Spartans pass a big test

More news about: Dubuque
Dubuque has its eyes on getting back to the Division III playoffs.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

Dubuque wants to be where it was in 2011 – atop the IIAC standings.

After finishing 4-3 in the conference a year ago and missing out on the playoffs, the Spartans are using their high-powered passing game, a tough non-conference schedule and experienced veterans to make a push at the 2013 league crown.

Dubuque passed their first test by topping defending champion Coe on the road, 38-14, and the Spartans will host fellow-unbeaten Wartburg this week.

“Coming into this season, we thought we had some real big-play potential and some really nice speed. And we've got a very veteran offensive line,” said Stan Zweifel, who is in his fifth season as Dubuque’s head coach.

The Spartans’ explosiveness was on display Saturday when they threw for 311 yards, and connected on pair of touchdown plays of 50-plus yards.

Tyler Rutenbeck hauled in a 51- and 65-yard touchdown pass from Bryan Bradshaw on his way to catching four passes for 165 yards and three score. Bradshaw also hooked up with Chris Bagley for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

“We've always had good receivers here,” said Zweifel, whose son Michael is the all-time NCAA receptions leader and won the 2011 Gagliardi Trophy. “What's different this year is we've been throwing the ball down the field further than we probably have in the past.

“Tyler Rutenbeck has been a big-play kid for us, but so has Chris Bagley.”

Bradshaw, a transfer from Winona State, has been a key to the offense’s success as well. He has used targets like Rutenbeck, Bagley and Sean Anderson to amass 1,644 yards passing through six games, racking up 19 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

“He wanted to go to a place where he thought he could showcase his abilities a little bit,” Zweifel said. “Of course I worked with his grandfather in summer football camps, and I coached his dad in summer football camps. So there was a family connection there, and they felt pretty comfortable with what we've done with quarterbacks over the course of my career.

“We had a lot, a lot of experience and both our tight ends are back,” Zweifel said. “We really felt like we'd be able to hit the ground running with Bryan.”

Dubuque scheduled non-conference games against three WIAC opponents, including contests vs. UW-Platteville and UW-Stevens Point. While the Spartans lost those contests Zweifel felt like it helped prepare his team for its IIAC slate of games.

“We played a very, very competitive non-conference schedule, and that was by design,” he said. “Two years ago, we made the playoffs and faced North Central in the first round, we felt we had played competition to have us ready for a national playoff game.

“I think we won a real tough game against Central (on Oct. 5), which I thought the type of competition we played helped us for that,” Zweifel continued. “Saturday, going down to Coe, I thought we really matched their intensity but also matched the bigness of the game.”

Before the season began, Dubuque was picked to finish fourth in the conference. However, the Spartans had the bar set higher having been one year removed from the league championship.

“We really had high expectations for our football team. Of course those are yet to be delivered on. We still have four games left and this Wartburg game Saturday will go a long way to determine who will be the conference champion,” Zweifel said. “But we sure didn't feel like we were going to be fourth like the league picked us.”

The coach credited veteran leadership for the team’s resurgence. He said his staff has worked on recruiting larger classes and the program is starting to see the benefit of that.

“I think the biggest thing is we've had the biggest senior class that the University of Dubuque has ever had in the history of this school,” Zweifel said. “We have 27 seniors on our roster — 19 of them are playing significant roles either as starters or backups.

“We'll start to have senior classes now between 22 and 28, and I think when you start having seniors like that on your football team, you're a little bit more consistent — they know what to expect, they've played in games. I think it makes it that much easier.”

Since Zweifel assumed the head coaching position in 2008, Wartburg is the only team the Spartans have not beaten.

If Dubuque can snap that streak, it can take the inside track to securing another conference championship.

“I measure our success — talking about our football program — how we do against the top three teams. And Wartburg is a well established team that has great tradition,” Zweifel said.

"I think they have the best players in the conference year in and year out. So it presents a very, very big challenge for us," he added. "We're at home, but the games that we won won't mean a heck of a lot if we don't beat Wartburg on Saturday."

The Knights enter the contest on a four-game winning streak and bring an athletic group of skill players.

“They have tremendous team speed. They are athletic as any team we've faced this year, and I think they have the most team speed of any team we've faced this year,” Zweifel said. “So that in itself will always present problems when people are moving around really fast and you have to try and match their speed.”

