/awards/all-decade/2000-team-feature

Team of the 2000s: Portraits of greatness

Blake Elliott
Blake Elliott had a starring role for one of Division III's championship teams of the decade, but was no one-year wonder.
2003 photo by Tom Dahlin

D3football.com
All-Decade Team
2000-2009

Pos. First team
QB Greg Micheli, Mount Union
RB Nate Kmic, Mount Union
RB Justin Beaver, UW-Whitewater
WR Pierre Garcon, Norwich-Mount Union
WR Blake Elliott, St. John's
TE Michael Allan, Whitworth
T J.D. Sheldon, Augustana
G Derek Blanchard, Mount Union
C Josh Knox, Hardin-Simmons
G Josh Warner, Brockport State
T Blaine Westemeyer, Augustana
Defense
DE Bryan Robinson, Wesley
DT Adam Haas, Cortland State
DT Ryan Kleppe, UW-Whitewater
DE Jeremy Hood, St. John's
LB Jerimiah Janssen, St. Norbert
LB Jerrell Freeman, Mary Hardin-Baylor
LB Jermaine Taylor, Bridgewater (Va.)
CB Pete Ittersagen, Wheaton (Ill.)
S Kyle Hausler, Capital
S Josh Kubiak, Mary Hardin-Baylor
CB Clinton Tabb, Rowan
Special teams
RET Larry Beavers, Wesley
K Jeff Schebler, UW-Whitewater
P

Alex Groh, Occidental

Click here for the full team

By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

“At the base of it, you need to have strong leaders and good teammates.”

“God-given ability is part of it, but then also it’s what the student-athlete does with it.”

“I think a lot of it is just pure passion for the game.”

These statements -- by former St. John’s wideout Blake Elliott, UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold and former St. Norbert linebacker Jerimiah Janssen, respectively -- help paint a portrait of greatness in Division III.

It’s as much internal as it is external. It takes commitment not just for a game or a season -- but for a career. As D3football.com releases its All-Decade team, the players who are honored were not just flashes in the pan, they were the players who carved out a legacy on their respective teams and who were counted on season after season to perform at the highest expectations.

“Our coaches would never put you in a position where they felt like you couldn’t do the job,” said Greg Micheli, a 2009 Mount Union graduate and Gagliardi Trophy winner who led his team to two Stagg Bowl wins. “You know what’s expected of you. They’re actually going to put more pressure on you in practice so that whatever you face in games, whatever nerves you have, all that stuff you’ve worked out before and know how to deal with.”

Division III players take the field without scholarships and, in many cases, without thousands upon thousands of fans to inspire them. Their incentive? Love of the game; camaraderie with their teammates; desire to succeed.

Only partly are stats indicative of greatness. There are also the intangibles.

“The No. 1 word that comes to my mind is commitment, because there’s so many things that a Division III player has to go through,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg. “A person who is successful at Division III is truly committed to being the best person he can be and is truly committed to the team and the school he plays for.”

The D3football.com All-Decade team encompasses the years 2000-2009. To be eligible, a player had to graduate in that span or play the majority of his career then. For that reason, Mount Union’s Cecil Shorts, a junior in 2009, is listed, but Whitewater’s Levell Coppage, who was a sophomore, was not eligible. Mount Union, which won six national titles in the decade, was the most heavily represented team on the list with 13 players.

For St. John’s, Elliott, who graduated in 2003 and is one of two people honored twice on the All-Decade list thanks to special teams, said the environment in Collegeville, Minn., and playing for coach John Gagliardi cultivated his success.

Jerimiah Janssen
Jerimiah Janssen finished his St. Norbert career with 296 total tackles and 29 sacks, helping the Green Knights get to the playoffs in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
St. Norbert athletics file photo

“You have to have the talent and the work ethic to want to play,” said Elliott, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings after school but broke his leg in training camp. “At St. John’s, it was definitely a different environment ... in the fact that there really wasn’t this exterior drive from coaching and from the program to be a great player. It was really the kind of system in how John ran things and how the program was historically. There was pressure to kind of live up to how good the program has been and how good John has been as a coach.”

