Beat a champion to become a champion.
Baldwin-Wallace College has a chance to do that today in a matchup with the No. 2-ranked and 18-time defending Ohio Athletic Conference champion Mount Union Purple Raiders at The George Finnie Stadium in Berea.
Elyria graduates Mitch Tulk and Sonny Hazelwood will be in the middle of the action.
The pair of defensive linemen have helped the Yellow Jackets go 7-1 record, 6-1 in the OAC. Baldwin-Wallace went 3-7 last year, the lowest win total since a 3-5 mark in 1966.
“We’ve been trying to restore order all season,” said Tulk, a senior defensive tackle. “We’ve been underdogs in pretty much every game, even last week. Muskingum was picked before us and, of course, Mount was picked way above us in the OAC and the nation. It would be huge for us to beat Mount and get a chance to get into the playoffs and get an OAC title.”
“The leadership this year has been great,” said Hazelwood, a junior end. “There was no doubt in our minds that this wasn’t going to be a traditional offseason. The seniors really stepped it up and they were all over us and forced us to work a lot harder. They’ve been there every step and you could definitely tell. It’s a big difference.”
Winning against Mount Union will be no easy task.
During the Purple Raiders’ run to 18 consecutive league titles and 10 NCAA Division III national championships, they have lost just twice in OAC play – to Baldwin-Wallace in 1994 and to Ohio Northern in 2005.
“This game will put us in position to end the year well and get a conference championship,” Hazelwood said. “Right now, that’s what we’re doing. This game’s pretty big, but us as individuals, we just need to go out and play. What it’s going to come down to is us making plays when we hit adversity. I think we’ve done that pretty much the whole season and we’re just going to continue to do that.
“Our D-line’s a pretty fast D-line and I think that we need to play fast. We just have to know our assignments because they don’t try to trick you with what they do. They just try to line up and beat you, so we’ve just got to hold our own.”
Tulk and Hazelwood have been leaders all season.
Tulk has 34 tackles, 111/2 of which have been for losses. He has registered four sacks for 20 yards and has assisted on 23 stops. Hazelwood has 25 total tackles, four for loss, and one sack. Hazelwood also has an interception, a pass breakup, two quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles.
“I always knew what he was capable of because of his length,” Tulk said of Hazelwood. “The guy is 6-6 with a wingspan of about 6-10 and guys just really have a problem getting their hands on him and he’s physical. I think he’s probably a better end than I ever was and I’m a better tackle than I was an end. I really wasn’t surprised with his performance this year.”
“I think the main thing with Mitch is he’s a real quick D-tackle,” Hazelwood said. “A lot of teams have problems with their schemes with him jumping the snap count. He’s almost across the line of scrimmage half the time and I think that helps us out a lot.”
Sophomore quarterback Neal Seaman leads Mount Union’s offense. He has completed 152 of 222 passes for 2,134 yards and 16 touchdowns against six interceptions. Jeremy Murray is the team’s leading rusher, carrying 170 times for 906 yards and 13 touchdowns. Zac Lemmon has added five touchdowns and 204 yards on 40 carries.
“The biggest challenge is just going to be to stop their running game,” Tulk said. “They really don’t do too many things that are fancy that we’ve seen because they’ve essentially been blowing teams out. The biggest thing is to stop their running game and force them to pass the ball and, hopefully, just stop them from scoring.”
Though beating Mount Union would be a proud moment for the Yellow Jackets, it would also give the seniors a shot at playing in an 11th game this season, something they desperately want to do.
“We’ve been thinking about the fact that this is the most important game that we’ve played so far,” Tulk said. “Every week’s important, but the magnitude of this game if we win and then take down John Carroll, we’ll be in the playoffs. We’re focusing on Mount, but we do know that this is the most important game that we’ve played.
“It’s hard to think about, but against Mount, it’s going to be the last home game I’m going to play at B-W, and John Carroll’s probably the last game ever,” he added. “All our seniors are going to be giving everything they’ve got because these are the last couple games of their careers.”
Contact Matt Florjancic at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
The Mitch Tulk File
• College: Baldwin-Wallace
• Position: Defensive tackle
• Height: 6-foot-3
• Weight: 235 pounds
• Key Statistics: Is tied with the second-most tackles-for-loss on the team with 11.5.
• Fast Fact: Started the season at defensive end and moved to defensive tackle due to injuries along B-W’s defensive line.
The Sonny Hazelwood File
• College: Baldwin-Wallace
• Position: Defensive end
• Height: 6-foot-5
• Weight: 220 pounds
• Key Statistics: Is one of three Yellow Jackets tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries.
• Fast Fact: Served as a back-up defensive end until Tulk was moved inside to tackle.
• WHO: Baldwin-Wallace vs. Mount Union
• TIME: 1:30 p.m.
• WHERE: Tressel Field at George Finnie Stadium, Berea
• RADIO: WBWC 88.3-FM
• RECORDS: The Yellow Jackets are 7-1 overall and 6-1 in the Ohio Athletic Conference. The Purple Raiders are 8-0 overall and 7-0 in the OAC.
• ALL-TIME SERIES: Mount Union leads series 26-21-1
• LAST MEETING: 2009, Mount Union won 30-0