MONMOUTH, Ill. – It’s a new season but a familiar foe Saturday when Monmouth College opens the 2017 football campaign at April Zorn Memorial Stadium with a 1 p.m. kickoff against Hope College.
It’s the sixth meeting in the series, which opened with a pair of Hope wins in the late 1940s. Monmouth has had the upper hand since the series restart in 2014, winning all three contests, including last year’s 44-3 win in Michigan on its way to an unbeaten regular season and the Fighting Scots’ fifth Midwest Conference title since 2005.
“I feel good about our team heading into Week 1,” said coach Chad Braun, who enters his third season guiding the Scots. “We’ve had a very good camp and our leadership has been outstanding. Our guys are ready to go and we’ve experienced that with a different vibe in practice this week.”
The Scots and Flying Dutchmen will enter the contest in similar situations. The Dutch were tabbed by their league’s coaches as the favorites to win the conference title while the Scots were named the favorites to win the MWC’s South Division. Both teams return junior running backs who rushed for 1,000 yards a season ago – Monmouth’s DeAndre Wright and Hope’s Brandan Campbell.
“We want to play good teams in the nonconference games, and I think we’re doing that,” said Braun. “You don’t learn from playing bad teams. We’ll find out where we have weaknesses and other areas of concern.”
Monmouth was a concern for Hope in last year’s opener as the Scots racked up nearly 600 yards of offense. Wright rambled for 139 yards and three TDs as the Scots’ stingy defense gave a glimpse of things to come, grounding the Flying Dutchmen to just 156 yards.
“We respect the past, but we won’t rely on the past,” said Braun. “Both teams are entirely different than last year for a number of reasons. That was Hope’s first game under a new head coach. I remember what that was like for me three years ago. There is a period of transition and they got rolling. Hope is entirely different from one year ago.”
Hope rebounded after a pair of opening losses to finish 7-3 last season, winning their last five and holding opponents to seven points or less in four of those five games.
“They’ve got tons of momentum coming into this year,” warned Braun. “They have a lot of guys returning and a very good offensive line. It’s an entirely different ballgame this time around.”
The Scots also return very good personnel from a club that led the nation’s defenses, allowing just 9.55 points per game. Monmouth’s offense put up big numbers, averaging nearly 46 points and over 500 yards per game, not to mention then-senior quarterback Tanner Matlick’s nation’s-best 190.45 pass efficiency rating.
“We’ve got a good nucleus coming back on both sides of the ball,” reported Braun. “We also lost some very good players from last year. There’s no way to completely replace those guys, we just need new ones to step up and fill roles … and be pretty good. Those ‘understudies’ have waited their turn and they’re ready to go.”
Braun’s team is keenly aware of the success experienced during last year’s championship season. While not focusing on the past, Braun is counting on his squad to continue what has become tradition.
“Our guys know who graduated and what they did,” said Braun. “We’re not going to rest on what has happened in the past. They understand this is the present. They’ll be motivated and ready to play. I like their grit and toughness. Their motivation is to get better and be the very best they can be each and every day.”