Tony Nicolette

Week Ten Previews

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Two weeks to go, Gang. The GLIAC North is up in the air, as is a possible second GLIAC member claiming a playoff spot (presuming of course that the floor doesn't completely fall out from under Ashland these next two games). Should be an interesting couple of Saturdays, no? Let's take at the one right in front of us:

Malone (1-7, 1-7) at Findlay (5-3, 5-3)

The final home game of the year for Findlay opens a two-game slate with the Canton teams. In this first round, the Oilers will get a slight reprieve after facing Ashland last week. Instead of getting the league's top statistical offense and defense (in the person of Ashland), Senior Day will welcome quite the opposite as Malone enters with their O and D hanging near the bottom of the GLIAC Leaders lists. Give the Pioneers some credit, however, as Malone hasn't shown any quit. They had a big lead on Notre Dame last week and have given a few others sufficient fits at other points this year. These kids play hard and Findlay needs to respect that and be ready for it.

With that said, Findlay should be able to handle things here. Malone is dead last in the GLIAC at stopping the run, and it'd be a surprise not to see the Oilers send their all-time leading rusher out in style in his last home game. Look for a big outing from Monterae Williams as Findlay cruises. Findlay 40, Malone 12.

Walsh (2-6, 3-6) at Notre Dame (1-7, 2-7)

Last week, Notre Dame was the last to "join the ranks" and snag a GLIAC win for 2012. They'll be at home on Saturday looking to make it two in a row as Walsh comes calling. The Cav's have split their last four, but probably should have made it three of four...they missed out on a couple of chances to close things out in regulation against Lake Erie a week ago. So, who keeps their momentum going this week?

Notre Dame certainly has found its offensive legs once again. The ground attack is still potent as Pedro Powell leads the league in rushing. And after missing a couple of starts, Ray Russ is back at the controls of the Falcon offense. The problem is that their defense is still one of the softest in the league, allowing more than 45 points per outing. Walsh hasn't shown the ability to put up anywhere near that amount for most of the year, but the one thing they can do is hold people in check...their defense is far stingier than their three-win record would indicate.

While we think NDC will move the ball some, the Walsh ground game has also shown it has some punch...especially of late. If we look at two teams who can run the ball well, the nod always goes to the club with the better defense. That's Walsh and while we think this is far from a "gimme", we have to give the slight edge to the Cavaliers. Walsh 22, Notre Dame 21.

Ohio Dominican (5-3, 6-3) at Lake Erie (3-5, 3-6)

After alternating wins and losses through the first six games, Ohio Dominican now has themselves on a three game winning streak. A victory on Saturday over Lake Erie would ensure that the Panthers match their win total (seven) of a year ago, and Coach Conely and his staff know that doing at least that is a must to keep themselves moving toward the upper echelon of the league. In order to get that seventh win on Saturday, they'll have to handle another club that has been better of late...Lake Erie has won three of its last four, and has used the move to Brendan Gallagher at QB to its advantage. Gallagher is a dual-threat, but when LEC has been most effective it's when he and at least one other backfield mate has put up big numbers on the ground. That could be a tall order in this one as they'll get an ODU rush defense that is third in the GLIAC, and has gotten progressively less friendly to ground games as the season has progressed.

While Gallagher's development should continue over these remaining two weeks, we're not sure if he can lead the LEC offense to enough points to win this game. The ODU offense has also seen its QB (Mark Miller) develop over the season, but more importantly the Panthers have a much tougher defense than The Storm. Ohio Dominican allows 17 fewer points per game...that's a pretty large gap for Gallagher and Company to overcome. We like The Storm to make it competitive, but ODU should prevail. Ohio Dominican 35, Lake Erie 22.

