October 11, 2011

IWU's play speaks for itself

More news about: Illinois Wesleyan
Sean Conley is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns.
IWU photo by Marc Featherly

Veteran Illinois Wesleyan coach Norm Eash said he did not feel disrespected earlier this season when his Titans received little, if any, attention from Top 25 voters.

Illinois Wesleyan had nearly its entire defense returning from a 7-3 team last year and a squad that reached the second round of the playoffs in 2009. The Titans received only six votes the week it took on nationally ranked Wheaton in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin opener.

“I’ve been around long enough where that doesn’t bother me or us,” Eash said. “You have to gain the respect of people. I think sometimes people are really fond of Wheaton and North Central, but our league has other good teams and we happen to be one of them. We’ll make our statement through our play.”

The undefeated Titans (5-0, 2-0 in CCIW) have done just that, beating Wheaton two weeks ago 24-19 and this past Saturday whipping North Park 42-3. 

The IWU file

Here's what the Titans' resume looked like before they played Wheaton:

Opponent Record Who'd they beat?
Hope 2-2 Wis. Lutheran (1-2)
Lakeland (0-3) 
Alma 1-3 Rockford (0-3)
Aurora 1-2 MacMurray (0-3)

Illinois Wesleyan is now getting plenty of attention, ranked No. 16 nationally, a notch ahead of Wheaton. The Titans are 10 spots behind fellow CCIW rival North Central, which they will play at home on Oct. 22.

While Illinois Wesleyan is now on the Division III playoff radar, Eash said the last thing his team wants to do is get ahead of itself or everything they’ve worked for at this point can be wiped out. The Titans travel to Elmhurst (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday and Eash said that is the only game he and his team are thinking about.

"I've been in the CCIW for 25 years and I know what the league is all about and you can’t look by anybody,” Eash said. “Elmhurst is a team I highly respect and I told our players I thought Elmhurst would be our toughest ballgame.”

Illinois Wesleyan has proven to this point to be up to the challenge. No one is surprised by the Titans' defense with 10 returning starters. IWU is giving up a stingy 6.2 points per game. It held Wheaton to its lowest point total of the year.

The Titans defense is led by senior linebacker Ben Houk, who has 44 tackles so far, seven of those for losses. He’s leading the team in both categories. Eash said, though, there were a number of question marks on offense.

“We knew we were going to have a real solid club,” Eash said. We thought we would be a team that would challenge for the conference championship, but we needed some young kids on offense to come on pretty strong and that has happened. That’s the reason we’re undefeated so far.”

Sophomore quarterback Rob Gallik is completing 67.6 percent of his passes this season (92-135-5) and has thrown for eight touchdowns, while averaging 233 passing yards per contest. Sophomore tailback T.J. Stinde, is averaging 84.7 yards per game, giving the Titans some punch on the ground.

“We also have sophomores on the offensive line,” Eash said. “I think our kids have a lot of confidence and we knew our defense would be very strong. The key to beating Wheaton was taking control of the ballgame and set the tempo. We were able to do to them what they usually do to other people. We came out strong and got up on them 17-3 and that was the key to the game.”

Eash said while the Wheaton victory was important, it’s also a game that’s been played and behind them. He said Titans will have to play consistently enough to produce the same results over the next five weeks to win the CCIW title.

“It’s a great privilege to be where we’re at,” Eash said. “We’ve got five tough games left to play. We just have to take care of business. We can’t look by anyone. Elmhurst is dangerous and we respect them. Any team in the CCIW with one lost plays like their backs are against the wall because two losses in our league and you take yourself out of the championship race.”

Borsellino churning out yardage

Benedictine’s John Borsellino entered last week’s game ranked No. 3 in the country in all-purpose yardage. He did not hurt his cause in a 26-19 victory over Aurora, rushing for 98 yards and returning a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. The effort helped Benedictine (3-2, 2-0 in Northern Athletics Conference) erase a 16-0 halftime deficit for the victory.

Hanover hanging in there

After an opening loss to Rose-Hulman, Hanover has won two straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference games for a 3-1 league record. That places the Panthers one game behind rival and No. 22-ranked Franklin (5-1, 4-0). If Hanover (3-3, 3-1) and Franklin win out, the annual Victory Bell Game at Hanover will have extra meaning because it will be for the HCAC championship as well. It’s a nice turnaround for the Panthers, who lost All-American wide receiver Daniel Passafiume before the season started and lost their first two games.

Game of the Week

Benedictine (3-2, 2-0) vs. Concordia, Wis. (2-3, 2-0): Benedictine, Concordia (Wis.) and Lakeland (2-3, 2-0) are all tied at 2-0 on top of the NATHC. Benedictine, after defeating the two preseason conference favorites in consecutive weeks (Concordia, Ill, and Aurora), the Eagles can take another big step to defending its title in beating a Falcons team that has bounced back from a 0-3 start.

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Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss

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