|Louis Baltazar, left, and the rest of the Pioneers have made big steps forward the past two years.
Lewis and Clark athletics file photo
By Jason Galleske
Louis Baltazar transferred to Lewis and Clark in 2009 with the notion of a program that was going to drastically improve.
His intuition was spot on -- eventually.
"There was just a feeling like we were going in right direction," Baltazar, a standout senior linebacker said. "Coach (Chris) Sulages treats players right and we've got a good scheme. There was something in the air when I got here, I just knew it was going to be turned around."
It's been quite a while since the 6-0 Pios have put together a winning campaign. Lewis and Clark hadn't had a winning season since 1995, hasn't won a conference title since tying with Linfield in 1991 and hasn't won the title outright since 1966. Since 1995, the Pios have been 28-109. The last two seasons, the Pioneers have gone 2-7 and 4-5.
Sulages, in his sixth year, thought after barely missing a winning campaign last year, this would be a better season.
"I knew last year actually, we took some guys to the limit, came up a little short in some games and won some games," Sulages said. "I knew going into camp if we played our cards right, we could be pretty good."
"It might be a surprise to people to outside our program, but not really a surprise to the players and coaches," Sulages said.
While 6-0 may be nice, the Pios aren't content with what they've accomplished to this point.
"The beautiful thing is we haven't played a complete game yet," Baltazar said. "It's going to be a really beautiful thing once we put all three phases together. Once we do that we're going to be real scary. There's not a practice that goes by that people are satisfied, you can tell in our eyes and attitudes: 6-0 isn't what we want, we want to go 9-0. The toughest ones are the ones in front of you. Right now we're worried about going 7-0."
Sulages breaks down the matter even further.
"We break it down one play at a time," he said. "We've got to be able to execute 100 percent, leave all of our blood, sweat and tears on the field has been our goal. You can talk about playoffs all you want, it doesn't mean anything right now. Right now we've just got to worry about Pacific Lutheran."
Leading the charge behind center this season for Lewis and Clark has been sophomore quarterback Keith Welch. Welch has been burning defenses with his legs and arms as he has thrown for 1,486 yards, 11 touchdowns to one interception. He is also has ran for 532 yards and 13 touchdowns. Shawn Evans is the leading receiver with 37 catches for 468 yards and four touchdowns.
Baltazar is the defensive leader with 57 tackles, 15-1/2 tackles for loss, six sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception.
"It is a good feeling," Baltazar said. "We've worked hard, we trust our coaches. It's probably closest football team, we've had a lot of snaps through each player. It’s almost kind of like 'Finally.' We'd expected to be here. Obviously it's new, we're happy with it, but we're not satisfied."
Two time defending national champion UW-Whitewater needed a comeback effort to top WIAC rival UW-Oshkosh 20-17 and extend its nation high win streak to 37 games. Eric Kindler's 17-yard field goal with 1:18 remaining was the difference in the game. The winning tally was set up by a 47-yard run by Levell Coppage. Coppage rushed for a game-high 131 yards and is 54 yards short of Justin Beaver's school and WIAC career rushing record.
"I'm very happy with the way we persevered though the game and found way to win at end," Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said.
The Titans led 17-10 at halftime. Whitewater tied it at 17-17 with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Matt Blanchard to Jason Ford.
The Warhawks did it despite losing four offensive starters to injuries throughout the game. "We found a way," Leipold said. "Whether it was by three or 30, they all count the same and it was an important win."
The Warhawks set themselves up for a chance at their seventh straight WIAC conference title and sixth outright (Whitewater shared with UW-Stevens Point in 2008).
"There's no other talk," Leipold said of the chance of winning the conference. "Every thing will take care of its self. We guaranteed 10 games and that's it. We've got to make sure we maximize those opportunities the best we can."
St. Thomas slowed down Bethel and won the showdown 23-13 to improve to 6-0 in the MIAC and 8-0 overall. Third-ranked St. Thomas dropped the Royals to 20th overall and likely out of playoff contention with their second loss.
"It was probably as gratifying a win as we've had in four years," St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. "It allows us to control our own fate. All of the work we do for is the opportunity to control things if we work as hard as we can.
"What the win gave us doesn't entitle us to anything; we still have two weeks to play."
Tommies running back Colin Tobin led the way with 133 yards on 31 carries and two touchdowns. The Tommies helped themselves in a major way by going up 20-7 by halftime. Another big factor was the way St. Thomas stopped the Royals three times on fourth-and-short situations. Bethel, who came into the game averaging 288 yards per game -- 10th best in the nation -- was limited to 137 yards.
Now St. Thomas moves on to host 1-6 Gustavis Aldophus. Despite the Gusties' record, Caruso said it was crucial for his team to continue to play better football as the season continues.
"I think it's imperative that that hunger and drive continues," Caruso said. "You either are excellent or you're not. Regardless of whether or who you're playing. All we can do is best (team) we can be. If we're the best (team), we should be in pretty good shape. The kids work really hard."
7: Touchdowns Dubuque quarterback Wyatt Hanus threw in a 47-17 win over Buena Vista Saturday. The feat is an IIAC single-game record. Hanus barely missed all day as he completed 33 of 39 passes for 478 yards. Hanus now has 34 touchdown passes on the season.