Off Campus: For Widener, winning big means taking heat

Isaac Collins
Isaac Collins
Posted: September 28, 2012

Relative to its competition, Widener is the best football team in the Philadelphia area right now, college or pro.

That became an issue, however, when the Division III school, now 4-0, put up 90 points Saturday against Middle Atlantic Conference rival Wilkes, which failed to score and got inside Widener's 20-yard line for only one play, at the 19, when the score already was 76-0.

Instead of talking about a fine performance by his fine team, Widener coach Isaac Collins is answering questions about one subject.

"I'm 100 percent opposed to someone scoring 90 points in a game," Collins said Wednesday.

What Collins seemed to mean was that he didn't set out to score 90 or 72 or any other number. Where his mind-set differs from many is that Collins also didn't prevent his team from scoring 90. He regrets that it happened, Collins makes it clear, but he doesn't come up with anything different that he would have done.

Going in, no one saw this kind of score coming. Wilkes had beaten Widener last year, and had plenty of players back this season.

Afterward, Wilkes coach Frank Sheptock and Collins shook hands, and both said there were no issues that had carried over from last year's game.

"I told my team we would run across the field as a proud team and congratulate them," Sheptock said over the phone this week. "To say we were outplayed is an understatement."

Third-stringers and fourth-stringers and fifth-stringers scored for Widener. A fumbled Wilkes kickoff was run back for a score. There were a couple of short fields after turnovers that made for quick Widener scoring drives.

The Pride led by only 7-0 after one quarter. You can understand why the entire locker room thought that 35-0 at halftime wasn't quite enough, since Widener had to hold on to beat Lycoming, 31-28, last season after leading by 31-0 at halftime.

Widener also points out that it has a junior-varsity program, and that team had a game Sunday, making those players ineligible to play the day before.

They are all factors you should understand. Yes, starting quarterback Chris Haupt stayed in until Widener took a 62-0 lead midway through the third quarter, and passed for a touchdown that time, his sixth scoring pass of the day. That's not where I have an issue.

Where is the line? There's no right answer. Other scores Saturday were 63-3 and 70-9 and 66-7. Those are all perfectly acceptable? There's no unwritten rule that says when to slow down.

Widener ran on 14 of its last 15 plays, passing just the one time in the fourth quarter. That one time was telling. It was the only play when Widener had third down and 5 yards or longer to go. On third and 5, Widener completed a 46-yard pass play, scoring two plays later to take an 83-0 lead.

In retrospect, Collins said, he would have preferred some kind of checkdown pass that got the first down but not much more. (Not that anybody has a problem with a quarterback, or any player, doing his best on a play that was called). Collins said he wanted to keep his offense out there because his defense had been on the field a lot.

Could Collins have used more of the clock between plays, to shorten the game in the fourth quarter?

"I think you can," said Collins, a former defensive coordinator at the Citadel who is in his third year as Widener's coach. "It's just a case, it's not who we are. If we do that, here's what happens: The fifth-string tailback doesn't get a chance to play."

So what?

"That's wrong," Collins said. "That's wrong for that kid."

It's worth embarrassing the other team for that kid to play? Because that's what happened - 90-0 is an embarrassment, beyond a butt-kicking.

Collins said we would have to agree to disagree.

"A kid who does everything I ask him to do, that makes the sacrifice that he makes to be part of our program is going to get a chance to play in a game where we're up by a lot of points, and I'm not going to tell him to lie down," Collins said. "I'm not. I can't. It's not right. It's not the way we coach him."

I believe Collins is a sincere man, looking out for his guys. I believe him when he says he coaches them to play clean and not taunt. He gets points for answering every question thrown at him. He's clearly a fine football coach who realizes he has tougher games ahead, starting Saturday at Lebanon Valley.

That invisible line, from the butt-kicking to the embarrassing, probably won't be crossed again, but mainly because it isn't worth the negative attention.

"It's been kind of a long week, if you can imagine, and we're not even to the midway point here, for our players, our coaches, our administration, and our university," Collins said.


Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

 

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