More Than Just Mayor’s Cup On The Line For King’s, Wilkes
WILKES-BARRE — This year’s Mayor’s Cup game is going to mean even more.
There’s always plenty riding on the annual showdown between King’s and Wilkes, the two Division III football teams separated by mere blocks in Wilkes-Barre. The Monarchs and Colonels have clashed with a rivalry trophy and offseason bragging rights on the line for 22 consecutive seasons, including some memorable games.
It’s recently been a season finale for both sides — but that might not be the case Saturday. Both crosstown rivals are hoping to extend their seasons when the 23rd annual Mayor’s Cup game kicks off at 12:07 today at Wilkes’ Schmidt Stadium.
A spot in the Centennial-MAC Bowl Series could come along with a Mayor’s Cup win this year. The Centennial Conference and Middle Atlantic Conference’s champions receive automatic bids for the NCAA D-III tournament, and other teams may also receive at-large bids; the leagues’ top two remaining teams have played in the Centennial-MAC series since its inception in 2015.
A third Centennial-MAC bowl game was announced in August for this season’s series, however, meaning an extra opportunity for the MAC’s 11 teams to play postseason football.
“(A bowl game) would be awesome for our eight seniors and this whole group,” King’s coach Jeff Knarr said. “You get to play somebody in a playoff atmosphere, (which) would only enhance and help grow our program.”
Wilkes (5-4, 4-3 MAC) has the best chance to go bowling with a Mayor’s Cup win. The Colonels are tied for fourth in the conference with FDU-Florham (6-3, 4-3 MAC) and Widener (4-5, 4-3 MAC), and they beat FDU-Florham last month. Even if only the MAC’s champion qualifies for the NCAA tournament, a 5-3 MAC record should propel Wilkes into an 11th game.
It’s quite the turnaround for Wilkes under first-year coach Jonathan Drach.
“I think it was the expectation, to be honest. When we came in, we said this was the position we were going to be in,” Drach said. “I don’t lie too much. I figured that we had a pretty good chance to be where we are right now.”
Last year, the Colonels went 0-10 for their second winless season in 72 years. The final loss of the year came to King’s, 40-26, in a Mayor’s Cup game that featured three freshmen quarterbacks taking snaps for Wilkes.
But Jose Tabora missed most of last season with an injury, and Wilkes’ sophomore-eligible quarterback has returned in remarkable fashion. He’s 14th in all of D-III with 2,564 passing yards (first in the MAC) and tied for 21st in the nation with 23 passing touchdowns (second in the MAC).
“He’s basically set almost every school passing record that we’ve had, and will break (them) by the time it’s probably all said and done,” Drach said.
Senior and Berwick graduate Jeff Steeber leads Tabora’s receivers with 891 yards (second in the MAC) and 10 touchdowns (third) on 62 receptions (third). Nick Yanik also ranks in the conference’s top-10 with 47 catches and 676 yards.
Those weapons have helped Wilkes’ offense stay on the field for a MAC-leading 33 minutes, 15 seconds per game, earn a league-best 23.2 first downs per game and convert 51.8-percent of third downs, also tops in the MAC. It’s a recipe that has Wilkes on the verge of the postseason after four wins in their last five games.
“We’ve been in the ‘playoffs’ the last basically two weeks. When we played Lycoming, we knew we had to win that game. And, then we know we have to win this King’s game,” Drach said.
King’s has proven to be just as efficient, however, and enters this matchup with history on its side. The Monarchs are enjoying their best Mayor’s Cup run ever with four wins in the last five years.
Though King’s (4-5, 3-4 MAC) lost a massive amount of production from 2017, particularly in its passing game, the team is also in the playoff hunt. The Monarchs are tied for seventh in the MAC, and, with some help, could tie Wilkes, FDU-Florham and Widener by the end of Saturday.
A win would mark the third straight year King’s finished 5-5 overall. It’s stayed steady thanks to similar efficiency as Wilkes: its 44.4-percent third-down rate is third in the MAC, its 21.3 first downs per game are second, and its 667 offensive plays top the league.
First-year starting QB Tommy Klock has grown this season, Knarr said, and he’s at 1,432 yards and 14 touchdowns on 59.1-percent passing. Klock has tallied at least 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a single game twice this season.
“In the beginning of the year, he was running around, using his athleticism, which was awesome,” Knarr said. “As the year goes on, you’ve seen he’s developed into a passer back there. ... He’s evolved more into a quarterback.”
It doesn’t hurt Klock to have running back Jordan Downes in the backfield to keep defenses guessing. Downes leads the MAC with 881 yards on 173 carries.
Pride, and the postseason, are at stake today. With playmakers on both sides, this might not be one to miss.
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