The Johnnies don’t cut players, so Elliott quickly found himself beside 180 guys in practice and on the sidelines. He said he was one of 22 wide receivers on the roster. The atmosphere made him self-motivate toward greatness.

“It became apparent very quickly based on the numbers and the competition for those positions that if you didn’t do A, B, C, D, E, F, all the way down the line, if you didn’t do everything that was expected of you, not only from a football perspective but from an academic perspective ... it was kind of survival of the fittest. You just weren’t going to play,” he said.

Many of the best players can be found on the best teams. Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, teams that met in the Stagg Bowl for the last half of the decade, are well represented. They benefit from seeing some of the top players compete beyond just the 10-week regular season and against some of the country’s best competition. When a player succeeds against the best, it’s hard to doubt their ability.

But most players and coaches will tell you that it never comes down to one guy or one position. Football is a team sport, and the team wins or loses as a whole.

Jerrell Freeman
Jerrell Freeman was the 2007 D3football.com Defensive Player of the Year, the second year the award was given.
Photo by Josh Bowerman, D3sports.com

Over the past 10 years, Fredenburg and his Crusaders have faced Whitewater a handful of times in both the regular season and the postseason. Each time, Whitewater has come out the victor, but UMHB has fought some close games, even against UW-W teams stacked with standout athletes such as running back and Gagliardi Trophy winner Justin Beaver.

“When you get a team like Wisconsin-Whitewater and certainly a great player like Justin Beaver, the reality is that it’s not just him,” said Fredenburg, who coached four players on the All-Decade team. “They have so many good players and have such a great scheme, you have to develop a way to just stop their offense. And obviously, with [Beaver] being the kingpin to that … you have to be fundamentally sound on defense.”

Whitewater’s coach, who has been D3football.com’s Coach of the Year each of the past four seasons, noted that some players are easier than others to adjust for. Mount Union’s first-team All-Decade wideout Pierre Garcon, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts, was someone who Leipold and his team would key in on. But other Mount players, such as offensive lineman Derek Blanchard, or a UMHB athlete such as linebacker Jerrell Freeman were a little more difficult to make adjustments for.

“Most of the time when we see these guys, we still have to believe in what we’re doing that got us to those points,” Leipold said. “You can’t push the panic button too much. You have to have confidence.”

Especially by those who graduated years ago, the game is missed. For Elliott, it’s partly the camaraderie.

“The guys that you play with are the guys that you live with, are your best friends,” he said, “and seven years later are still my best friends.”

Greg Micheli
Greg Micheli was a two-time first-team D3football.com All-American quarterback.
Photo by David Rich, d3photography.com

Janssen, who joined the New York Jets for a year after graduating in 2002 as the most nationally honored football player in St. Norbert history, said, “I still miss it to this day. ... Former basketball players can go out there and play a pickup game, but not too many guys at my age want to go out there and put on some pads and hit each other.”

Micheli said he misses the practices because it is there where athletes spend the bulk of their time. “That’s really when you develop those relationships and become a team,” he said.

Division III’s greatest players come into the system with natural abilities and a strong foundation of intangibles. They are the players who differentiate themselves from the pack. Fredenburg said athletes such as Freeman, a linebacker who graduated in 2008, had an “incredible innate ability to find the football,” was unselfish and had a deep worth ethic.

The coach’s job is to get players in the right positions and to nurture the natural skill, he said.

“Most of it at this level is coached into guys,” Mount Union’s Micheli said. “You can get away with your athleticism carrying you when you’re in junior high and in high school. But once you get to this level, even Division III, everybody’s good. … The ones who are starting are willing to take coaching.

“If you try to get by on just your athleticism,” he said, “you’ll be a pretty average player.”

Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 29, Westfield State 14
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Final
Moravian 20, at Juniata 17
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Final
at Salve Regina 41, Endicott 14
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Final
at Thomas More 63, St. Vincent 13
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Final
at Union 28, Hobart 23
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at Hamilton 27, Colby 24
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at Christopher Newport 27, William Paterson 19
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at Ithaca 35, St. John Fisher 10
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Final
at Allegheny 44, Kenyon 35
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SUNY-Maritime 21, at Mount Ida 13
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Middlebury 43, at Bates 14
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
at Amherst 21, Wesleyan 17
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at Trinity (Conn.) 63, Bowdoin 14
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Final
Husson 48, at Gallaudet 21
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Wabash 35, at Oberlin 21
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at Utica 34, Buffalo State 12
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Ohio Northern 7, at Muskingum 6
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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at Stevenson 26, Albright 23
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Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Albion 31, Alma 28
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at Guilford 45, Shenandoah 20
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Final
Plymouth State 40, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
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Final
Wooster 58, at Hiram 25
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Washington and Lee 36, at Hampden-Sydney 6
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at Anna Maria 36, Alfred State 34
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Bridgewater 31, at Emory and Henry 23
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at FDU-Florham 49, Wilkes 31
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Lebanon Valley 17, at Misericordia 0
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at St. Lawrence 36, Rochester 14
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Final
RPI 30, at Alfred 15
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at Curry 46, Nichols 16
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at Salisbury 42, Southern Virginia 0
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Ferrum 27, at Brevard 24
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Randolph-Macon 63, at Apprentice 14
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at Susquehanna 21, Ursinus 14
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Cortland 34, at Morrisville State 20
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at Trine 50, Hope 14
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Trinity (Texas) 27, at Sewanee 21
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Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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at Franklin and Marshall 56, Dickinson 0
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Tufts 21, at Williams 13
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Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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MIT 30, at Coast Guard 21
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at Norwich 24, Maine Maritime 22
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Franklin 29, at Rose-Hulman 22
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John Carroll 48, at Capital 21
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at Manchester 28, Bluffton 21
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Mount St. Joseph 71, at Anderson 27
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UW-Whitewater 20, at UW-River Falls 7
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Kean 26, at TCNJ 3
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at LaGrange 59, Greensboro 10
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at Worcester State 45, Mass-Dartmouth 40
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Muhlenberg 40, at McDaniel 13
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Final
Western New England 45, at Becker 0
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Final
at Maryville (Tenn.) 35, Methodist 14
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Adrian 36, at Kalamazoo 22
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Final
Denison 31, at Ohio Wesleyan 20
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
at Benedictine 43, Olivet 37
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Final
Birmingham-Southern 31, at Austin 24
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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at UW-Stout 23, UW-Stevens Point 17
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Eureka 37, at MacMurray 20
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Nebraska Wesleyan 14, at Buena Vista 13
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Lakeland 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 0
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at Aurora 28, Rockford 21
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at Concordia-Chicago 37, Concordia (Wis.) 17
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at St. Olaf 29, Carleton 26
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at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
Westminster (Mo.) 24, at Greenville 14
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at Loras 44, Coe 38
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Monmouth 61, at Cornell 10
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Wheaton (Ill.) 56, at North Park 0
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Northwestern (Minn.) 30, at Martin Luther 14
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Lake Forest 70, Grinnell 6
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Final
at Millikin 56, Carroll 35
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Final
at Macalester 47, Ripon 31
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at St. Norbert 38, Lawrence 6
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Final
St. Scholastica 49, at Crown 21
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Final
at Iowa Wesleyan 24, Minnesota-Morris 17
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UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
at WPI 41, Merchant Marine 7
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Final
at Centre 42, Rhodes 35
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Hanover 49, at Earlham 14
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Final
at Chicago 55, Beloit 12
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final - OT
at Dubuque 28, Simpson 27
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at East Texas Baptist 68, Louisiana College 35
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at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
Western Connecticut 27, at Bridgewater State 20
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Final
Chapman 38, at La Verne 21
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Final
Pacific 17, at Lewis and Clark 7
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Pacific Lutheran 27, at Willamette 14
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at Whitworth 38, Puget Sound 23
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Redlands 42, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 25
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at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Sul Ross State 52, at Howard Payne 15
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at Castleton 17, Dean 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 21, at Averett 15
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at Otterbein 37, Baldwin Wallace 29
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Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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Carnegie Mellon 42, at Thiel 10
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at Illinois College 23, Knox 13
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10:00 PM
Whittier at Cal Lutheran
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Cancelled
Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Final
Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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Final
at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Final
Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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