Shade, Wolverines ready for showdown against Rowan

Bryce Shade is second on Wesley’s all-time list in receptions (183) and receiving yards (2,813) and third in touchdown catches (31). (Wesley sports information)

Bryce Shade is second on Wesley’s all-time list in receptions (183) and receiving yards (2,813) and third in touchdown catches (31). (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Bryce Shade said he’s not thinking about stats so much right now.

The Wesley College senior receiver is more worried about the wins.

Bryce Shade

Bryce Shade

“I just want to go out with wins,” said Shade. “I want to go with the legacy of, ‘Hey, he was a great football player,’ not, ‘Hey, he had all the stats.’”

On Saturday, the Wolverines and Shade will play one of those make-or-break games that will go a long way in defining this team’s legacy.

Two of the five teams tied for first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, Wesley (4-1 NJAC, 4-2 overall) and 21st-ranked Rowan (4-1, 5-1) will square off at 1 p.m. in Glassboro, N.J.

The Wolverines, who are receiving votes in the D3football.com rankings, pretty much have to win their four remaining games to make the NCAA Division III playoffs again.

And the Profs are as formidable an obstacle as any that remain.

“Coach (Mike) Drass always says we’re spoiled,” said Shade. “We always make the playoffs. But now, this year, you see it’s like, ‘Uh oh, backs against the wall, what are we going to do?’

“I don’t think it changed our mindset at all,” he said about starting the season 1-2. “We always still think we’re a playoff team.”

Shade has been a big part of Wesley’s current run of 11 straight NCAA playoff appearances.

The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder has been a starter since his freshman year. He’s second on the school’s all-time list in receptions (183) and receiving yards (2,813) and third in touchdown catches (31).

Drass considers Shade one of the best small-college receivers in the country right now.

“We need to get the ball in hands more,” said Drass.

This year, it’s taken some time for Shade to adjust to Wesley’s new starting quarterbacks, Dan Kesack and Nick Falkenberg. But the chemistry is coming around.

Shade had four receptions for 93 yards and a TD in Saturday’s 48-17 win at Kean.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Drass. “You get used to one guy (at QB).”

“It started off slow,” said Shade. “But he (Kesack) is getting real confident in the pocket, real confident in his arm. He’s making his throws, making his reads and he’s making plays.

“We were just a young team trying to get back to where we need to be,” he continued. “Now we just need to keep progressing and we’ll be fine.”

The Wolverines know that Rowan’s defense will be tough and hard-hitting. The Profs lead the NJAC in scoring defense, giving up only 13.2 points per game.

But veteran Wesley players like Shade have faced big challenges before.

“Big games are where players come out,” said Shade. “When the crowd is into it, the players are into it, the other team’s into it, it’s fun. It’s fun when everybody is competing, everybody is going hard and going to the final whistle.”

Bentz getting his kicks

Wesley punter Cooper Bentz is averaging 42.9 yards per punt, with a long of 54 yards and six punts inside the 20. (Wesley sports information)

Wesley punter Cooper Bentz is averaging 42.9 yards per punt, with a long of 54 yards and six punts inside the 20. (Wesley sports information)

Cooper Bentz never set out to become a great punter.

It just kind of worked out that way.

“When I was little, we didn’t really have much of a kicker on our team,” explained the Wesley freshman. “I just kind of went out there and messed around and realized I was pretty good at it.”

Even in the offseason, Bentz worked on his punting and placekicking.

“I would dig myself a little square in the snow and go out there for hours until my leg felt tired,” he said.

Now the Wolverines are getting the benefit of all that practice. In his first college season, Bentz is among the leaders in both the NJAC and in Division III in punting.

He’s averaging 42.9 yards per punt, with a long of 54 yards and six punts inside the 20.

Cooper Bentz

Cooper Bentz

“He’s a great punter,” said Drass. “He’s a hard worker.”

Drass said special teams coach Larry Delgado deserves a lot of credit for working with not only Bentz but Wesley’s large group of young kickers and punters.

Bentz, who also played defensive back in high school, would love to make a tackle someday. But he said it’s made a difference being able to focus on just one thing.

“It was weird at first,” Bentz admitted. “I do miss going out on the field and running around. But, at the same time, it feels nice just to focus on one thing solely and get better at it.”

Extra points

While Wesley has won its last two meetings with Rowan, the Profs are 7-2 all-time in the series. That includes a 4-0 record in Glassboro. … On Rowan’s 109-player roster, there are only two players not from New Jersey. … Darryl Guilford, a 7-foot-7, 370-pound offensive lineman for Rowan, began his career at Wesley.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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