Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Game Day: Wabash repeats as winner
of annual Monon Bell Classic, 23-0

Despite finishing 2012 with a very respectable 8-2 win-loss record, Wabash College's football team fell short of expectations on three major counts: The Little Giants did not win the North Coast Athletic Conference title with an undefeated league campaign like they did last year; they did not qualify for the NCAA Division III postseason tournament like they did last year; and a stunning home loss to Oberlin College (4-6; 3-4 NCAC) two weeks ago was responsible for the first and most likely the second of those disappointments.

As much as those factors dampened the Little Giants' enthusiasm in 2012, one crowning achievement went a long way toward easing their pain. On Saturday, Nov. 10, at Byron P. Hollett Little Giant Stadium on the campus of Wabash College, the Little Giants won their fourth consecutive Monon Bell Classic, defeating new NCAC member DePauw University, 23-0.

Indeed, it was important to senior players on the team at the all-male Wabash College to be able to say they graduated never having lost to arch-rival DePauw, whose co-ed campus in Greencastle is only 27 miles south of Crawfordsville on U.S. 231. The last group of Wabash seniors to claim that distinction was the Class of 1970, and the last from either school to do so was DePauw 2000. The Tigers' win that year, in fact, was the school's fifth in a row and tied its longest win streak in the series.

Some more quick facts and stats on this rivalry:

*** The 2012 game was the 119th in the series.

*** The Monon Bell Classic was started in 1890 and is the oldest ongoing college rivalry consisting of at least 100 games west of the Allegheny Mountains.

*** The two schools failed to play each other in six years, all before 1911. In two seasons, 1900 and 1901 they played each other twice the same year (and in 1901, those game were in consecutive weeks).

*** The longest consecutive win streak in the Classic is seven, accomplished by Wabash from 1921-27. The Little Giants also own the second longest streak, six (1949-55), and they won five in a row early in the series, 1903-08.

*** DePauw's longest win streak is five (1960-64 and 1996-2000). The Tigers also own the longest unbeaten streak. They did not lose from 1955-64, winning eight times -- including the last five games. They missed winning an incredible 10 in a row by two ties, one in '56, the other in '59.

*** Wabash leads in the all-time series, 57-53-9; it also leads 38-37-6 since 1932, when the victor's possession of the traveling 300-pound Monon Bell was introduced to the series.

*** Five of the ties in the series were scoreless -- 1909, '11, '19, '32 and '35.

*** Home field for the games alternates between the two campuses, but for six games in the early part of the 20th century, the classic was played in Indianapolis.

The 2012 rendition might best be remembered as the yellow-flag game. The first half seemed to drag on endlessly, as penalty flags were tossed on what seemed like almost every other play. Wabash alone was penalized 14 times in the first half and a season-high 18 times for 133 yards for the game. The majority of those seemed to be false-start infractions.

There was no scoring until the second quarter, when Wabash hit pay dirt on a 13-yard pass from senior Chase Belton to Sean Hildebrand (the extra point kick banged the outside left upright before falling in the wrong direction) and a 37-yard field goal by Ian MacDougall. Rushing touchdowns of 9 yards by the Little GIants' Tyler Holmes in the third quarter and 5 yards by Troy Meyers in the fourth -- both with successful point-after kicks -- completed the scoring. Holmes' 169 rushing yards in 30 carries put him over the 1,000 mark for the season, the first time Wabash has had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season since 2003. The Little Giants amassed 432 totals yards, 320 of them on the ground; the Tigers totaled only 142.

In addition to the yellow flags, this year's game was marked by one other anomaly: the atmosphere. Both schools make a point to add temporary bleachers to the field to accommodate the anticipated extra crowds for this rivalry game. Last year's game at DePauw, for example, was nearly packed, and Wabash loyalists made up a good portion of that turnout. But at kickoff Saturday, DePauw fans in the stands were eerily sparse, and the south end zone was pretty much empty. The main visitor sideline grandstand filled up eventually -- it was as if DePauw fans, perhaps not exactly enthused about their 2-7 team's chances in the game, decided to spend more time tailgating, even if it meant missing the first quarter. The south end zone stands did get some people, but it was still more empty than filled at halftime; Wabash fans, on the other hand, filled the main sideline grandstand and the north end zone stands almost to the brim. DePauw fans in the front row of the south end zone were quite vociferous, but some of the things coming out of their mouths wasn't pleasant, to put it mildly, whether directed at opponents or the officiating crew. It probably explains why Little Giants running back Holmes, after hitting the turf to score his third-quarter touchdown, got up, turned to face those fans squarely and put an index finger to his helmet mouth guard -- as if to suggest silence as an alternative strategy to help rally the Tigers.

