It might seem counterintuitive to talk about defense in a game that featured 65 points and 999 yards of offense. But when one of those defenses pitches a second-half shutout in a battle of top ten teams, kick starting a come-from-behind victory to put their squad in the drivers’ seat for a conference title, it’s time to talk about defense.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where then-No. 9 Coe took control of the IIAC drivers seat forcing three second half turnovers – a fumble and two interceptions – en route to outscoring then-No. 7 Central 17-0 after halftime. What makes all that even more remarkable was that the Dutch had scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to take a 28-20 lead at the end of the first half. Even if they weren’t in control, Central certainly had reason to be confident.
Then the Kohawks went into lockdown mode. They held Central to a three-and-out on the Dutch’s first possession of the second half and allowed just one first down on the next one. On the first play of the fourth quarter, a 43-yard completion by Central quarterback Nate Snead would have given the Dutch the lead, but senior Dillon Mellick made the play of the game, forcing a goal line fumble that rolled out of the end zone for a touchback. Then, after a missed field goal, junior Austin Lloyed and senior Cody Kriegel picked off Snead on consecutive drives.
That’s big-time defense in a big-time game, and it garnered Coe big-time respect, moving them up to No. 6 in the polls. The offense wasn’t too shabby either – quarterback Brad Boyle accounted for all five Kohawk touchdowns, gaining two in the air on 243 yards passing, while scoring three others as part of 82 yards on the ground. Brendan Leiran was also dominant running the football, totaling 138 yards on just 19 carries.
Even if Coe is now the odds-on favorite in the IIAC, the race is far from over. Undefeated Wartburg is waiting in the wings for both Central and the Kohawks – though the Knights will have to travel to both schools.
Fans who got their money’s worth
With two programs in rebuilding mode, Whittier and Puget Sound were expected to be a pretty even matchup this year. But the Poets and Loggers took parity to an extreme last weekend, grinding through six incredibly dramatic overtimes before Whittier emerged with a 42-39 victory. After both teams failed to score in overtimes one, two and three, UPS took a 39-31 lead on Casey Larson’s 1-yard run and a two-point conversion. The Poets responded with a stunning 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth down before getting two themselves. Another scoreless overtime followed before Eric Cejudo finally knocked in a 26-yard field goal to end the contest.
Speaking of dramatic endings …
If it weren’t for Whittier/UPS, St. Olaf’s 19-14 victory over Gustavus Adolphus probably would have taken home this week’s prize for thrilling finishes. After leading 13-7 for most of the second half, the Oles gave up the go-ahead touchdown to Gustavus with just 3:32 left in the game. But on the very last drive of the game, St. Olaf quarterback Dan Dobson completed back to back completions on third and fourth down to move his team within striking distance before running back Leon Clark scored on a 2-yard run with just 23 seconds remaining.
Game(s) of this Week
Usually I try to confine this segment to one game, but the slate of games this weekend is just too good. Here are four games every West Region fan should try and watch or listen to this weekend:
1. No. 19 St. John’s vs. No. 4 St. Thomas, 1:00 p.m. (Central). At the risk of repeating what everyone else is saying, this is the both team’s game of the season – and possibly of the decade. For the first time in a long time, the MIAC could see a changing of the guard in this rivalry. St. Thomas has looked nothing short of dominant, even without Ben Wartman at tailback, while the Johnnies have struggled at times, blowing a game at UW-Eau Claire (see below). But with 13,000-plus expected this weekend in Collegeville and the ever-present Gagliardi factor, who knows? One thing’s for sure: it’ll be dramatic.
2. No. 18 UW-Eau Claire vs. UW-Stevens Point, 1:00 p.m. (Central). With Whitewater looking more dominant than ever, this game could easily determine poll position for a second WIAC playoff bid. The Blugolds have gotten a lot of national ink lately, while preseason No. 15 has largely been flying under the radar since their season-opening loss to Willamette. If the Pointers can pull off a road upset, they’ll easily vault back into the top 20.
3. No. 16 Linfield vs. No. 15 Willamette, 1:30 p.m. (Pacific). Like the Johnnie/Tommie game, this is a longstanding rivalry with very little love lost between fans and players. Unlike the Johnnie/Tommie game, this is probably a playoff elimination game. With both the Wildcats and Bearcats already carrying a loss and given the NCAA’s antipathy towards west coast playoff teams, the loser will likely be staying at home come November. Linfield is the historically dominant program, taking 31 of the last 39 matchups, including last year. But Willamette won in 2007 and 2008, and has played the tougher schedule so far.
4. Redlands vs. No. 23 California Lutheran, 7:00 p.m. (Pacific). Wrap up your day in sunny Southern California with a repeat of last year’s SCIAC championship contest. CLU is an enigma, having toppled Linfield (see above) but dropped a road game against Pacific Lutheran. Redlands has ground out two wins against East Texas Baptist and Whitworth, teams that haven’t exactly looked impressive so far. If nothing else, it’s an intriguing offensive matchup between the run-heavy Kingsmen and the pass-happy Bulldogs, and it should be a great way to finish a great day of football.
I know that reporters are supposed to be unbiased, but really, all that goes out the window during Linfield week. I’ll be at Maxwell Field in McMinnville on Saturday, so if you see anything I miss or have any comments, suggestions, or story ideas, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.