The rivalry may be unsurpassed in Division III football. The records usually don’t matter. Wabash and DePauw will kickoff at 1:07 p.m. at Hollett Little Giant Stadium with a national telecast and more than 100 years of history. Gates will open for fans at 11:30 a.m. The stadium is ready for a crowd of up to 12,000.
The national telecast can be found on Direct TV, Channel 306. Watch the game on the Dish Network, Channel 362.
DePauw makes the trip up U.S. 231 with a perfect 9-0 record, Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship, and an NCAA playoff berth all locked up. Wabash, at 7-2, is coming off a conference battle with Wittenberg and clings to a slim hope of continuing its playoff appearance run.
The two teams were in a similar, yet different situation, two years ago on the Wabash campus. The Little Giants were the unbeaten and DePauw had two losses. The Tigers won that one, then Wabash returned the favor by beating the playoff-bound Tigers in Greencastle last year. The back and forth isn’t all that unusual, though, with the Little Giants holding the series lead at 54-53-9.
In the video here, Coach Raeburn talks about bouncing back from a tough loss to face a solid opponent.
“I feel fortunate I get to coach in this game and players feel fortunate they get to play in the game,” Wabash Coach Erik Raeburn said. “I mean coaching in the Wabash-Witt game, that’s one of the reasons you do all the work and the players lift and run all year long. The Bell game is like that times ten. It’s definitely unique; it’s special. It’s a big enough deal that it makes all the hard work seem worth it when you get to the game and get to coach or play in a game like this.”
And Raeburn won’t agree with any coach-speak that it’s ‘just another game.’
“If you try to act like this is just like any other week, any other game you’re trying to kid yourself,” the third-year coach said. “It’s not just any other game. In terms of your week of preparation, are you going to do anything different – no. But as players and coaches you have to know it’s going to be a different week. We’ve got to handle all the emotion and all the distractions that come along with it. We have to handle that and make sure we still focus on practice and prepare so we give ourselves a chance on Saturday."
And clearly the Little Giants will have their hands full if they want to keep the Bell. The Tigers have not missed a beat after the graduation of record-setting quarterback Spud Dick. Michael Engle has taken over the reins and led DePauw to its best-ever season record.
He has an All-American receiver in Alex Koors, and a supporting cast that makes it impossible to concentrate on just one guy. “The problem is the other guys are doing a great job,” Raeburn said. "They just have a lot of weapons. If you think you’re going to double-cover Alex Koors and that would solve all you problems, that just isn’t going to happen. Those other guys will eat you alive. It’s a real challenge and we have to try to get pressure on the quarterback and get some turnovers, because they’re so talented.”
Wabash lost at Wittenberg a week ago ending the logical path to extend the Little Giant three-year run in the NCAA playoffs. Should Wabash win Saturday and Wittenberg lose at Wooster, a long series of tiebreakers would give the Little Giant the NCAC automatic qualifier.
“I just don’t want to lose the Bell,” said defensive lineman and senior Jake Kolisek. “I can’t believe how fast four years have gone by and now we’re to the Bell game. I just don’t want us to lose the Bell. We’ll be ready on Saturday.”
In video here, Raeburn discusses having a solid opponent prior to the Bell game as opposed to previous years.
Raeburn was not happy with the way the Little Giants responded at Wittenberg and expects a different effort this week.
“I didn’t feel like there was anything we did well,” the coach said. “I had a lot of confidence going into the game because we had been playing well defensively. Our players were very disappointed. We had no pressure on the quarterback and we’ve talked all year about that. In games we don’t pressure the quarterback - they have good games – that’s just a football fact.”
Finishing with the two strongest teams on the schedule is a big challenge. Both Wittenberg and DePauw feature rosters with plenty of seniors. Wabash is a young team, especially on the offensive side of the line.
“I think we have some talented guys, but it felt like we dropped 15 passes (at Witt),” Raeburn said. “Does that mean our receivers aren’t talented? I think we have plenty of talented receivers. But it’s a matter of having some experience as well. The more you play in those type of games, where being open this week is different than other weeks, the better our young players will perform.
“They have to realize ‘I’m never going to be wide open, there is going to be a body there. That means I’m going to have to make some catches and get the ball tucked away.’ I think we have some talented guys, but you have to have some experience in playing in some big games so you play up to your talent and I don’t think we did that last Saturday.”
One thing Raeburn didn’t want to disclose until game time was his starting quarterback. Last week Tyler Burke and Chase Belton alternated possessions. Raeburn made it clear he considers Belton the starter but health issues have held the Dayton, Ohio sophomore out a good portion of the last month.
“I thought they both made some really good plays, both made some mistakes,” Raeburn said. “I didn’t feel like one guy played lights out and the other guy stunk it up. I thought they performed pretty evenly. We felt like Chase was our best quarterback and that’s why we named him the starter to begin the season, and had he not gotten injured we would have never rotated. We’ll see if he’s 100 percent healthy and has a good week, maybe we won’t alternate. But based on the last 4-5 weeks, it’s hard for me to believe we’ll be able to get away with playing just one quarterback.”