Also, at last year's game at Greencastle, Wabash made a point to ensure the traditional non-stop bell-ringing from the time the bell arrived at Blackstock Stadium. Indeed, I could hear it ring at 11:30 a.m. -- and hour and a half before kickoff -- as I approached the field, and I don't remember it ever stopping until the Little Giants went to lift and carry it to midfield to complete the victory celebration at the end of the game. This year, bell-ringing apparently was not as organized; in fact, it was sporadic, and there were several lulls. I hope this is just, well, an anomaly.

DePauw finished its season with a record of 2-8, including 1-6 in its first year in the NCAC. Wabash finished 5-2 in the league, behind Ohio Wesleyan and Wittenberg (6-1), both of whom the Little Giants defeated this season.

For a full gallery of game photos, visit my site at SmugMug. The next post will feature some new photos I took on campus ... and in downtown Crawfordsville, including the Montgomery County Courthouse.

Above and below: Yellow flags, co-stars of the 2012 Monon Bell Classic, on separate plays in the game's first quarter.

Above and below: Senior quarterback Chase Belton, (above) on a first-quarter scamper, finished his Wabash career gaining 37 yards on 17 carries against DePauw. He competed 10-of-24 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown. Below, the run ends with Belton in an awkward twist.

Above: Sean Hildebrand hauled in this 13-yard pass from Belton in the second quarter for the Little Giants' first score.

Above: A second-quarter pass from Belton to Houston Hodges in the red zone was close, but no cigar. The ball was slightly overthrown, and I doubt Hodges would have been able to keep a foot in bounds anyway. 

The crowd at last year's Monon Bell Classic, held at the DePauw campus, was entertained at halftime by the DePauw University Poms dance team. This year, the Wabash cheerleaders presented two exercises. The first (above) was a wheelbarrow competition among themselves, with school mascot Wally Wabash supervising (below). 

Above: After the wheelbarrow competition, the cheerleaders built a human pyramid while one of their own recorded the effort.

There were lulls in ringing the Monon Bell prize during the afternoon, but not  when this woman took a turn before the game, or at halftime, when the girl below picked up a considerable slack while waiting for volunteers to queue up for a chance at the privilege.

 Above: Two cheerleaders wearing this year's quippy Monon Bell T-shirt. 

The south end zone stands (above) just before the second half; below, the Wabash sidelines stands. Little Giants fans also packed the northwest corner and north end zone stands.

Above: DePauw's Taylor Wagner carrying the ball on a second-half play that included yet another penalty flag.

Above and next three below: Wabash running back Tyler Holmes gets through a hole in the middle of the line of scrimmage, and even though he's tripped by DePauw defensive back Myron Burr (33), he lunges far enough to reach the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown. After scoring, Holmes turned to the fans in the end zone and made a gesture to silence the boisterous DePauw fans in the front rows.

Above and next two below: One highlight for the DePauw offense came on this third-quarter pass from quarterback Drew Seaman (15) to wide receiver Nikko Sansone (4), who held onto the ball despite the acrobatics in front of Wabash defensive back Austin Hodges (2). 

Above: Look who had not yet left the house, chatting up a Wabash fan along the home team's sideline in the second half. 

Above: A view of the Wabash gridiron's north end zone, looking southeast toward the DePauw sideline and Wabash College's iconic chapel steeple.

Above: The familiar yellow interloper on a fourth-quarter play. 

Above and below: A fourth-quarter Belton to Jon Laird pass that I included because it came right at me along the Little Giants' sideline. It was one of two receptions for Laird on the day. 

Above and below: Troy Meyers (28) gained 31 of his 54 rushing yards on this gallop (above) in the fourth quarter. DePauw defenders finally caught up and forced a fumble, but the ball fell out of bounds at the 9-yard line. Meyers ran the ball twice more, first gaining four yards before covering the remaining yardage (below) on this second-down run around left end into the end zone, where he was saluted by Wabash well-wishers.

Above: As the clock in the background ticked down the final seconds, Wabash players along the sidelines begin the celebration.  

Above: The post-game transport of the prize bell from behind the Wabash bench to midfield, as seen from a different angle from that at the top of this post. Players not involved in the carry took turns reaching out to touch the bell. 

Above and next two below: Players took turns ringing the bell before turning it over again to the fans. 

Above: Several players posed for pictures on the field after the game, appreciating the fact that this would be the last chance they would be seen in uniform together with senior teammates.

Above: The post-game gathering, as seen from the press box door at the top of the stadium.

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