CI Week 11 Highlights

The postseason has officially arrived at the college level as the Division II playoff bracket was announced on Sunday. Following several stellar regular seasons, the Coaches Inc. Family is well represented. In a carbon copy of 2022, Benedict College and Head Coach Chennis Berry
 (@coachberry77) secured the #1 seed and a first-round bye in Super Region Two after claiming back-to-back SIAC Conference Championships and consecutive 11-0 seasons. In Super Region Three, Ferris State Asst. Head Coach/QB Brian Rock (@Coach_Rock) and the Bulldogs will face #2 Grand Valley State to begin their quest for a three-peat. Joining Berry and Rock in the 28-team field are #3 Pittsburg State Head Coach Brian Wright (@Coachbwright4), #4 Central Missouri Head Coach Josh Lamberson (@JoshLamberson) and Shepherd Special Teams Coordinator/DB Luke Wright (@CoachLukeWright). At the FBS level, two more CI coaches secured bowl eligibility with wins in Week 11. Congratulations to Maryland Defensive Analyst Rob Ambrose (@Coach_Ambrose) and Texas A&M Defensive Analyst Elijah Sandweiss (@Elijah Sandweiss)! Congratulations also go out to Toledo CB Coach Corey Parker (@CoachCParker), Troy Defensive Assistant David Mackie (@Coach_DMACK) and Furman DL Coach Kevin Lewis (@CoachKLewDL) who each helped their teams secure their respective division or conference titles with wins on Saturday. Later that night, Winnipeg scored on a punt block touchdown to win the CFL West Division for the third season in a row and will attempt to win the Grey Cup for the third time in the last four seasons when they face East Division winners Montreal on Sunday. Congratulations and good luck to Blue Bombers Special Teams Coordinator Paul Boudreau (@bouqb2)! Keep reading for more highlights from Week 11.
Cardinals beat Falcons in Kyler Murray's return
Last summer, you didn’t have to look hard to find pundits doubting the Cardinal defense. Bleacher Report ranked Arizona as having the third worst defense in the NFL. The Ringer went even further, ranking the Cardinals at the bottom of the league with the accompanying quote to add insult to injury: “This group doesn’t require a whole lot of analysis. The Cardinals have the worst defensive roster in the NFL. They’re going to struggle to rush the passer, and they’re going to struggle to cover.” Through the first half of the season, the Cardinals did indeed struggle; however, it is difficult to point the finger at the club’s defense. Contrary to prognostications, the Arizona defense ranked in the top half of the league in multiple defensive categories, including Pass Defense where they ranked 11th, surrendering only 208 yards per game. Where the Cardinals really struggled, however, was in the passing game as they entered Sunday ranked 31st in the league, averaging only 169 yards through the air per game. With franchise QB Kyler Murray making his return to the lineup after undergoing ACL surgery in December, there is reason for optimism in the desert. Showing few signs of rust, Murray completed 19-of-32 passes for 249 yards to go along with 33 rushing yards. That output, combined with another strong showing from the Cardinal defense, was enough to lift Arizona to a 25-23 win over Atlanta. In particular, the Cardinal secondary was dominant once again. Led by safety Jessie Bates III’s game-high 13 tackles, Arizona held the Falcons to 70 passing yards. LB B.J. Ojulari recorded two sacks and DE Jonathan Ledbetter came up with a key fourth down stop midway through the fourth quarter with the Cardinals holding a 22-17 lead. Congratulations to Arizona Defensive Quality Control Ronald Booker II (@_Coach_Book) on the win! Booker is in his third season with the Cardinals and first as defensive quality control after previously serving as a defensive assistant and Bill Walsh Coaching Fellow. He worked on the offensive side of the ball at Pitt from 2019-20, helping WR Jordan Addison earn Freshman All-American honors and WR Maurice Ffrench earn All-ACC recognition. Booker began his coaching career at his alma mater, Rhodes College.
