The Carthage College football team (4-3, 1-3 CCIW) saw a 17-point first-half lead disappear on Saturday, Oct. 23, as Wheaton College (Ill., 7-0, 4-0 CCIW), tripped up the Red Men, 31-24, at McCully Field in Wheaton, Ill. The Thunder were ranked 12th in the Oct. 18 American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division III poll and 17th by "D3football.com."
Tyler Funk's 23-yard field goal at 11:12 put Carthage up, 3-0. Wheaton took a 7-3 lead at 6:30 first period on a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Roberts to Justin Zeller. The Thunder's Scott Roche missed a 34-yard field goal attempt at 2:17, and the Red Men capitalized with a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive. A 44-yard pass from Evan Jones to Pete Djurickovic was the big play in that drive that ended with a seven-yard TD pass from Jones to Mike Koeneman with 56 seconds remaining in the period.
Carthage went up, 17-7, at 10:42 second quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Matt Popp. The four-play, 60-yard scoring drive was highlighted by a 34-yard catch by Koeneman. The Thunder came right back with a 72-yard pass from Roberts to Teddy Watkins that brought Wheaton to Carthage one-yard line, but Roberts' next pass was intercepted by Brian Hipchen in the end zone. The Red Men took 24-7 lead at 5:31 second period on a 40-yard pass from T.J. Trepanier to Chris Schulz that capped a four-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Wheaton's Scott Roche missed a 22-yard field-goal attempt, his second miss of the game, as time expired in the half, with Carthage leading, 24-7.
The Thunder scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to take a 31-24 lead. Carthage fumbled the kickoff to open the second half, and Wheaton recovered on the Red Men's 20-yard line. Scott Roche, however, missed his third-straight field goal attempt, this one a 39-yarder. The Thunder pulled to within 11 points, 24-13, at 12:00 third period on a 26-yard TD pass from Roberts to Austin Zoerhof.
At 8 p.m., with 7:58 on the clock, the game was delayed for 27 minutes when Wheaton's lightning-alarm system sounded. When play resumed, the Thunder scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to Zoerhof, ending a 10-play, 66-yard drive. A pass for a two-point conversion attempt fell short, and Wheaton trailed by five, 24-19. With 54 seconds to go in the third period, the Thunder's Jordan Langs turned an interception into a 58-yard touchdown return. The two-point conversion failed, and Wheaton led by a point, 25-24. After Carthage was forced to punt, Jordan Roberts scored on a two-yard keeper at 11:50 fourth quarter. The point-after was blocked, but the Thunder led by seven points, 31-24, and that closed out the scoring.
Wheaton rolled up 482 total offensive yards, 205 yards rushing and 277 yards passing, while Carthage had 329 total yards, 20 on the ground and 309 in the air. Thunder quarterback Jordan Roberts completed 20-of-35 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns, with Freddy Ellis catching four passes for 102 yards. Robert also ran for 110 yards on 16 carries. Carthage's Evan Jones completed 26-of-40 passes for 269 yards. Chris Schulz caught eight passes for 124 yards and Mike Koeneman seven for 72 yards.
"The second half was a collective mess," said Carthage coach Tim Rucks, "and by that I mean offense, defense and special teams. The snowball started rolling, and it just started going faster and faster. I really thought we'd win this game. Our kids were ready, we had a great practices, and I thought we were ready to go. I still haven't lost my belief in this team, and I don't think they've lost faith in themselves. We came out and played like that in the first half. We just lost our composure in the second half. It's a game of execution, and sort started to panic early in the second half. We got out of our way of doing things. Wheaton is a really good football team, and they are never going to be out of a game. I knew the game wasn't over at halftime, but we just couldn't get any momentum in the second half. We're down, but we won't quit."
Carthage plays host to CCIW-opponent North Park University (2-5, 0-4 CCIW) on Saturday, Oct. 30 in a 6 p.m. game at Art Keller Field in Kenosha, Wis.