Wabash College
Wabash opens the final five games of the North Coast Athletic Conference portion of its football schedule Saturday afternoon against Division III's top wide receiver when it travels to play Kenyon College (3-3, 2-3 NCAC) at 1 p.m.
Senior wideout Brian Hunca leads the nation with 986 receiving yards and has caught seven touchdown passes. A two-time All-NCAC selection, Hunca led the NCAC in receiving yards with 1,096. This year he's already closing in on 1,000 yards while no other pass catcher in the league has more than 495 yards through the midway point of the season.
"Brian Hunca is easily the best wide receiver in the conference and he may be the top receiver in Division III," Wabash head coach Don Morel said. "He's not a player you stop, he's a player you try to limit. We were able to do that last year and hope to do so again Saturday."
"Hunca's been a good player throughout his career at Kenyon," senior defensive back Austin Brown said. "He runs good routes and never gives up on plays. With a new, athletic quarterback Kenyon has the opportunity to try and find him in the open field when plays break down. Hunca is a talented player. We definitely have to pay attention to him."
That athletic freshman quarterback is Thomas Merkle, who leads the NCAC in passing yards with 1,890. His 12 touchdown passes are also tops in the league.
"Merkle will most certainly be an all-conference player," Morel said. "Their coaching staff does a tremendous job coaching and preparing their kids."
Brown and the rest of the Little Giants' defense posted a 51-0 shutout last weekend versus Oberlin, the first since shutting out Kenyon 35-0 at Wabash last year. Brown picked off a pass and returned it 53 yards for his third career interception return for a touchdown to set a new mark in that category. Ryan Walters added a 26-yard pick for a TD, as well. They will try to repeat both last week's result against the Yeomen and last year's shutout versus Kenyon against the Lords' high-powered offense.
"Kenyon's offense raises our attention level. But we're trying for a shut out every week. That's the goal of any defensive player. Our mindset is the same every week. We will tweak some things within our scheme."
Kenyon's three victories have all come at home. The Lords opened the season with 21-17 win over Sewanne, followed by a 45-16 victory against Oberlin along with a 31-7 win over Allegheny. Their losses include a 45-7 defeat at Hiram and two straight heading into Saturday's game — a 48-35 result at Greencastle in favor of DePauw and a 25-17 final at Ohio Wesleyan.
"We've talked about the home record as a defense," Brown said. "Teams love playing in front of their fans. They love their home field; it's where they practice every day. We take great pride in our winning streak here at home. Kenyon being 3-0 at home is a challenge, but one we are ready to accept."
The Little Giants' offense posted four touchdowns in the first half last week. Connor Rice was 7-of-12 passing for 176 yards with a 29-yard pass to Matt Penola for a touchdown to help Wabash improve to 4-1 overall on the season and 3-1 in the NCAC. Bobby Blum was one of three Wabash players with 47 rushing yards against the Yeomen and scored one of four rushing touchdowns. Shamir Johnson, Penola, and Drake Christen each found the end zone on the ground as well.
This week the Little Giants face a trickier task in preparing for Kenyon. The Lords have varied their defensive schemes for each opponent in nearly every facet.
"Defensively they are very deceptive," Morel said. "Kenyon runs a different type of scheme each week. That forces us to prepare for three or four different looks. Really it comes down to how our players perform. Saturday's game is still about how we execute on offense, defense, and special teams."
Despite the various changes, senior linebacker Saxon Justice has been consistent for Kenyon. He leads the team with 57 tackels. Mike Gibbons, another starting linebacker, has recorded 3-1/2 sacks for 21 yards and six tackles for losses of 40 yards. Senior defensive lineman Jamal Perkins paces the Lords up front with 39 tackles, 9-1/2 for losses totaling 40 yards.
Kickoff at McBride Field in Gambier, Ohio, is set for 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the Buckeye CableSystem Network throughout Ohio. A live stream and live statistics are also available. There will be no radio coverage of the Little Giants this weekend.