The Spartans hope their veterans, game experience and explosiveness will be up to the task.

WIAC race ramping up

Trevor Whitehead caught his second touchdown pass from John Kelly in the final minute of the fourth quarter to lift UW-Platteville to a 24-23 win over UW-Stout. The game is sure to be the first of many nail-biters in the WIAC as the season hits the final stretch.

Whitehead finished with 161 yards on 11 catches to lead the Pioneers to a 6-0 start, including their first 3-0 mark in the WIAC since 1970.

Platteville remains tied with defending champion UW-Oshkosh and UW-Whitewater and both are ranked in the top-10.

Whitewater and Oshkosh will meet Saturday at Titan Stadium.

On Nov. 2, the Warhawks will host Platteville while Stevens Point travels to Oshkosh. Whitewater will head to Point on Nov. 9 and the regular season will wrap up with Platteville at Oshkosh on Nov. 16.

The rest of the West

Linfield extended its streak of winning seasons to 58. The Wildcats improved to 5-0 with a 51-17 win over Whitworth. …  Marshall Klitzke scored his second touchdown of the night with 40 seconds remaining to help Bethel defeat MIAC rival St. Thomas, 28-21, in a battle of top-10 teams. The Tommies scored all of their points in the third quarter sparked by Jack Gilliand’s 90-yard kickoff return, but could not hold off the Royals late and suffered their second loss of the year. … Curtis Tanquary rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown as Redlands handed La Verne its first SCIAC loss to remain tied with Chapman atop the league standings. … Jake Jensen rushed for three touchdowns, including a 70-yard romp – to help St. Scholastica defeat Martin Luther 48-14 and keep pace with Greenville in the UMAC race. Jensen finished with 179 yards on 13 attempts. … Pacific Lutheran got a last-second field goal from Nick Kaylor to defeat rival NWC foe Pacific, 17-16. PLU quarterback Dalton Ritchey threw for 269 yards in the win. Pacific wideout Jordan Fukumoto got his hands on five receptions for 113 yards.

Rank ’em

The West Region has 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 this week, and a total of 17 teams mentioned. Linfield received six first place votes again this week and is listed at No. 2 nationally.

Bethel remained at No. 5 after defeating St. Thomas. The Tommies fell from No. 9 to No. 15.

UW-Whitewater made the biggest jump this week, moving from No. 10 up to No. 7. The Warhawks are now ahead of WIAC rivals UW-Platteville (No. 8) and UW-Oshkosh (No. 9).

Pacific Lutheran and Northwest Conference rival Willamette are ranked Nos. 17 and 21, respectively. MIAC foes Concordia-Moorhead and St. John’s are ranked Nos. 22 and 23, respectively.

Pacific (21), Dubuque (14), Coe (9), Augsburg (3), UW-Stevens Point (3), Redlands (2) and Wartburg (1) received votes in this week’s poll.

Number of the week

62 – as in the yardage of Matthew Aven’s record-tying field goal Saturday. Aven, a freshman at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, knotted the game at 6-6 with 1:05 before halftime with the booming field goal that set a school record and tied the best Division III mark set by Rowan’s Dom Antonini in a contest with Salisbury on Sept. 18, 1976. It was Aven’s third successful kick of 50 yards or more this season. However, the Stags lost the game to Cal Lutheran as the Kingsmen scored 14 unanswered in the second half.

Looking ahead

No. 21 Willamette has three consecutive home games beginning this week but will be tested. No. 17 Pacific Lutheran visits this week followed by No. 2 Linfield – the four-time defending league champion.

Redlands and Chapman square off Saturday night as the last two unbeaten SCIAC teams. The Panthers enter the game with a perfect 5-0 record while Redlands has won three straight after opening the year with back-to-back losses to ranked opponents.

St. Scholastica will travel to Eureka – the surprise team in the UMAC. The Saints are currently tied with Greenville at 6-0 atop the league standings, and Eureka – picked by coaches and SIDs to finish sixth – is just one game back at 5-1.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, break-out players or any other storylines in the West. Or just drop me a note and let me know what you like or don’t about the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter at @DU_Josh_Smith.

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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