MONMOUTH, Ill.—The No. 15 Wartburg College football team used a 21-point second half scoring effort to win its season opener 35-28 against non-conference opponent Monmouth College. The Knights received the No. 15 spot in the d3football.com's preseason poll. This marks the fifth straight victory for the Orange and Black between these two teams.
The game also featured a three-hour rain delay as Mother Nature disrupted many games around the country today. "In my 131 games as head coach, I have never been involved in a three-hour rain delay," said head coach Rick Willis. "I was concerned about our players' safety as it was hot out here in the first half and didn't want our players to tighten up while waiting out the delay. The players were checked on by the athletic training staff and did their best to stay loose while awaiting the all-clear call.
"Our team's conditioning won out as we came out ready to go after the break," continued Willis. "It was a good game to start the season's tempo with as we saw cramps due to the hot weather, turnovers and the weather delay. Our team found a way and that's one of the most important traits."
Wartburg was the first team to strike as junior Garrett McGrane (Fairbanks) intercepted a pass attempt by Alex Tanney and returned it 36 yards to take the 6-0 lead under three minutes into the game. Senior Marcus Williams' (Council Bluffs) extra point attempt was good to make the score 7-0 in favor of the Knights.
The Fighting Scots knotted the score two minutes later as Mike Blodgett had a 10-yard touchdown pass and Matt Batton's point-after kick was good.
The Knights answered back on their next drive as senior Dan Stiefel (Sterling Heights, Mich.) scored on a one-yard rush and Williams made his second kick of the game to regain the 14-7 lead.
Monmouth rallied once more in the quarter as Nick Law had a 20-yard run and Batton made his second extra point kick of the day to even the score at 14-14.
The Fighting Scots took a three-point lead with six minutes left in the second quarter as Batton made a 26-yard field goal.
Batton would add to Monmouth's lead four minutes later on a 29-yard field goal to take the 20-14 lead at halftime.
The Orange and Black started the third quarter in a big way as they scored on their first possession as sophomore Alce Smith (Plainfield, Ill.) had his first collegiate reception, an 81-yard touchdown reception, to tie the score once more and regained the lead at 21-20 on William's kick.
Coach Willis saw this reception as the point where the momentum shifted for Wartburg. "On the Smith touchdown reception, this is where the momentum changed for us," he commented. "We were down by six at halftime today, but we were down 14 at halftime the last time we were here in 2008. Today we learned we have toughness, both physical and emotional. There are no more important traits than those and we learned we can fight for the game."
The Fighting Scots looked to reclaim the lead on a later drive, but Batton missed his 44-yard field goal attempt.
The Knights increased their margin later in the quarter on a rushing touchdown by junior Brandon Sims (South Holland, Ill.) to take the 28-20 lead with :46 remaining in the frame.
Monmouth had just recovered a Wartburg fumble when it began to hail and the game was stopped for a three-hour delay due to lightning in the area.
Once play resumed, the Fighting Scots were unable to capitalize on the turnover to give the Knights the ball with 6:27 remaining.
Junior Connor Dahlstrom (Eldridge) gave Wartburg six more points with his 17-yard rush. Williams made his fifth extra point kick of the game to make the score 35-20 in favor of the Orange and Black.
Monmouth had one more drive as they had possession with 1:36 left on the clock. Tanney completed an 11-yard pass to Austin Peterson and successfully completed a two-point conversion to make the score 35-28 with 19 seconds remaining.
The Fighting Scots attempted to recover their on-side kick attempt but were unsuccessful as Wartburg recovered the ball.
Stiefel finished with 281 passing yards and had one of the Knights' three rushing touchdowns. Senior Levi Helbling (Malvern) led the receiver group with 137 yards.
Junior Jason Shupp (Cedar Rapids) led defense with nine tackles, including three tackles for loss. He had six solo tackles and two sacks. McGrane finished with seven tackles and the interception return. Senior Logan Hansen (Glenville, Minn.) and Matt Tschetter (Milford) also were each credited for a sack on the day.
Wartburg returns to action next week in its home opener against non-conference opponent, Gustavus Adolphus, under the lights at 7 p.m.