Wheaton, Ill. - The Wheaton football team earned a 43-14 victory against Benedictine University on Saturday in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA Division III Football Playoffs. Wheaton has never lost in the First Round of the football playoffs, with an 8-0 record all-time in the tournament's opening game. The Thunder improves to 11-0 on the year and will face John Carroll next Saturday in a Second Round game. John Carroll advanced to the Second Round on Saturday with a 63-28 First-Round win against Centre College.
The Thunder racked up 542 yards of total offense against Benedictine on Saturday, passing for 217 yards with 325 rushing yards. The Eagles accumulated 315 yards of offense, with just 56 rushing yards and 259 passing yards.
Veteran Wheaton head Coach Mike Swider noted of his team's performance, "I've always said that when you win your opening round, it gives you great credibility. I've been there many times in my 30 years here and we've never lost a first round game. I think that says a lot about our conference and it's a step in the right direction."
Danny Puknaitis led the Thunder ground game with 121 yards on 18 carries, with a pair of TD runs. Fellow tailback Jesse Geary ran for 74 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown. Quarterback Johnny Peltz completed 21 of his 29 passing attempts for 217 yards, with two touchdown passes. Peltz also ran for 90 yards on 20 carries, with one TD run. Keegan Kemp caught eight passes for 76 yards and Luke Thorson added seven receptions for 111 yards, with two touchdown catches.
Adam Dansdill led the Thunder defense with eight total tackles, including 1-1/2 tackles for loss (-2 yards) Michael Risher and Caleb Ashby each collected seven total tackles on the day. Josh Aldrin made five tackles, including a sack of -7 yards. Risher and Jordan Dornbush each picked off Benedictine passes in the win.
Benedictine quarterback Ryan Keener completed 22 of his 41 passes for 259 yards, with two TD tosses. Artie Monaco carried the ball 11 times for 38 yards. Max Seibert caught seven passes for 67 yards and Jake Valas collected five receptions for 92 yards, with one TD catch. Jarrett Lecas led the Eagles' defense with 16 total tackles and Drew Keil made 12 stops.
Swider said of the Eagles, "Benedictine is a great football team. I've known (coach) Jon Cooper for a long time. He's a good man who does things right. His team played hard and there's several times they could have quit, but they didn't quit. They kept competing."
The Thunder took a 14-0 lead with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. Danny Puknaitis reached the end zone on a three-yard run and Peltz connected with Luke Thorson on a 12-yard TD pass.
Geary scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 12:16 remaining in the second quarter to increase the Thunder lead to 21-0. Benedictine's Greg German scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Keener to cut Wheaton's lead to 21-7 with 1:02 remaining in the first half, however, Wheaton countered with a touchdown drive that ended on a 16-yard pass from Peltz to Thorson to give the hosts a 28-7 lead at halftime.
Sam Cote kicked a 21-yard field goal for the Thunder to extend Wheaton's lead to 31-7 with 8:36 left in the third quarter. Keener connected with Valas on a 58-yard touchdown pass as the Eagles cut Wheaton's lead to 31-14 with 3:47 left in the third quarter. Wheaton tallied a pair of two-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter as Peltz and Puknaitis both scored for the hosts to account for the 43-14 final score.
Swider said of facing John Carroll next Saturday, "I know John Carroll's good, but so are we. I told the guys on the field that they've got good players, but we also have good players. They've got good coaches and we've got good coaches. In games like this, you don't want to beat yourselves and that's what it's going to come down to next week."