INDIANAPOLIS – After capturing its first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title in 15 years, the Hanover College football team littered the league's postseason awards list Wednesday afternoon.
The Panthers finished the regular season 7-3 overall and 7-1 in HCAC play to earn a share of the HCAC championship with Franklin and Mt. St. Joseph. For the performance, Matt Theobald was awarded his first career HCAC Coach of the Year award. Theobald, who is in the third season at the helm of his alma mater, has guided HC to a 15-15 overall mark, including a 15-9 HCAC record. Hanover has also earned a national playoff bid this fall, its first in 15 years.
Sixteen players received recognition from the conference Wednesday afternoon, highlighted by eight first team selections, including six on defense. The Panther defense has been the best in the HCAC all season long, allowing league lows in scoring defense, 15.8 points per game, and total defense, 281.8 yards per game. Both marks are also among the national leaders.
Picking up his second first team all-HCAC award is sophomore linebacker Kyle Treber (Mishawaka, Ind.). Treber is currently pacing the Panthers with 90 tackles and his 9.0 stops per appearance rank inside the top five of the conference. The 2017 HCAC Freshman of the Year has added 6.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and one interception this fall.
Joining Treber on the first team and at the linebacker position is junior Dakota Manion (West Lafayette, Ind.). Manion is second on the team with 70 tackles this season, as he also has 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The junior has added two interceptions in pass coverage and has posted 10-plus stops in a team-high five games.
Earning his third all-HCAC award in as many years is senior defensive lineman Zach Dauer (Cincinnati, Ohio). Dauer leads the team in sacks, 7.5, and tackles for loss, 10.5, both of which are inside the top eight of the conference leaderboard. A now two-time first team all-HCAC selection, Dauer has 55 tackles in 10 outings this season.
Fellow defensive lineman, sophomore Zikk Omoruyi (Palm Beach, Fla.), joins the conference's first team after being a second-team selection in 2016. Omoruyi has played mainly on the interior defensive line, where he has 40 tackles, six for loss, and three sacks. The sophomore's year has been highlighted by a 2.5-sack, one-forced-fumble performance at Anderson and a season-high eight tackles against Defiance.
The defensive backfield has a pair of all-conference first team selections as well in senior Brody Dell (Tipton, Ind.) and freshman Kiefer Askew (Warner Robins, Ga.). Dell, a two-time HCAC defensive player of the week this season, has a career-high 73 tackles, as well as a team-best three interceptions, two of which came in a home win over Rose-Hulman. The senior also posted a career-high 20 tackles versus Thomas More, which earned him his first weekly award of the fall. Dell was also named as Hanover's choice for the Christopher M. Ragsdale all-sportsmanship team.
Askew has quietly been one of the top cornerbacks in all of Division III. The freshman is averaging 2.1 pass breakups per game, which leads the HCAC and ranks second nationally. Usually assigned to the opponent's top wideout, Askew has posted multiple breakups in each of the last six games, including a pair of four breakup-performances against Manchester and Rose-Hulman. The freshman had a season-high six tackles against Mount St. Joseph as well.
Offensively, sophomore running back Shawn Coane (Evansville, Ind.) headlines the first team selections. Coane, a 2017 second team all-conference pick, is averaging 117.6 rushing and 150.1 all-purpose yards over nine games this fall, as both marks rank second in the HCAC and among the top 28 nationally. A two-time HCAC offensive player of the week winner this season, Coane has 11 total touchdowns, including nine on the ground. In the receiving game he has 32 receptions for 293 yards. One of Coane's weekly awards came after his career day at Manchester, where he posted 254 rushing yards and 329 all-purpose yards.
The final Hanover selection on the first team is senior offensive lineman Brandon Merrick (Mount Vernon, Ind.). Merrick's fellow linemen, juniors Dylon Neff (Moores Hill, Ind.) and Carter Chastain (Paoli, Ind.) also received second team recognition from the conference. Behind the trio, Hanover averaged 183.1 rushing yards per game, part of an average total offensive mark of 429.7 yards. The Blue and Red have also allowed their fewest sack total under the current coaching regime, 1.6 per game. Merrick is receiving his second all-conference award, while Neff and Chastain are picking up their first.
A trio of wide receivers were also tabbed to the second team, including junior Jackson Daugherty (Greenwood, Ind.). Daugherty is pacing the Panthers in receptions, 45, and receiving yards, 687, which is just 13 yards shy of his career-best mark. Averaging close to 70 yards per game, the junior ranks fourth in the HCAC. Daugherty topped 1,000 career receiving yards this fall and has three 100-yard performances, including identical lines of seven catches, 116 yards and one touchdown against Bluffton and MSJ.
Also surpassing 1,000 career receiving yards and picking up second team honors is junior Taylor Bleistein (Wesley Chapel, Fla.). Bleistein has 26 receptions for 304 yards and six touchdowns, with three scores coming in a 55-8 road win at Anderson. The junior also caught what was the championship-clinching, game-winning touchdown pass in the 23-20 triumph over Franklin. Bleistein and Daugherty are both earning their second career all-conference awards.
Sophomore Jared Frank (Louisville, Ky.) has seen his production sky rocket in Year Two, recording 43 catches for 409 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. His scoring total is fourth in the conference and among the top 50 nationally. Frank has three games this season with two-plus touchdowns, including a career-high three receiving scores against Rose-Hulman. The sophomore also has four games with at least six receptions this season.
Like Frank, junior Kaleb Grabert's (Mount Vernon, Ind.) first career all-conference award comes with a 2018 second-team selection. Grabert, along with Askew and Dell, have led the Panthers to become one of the nation's best passing defenses. Hanover is allowing 163.3 passing yards per contest, which is first in the HCAC and 31st in Division III. Grabert's first season with extended action has seen him record 24 tackles, two for loss, and two interceptions from the cornerback position.
Hanover also received two honorable mention choices in juniors Carson Plessinger (Alexandria, Ky.) and Conner Gibson (Lexington, Ky.). Plessinger, who has played at both defensive end and linebacker this fall, has a career-high 34 tackles in nine appearances. He also has 5.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks.
Gibson joins a talented receiving group with 31 receptions for 480 yards and five touchdowns, all of which are career highs. The junior has been one of the more explosive players in the conference, averaging 15.5 yards per catch. Highlighting his season has been his performances against Franklin (seven catches for 97 yards) and Earlham (two catches for 114 yards and two scores).
Hanover will make its first appearance in the NCAA Division III National Playoffs since 2003, when the team travels to take on No. 9 North Central (Ill.) this Saturday, Nov. 17. The Panthers and Cardinals are slated for a 1 p.m. kickoff eastern time, or noon central time.
Contact: Tyler Jester