2023 Wilkes vs Susquehanna University

Wilkes & Susquehanna Face Off In Major Landmark Match Up

Wilkes & Susquehanna Face Off In Major Landmark Match Up

Wilkes and Susquehanna clash this weekend for the top spot in the Landmark and in one of the most important games in the league’s young football history.

Oct 19, 2023 by Briar Napier

Two things can be true now that most of the Landmark Conference’s football-playing teams are halfway through conference play during the league’s first season on the gridiron.

First, no one has been able to touch preseason favorite Susquehanna, which has settled into its new league nicely as its top dog and torch-bearer until further notice.

Second, it’s that Wilkes has been arguably just as exciting as the River Hawks and deserves just as much attention for its eye-popping displays on the field, even though it doesn’t have the prestige of a national top-25 ranking or even an overall winning record.

Those two programs clash this weekend for the top spot in the Landmark, and in one of the most important games in the league’s young football history, it could show a lot about where the conference’s balance of power will stand for years to come. 

The River Hawks have their eyes set on another trip to the postseason, while the Colonels have theirs set on playing spoiler and reminding to the rest of the league — and country — that the Landmark hasn’t been already decided in mid-October. And with two high-powered offenses set to collide, electric plays and quick momentum swings make it the Landmark’s best option to check out on the schedule this weekend. 

Here’s a look at what to watch out for as No. 12 Susquehanna hosts Wilkes this weekend, with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday on FloFootball:

Homeward Bound?

A season ago, Susquehanna hosted an NCAA Division III playoff game for the very first time, ultimately bowing out to Utica in the first round. In 2023, the River Hawks at the moment look poised to repeat the feat — and in potentially even better standing than when they achieved it last year. 

SU has been the undisputed king of the Landmark’s first season of football halfway through the league’s inaugural slate; at 7-0 overall with a 3-0 mark in conference play, Susquehanna has outscored Landmark foes by an incredible 175-21 margin across three games and don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. 

Case in point: the River Hawks annihilated rival Juniata this past weekend by a 56-0 margin in the annual Goal Post Trophy Game, winning the matchup for the eighth straight time as the River Hawks rumbled over the Eagles to the tune of five rushing touchdowns and over 500 yards of total offense. 

Just three more games separate SU from what would be a second straight undefeated regular season, and Wilkes (the only other team in the Landmark with a 3-0 league record) should provide the River Hawks with a midseason litmus test to determine if the rest of their league campaign will be smooth sailing. 

Nonetheless, Susquehanna will definitely come armed to the teeth with weaponry and impact players on both sides of the ball, though; it’s scored 33 touchdowns and allowed just 11 on the season to date (both Landmark bests) and holds a top-10 win on its resume when it took down then-No. 10 SUNY Cortland in September in nonconference play, putting the River Hawks on a pedestal that no one yet on the schedule has been able to unseat them from. 

With its upcoming home matchup against Wilkes additionally doubling as its homecoming game, SU will especially be looking to make sure that this weekend isn’t the one in which that happens. 

Colonels Cruising

With tempered expectations following a winless 0-4 mark in conference play, Wilkes, in its three Landmark games since then, has been humming along nicely as it bounced back convincingly to near .500. Featuring a pulsating offense which has scored an average of 31 points per game (second in the Landmark, only behind Susquehanna) this season, the Colonels begun to turn on the jets once conference play came along, scoring an average of 51 points per game across their three league wins against Juniata (63-14), Lycoming (48-35) and Keystone (42-7). 

So, what’s been key to the sudden turnaround at Wilkes? That question has an easy answer — the Colonels’ run game has come alive in devastating fashion. 

After averaging 90 yards per game on the ground in nonconference play, Wilkes has averaged well over triple that amount against Landmark opposition with an eye-popping 349.7 average plus a total of 12 rushing touchdowns across the three games. But none of the Colonels’ performances running the ball this season have been as good as what fans saw this past weekend against Keystone when they delivered handoffs 48 times for a whopping school-record 503 yards and four touchdowns as three different players (Elijah Jules, JayJay Jordan and Xavier Powell) crossed the 100-yard threshold on the day, with all of whom finished their days outrushing Keystone’s entire team by themselves. 

Quarterback Isaiah Rodriguez is a capable thrower, too, having tossed a league-low two interceptions on 156 attempts when the Colonels do decide to go through the air, leaving Wilkes as one of the Landmark’s few offenses that’s even in Susquehanna’s stratosphere in terms of production this season. 

Defense is one of the obvious X-factors that will determine whether or not the Colonels can stick with the River Hawks for long, but there is a blueprint to holding their offense at bay; nonconference foe SUNY Brockport, for instance, held SU out of the endzone in a 6-5 war earlier this year which required a last-second River Hawks field goal for them to escape with a win. If Wilkes can do its job and prevent the game from getting out of hand early, things could get interesting this weekend in Selinsgrove. 

Can Wilkes Win It?

Susquehanna’s rushing defense has been vaunted and highly respected across D-III as it’s given up just 68.1 yards per game, 2.3 yards per rush, and zero touchdowns on the ground to date. How Wilkes explodes on offense is when it’s able to get its run game going, and the Colonels especially seem to be hitting their stride with their rushing attack after over a half-century of ground yards less than seven days ago. Something’s got to give. 

The last time these two programs met — four years ago in the postseason Centennial/MAC Bowl Game — however, it was the Colonels that broke down as the River Hawks ripped them to shreds. That game, an 88-24 whooping by Susquehanna, saw the Colonels absolutely torn apart in all facets as SU continued to build upon what’s been a successful several-year stretch for the football program that helped lead it to its first home playoff game last fall. 

Now league-mates in the Landmark and with first place in the conference on the line, Wilkes has an opportunity to send shockwaves throughout the D-III landscape and show to the rest of the country that the conference isn’t the River Hawks’ to lose, but rather one in which they’ll be in for a dogfight the rest of the way leading into the postseason. 

From a Susquehanna perspective, a victory against Wilkes would be crucial toward its goal of capturing the Landmark’s first-ever league title (and automatic playoff berth) as the Colonels are one of SU’s toughest remaining (if not the toughest) opponents on the schedule, as it closes out the regular season after this weekend with matchups against Moravian (3-3 overall, 2-0 Landmark) and Lycoming (1-5, 1-1). 

Watch how the first two quarters go this weekend; in the past two weeks against Keystone and Juniata, the River Hawks specialized in putting games to bed early as they scored four touchdowns before halftime each time. If SU doesn’t do that and Wilkes hangs tough, the Colonels — if they have enough left in the tank for the second half — could be in line to potentially pull off a stunner if things go right. But as the River Hawks have proven all year thus far, a lot of things need to go right, no matter who you are if you’re to be the ones to end their hopes at another unbeaten regular season.