/seasons/2017/contrib/20170924nviv75

Thunder improve to 4-0

More news about: Wheaton (Ill.)

Elmhurst, Ill. - The fourth-ranked Thunder football team improved to 4-0 on the season with a 40-15 victory at Elmhurst College on Saturday. Leading just 19-8 after three quarters, Wheaton scored three rushing touchdowns in a five-minute span in the fourth quarter to pull away for the victory. Wheaton is now 2-0 in CCIW play. The Bluejays fall to 1-3 overall and 1-1 in conference play. Wheaton will return to McCully Stadium on Saturday, September 30, when the Thunder host Illinois Wesleyan in a Top-25 battle for the annual Homecoming Game, beginning at 1 pm.

The Thunder offense rolled up 402 yards on 66 plays while holding the Bluejays to just 222 yards on 60 plays. Curtis McWilliams helped lead the Thunder offense by  passing for 236 yards, completing 17 of 25 pass attempts. TJ Williams led the Thunder rushing attack with 117 yards on nine carries including two touchdowns. Sola Olateju ran for a touchdown and 88 yards on 13 carries. Carter Roberts was Wheaton's leading receiver, catching four passes for 87 yards.

Elmhurst stroke the game's first blow, taking advantage of a Thunder three-and-out on the game-opening possession. The Bluejays drove 49 yards on just five plays, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Orlando Hernandez to Hasahn Austin and adding a two-point conversion to lead 8-0 less than five minutes into the game. The Elmhurst lead marked the first time all season that Wheaton has trailed in a game.

Wheaton responded midway through the second half, capping an eight-play, 69-yard drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Curtis McWilliams to Zach Lindquist, immediately after the mandatory heat breaks that came midway through each quarter. Stefan Knoerr's extra point cut the Bluejay lead to 8-7 with 5:41 left in the quarter. Phillip Nichols came up with the big play on the drive, converting a third and long with a 29-yard pass reception from McWilliams.

Wheaton would take the lead for good early in the second quarter on Knoerr's 23-yard field goal to make the score 10-8. Wheaton's next possession ended with a fumble in the Bluejay red zone but the Thunder defense responded quickly when Austin Hoover forced a fumble that was scooped up by Luke Sahly at the Bluejay nine-yard line. That drive would result in a 22-yard field by Knoerr. Knoerr would add a 31-yard field goal with six seconds in the half to give Wheaton a 16-8 halftime advantage.

"Our defense absolutely carried us through the course of the first half," noted offensive coordinator Jesse Scott. "They gave us short field after short field and just knowing that they were going to give us the ball with good field position was huge."

Knoerr's fourth field goal of the day, this one from 25 yards out, capped an 11-play, 51-yard drive to give Wheaton a 19-8 lead. Wheaton's running game took over down the stretch, allowing the Thunder to take control of the game in the fourth quarter. Sola Olateju's five-yard touchdown run with 8:06 left in the game allowed Wheaton to pull ahead to a 26-8 advantage. Wheaton's defense answered by forcing an interception by Luke Smith on fourth down.

"Anytime you can take the ball away from your opponent, it just gives confidence to your defense and allows your defense to play with more of a swagger," said defensive coordinator JJ Clark. "It was absolutely huge today for our defense to take the ball way so many times today."

Eric Stevenson led the Thunder with six tackles. Chase Greenlee tallied five tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Greenlee also tallied one of Wheaton's three interceptions. Austin Hoover had 1.5 sacks and Corey Kennedy added 1.5 tackles for loss.

Two plays later, TJ Williams broke free down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run and followed it on Wheaton's ensuing possession with another 50-yard touchdown run to put Wheaton ahead 40-8. Elmhurst would find the end zone again in the final minute of the game to cut the final score to 40-15.

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