Gamecock defense has best performance of season in win over Vanderbilt
South Carolina DB Keenan Nelson, Jr. had the good fortune of sharing a birthday with the author of these highlights when he was born on January 22, 2004. When Nelson turned four years old, the year was 2008 and Flo Rida had just burst onto the scene with a track about apple bottom jeans and boots with fur. It was also the last year that Vanderbilt’s football team beat South Carolina. Now in his second season at South Carolina, Nelson turned in the best game of his young career in the Gamecocks’ 47-6 win over Vanderbilt. The redshirt freshman is still working his way into Torrian Gray's (@togray14) defensive back rotation, but has made his mark on special teams, punctuated by his punt block versus that Commodores that he scooped up and returned 18 yards for a touchdown. Nelson’s score came with South Carolina holding a comfortable 27-6 lead, but it extinguished any hope of a Vanderbilt comeback as the Commodores had posted their only points of the day just three minutes prior. Manning the top of Gray’s defensive back depth chart, Nick Emmanwori and O'Donnell Fortune ensured that the Vanderbilt passing game never got on track. Emmanwori and Fortune each broke up two passes and combined to post seven tackles as the Gamecocks held Vanderbilt QB Ken Seals to 13-for-28 and just 104 passing yards (3.7 ypa). Congratulations to Gray on the win and stingy pass defense!  Gray is in his third season in Columbia and last year mentored Emmanwori as he garnered First-Team Freshman All-American honors. Emmanwori was part of a pass defense that led the SEC with 15 interceptions and helped propel the team to a top 25 ranking and berth in the Gator Bowl. The Gamecock secondary was also stout in 2021 under Gray’s watch, leading the SEC in passing yards allowed and ranking second in interceptions. Gray previously coached defensive backs at the highest levels for over a decade at Virginia Tech and Florida, mentoring six All-Americans and 14 NFL draft selections, including C.J. Henderson who was selected with the 9th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. On a team level, he helped guide the Hokies to 10 bowl games and three conference championships. At the professional level, Gray spent the 2017-18 seasons as the defensive backs coach for Washington and also spent two years with the Chicago Bears.
East Carolina Shuts Down Florida Atlantic, 22-7
East Carolina entered Saturday’s game at Florida Atlantic with a clear gameplan on defense – contain #1. FAU’s top receiver, LaJohntay Wester’s jersey number matched his national ranking in receptions. Wester entered Saturday’s game leading the country with 87 receptions for 1,004 yards and was coming off of his best game of the year, catching 11 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns against UAB. Mission accomplished for the Pirates. For just the second time this season, Wester was held under 40 yards as Bryan Butterworth (@CoachButterECU) and the rest of the ECU defensive staff did a masterful job of switching up coverages to keep Wester in check. Working primarily with the Pirate nickelbacks, Butterworth called upon Kingston McKinstry as well as CB Shavon Revel to slide inside and blanket Wester no matter where he lined up. The duo combined for eight tackles and one pass-breakup while limiting Wester to just six catches for 38 yards. As a unit, ECU’s defense limited FAU to just 172 total yards and one touchdown, which came after the Owls began a drive inside ECU territory. DB Julius Wood also recorded an interception as the Pirate secondary confused FAU QB Daniel Richardson throughout the day, allowing ECU pass rushers to rack up five sacks. Congratulations to Butterworth on the win and lock down defensive effort! Butterworth, who also serves as the program’s director of player development, arrived in Greenville with 14 years of coaching experience. He previously served as the defensive pass game coordinator at Campbell, where he helped direct a Camel pass defense that led the nation in 2018. Butterworth spent two seasons as the special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach at his alma mater, Sacred Heart, where he won two conference championships and guided a secondary that led the nation in interceptions in 2013. He also worked with the secondary at UMass from 2007-11.
Freshman QB Vezza makes first completion count, lifting New Hampshire over Monmouth, 31-24
One of the surest ways to judge the quality of a coach is by how prepared his backup players are when their number is called.  Make no mistake, New Hampshire Offensive Coordinator/OL Brian Scott (@CoachBroScott) deserves major credit for QB Max Brosmer leading the nation in passing yards and RB Dylan Laube topping the rankings in all-purpose yards.  But when Laube left the game in the third quarter with an injury, Scott’s ability to improvise began to be tested. Without panic, RB’s Myles Thomason and Isaac Seide stepped up to shoulder the load, combining to rush for 86 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. Test passed. When things got really dicey for Scott and the Wildcats was when Brosmer went down with his own injury as UNH was driving past midfield with the score knotted at 24-24 and two minutes to play. Enter true freshman QB Matt Vezza. Facing a 4th-and-3, Scott called a rollout for Vezza to give him time and space to survey the field. Vezza took advantage, finding Thomason for a 38-yard touchdown pass on just his second career pass attempt and first completion. The Wildcat defense then forced a turnover on downs to seal UNH’s fifth win of the season. Congratulations to Scott on the win and clutch performances from Seide, Thomason and Vezza! Scott is in his third season in Durham and least year helped lead the Wildcats to a share of the CAA championship and second-round playoff appearance. From 2007-19, Scott was one of the principal architects in charge of restarting the Old Dominion program and guiding the Monarchs through their transition from FCS to FBS. In 11 seasons as ODU's offensive coordinator, Scott won 77 games, a CAA championship, made two FCS playoff appearances and won the 2016 Bahamas Bowl. He previously coached the offensive line, running backs and tight ends at Maine and also has experience at Towson, Tennessee-Martin and UMass-Lowell.
