything was status quo."

After 111 contests, the score remains the same as when it started - tied -- 51-51-9. However, come Saturday, all the previous records, games and scores, will be thrown out the window. Starting at 1:07 p.m. at Blackstock Stadium, the 9-0 Wabash Little Giants and the 7-1 DePauw Tigers will be putting everything on the line.

"It's a Divison I atmosphere for a Division III program," Rogers said. "It's inevitable that our players are going to be tight. The whole emphasis for the entire week has been to try and loosen our players up and get them to play free and easy."

Wabash comes into town, playing near flawless football, winners of nine straight games. The Little Giants last loss dates back to Nov. 13 last year, when the Tigers won the 2004 Monon Bell game 14-7 at Wabash. There is no doubt Wabash will be ready for redemption.

The Tigers come into Saturday winners of seven straight games, defeating Rose Hulman 60-21 Saturday, setting a modern-day school scoring record. DePauw gained 483 yards on offense, including 357 yards on the ground, while forcing four turnovers in the contest.

"We played very well. They tried to gamble too much in order to have a chance in the football game," Rogers said. "When you give us that kind of momentum and those kinds of opportunities, we're going to wind up having a good day."

Wabash also dominated last week, defeating Denison 52-0. The Little Giants are averaging 486.1 yards and 37.7 points per game, while holding defenses to 249 yards and 8.9 points per contest. Quarterback Russ Harbaugh is destroying defensive backfields, averaging 309.6 yards per game, while four different receivers are averaging at least 45 yards per game.

"They're very good," Rogers said. "They're one of the best in the country as far as a quarterback, receiving corps. Harbaugh, his ability speaks for itself."

However, the Tigers haven't been too shabby either, offensively or defensively. The Tigers are averaging 370.1 yards and 29 points per game. Despite two games plagued by illness, running back Jeremiah Marks is averaging 98.3 yards rushing per contest, while quarterback Ross Wiethoff is averaging 179 total yards on offense per game.

Defensively, the Tigers are holding opponents to an average 10.9 points and 265.1 yards per game. While they lead the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in pass defense, allowing an average of 145.6 yards passing per game, Rogers knows stopping Harbaugh will be a challenge.

"Obviously, what we want to try to do is keep everything in front of us," he said. "Week in and week out, we try to make people try to march down the football field. If they have to march, we don't think they can beat us. That's a real concern this week against Russ Harbaugh and his receiving corps because they're very, very good."

Offensively, the Tigers will be challenged to run the ball. Wabash is only allowing opponents 66.8 yards rushing per game, while DePauw averages 225.4 yards per game. This matchup could be a deciding factor in the game.

"It's bulletin board material," Rogers said. "It's an opportunity for us to prove just how good we are. They're giving up something ridiculous like eight or nine points per game. We run the ball, and they stop the run. It's going to be a battle of strengths this Saturday."

Because of the defensive strengths of both teams, and the intensity of this matchup, Rogers thinks this will be a low-scoring, hard-nosed battle from start to finish.

"With everything that's on the line and the intensity of this rivalry, I think it's real difficult to think you're going to start airing the football out," Rogers said. "The anxiety level is high.

"I just don't see it as a high-scoring affair," he said. "I think it's going to be a good, old fashioned dog fight. And it will come down to turnovers."

In his first season, fighting for the Monon Bell, as the tension bears down over Blackstock Stadium, even he will admit there might be some nervous energy leading up to the football game. The task will be overcoming the hysteria, maintaining focus and maintaining possession of the coveted Bell.

"I'm sure we'll all have a little butterflies," Roger said. "We're going to have find some inner piece, in order to go out their and perform to the best of our ability."

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