TERRE HAUTE — Missing one of its best players, Rose-Hulman’s football team will play host to NCAA Division III No. 12-ranked Franklin in a matchup of the last two undefeated teams in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference action at 1:30 p.m. today at Cook Stadium.
“This is by far the biggest game we’ve played since I’ve been here,” third-year Rose coach Jeff Sokol said Thursday. “Franklin is an outstanding football team. They haven’t really struggled with anyone in the league. They’re excellent in all phases of the game.”
Both teams are 4-2 overall, but Franklin’s losses have been to Division III No. 1-ranked Mount Union (30-27) and FCS team Butler (31-28).
Sokol warned that the Grizzlies will bring four 2012 Division III All-Americans — senior quarterback Jonny West, senior wide receiver Kyle Linville, senior cornerback Zack Corpe and senior punter Michael Parks.
“Linville is as good as we’ll see at this level,” Sokol insisted. “West is a very efficient passer who has a great relationship with his receivers. They’re very difficult to defend, very productive.” Rose-Hulman stands 4-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2008 season after defeating Defiance, Manchester, Hanover and Bluffton to open HCAC play. The Engineers have rallied from second-half deficits in three of their four wins, including a 20-point rally at Bluffton that marked their largest in-game comeback since 1988.
Barring a miracle, Franklin will be a much tougher opponent for the Engineers.
“We’re just going to try to take advantage of the things that we’re good at,” Sokol said. “We’ll try to be physical, execute at a high level and play fast.”
Rose will seek its first win over a nationally ranked foe since defeating Greenville on homecoming in 1993.
Rose-Hulman is represented in the top 20 nationally in three Division III statistical categories entering this week. The Engineers rank sixth with 1.0 blocked kicks per game, senior Eric Schaible is 10th in punting average (41.6 yards) and sophomore wide receiver Aaron Abbott stands 20th in receiving touchdowns per game (1.50).
Unfortunately for the Engineers today, they’ll be without the services of Abbott, who has a foot injury.
Meanwhile, Franklin enters today with a 30-game winning streak in conference play, dating back to a 2009 loss to Rose at Cook Stadium. The Grizzlies have won their four conference games this season by an average margin of 63-14 and stand No. 12 in the weekly d3football.com national poll.
Franklin also seeks its fourth consecutive conference title and 15th straight road triumph in the HCAC, which would both be league records. Franklin has a 50-14 overall record since 2008 and has been nationally ranked by d3football.com for 29 consecutive weeks. So a victory over the Grizzlies would definitely be a feather in Sokol’s cap.
“This would put us in the driver’s seat [in the conference race],” he acknowledged, “but we still have a lot to take care of first. It would be a victory of great significance.”