#17 Saginaw Valley (6-2, 7-2) at Northern Michigan (2-6, 3-6)

After dropping one to Hillsdale a couple of weeks ago, Saginaw Valley bounced back nicely against a solid Michigan Tech last week. Of course, we all know about the crazy numbers that the JJ-Squared combination has been putting up this year, so Northern finding a way to slow that down is likely Job One. With that said, Job Two may well be the responsibility of the SAGINAW defense as they'll get the newly effective Wildcat offense. Since Cody Scepaniak took over under center, Northern has been FAR more competitive going 2-1...and that lone loss came in a game where they gave Wayne State all they could handle. Add to that the "Mystique of the Dome" and the potential for this to be a trap-game for SV (looking past a three-win club at rival Grand Valley), and the Cardinals are going to have to be MORE than on their game to handle things and sneak back to the land of the trolls (that's not's all of us that live "under the bridge") with a W.

Let's not forget that Ferris and their QB-run-heavy offense gave the Cardinals fits a few weeks ago. With Scepaniak running things, Northern does a lot through him so we like Northern's offense to be at least somewhat effective. So can the 'Cats pull the upset? While it's possible, we think the answer lies more in whether or not their pass defense (12th in the GLIAC) can slow down the Cardinal aerial assault. That could be the tallest order of the day. When they faced two of the better passing games in the league (Tech and Ashland) they were so far behind that those opponents ran the ball a lot in the second half. In addition, when NMU played Grand Valley they got them with a red-shirt freshman making his first career start on one-day's prep. So, with those three results being less than what they could have been the 'Cats are STILL only 12th in the league against the pass? That sounds like "advantage Saginaw" to us. Saginaw Valley 38, Northern Michigan 28.

Northwood (3-5, 4-5) at Ferris State (5-3, 6-3)

Ferris enters their final home contest as winners of three of four. They've had to make some things happen in "shoot-out" fashion, but Jason VanderLaan and Company have been up to the task hitting for more than 43 points per game in those three wins. They'll get a Northwood club that limps in having dropped five in a row. The Timberwolves have struggled since hitting the meat of their schedule, but have also been hampered by the losses of their top two offensive playmakers. QB Aaron Shavers appears to be done for the year due to injury, and RB Cameron Jackson broke a team rule and has been unavailable as well. While the NU O will keep coming along as their young replacements get reps, it's hard to get those guys to play like your experienced starters in a hurry.

So can Northwood break their current skid? We think it's unlikely. The Ferris offense has done nothing but run hot of late, and the Northwood defense has had its issues with replicating the success it had during the first month of the year. Add in an offense that is inexperienced and hasn't been putting up many points, and we have a hard time seeing NU winning this one. If Ferris turns it over a bunch of times (which they have shown a propensity to do at times), perhaps. Otherwise it just doesn't look likely. Ferris State 40, Northwood 20.

Hillsdale (6-2, 6-3) at Michigan Tech (5-3, 5-3)

Wow, what a difference a week makes. Heading into last Saturday, Hillsdale had a one-game lead in the North and controlled their destiny in terms of a division title...and maybe even a playoff berth. Their next step was to handle a GV team who appeared weakened and who, frankly, Hillsdale has had the number of over the last few years. Fast forward to now, and the Chargers have to rebound from being beaten (rather handily, actually) and do so in Houghton...which has been more of a kryptonite to HC than even Northern's dome. They won't catch Tech napping, that's for sure as the Huskies are smarting also having dropped two straight. Both of those losses came on the road, so a return to Sherman Field likely fashions a very welcome respite for the Huskies.

For Hillsdale to win on the road, the must get back to what they usually do best: dictate tempo. That used to be Tech's M.O. as well, but a Husky ground attack that isn't anchored by one of the league's top backs hasn't been the bell-cow that MTU has often had at its disposal. Instead, the Tyler Scarlett-led passing game has been the most effective weapon for MTU this year. Hillsdale needs to pound Joe Glendening and convert on third down so they can keep Scarlett and his Crew (guys like Curtin and LaChappelle) sidelined. Otherwise, if this becomes a shoot-out we think it favors the home-standers.

