Simpson makes Wartburg face its elimination

Taylor Nelson has completed more than 60 percent of his passes in each of the past six games.
Simpson athletics photo

Simpson's overtime upset win at then-19th ranked Wartburg was in your face, well, at least in the mug of Brenton Minish.

Minish blocked an extra point in the extra session to give the Storm a 38-37 win to spoil the Knights homecoming and crippling Wartburg's chances for a playoff berth and a IIAC crown.

"We put Taylor Rogers in to get a middle jump," a jubilant Simpson coach Jim Glogowski said. "With the push, the kick hit Minish in the face with it. It wasn't a very clean block. It was a great push. The ball was a little bit low and hit (Minish) in the face."

The Storm scored first in the overtime as Taylor Nelson hooked up with Rogers for the second straight 10-yard touchdown pass to give Simpson a 38-31 lead. Nelson completed 38 of 59 passes for 358 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Wartburg came right back to score with a 4-yard touchdown by Reese Thompson, but what hampered them all day was the lack to make extra points. Wartburg was 2-of-5 on extra points and couldn't convert the final one.

The Storm came back from a 31-14 deficit to start the fourth quarter and sent the game in overtime with Nelson hooking up with Rogers from 10 yards out with 11 seconds remaining in regulation.

"I can't say enough how proud I am of my kids for not quitting," Glogowski said. "This game gives you a lot of confidence that you can come out of a lot of bad situations if you just keep sticking with it."

The win erased many years of frustration for the Storm as the win over the Knights was the first since 1997. The win put the Storm at 3-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference -- a game back of tri-leaders Dubuque, Central and Coe. Wartburg is now 3-2 in the league.

"That was exciting," Glogowski said about the drought against the Knights. "It's been awhile since we've been able to do that. We're building the program in a positive direction."

Big conference matchups ahead

A big showdown for the MIAC awaits as third-ranked St. Thomas travels to Bethel to play the tenth-ranked Royals. Last season, the Tommies topped the Royals 10-6 in the regular season on the way to winning the conference title. Bethel got its revenge in the playoffs by winning 12-7 in the quarterfinals.

"This is two teams that I don't think are particulary fond of one other," Bethel coach Steve Johnson said. "The last two games were incredibly physical. The Tommies have earned where where they at. We're going to prepare that we're going to do every week. Not everybody gets to play in a championship game and we get to."

St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso knows the ramifications of this game as well.

"We're extremely excited for this game," he said. "We circle it on our calendars. This is by far one of our favorite games to play."

This matchup consists of balance from St. Thomas as opposed to grind-it-out football by Bethel. The Royals have rushed for 1,720 rushing yards as opposed to 812 yards through the air. Running back Brandon Marquardt has rushed for 597 yards, quarterback Josh Aakre adds 530 yards and Jesse Phenow contributes 483 yards.

"They run the ball, make no bones about it," Caruso said. "They don't try to hide it, they're going to put their nose down and run the football. Everybody knows what they're going to do. They've got a three-headed monster, you've got your hands full."

The Tommies on the other hand, are just about even when it comes to running or throwing the football. St. Thomas has 1,658 passing yards and 1,443 rushing yards. Tommies quarterback Dakota Tracy has thrown for 1,373 yards and 13 touchdowns with Fritz Waldvogel catching 37 passes for 651 yards and nine touchdowns. Colin Tobin is the leading rusher with 655 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"They've got a great balance," Johnson said. "They kind of always have pressure on you. They really run the ball well and have a good passing game. They're probably a little more balanced, kind of prone to have a big play. If we can play our tempo, we're in great shape. If we give up big plays, we're not going to be as good."

With an earlier season loss to St. Olaf, the Royals have to view this game as a must-win. Not only for a chance to win the MIAC, but for their playoff hopes as well.

"We try not to be full of bull, every single game is a big deal," Johnson said. "(This one) is really big because we lost earlier."

And big for the Tommies of course as well. St. Thomas puts its 16-game MIAC regular season streak on the line.

"If you want to go where you want to go, to play some of those games on home turf come playoff time, this another reason this is a bigger game than normal," Caruso said.

Titans host top-ranked Whitewater

The WIAC conference race could very well come down to Saturday's matchup between two-time defending national champion UW-Whitewater and host UW-Oshkosh, currently ranked 20th.

Both teams are currently 3-0 in the WIAC, but recent history heavily favors the Warhawks. Whitewater has won 20 straight WIAC games and 36 overall. Oshkosh is looking for its first winning season since 2007. Over the last five years, the Warhawks have outscored the Titans 175-48. The Titans last beat the Warhawks in 2002.

"It's a big challenge, they have a lot of talent," UW-Oshkosh coach Pat Cerroni said.

That being said, Cerroni is focusing on his team -- not the Warhawks.

"We're just trying to win a game, not only this week, but every week," Cerroni said. "We worry about us that's it. We don't care about anyone else."

The Titans have won four straight since falling to second-ranked and perennial power Mt. Union 41-17. Among the Titans wins, was one over Central, a storied Division III power, 31-28.

"We were hoping to go 1-1 against those two and we did," Cerroni said.

 The two top offenses in the WIAC will go to battle. Whitewater's Levell Coppage leads the conference with 725 yards and 12 touchdowns. He needs 185 yards to become the WIAC's all-time leading rusher. The Warhawks are balanced as Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard has thrown for 1,400 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Defensively, the Warhawks allow 11 points per game and 67 yards on the ground.

"I attribute it to our assistant coaches and our senior leadership," Warhawks coach Lance Leipold said. "The seniors understood for us to maintain what we're doing they have to have the same intensity and same preparation."

Leipold isn't shocked by the rise of the Titans this season.

"Pat has been waiting for this for awhile," Leipold said. "I don't think it's overly surprising and I think it's going to be a big challenge."

For the Titans, junior quarterback Nate Wara has been a key cog as he has 954 passing yards and 457 rushing yards. Wara has nine touchdowns through the air and three on the ground, though he left the game early against Platteville on Saturday with an injury and his status for Saturday is uncertain. Justin Budiac has also been a force on the ground as he has rushed for seven touchdowns during the Titans four-game win streak.

And now, the Titans will see if they can shock the Division III landscape and be in the drivers seat for a playoff run and WIAC title.

"We've been excited since Sunday to try to put a game plan together and have the best success against them," Cerroni said.

70 - Points Central put up in a thrashing of Loras Saturday afternoon. The win puts the Dutch in a three-way tie in the IIAC. It was the most points Central has scored since a 73-7 victory at William Penn in 2000.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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