Another HCAC toughie awaits the Defiance College football program after the Yellow Jackets were idle last week, with The College of Mount St. Joseph hosting the Purple-and-Gold on Saturday on the west edge of Cincinnati.
"I thought it went okay," said DC coach Robert Taylor of the bye week. "We had some interesting weather last week as you know. We didn't get on the practice field as much as we would've liked. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. We came back this week and got right back at it on Monday. The guys had a few days off and are rejuvenated and ready to roll."
The Jackets (0-4, 0-2 HCAC) are one of two conference teams without a victory this fall, with Earlham being the other.
Meanwhile, the Lions (3-1, 2-1 HCAC) are coming off a disappointing 35-23 loss at HCAC defending champion Franklin. The MSJ and Franklin battle has been a pivotal one with one of the two programs winning every HCAC title since 2004. MSJ outgained Franklin 432-288 and won the time of possession 39:26-20:34 in the loss, but turnovers and penalties derailed the Lions.
"We were disappointed but we're not discouraged," said MSJ coach Rod Huber. "We've got a decent team, we're playing a little better on offense than were at the beginning of the season ... we're moving the ball with some consistency. And defensively we seem to be getting a little better each week. We still need to take it up a step or two in the kicking game. I told the kids we need to have better field position. We can't be starting back on the 16 or 17-yard line with the ball because we can't get it out on the return team. Our kickoff team has to do a better job of pinning them inside the 25."
Mount St. Joseph sports the league's top ground attack by a wide margin, averaging 239.8 rushing yards per game. MSJ also averages 28 ppg while DC is giving up 35 ppg. Wayne Trace graduate Zach Gerber leads the MSJ receivers with 13 catches for 194 yards and one TD.
Creating some turnovers will be crucial in Taylor's mind as a big key to earning a victory.
"I think the physicality of the game," said Taylor about the matchup. "It's always been kind of a real physical battle. I think the other thing is turnovers. They've done a real good job of forcing turnovers this year and we've struggled on both sides. We haven't really created a ton of turnovers, and on offense we've turned the ball over too many times. I think that's going to be really key. If we can go down there and especially at the Mount where it's a good environment to play in, and we don't turn the football over, be physical ... I think we've got a chance."
DC had its best half of offensive production two weeks ago in a 52-14 loss at Franklin. The Jackets scored 14 points against the Grizzlies in the first half and went into the halftime break trailing just 24-14 before being outscored 28-0 in the second half.
Sophomore QB Aaron Spence - in his first career start - gained 107 yards rushing and threw for 122 more before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury. He is hoping to return this Saturday at MSJ while tested veteran Rick Powell will be available if Spence is unable to go.
The Lions have been stout defensively, giving up under 300 yards per outing.
"I've known coach Taylor for many, many years ... over 10 years," said Huber. "I know this: He's always prepared and he has a very solid coaching staff. The Mount St. Joseph and Defiance game going back over the years and I've been here 22 years and we've been playing them a long, long time - the game has always been a nail-biter and that's good. That's how you get better, you win close games or you lose close games but you get better that way. We have a ton of respect for them with how they do it and the way they do it.
"I think their offense can be explosive," added Huber. "They do a couple things that have us concerned. They run some option football and in the conference very few teams run option football. We've spent a lot of time the last couple days practicing against the option. I think vertically they stretch the field more than other teams in the conference. They don't mind taking shots down the field, so we've got our hands full with the option and the vertical passing game."