Spokane-Bound: CMS Football Draws Whitworth for First NCAA Tournament Appearance

Spokane-Bound: CMS Football Draws Whitworth for First NCAA Tournament Appearance

CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team will travel to Spokane, Washington to meet undefeated Whitworth in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday for a 12 noon contest, it was announced this afternoon on the NCAA selection show.

CMS (7-3) earned its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament by capturing the SCIAC's automatic bid. The Stags finished in a tie with Redlands atop the league standings at 6-1, but earned the tiebreaker due to a head-to-head win over the Bulldogs (a 20-10 road victory back on Oct. 13). CMS then clinched the league title and automatic bid with a 16-9 home win over Chapman on Nov. 3, rendering the final regular season game inconsequential for NCAA purposes. 

The first trip to the NCAA Tournament will pose a daunting challenge as the Stags will meet up with 9-0 Whitworth, which is ranked No. 15 in the latest AFCA Coaches poll. The Pirates opened the season with two SCIAC teams at home, routing La Verne 38-2 on Sept. 1 and then holding off Chapman for a 31-28 win on Sept. 8 (after being up 24-7 in the third).

CMS, meanwhile, lost both of its contests against NWC teams, falling 45-35 in its season opener to Puget Sound on Sept. 1 and then dropping a defensive battle at Pacific Lutheran 10-7 on Sept. 15. Whitworth defeated Pacific Lutheran 55-13 at home and then defeated Puget Sound 47-13 on the road. 

The Pirates defend the run very well, allowing only 62 rushing yards per game, which will make the matchup at the line of scrimmage a key one for the Stags. CMS has relied heavily on a ball-control offense behind its veteran offensive line, averaging 205.6 rushing yards per game. The Stags average only 134.6 passing yards per game, but have 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions (one of which was on a desperation heave in the closing seconds of Saturday's defeat). 

Leading the Stag ground game has been junior running back Garrett Cheadle, who enters the NCAA Tournament with 1,305 yards this year. Cheadle was seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game through the first nine weeks, before he carried only seven times for 30 yards on Saturday after leaving with an injury in the second quarter.  Sophomore Jordan Leonard (351 yards) and junior Christian Curcio (188 yards) support Cheadle in the backfield.

On the other side of the ball, junior quarterback Leif Ericksen has thrown for 2337 yards this season (259.7 per game) with 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions, with senior Garrett McKay (68 catches, 852 yards, six touchdowns) by far his favorite target.  Senior Mason Elms has rushed for 674 yards and 11 touchdowns this season to lead the ground attack. 

The winner of the Whitworth-CMS game will move on to the NCAA Second Round on Friday, Nov. 23 against the winner between Saint John's (Minn.) and Martin Luther.