Wesley notebook: Wolverines won’t dwell on close losses, eye Montclair State

Wesley football coach Chip Knapp. Wesley sports information

DOVER — Two points.

That’s all that stands between Wesley College being undefeated right now instead of being in the 5-2 predicament the Wolverines find themselves in.

And while those two points have changed everything for Wesley’s football team, in other ways they haven’t changed anything.

“We’re two points away from being ranked in the top 10 in the country — a play or two away,” said Wolverines coach Chip Knapp. “But our team hasn’t changed. They’re still the same guys, they’re still the same players.

“That’s what I impressed upon them in our team meetings this week. The two points aren’t going to define us. That doesn’t take away from who we are as a team.”

Certainly Wesley isn’t going to get any sympathy from Montclair State. The Red Hawks (4-2 NJAC, 5-2 overall) come to Dover for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday for what could be a rainy homecoming afternoon.

After falling to Rowan, 28-27 on Saturday, the Wolverines (4-2 NJAC, 5-2 overall) dropped from No. 8 to No. 20 in the D3football.com poll and from No. 9 to No. 23 in the Division III coaches rankings.

Two-loss teams are a rarity among at-large entries in the NCAA Division III playoffs. But, after losing two one-point heartbreakers in the last three weeks, Wesley knows all it can worry about is the game in front of it.

“It stunk knowing that we left a lot points out on the field,” said senior tight end Andrew Eagle. “But that’s what you get when you don’t play your best and play down.

“We, as a team, feel like we’re still a top-three team in the country. Two more points on the season and we’re 7-0 instead of 5-2. It’s two points — we know we’re that close.”

On the other hand, while the two losses have come by the slimmest of margins, Knapp also knows there’s plenty of things the Wolverines need to fix on both sides of the ball.

On defense, he said Wesley simply didn’t do a very good job of tackling when it had opportunities. The Profs ran for 276 yards in the contest.

Rowan also scored on a 58-yard pass play and a 77-yard run. Before Saturday, the Wolverines hadn’t given up a play longer than 37 yards all season.

“A lot of it had to do with just missing tackles — not making plays at the point of attack,” said Knapp. “We had opportunities just to make the tackle and we didn’t. And that’s something we practice every day. We’ve got to evaluate why those plays aren’t being made.”

Knowing why they lost games, though, doesn’t make them easier to swallow for Wesley’s players and coaches.

Knapp said he talks to the Wolverines about the idea that there’s about seven or eight plays in every game that decide the outcome.
“You never know when they’re going to happen,” said Knapp. “We’ve got to win those plays. We’ve got to play hard every play. Every play means something and is precious.

“You cannot stop executing at any point in the game if you want to win.”

Eagle catches on

Andrew Eagle. Wesley sports information

Sometimes, Andrew Eagle says his big brother, Austin, calls him just to give him a hard time.

“At halftime, I’ll check my phone and it’s something I did wrong,” Andrew said with a laugh.

Most of the time, though, Austin Eagle tries to encourage his brother. As Wesley’s starting center two years ago, Austin knows what Andrew is going through right now.

Austin is now an assistant coach as the Eagles’ alma mater, Arundel, Md. High.

“After last week’s game, he was telling me, ‘Keep your head up, just win out, take care of what you guys can take care of,’” said Andrew. “Hopefully everything will fall into place. Before this year he was like, ‘You only have 10 games guaranteed so make sure you get the best out of it.’

“I’ve seen him go through it before so now he knows what I’m going through. It’s just helpful.”

One of the reasons Andrew came to Wesley in the first place is because the Wolverines let him play tight end. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder was an offensive lineman in high school.

While Eagle knows his best skill still is blocking, he’s caught six passes for 60 yards in the last two games.

Knapp said it’s been fun having the Eagle brothers in the program. Both were team captains.

“They’ve both left great legacies at the school,” said Knapp. “They’ve been great teammates, they’ve been leaders. They’ve brought a lot to the program.

“Not only were they leaders of the team, they were also good players. That adds up to some good memories.”

Just for kicks

In both of Wesley’s one-point losses this season, the Wolverines have had a PAT kick go wide.

Kicker Nick Bruhn is 31-of-36 on extra points this fall. PAT kicks aren’t automatic at any level of football but especially in Division III.

Knapp said he and his staff have worked to fix the problem, like they’d do with anything else.

“We’ve done different things,” said Knapp. “We’ve put our kickers under pressure — if they miss, the team has to do a conditioning drill. It’s kind of fun. We add some pressure and the team’s cheering for him. He knows he’s an important part of the team.

“I said at the end of the game, ‘We win as a team, we lose as a team.’ It’s a complete team loss where everyone had to make plays and play better to win. It wasn’t just one person.”

Extra points

Part of the reason Rowan had a big 18-minute edge in time of possession was that Wesley had three one-play drives on offense. One came when the Wolverines scored from the one after a fumble recovery and the other two were on turnovers. … Wesley ran just 51 plays from scrimmage. … After starting preseason with seven running backs, Wesley has just two healthy ones — E.J. Lee and Abe Mansaray.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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