As Newberry (South Carolina) football coach Todd Knight started talking about what the senior class has meant, he allowed his emotions to come through, especially when he concluded his praise on senior defensive lineman Jimmy Holmes.
Holmes wears a wolf-tooth necklace. It is an award given to a select few on the football team.
“What it means,” Knight said, “is you have become the wolf. Jimmy Holmes on defense is the wolf.
“This is a special group of seniors with Jimmy Holmes being at the top of it. He is captain for our team. He is an emotional leader. He is a physical leader. He leads in the film room.”
Since losing the season opener, the Wolves have won nine straight games and vaulted to the top of the South Atlantic Conference with a 6-0 record. They are also ranked No. 2 in Super Region Two. The top seven teams in each of the four regions advance to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Newberry understands that it faces a stiff challenge 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in its home game against Wingate (North Carolina), which is 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the SAC. Wingate is also No. 8 in Super Region Two and needs to win for a playoff spot.
The game is dripping with dramatic storylines that will be played out on the American Sports Network.
Newberry is trying to win its first outright SAC title since 2006. The Wolves are also trying to match the ’06 team with 10 straight victories in a season.
In addition, a win Saturday by Newberry will make the Wolves the 16th team in SAC history to win the conference outright with an undefeated record. It has been done 15 times in SAC history, which dates back to 1975. Carson-Newman has done it 10 times. Newberry has never achieved it.
“This senior class is going to walk out the door as the most successful senior class in the history of Newberry football,” Knight said. “They have a ring on their finger for co-champs right now, but that is not good enough. They are special. They want an outright championship ring and they are going to do everything they can to put that ring on their finger.”
Defense is one of the reasons Newberry has excelled this season. In the last three games, the Wolves have given up a total of 28 points. In the previous game, Holmes had 2.5 sacks.
“Whatever our defensive coordinator and our head coach tell us, we go out and do it,” Holmes said. “We get a chance to put our offense back out there to put up points. Hey, we just go out there and execute every day.”
Knight knew something special was brewing when he saw his team bounce back from a season-opening loss to Florida Tech in which the Wolves turned the ball over six times.
“You learn a lot about your team after a loss like that,” Knight said.
The response by the Wolves have put them in position in which every game for the rest of the season has significant meaning. There is no better way for a senior to wrap up a college football career.
“It is special, something I will never forget and I mean that,” Holmes said of being a student-athlete at Newberry. “I take it to heart. The coaches and the people I have met, this college experience has been great for me. I love the people around me.”
LIU-Post, the hidden gem in Division II
Plenty has to go right for a team to enter the last week of the regular season undefeated. You could say that LIU-Post (New York) is having that type of gem season.
One week the gem sparkled in the Pioneers’ favor occurred Oct. 1 in Worcester, Massachusetts, when LIU-Post eked out a 19-18 victory at Assumption. That was Assumption’s only loss of the season.
The two teams will meet again at noon ET Saturday in Brookville, New York, in the Northeast 10 Conference Championship Game.
“That is definitely a challenge,” LIU-Post head coach and athletic director Bryan Collins said. “It is more difficult when you came out with a win the first time because you are not quite sure you want to change a lot of things, but you won so there are certain things that you don’t want to change. It is a different position than if you had lost. You obviously make changes.
“It is tough to beat a good team twice, especially when it is that close in talent level.”
The conference set up an end-of-the-season championship game between the top two teams as a way to enhance opportunities to get a bid into the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“You hope it does,” Collins said. “One of the things our conference reviewed was our teams have a better chance if they play a power game at the end of the year for a conference championship.”
Saturday’s game definitely has playoff implications. LIU-Post is 10-0 and ranked No. 3 in Super Region One, and Assumption is 9-1 and ranked No. 6. Because so much is riding on the outcome, the rematch should be highly competitive and it will be televised on ESPN3.
“I think it is tremendous, and I appreciate ESPN3 televising our game,” Collins said. “The conference worked very hard presenting to them that this would be a good game to televise.
“We are trying to get greater exposer. We want our school to grow from being a regional campus to a national campus. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for us to get LIU-Post out there and reach people that maybe we wouldn’t reach if not for this game and televising it on ESPN3.”
Collins calls LIU-Post a hidden gem in many ways. The school is located on the Gold Coast of Long Island.
“It is a beautiful 300-acre campus that is only 30 minutes outside the Big Apple,” Collins said. “It is a special place. It is a good place to live, a good place to study on Long Island and yet have all the benefits of being near New York City as well.”
On the field, the Pioneers have also sparkled. They showed they could win when starting quarterback Jeff Kidd missed two games because of an injury. Kidd returned last week and played the first half against Merrimack and completed 22 of 30 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns in a 64-7 victory.
“He is having an outstanding year,” Collins said. “We were happy to get him on the field to get some reps before this big game.”
The defense has played outstanding, Collins said. It starts with the front four led by defensive tackle Anthony DeNunzio.
“He has really been a force for us,” Collins said. “He leads the team with eight sacks from the D-tackle position. He is the steady guy, the guy in the middle and sets up our two defensive ends, Kevin Petit-Frere and Kenny Scotland.
Josh Flowers, a true freshman, has seven interceptions, which is a school record for interceptions by a freshman, and defensive back Jared Chester has been a conference defensive player of the week several times this year.
Offensively, senior wide receiver Shane Hubbard is wrapping up a stellar career. He is the all-time reception leader, all-time leader in yards and he needs one touchdown pass to break the touchdown reception record.
Running backs Malik Pierre and David White give the Pioneers a one-two punch in the backfield, and the offensive line has really stepped up its game, Collins said.
“The success of our team has been the play of our special teams,” Collins said. “It has been outstanding throughout the year.”
Collins added that many of LIU-Post fall athletic teams are having great season and experiencing postseason play.
All those reasons contribute to why Collins is thrilled ESPN3 will be on campus Saturday afternoon.
“It is a great positive for us,” he said. “We get to have a commercial on representing our institution. We want to make sure we have a good showing and win a championship at home and show what a great place LIU-Post is.”