In the end, while Hillsdale often struggles in Houghton we still have to lean toward them. The Tech defense has had a tough time slowing down the better teams on its schedule this year...something they did very well the last couple. While a shoot-out might be the best option for Tech, we're positive that would be an automatic remedy. It'll be tight, but we like a big game from Joe Glendening (who needs a scant ten yards to set the HC career rushing mark) to help the Chargers stay atop the North. Hillsdale 27, Michigan Tech 24.

#9 Ashland (8-0, 9-0) at Tiffin (1-7, 2-7)

Congratulations to Ashland for clinching the South. They already have a share of the overall GLIAC Title in the bag as well, but a win over Tiffin Saturday locks up the out-right title. The Dragons have actually been a bit testier of late. Dan Pitts has been putting up some big numbers throwing the ball, and while the Dragons haven't won much they've hung around with some folks a little longer than we might have expected. We might see Pitts put up another big day here, but we tend to think it'll be because AU will have this one handled by the break and Tiffin will have to sling it around to try and climb back into things.

We aren't picking on Tiffin. They're still a young team and they've won more games this year than in any season since they joined the GLIAC. That said, they're going to get an Ashland club that leads the GLIAC in scoring defense...which is a problem for TU given that the Dragons score fewer points per game than anyone in the league. Add to that the fact that AUhas been ridiculously efficient this year and is undoubtedly dialed-in to the tasks at hand: closing out the GLIAC Title, and securing an unbeaten regular season. They can take the first step Saturday, and we don't see them having any issues getting that done. Ashland 45, Tiffin 17.

Wayne State (5-3, 5-3) at #23 Grand Valley (6-2, 7-2)

After having the floor (seemingly) fall out from under them, all of a sudden Grand Valley is right back in the thick of things after a pair of solid wins. The defense has been yielding some yardage but not a lot of points, and the return of QB Isiah Grimes to the line-up has gotten the offense back on track. A North title is still very realistic, and playoff possibilities still have some life if they can win out. Step one is closing out their home slate against Wayne State. The Warriors have to be disappointed thus far, as they haven't been able to play well enough to get themselves back in the hunt for another run to Florence. Make no mistake, the Warriors are a solid outfit but as we said at the beginning of the season the loss of so many of the program's "all-timers" was going to be felt...and it has. This is especially true of late as the Warriors of dropped two of three and had to pull their lone win in that stretch out in the fourth quarter. So, can the Warriors go back on the road and get a win?

In order to do so, Wayne will have to replicate the model that they've used to win some of their other key match-ups: Force turnovers and cash them in for points; make one or two big plays at opportune times; and protect the ball...punts don't get you beat, giveaways do. This is all doable against a Laker bunch whose Achilles' heel this year has been big plays (although they seem to have corrected that of late). GV has also struggled in the turnover department recently as they are -4 in turnover margin over the last five weeks. While that all sounds like Wayne has the edge, there's little getting around that Grand Valley has played markedly better (thanks in part to the return of some key starters from injury, especially at QB and on defense) the last couple of weeks. And of course, with Grimes under center there's really no arguing that the Laker offense is far more explosive than Wayne's which gives GV a decided advantage.

So what is the match-up that will decide this tilt? Well, the Laker run defense has struggled for a lot of the season but has been better recently...and it seems to be bit more suited to the style of ground attack Wayne usually employs. Where we really see the decider is the converse of this match-up: Wayne has been allowing more than 230 yards per game on the ground the last five weeks. Over their last two games, GV has really pounded things in the run game to the tune of more than 282 yards per game. If GV is able to run the ball with that same level of effectiveness, it opens up their play-action passing game and big plays ensue. If GV is able to get big plays, we really wonder if Wayne's offense can keep up...especially when considering that the Warriors are in the bottom quarter of the league in both scoring and passing offense. If the Lakers continue to run the ball and don't lose the turnover battle, we like them to win once again. Grand Valley 32, Wayne State 24.

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