Lafayette beats Fordham, sets up chance to win title with win over Lehigh
When Lafayette travels to Lehigh next week, it will mark the latest installment of what is college football’s most contested and longest uninterrupted rivalry. But while the Leopards and Mountain Hawks will be meeting for the 159th time, rarely have they met with as much on the line as Saturday’s contest will hold for the Leopards. With Saturday’s win over Fordham, Lafayette controls its destiny for the Patriot League title, which would represent only the eighth conference championship in program history. After missing last week’s loss to Colgate, the only conference loss of the season for the Leopards, RB Jamar Curtis returned to action against the Rams and delivered one of his biggest games of the year, rushing for 204 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. Lafayette Offensive Coordinator/QB T.J. DiMuzio (@CoachTJD) called upon Curtis early and often as the sophomore broke off a 40-yard run in the early going to setup the Leopards’ first touchdown, a seven-yard pass from QB Dean Denobile to WR Elijah Steward. As Curtis continued to pound the Rams in the ground game, it opened up more space for Denobile in the passing game and the trigger man capitalized with an efficient stat line of 16-for-21 for 137 yards. Denobile also scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put the hosts up 14-3. But when Fordham started to rally with a touchdown in the fourth quarter, it was Curtis who slammed the door with a three-yard scoring run midway through the fourth quarter to give Lafayette a 24-10 advantage. Congratulations to DiMuzio on the win and Curtis’ big outing! DiMuzio is in his second season with the Leopards after an eight-year stint at Monmouth, where he began as wide receivers coach before being promoted to pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2019. He helped guide the Hawks to two Big South titles and three playoff appearances. On an individual level, DiMuzio mentored three First Team All-Big South wide receivers and a Freshman All-American selection at quarterback. He previously served as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Widener and also boasts experience at Bowling Green, Hofstra and Delaware.
The Rams Close Out the Regular Season with a 31-13 Win Over Western Oregon
In the biggest snub of the Division II playoff field, Angelo State Head Coach Jeff Girsch (@JeffGirsch) and the Rams were left out despite going 7-3 against the most difficult schedule in the country. The Rams’ three losses came by a combined total of 18 points against teams with a cumulative record of 27-2 against other Division II schools. Despite not getting the chance to build upon last year’s postseason run, Angelo State still ended its season on a high note, winners of three straight, culminating in Saturday’s 31-13 decision over Western Oregon. WR Kyle Bradford terrorized the Wolves on offense and special teams. Late in the second quarter, Bradford caught a 39-yard touchdown pass to break a 7-7 deadlock. Western Oregon kicked a field goal to pull within 14-10 at halftime, but Bradford returned the opening kickoff of the second half for 98 yards and a touchdown to increase the lead back to 21-10. From there, Angelo’s defense kicked into high gear, yielding just three points over the final 30 minutes. LB Eric Rascoe led the Ram defense with 10 tackles while DB Andrew Pitts nabbed his third and fourth interceptions of the year. Angelo finishes the season with the top ranked defense in the Lone Star Conference and 11th ranked unit nationally, allowing only 256 yards per game. Congratulations to Girsch on the win and another superb campaign! With the win, Girsch completed his sixth season as head coach after four as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. Girsch has twice been named the Lone Star Conference coach of the year and reached the NCAA Quarterfinals on two occasions. In 2021, he was also named the AFCA Region 4 coach of the year. Prior to arriving at Angelo, he served as the defensive coordinator at St. Ambrose, where he helped guide the Fighting Bees through the most successful period in program history and multiple postseason appearances. Before transitioning to defense, Girsch coached wide receivers and tight ends at St. Ambrose.
Titans send seniors off with a win
Illinois Wesleyan also ended their season on a high note after thoroughly dismantling Elmhurst, 49-13. Titan Defensive Coordinator/LB Matt Williamson (@CoachMW_51) watched as his defense scored as many points as it conceded, thanks to pick-sixes from defensive backs Artist Benjamin and Shea Gaffney. The pair’s scores came in quick succession, less than two minutes apart in the first quarter, as IWU opened up a 20-6 lead over the Blue Jays. The Titan offense continued the run as QB Dermot Smyth accounted for three touchdowns, two running and one passing, as IWU rattled off six consecutive touchdowns before the visitors finally broke through for a score late in the fourth quarter with the game long since decided. Senior LB Joshua Klein capped his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Titans with 10 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. As a unit, the IWU defense logged eight sacks while holding Elmhurst to 142 total yards and a paltry 2.1 yards per play. Congratulations to Williamson on a great finish to the season, his third overseeing the IWU defense. After finishing his playing career as an All-American and two-time national champion at Mount Union, Williamson began his coaching career as the defensive line coach and special teams coordinator for his alma mater, helping the Purple Raiders win the national championship in 2012, reach the national championship game on two other occasions, and compile an overall record of 43-2 in his three years on staff. Before arriving at Illinois Wesleyan, Williamson also coached at Gannon, Urbana and Seton Hill.  
