As the college football season rolls on, we’ve seen Hope College start off strong with a 2-1 record against stiff non- conference opponents. After three games, the squad has a bye week that will give them time to prepare for their MIAA conference schedule. This is a good time to reflect on the first few games of the season, and look ahead toward what awaits the Flying Dutchmen as they begin their pursuit of the MIAA championship. First, let’s recap the performance of the Flying Dutchman squad so far.
In the first three games, we have seen Hope play strong against their non-conference opponents. Hope’s only loss this season was a 27-20 opening matchup on the road against Monmouth, one of the top Division III football programs in the country. The Dutchmen answered that loss with two strong victories at home against Defiance and Lakeland, 38-0 and 37-35 respectively. Monmouth and Lakeland particularly are two high-quality programs, and Hope looked good against both of them. Both offense and defense have lived up to the expectations set in the preseason. The offense has been led by running back Brandan Campbell (’18), who has already rushed for 429 yards and six touchdowns in his first three games. This has been bolstered by an elite offensive line led by Jake VanderVeen (’18) and Justin Fairfield (’18). This offensive line has been the catalyst behind some of the best offensive play Hope has seen in years, with 1098 total yards of offense on the season. Another standout has been quarterback Mason Opple (’20), who has completed 32 of his 56 passing attempts in his first three starts behind center.
The Hope defense has looked very good in these first three games. One of the highlights of the season for this defense was posting the first shutout on Community Day since 1978 against Defiance College. The Dutchmen defense is led by linebacker Griffin Weigl (’18), who has averaged 10 tackles per game, and added two sacks and five-and-a-half tackles for loss in the first three games. Another strong piece of the defense has been linebacker Mason Dekker (’19), who has had 19 total tackles so far this season. Defensive ends Zach Telfor (’18) and Brandon Ellsworth (’18) have had phenomenal starts to their seasons, putting together two-and-a-half sacks each in the first three games. The Hope defense has brought all the pieces together and have put themselves among the best squads in college football.
MIAA key matchups
The two key matchups for Hope in order to win the MIAA will be against the Olivet Comets and the Adrian Bulldogs.
The Flying Dutchmen start the conference schedule on the road against the Olivet Comets on Sept. 30. Olivet has started their season off 2-1, with their only loss being a 40-24 drop to Heidelberg University. Olivet gave Hope their sole conference loss last season, and Hope will want to return the favor at Cutler Field. The Comets rely on the pass a lot, throwing an average of 26 times per game. Olivet is led by quarterback Lane Porter, who has thrown for 682 yards and has completed 65% of his passes on the season. Another stand out for Olivet is wide receiver Kornelius Saxton, who has had 285 receiving yards and two touchdowns in three games. This game will be very entertaining with Hope’s rushing game contrasting with Olivet’s passing attack. However, Hope has a strong chance to defeat Olivet, particularly if the voracious Hope defense can bring the Olivet gunslinging to a minimum.
The most anticipated game of the season for the Hope’s MIAA conference play will be Homecoming Weekend against Adrian College. Adrian’s offense is looking very strong this year, posting 1164 total yards so far this season. Hope and Adrian’s offenses are very similar, with strong running backs coupled with efficient passing. Adrian is led by running back Emmanuel Stewart, who ran for 291 yards in his first two games. The key matchup in this game will be Adrian’s running game versus Hope’s running game. With the two best rushing offenses in the MIAA, this game will be a lot of fun to watch. It will be up to Brandan Campbell and the offensive line to prove themselves the superior rushing group when the final whistle blows at Ray and Sue Smith Stadium on Homecoming night.
All in all, it is hard to foresee any other team besides Hope winning the MIAA conference this year. Olivet is not nearly as strong as they were last season. Although Adrian does look very intimidating, Hope’s rushing attack and superior defense should win the day. Hope keeps getting better each week and it is difficult to imagine this trend changing. This team is still the favorite to win the MIAA conference and move forward to postseason play. If they exhibit a strong showing through the rest of the season, Hope could very well make a run in the NCAA playoffs. With a strong running game and electric defense, the Flying Dutchmen are poised to become one of the premier Division III college football programs in the country.