The coaches and players from DePauw University and Wabash College say the 117th Monon Bell Classic doesn’t need extra importance for them to be focused, but it certainly has it this year.
For the first time in school history, the NCAA Division III No. 21 DePauw Tigers take a 9-0 record to Crawfordsville to face their rivals, the 7-2 Wabash Little Giants, who have also received votes in the national polls.
“It doesn’t matter who’s clinched what or who has what on the line,” Robby Long, DePauw’s second-year head coach, said. “This game means so much on both sides that you’re going to get the best shot from the other team and you have to prepare all week and put your best effort in.”
DePauw has already captured its second playoff berth in school history by winning its first undisputed Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and the automatic bid that comes with it. Wabash still can potentially win the Northern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and the playoff spot that goes with it, but it would need a Wittenberg University loss Saturday.
This week, though, the rest of the season and potential in the future don’t matter. It’s a special week for two teams that are part of the 12th most-played college football rivalry in the nation and currently has a television contract with HDNet.
“We feel fortunate that whether there’s the playoffs or not in our season, the last game of the season for us is going to be unbelievable in terms of the crowd and intensity,” Wabash’s third-year head coach Erik Raeburn said in an interview with the media. “So, if you are going to play your last game, it’s not a bad thing to do it in the Bell game.”
Both teams came into this season having to replace record-setting quarterbacks. DePauw lost Gerry (Spud) Dick, a four-year starter who holds multiple passing records at the school and was named a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy (similar to Heisman Trophy). Wabash had to replace Matt Hudson, a three-year starter who was twice the NCAC’s Offensive Player of the Year.
DePauw replaced Dick with senior Michael Engle, who has come in and put himself one touchdown away from tying the school record for touchdown passes in a season.
“He doesn’t flinch under pressure,” Long said. “He’s going to be excited for this football game because he’s waited three years to start in the Monon Bell game, but it’s not added pressure – it’s added enthusiasm and intensity for him.”
It also helped that Engle had senior All-American wide receiver Alex Koors coming back and a senior-laden team. DePauw starts nine seniors on offense and eight on defense.
“Certainly being able to handle the crowd and that atmosphere and all the extra attention this game gets throughout the week and how it affects your preparation, it’s definitely an advantage to have as many guys as possible that have played in the game before … so it’s certainly an advantage for (DePauw),” Raeburn said. Wabash has relied on quarterbacks Chase Belton and Tyler Burke. Together they’ve averaged a little under 250 passing yards a game, completed 59 percent of their passes and thrown 10 interceptions. Wabash also had 14 touchdowns come from seven different people on the ground as it averages 137 yards a game.
The team’s offense will be starting only one senior compared with eight on the defensive side, so the Little Giants will have to shut down DePauw’s passing attack while their young offense gets settled in, Raeburn said.
“They are excellent at receiver,” Raeburn said. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. at Wabash’s Hollett Little Giant Stadium. Wabash leads the all-time series 54-53-9 dating back to 1890, and DePauw leads the series in games played for the 300-pound Monon Bell 37-35-6.