Herzog’s record-setting day powers Hillsdale to 35-17 win over Ohio Dominican in season finale
Still in his early 30’s, Ryan Stokes (@CoachStokes_HC) seemingly has already found his niche – blue-collar, hard-nosed Michigan programs. Stokes was part of two conference championship winning teams and a national runner-up finish as a player at Grand Valley State and returned to the Lakers as an offensive graduate assistant in 2017. After a couple stints in the Hoosier State, at UIndy and Indiana State, Stokes returned to the Great Lakes State in 2022 as a special teams quality control coach at Eastern Michigan. At “The Factory,” Stokes helped oversee an Eagle special teams unit that produced the top ranked punter and kick returner in the MAC as EMU claimed the program’s first division championship since 1987. This season, Stokes made the 60-mile trek across US-12 to coach his own room again as the wide receivers coach at Hillsdale College. After an 0-4 start that would have seen other programs unravel, the Chargers stuck together to finish the year on a five-game win streak and 6-5 overall. Saturday’s finale was a dominant effort over Ohio Dominican. Hillsdale RB Michael Herzog stole the show against the Panthers, tallying 175 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Herzog’s first score came on the Chargers’ first possession as the hosts set the tone early and never trailed. Hillsdale didn’t need to air it out often, but when they did, QB Garrit Aissen usually found Sam Lee. Against the Panthers, Lee caught five passes for 151 yards while his twin brother, Josh, caught one ball for 25 yards. Of the Chargers’ 193 passing yards, Sam and Josh accounted for all but 17 of them. For the season, Sam led Hillsdale with 39 receptions for 624 yards and three touchdowns. WR Shea Ruddy also had a stellar freshman campaign, finishing second on the team with 18 receptions for 379 yards and leading the receiving corps with five touchdowns. Congratulations to Stokes on the win and successful season! Over the course of his career, Stokes has gained experience working in a wide variety of capacities, including coaching special teams, receivers, running backs and tight ends.
Quick Hits
  • With multiple injuries at quarterback, Syracuse Offensive Coordinator/QB Jason Beck (@Coach_Beck7) reinvented his offense on the fly, drawing up trick plays and wildcat formations that resulted in 382 rushing yards for the Orange in a 28-13 win over Pitt.
  • Oregon State’s defense picked off four passes as the Beavers beat Stanford, 62-17, to improve to 8-2. Congratulations to OSU DB Coach Blue Adams (@CoachAdamsOSU)!
  • Virginia Tech RB Bhayshul Tuten rushed for 78 yards and three touchdowns in the Hokies’ 48-22 win over Boston College, their third win in the last four games. Congratulations to RB Coach Elijah Brooks (@CoachEBrooks)!
  • Cincinnati RB Corey Kiner rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the Bearcats’ 24-14 win over Houston. Congratulations to RB Coach De'Rail Sims (@DeRailSims)!
  • Continuing the RB theme, Marshall’s Rasheen Ali rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns as the Thundering Herd defeated Georgia Southern, 38-33. Congratulations to Marshall Offensive Analyst Chuckie Keeton (@CoachKeeton)!
  • Army’s special teams accounted for 11 points, including a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, in the Black Knights’ 17-14 win over Holy Cross. Congratulations to Special Teams Coordinator Sean Saturnio (@CoachSaturnio) and RB Coach Darren Paige (@RBCoachPaige)!
  • Howard Offensive Coordinator/WR Lindsey Lamar (@LindseyLamar5) was recognized as the OC of the Week by “Our Coaching Network” after the Bison put up 50 points in Saturday’s win.
  • Morgan State’s defense gave up only 10 points and 191 yards in the Bears’ 20-17 win over South Carolina State. Congratulations to Defensive Coordinator Antone' Sewell (@CoachSewell_MSU) whose Bears will meet Howard next week with the MEAC title on the line.
  • Western Carolina kicker Richard McCollum was recognized as the FedEx Ground FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week and SoCon’s Special Teams Player of the Week after he scored 16 points, connecting on three field goals of 32, 41, and 24 yards in the Catamounts’ 58-7 win over East Tennessee State. Congratulations to Special Teams Coordinator Chris Norris (@coachnorris38)!
  • UNC Pembroke set a new program record for points in a single game with their 68-21 win over Concord. The Braves also set a new program record by averaging over 40 points per game in what was a highly successful 7-3 season for first-year Head Coach Mark Hall (@CoachHallUNCP)!
  • Saint Augustine DE Adam Aiken was the only unanimous recipient of First Team All-CIAA honors after he recorded 60 tackles, 18 TFL’s, 7.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble on the year. Congratulations to Falcons DL Coach Tony McClain (@DLineDude5)!

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