Wesley still in NJAC title contention despite slow start

DOVER — Back in September, it was pretty easy to write off the Wesley College football team.

At 1-2, the rebuilding Wolverines weren’t going anywhere fast.

But Wesley’s players simply didn’t listen.

“We tried to ignore all the outside talk,” said sophomore tight end Andrew Eagle. “We knew the camaraderie on the football team was so strong. It was like, ‘It’s fine, we’ve just got to win out.’”

Sure enough, here the Wolverines (6-1 NJAC, 6-2 overall) are, getting ready to play No. 18 Salisbury State (6-1 NJAC, 7-1) for the New Jersey Athletic Conference title. Kickoff is slated for noon at Salisbury’s revamped Sea Gull Stadium.

Frostburg State, which is also tied for first place at 6-1 in the league, could still have something to say about the NJAC crown, too. But Wesley beat the Bobcats, 43-7, in the second game of the season, giving it the tiebreaker in a two-way tie.

All three teams still have one conference game left after Saturday. Salisbury and Frostburg close the regular season against each other.

Coach Mike Drass just wants his players to focus on Salisbury and try to appreciate the moment.

“Seven weeks ago, people weren’t saying ‘Wesley College’ and ‘conference championship’ or ‘national playoffs,’ in the same sentence,” said Drass. “How we see it is, we control our own destiny — if we keep winning.

“We want to step on the field Saturday and enjoy playing in a big game. There’s more than half the teams in the country that aren’t doing that this weekend. The reason you got to college is to earn your degree. For these guys, the reason they choose Wesley College is to play in games like this.”

Of course, beating Salisbury won’t be easy.

The Sea Gulls edged the Wolverines, 38-35, in Dover last fall to snap a 10-game losing streak in the Route 13 Rivalry. The loser of Saturday’s showdown could also have a difficult time earning one of the few at-large berths into the NCAA Division III playoffs.

But Wesley’s veteran players are used to facing must-win games.

“It’s just the way it’s been,” said senior center Austin Eagle, Andrew’s brother. “Especially with our playoff experience, a lot of us have been in situations where it’s win or you’re out.

“At 1-2, it was new territory for a lot of us,” he added. “We’re used to Wesley teams running out of the gate — like 4-0, 3-0, things like that. Being 1-2, we were kind of scratching our heads like, ‘What’s going on?’ But it’s nice to see us get on track, back to where we’re used to being.”

Faulkenburg to start

In Wesley’s ever-evolving quarterback situation, Drass expects Nick Falkenburg to start again on Saturday.

Falkenburg started the season opener but then didn’t start again until last week’s 37-14 win over Montclair State.

Fellow junior Dan Kesack had started the five previous contests.

“I mean, they’re both good,” said Drass. “We made decisions to stay with Danny over Nick early in the year. Now we’re making some decisions to go with Nick. They’ve both got to be ready to go.

“We tell our guys, we never make a decision based on liking you or not liking you. We make the decisions based on what’s the best thing for this team, to help this team win a football game.”

Against Montclair State, Falkenburg completed 20-of-37 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. For the season, he’s completing 57.1 percent of his passes with four TDs and six interceptions.

“Watching Nick throw the football, he’s more comfortable than I think what he was earlier in the year,” said Drass. “I think that showed a little bit on Saturday. He made some great throws.”

Kesack is second in the NJAC at 202.6 passing yards per game with 11 touchdowns.

Of course, the Wolverines also used wide receiver Alex Kemp behind center last week. The former Caesar Rodney High QB didn’t attempt any passes but ran the fall five times for nine yards and a touchdown.

Drass likes the fact that Kemp’s speed makes him a breakaway threat.

“He was just a burst of lightning,” said Drass. “That was nice to see. I thought that was a great idea and concept by Coach (Chip) Knapp.”

Eagles stick together

Drass has had brothers playing for Wesley before with mixed results.

Sometimes they’d carry their sibling rivalry onto the practice field. But Drass says the Eagle brothers, Austin and Andrew, are different.

“These two guys are like best friends,” said Drass.

Andrew, Wesley’s second-string tight end, said Austin was the reason he came to Wesley in the first place.

“I didn’t want to go somewhere where I knew absolutely nobody from the start,” said the younger Eagle. “I knew I’d at least know one person if I came here.”

But that’s not to say the Eagle brothers are always complimentary of each other.

Since they both play on the offensive line, they get to see a lot of each other on film.

“He might say that I’m his biggest critic,” said Austin, who was a second-team All-East Region pick last season. “I help him out and tell him when he does things wrong.”

This is actually the first time the Eagles have been on the same squad together. In high school, Austin had already graduated by the time Andrew made the varsity.

“It’s fun with him being here,” said Austin.

“They say, ‘Don’t take this for granted,’” said Andrew, referring to his family. “‘Not everybody has this chance to play with their brother.’”

Extra points

Wesley is still only receiving votes in the D3football.com poll but it did move up to the top spot on the list. … Frostburg State plays at Montclair State on Saturday. A Wolverine victory and a loss by the Bobcats would give Wesley the NJAC title … The top four teams in the NJAC standings are all non-New Jersey schools. … Freshman punter Cooper Bentz is expected back this week after being sidelined last week … Wesley’s Eric Speidel is second in the league in kick scoring at 6.2 points per game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.