|Norm Eash and the Titans believed they could knock off UW-Whitewater. So, they did.
Illinois Wesleyan Athletics photo
By Clyde Hughes
Norm Eash came in Tuesday night fresh off his "don't get ahead of yourself" speech to his Illinois Wesleyan squad after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Division III football three days earlier in a 17-10 victory over then-No. 3-ranked UW-Whitewater.
The Titans will have another of those games on the road against No. 6-ranked North Central on Sept. 16, but they have business to take care of this Saturday at home against Nebraska Wesleyan. Thus, coach's speech.
"I talked with them about that [Tuesday] night," Eash said about moving on from a great game and keeping their level high. "The biggest obstacle in our game with [Nebraska Wesleyan] is ourselves. Brian Keller has done a great job there and we respect everybody. Going into that game, we have to set a standard of how we want to play. We have to improve from game one to game two, which coaches say that's where you make the biggest improvement.
"We've got to beat Nebraska Wesleyan and we have to look good doing it. What Saturday did for us was make us believe that anything is possible. I think that will be our approach the rest of the season.”
And why wouldn't that be? UW-Whitewater is a perennial power that has won six NCAA Division III titles since 2007. But the Titan defense held Whitewater's vaunted rushing game to 43 yards on 34 attempts, almost unheard of for the Warhawks. Eash said his team really set the tone early that it would not back down.
|Brandon Bauer tossed two touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over.
Illinois Wesleyan Athletics photo
"Any coach will tell you that you have to establish the running game and Whitewater never did that against us," Eash said. "They want to run the football. In playing teams like Whitewater and Mount Union, there are breaking points, and we talked to our team about not having any breaking points.
"They scored first against us, a field goal in the second quarter. We followed that with a 12-play drive and scored a touchdown (Jack Healy 21-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Bauer) right back. I think it was then we started to have the confidence that we could win the game.”
Eash credit new defensive coordinator Jeff McDonald with coming up with the scheme to slow down the Warhawks. Illinois Wesleyan capitalized on three Whitewater turnovers, the final one a fumble recovery with the ball on the Titans 1-yard line with a minute to go in the game to preserve the victory.
"Last May we started preparing for Whitewater," Eash said. "[McDonald] did a great job knowing what to expect. We got some help in short yardage. They had a couple of turnovers and we were able to win the game."
Eash said while the victory gives his team "extreme confidence," he added that the Titans, now ranked No. 14 in the latest D3football.com poll, must continue to play at the same level it took to beat a powerhouse program like Whitewater.
"We want to make sure we set that standard to be what we want to be," Eash said.
North Central rests up this week after Week 1 close call
While Illinois Wesleyan will have two games under its belt before its big game – and first road test – against North Central, the Cardinals will get a week of rest after surviving a 33-31 victory over NAIA Robert Morris University Illinois Saturday.
The Cardinals led 26-3 at one point in the game before Robert Morris roared back and scored four touchdowns in five possessions. North Central, though, was able to foil a two-point conversion and hold the Eagles on downs later to preserve the victory.
"I'm really proud of our guys," said North Central head coach Jeff Thorne. "We made our share of first-game mistakes. They were playing their second game of the season tonight, and one thing my father (former North Central head coach John Thorne) has said is that the biggest improvement is from game one to game two. I certainly hope that's the same for us, but Robert Morris has a really good football team."
Opener felt no different for HCAC co-champion Rose-Hulman
Rose-Hulman opened the season in a different position than past Fightin' Engineer teams – as defending HCAC playoff representative and co-champions.
Opening with freshman quarterback Andrew Dion as a starter, Rose-Hulman rallied from 13 points behind to beat Illinois College 33-32 on the road Saturday night.
"It felt like every other opening game," Rose-Hulman coach Jeff Sokol said. "I was just excited to see what the 2017 Fightin’ Engineers would look like."
Dion's numbers were fair, 10 for 22, 155 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. But he threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Raymond Burtnick to give the Engineers the lead with 59 seconds left in the game for a 33-26 lead. The made point after try proved to be the difference in the game.
"Andrew has been playing in our offense for three weeks," Sokol said. "He can be really good, but he still has a tremendous amount to master."
Illinois College scored on the last play of the game to make things interesting, but the Engineers' defense turned back the two-point conversion attempt to preserve the victory.
"It was an opportunity to display unity and toughness," Sokol said of his team's ability to come back and grab the win. "Our guys never panicked, they stayed together and kept fighting until our defense finished the game with an Alec Thompson pass break up on the two-point conversion for the win."
Whitley puts up big numbers in win
Senior Lakeland quarterback Michael Whitley started the season off with a bang for the defending NCAC champions, passing for 473 yards (fourth best in school history) in a 43-29 victory over Carroll. Whitley, who took the Muskies to the playoffs last year based on his passing and running ability, threw for one touchdown and ran for two others in the game.
Most of his damage for the two-time NCAC Offensive Player of the Year came in the first half as Lakeland raced to a 36-7 lead at its new John Taylor Memorial Field. The game also was the Muskies' first on-campus night game in school history.
Lakeland will attempt to keep the good feelings going on the road Sept. 19 when the Muskies play Hope, which lost to defending MWC champion Monmouth 27-20 in its opener Saturday.
Game to Watch
Monmouth at Wartburg, 1 p.m.—Wartburg, which is coming off of a 6-4 season, should be a good strong, stiff test for the defending Midwest Conference champions after their win against Hope on Saturday. The Scots' DeAndre Wright will be trying for his second consecutive 100-yard game after rushing for 113 against Hope. Wright rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season for Monmouth.
Players to watch
Joey Valdivia, RB, Lake Forest—Valdivia, a preseason All-American, will roll into Lake Forest's Saturday home opener against Carleton taking up where he left off from last season. Valdivia entered last Saturday's game needing just 1,029 yards to become the Foresters all-time leading rusher. He took care of a quarter of that in Lake Forest's 37-27 win over Beloit, rushing for 295 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. Carleton, though, only gave up 87 rushing yards in a 31-20 loss to Macalester last Saturday. It will provide an interesting contrast this weekend.
Sola Olateju, RB, Wheaton—Olateju played a big part as the No. 5-ranked Thunder rolled up 38 second-quarter points against Benedictine on their way to a 57-14 victory. Olateju reeled off touchdown runs of 82 and 54 yards in that period that helped break the game open. He finished the night with 170 yards on eight carries. He should be able to have a similar night at Kalamazoo College on Saturday.