Knights earn automatic playoff bid, share of league title

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PELLA – Wartburg College head coach Rick Willis was thinking a total team win after his No. 13-ranked Knights toppled Central 20-17 Nov. 6.

And, with good reason.

"The final drive (11 plays – 85 yards) showed the character of this team," Willis said. "Our staff kept telling the team that we needed to work through our opportunities at halftime. The guys hung together for a big win."

The Orange and Black received big plays from all sections during the victory. Special teams figured in, as Wartburg took advantage of a blocked punt from sophomore Garret McGrane and a blocked field goal from sophomore D.J. Looft of Armstrong. McGrane's blocked punt set up a second quarter touchdown run from sophomore running back Reese Thompson of Van Horne, while Looft's blocked field goal, of a 47-yard attempt by the Dutch's Jake Viggers, preserved the three-point win in the waning moments.

The defense came in big. Junior defensive end Matt Tschetter of Milford had a fumble return that led the Knights' first touchdown, a seven-yard run by junior quarterback Danny Stiefel of Sterling Heights, Mich., while the "D" added four sacks of Central quarterback Nate Snead. Wartburg held the Dutch offense to 275 total yards.

Wartburg's offense, despite being limited to 245 yards, still managed to find the end zone three times. Along Steifel and Thompson's rushing scores, Thompson turned in the game-winning score on a five-yard run with 2:41 left. His two scores and 86 yards led the ground attack. Stiefel upped the Knights' current string of 100-yards-or-more passing games to 41 with 127 through the air. Junior wide receiver Levi Helbling of Malvern was the top receiver with seven receptions for 82 yards.

"The final drive (11 plays – 85 yards) showed the character of this team," Willis said. "At halftime, our staff kept telling the team that we needed to work through our opportunities. The guys hung together for a big win.

"I've got to credit our entire staff (for this)," he added. "Our assistants do so many things behind the scenes, and it's showed all year."

Wartburg clinched a share of its 12th title and second in the last three years and the conference's automatic bid to the 2010 NCAA Division III playoffs. The title ties them with Simpson for the second-most in league history.

 "This is a tribute to what four hard years of work can do," senior center Morgan O'Connor of Fort Dodge said.

The Knights close the regular season with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Simpson College's Buxton Community Stadium in Indianola Saturday, Nov. 13. A win would give the Orange and Black its first unbeaten regular season since 2003.

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