The View From Pluto: Northeast Ohio's Big-Time, Small College Football Teams Eye National Titles

Nov 22, 2017

Ashland University stunned two-time defending DII champs Northwest Missouri State this past weekend to advance to the Sweet Sixteen
Credit Ashland University

There are three Northeast Ohio college football teams competing for national titles.

Ashland University is in the Division II Sweet Sixteen, while in Division III, powerhouse Mount Union hosts Case Western Reserve University this weekend.

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks to Amanda Rabinowitz about big time, small college football.

Ashland's success with Lee Owens
This past weekend, Ashland University stunned Division II two-time national champion Northwest Missouri State. Ashland is led by coach Lee Owens, who Terry Pluto says has re-invented himself at the school. 

Owens coached at Massillon Washington High School at the age of 32. Four years later, he was an assistant at Ohio State. Then, he was the head coach at the University of Akron for nine years, where he was fired after a 7-5 season. With three years left on his contract, the school offered him a desk job in public relations. But Pluto says he still wanted to coach. A few days later, he got a call from Ashland. 

"You go down to Ashland now; it's a really nice set-up. They have a 6,000-seat stadium that's like a smaller version of Akron's InfoCision Stadium. At the time [Owens was hired], they were playing on a high-school field. They had gone 2-9 the previous two years. And 14 years later, Owens has turned them into a Division II power."

Ashland hosts Harding Saturday at noon. 

A Northeast Ohio DIII showdown
In Division III, 12-time national champion Mount Union University hosts Case Western Reserve University in the NCAA tournament second round Saturday at noon. 

"For Case Western, this is monumental. They had never won a postseason playoff game before"

"For Case Western, this is monumental. They had never won a postseason playoff game before," Pluto says. 

This past weekend, in what started as a thunderstorm and ended up as a snowstorm, they beat Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, Ill.  They traveled about 450 miles by bus and the night before the game, coach Greg Debeljak had to monitor a physics test for nine freshman in the hotel.

Pluto says the two schools have long had a relationship.

"Greg Debeljak has had Mount Union coach Vince Kehres come down and talk to different area coaches at Case about defense. And Kevin Burke, who was the last Mount Union quarterback to win a national title, is now a part-time assistant on the staff at Case Western."

"I just [like] these stories, whether it's Lee Owners recreating himself at Ashland, or Greg Debeljak turning Case Western into a football power for the area, or Mount Union with its remarkable sustained success. And, all these games are cheap and I think fans should really check them out."