A long way to go for Wartburg

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Taylor Jacobsmeier, a converted quarterback, is off to a strong start at wide receiver for Wartburg.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com 

Wartburg can add Saturday’s 31-14 win over the visiting Royals to its list of recent accomplishments, but the Knights have their sights on repeating in the IIAC and improving on last year’s playoff success.

“The bottom line is it’s the second week of the season and there’s a ton of football left to be played,” Wartburg head coach Rick Willis said after his then-No. 15 team took down previously seventh ranked Bethel. “Certainly, one of the goals for our team was to be able to beat Bethel — which we haven't done for the last several tries — but that's not the only goal that our team has for the season.

“So one hand, I want our guys to enjoy winning a big game,” he added. “But on the other hand, we want to make sure that we still take a critical look at ourselves.”

Wartburg hadn’t beaten Bethel in its last four tries dating to 2010. Those four losses included a pair of playoff defeats, including a 34-27 decision in the second round of the 2013 postseason. Last year’s season-ending loss served fueled the Knights coming into this Week 2 non-conference matchup.

“They've been a team that we couldn't really beat the last couple years, and they've taken it to us pretty good a couple times. It felt good to finally get them on our home field,” said Wartburg quarterback Logan Schrader, who passed for 388 yards and a touchdown Saturday in addition to rushing for two more scores.

“Last year, at the end of the season, we showed our potential,” he added. “That's kind of been our motivation this offseason.”

Trailing 7-3 at halftime, Schrader engineered four scoring drives in the second half, helping Wartburg pull away. He capped a pair of third quarter drives with touchdown runs and hit Taylor Jacobsmeier for a 55-yard touchdown in the fourth.

“It was just execution,” Schrader said of the offense’s second half success. “We started to put it all together. Everything clicked. We started executing. Everyone was doing their jobs and we were getting it done.”

“I think the biggest thing is we felt like we had opportunities to put points on the board in the first half. And for a variety of reasons we weren’t able to do that. A lot of those were mistakes that we were making,” Willis said. “If you’re going to win big games, you have to have some guys step up and make big plays. And our guys did that in the second half.”

The Knights’ defense turned in an exceptional effort; holding the Royals to just seven points in each half and limiting the visitors to just two successful third down conversions in 15 attempts.

“The defense was very consistent throughout the day while the offense was a little erratic,” Willis said. “Our defense really gave us a chance to win the game. They kept us in the game and gave the offense a chance to get things figured out.”

The coach said a win like Saturday’s can help a team build confidence. He also added that last year’s strong finish – which included an IIAC championship and a 41-7 playoff win at Illinois Wesleyan – may be playing a factor into the Knights’ impressive start this season.

“One of the things our team has talked about and that we wanted to do is try to pick up where we left off at the end of last year,” Willis said. “I think our guys have been thinking a lot about that. I think some of the potential that is there for our team – they realized that a little more after the end of last year and have been motivated by the possibility.

“They've worked really hard. They prepared hard for our first two games.”

Logan Schrader knows his team's good start is only two games in a 10-game regular season.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Wartburg opened the season ranked No. 17 nationally in the preseason poll. Following their Week 1 win at Augsburg, the Knights moved up to No. 15. And now at 2-0, Wartburg has cracked the Top 10 at No. 9.

“We're feeling good. It's really nice to get recognized like that,” Schrader said. “But at the same time, the No. 9 ranking isn’t going to win us any football games. We got to go out there and perform every week and we have to prepare every week just as hard.”

Wartburg has turned its attention to its final non-conference game – a tilt with visiting UW-Stout this weekend – and will open conference play Oct. 4 at Central.

The Knights are hoping for their first back-to-back IIAC titles for the first time since 2003-04 and become the first repeat league champion in the league since 2006-07.

“That's a lofty goal — one that we've been fortunate enough to obtain several times, but one that we understand is always going to be a tremendous challenge,” Willis said in regard to a conference title. “This year will be no exception to that.

“The last five, 10 years in the Iowa Conference, there's been a lot of evenly matched teams and a lot of close football games.”

UW-Platteville re-opens Pioneer Stadium

Despite suffering significant tornado damage on campus this summer, UW-Platteville met its goal of having Ralph Davis Pioneer Stadium ready to use for its home opener with Dubuque on Saturday.

The Pioneers celebrated the home-opener with a 26-21 win behind Andy Puccini’s 202-yard rushing performance.

“It was nice to come home. It was nice to stay and play in front of our home fans,” UW-P coach Mike Emendorfer said. “All of us remember back to June 16. I remember standing here looking, and I didn't think we had a stadium left.”

The grandstands and foundation, light stanchions and field turf need to be repaired after the tornado hit the university. The visiting bleachers also need to be replaced and are scheduled to arrive this week. Other than a few minor items, the new visiting bleachers will complete the stadium’s re-building project.

A total of 5,389 turned out to watch the Pioneers win the “Battle of the Bridge.”

“We have great parent support, great community support," Emendorfer said. "I think that's the neat thing about Platteville, Wisconsin. People rally around the Division III athlete.

“We just have a great environment. I'm not saying ours is better than anyone else,” he added. “But we're proud of UW-Platteville and what we showcase.”

The rest of the West

St. John’s Sam Sura set a school record with 281 yards rushing in the Johnnies’ 31-7 win at UW-Eau Claire. The junior running back scored two touchdowns while breaking the previous record of 278 yards set by Chris Moore in 1999. ... Quarterback Sam Riddle came off the bench to lead Linfield past Chapman, 21-14. Riddle threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns to rally the Wildcats to a season-opening victory. ... Coe defeated Cornell, 50-21, for its 15th consecutive victory in the “Oldest Football Rivalry West of the Mississippi River.” The Kohawks’ 15 consecutive wins is the longest streak by either team in the series. ... St. Thomas’s defense turned in an impressive performance during the Tommies’ 46-0 win at home versus La Crosse. Cavan Metzler returned a fumble 33 yards for a touchdown to lead the UST defense that allowed just 133 total yards. ... Junior wide receiver Tyler Stanek had 10 receptions for 167 yards and three touchdowns, helping the CMS rally past Lewis and Clark. The Staggs scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win, 36-14. ... St. Scholastica held Iowa Wesleyan to zero rushing yards in the Saints UMAC opener. CSS finished the game with seven sacks and won 41-14. ... UW-Whitewater scored 35 unanswered points to beat host Franklin 42-13. ...  Niko Madison rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns to help Pacific Lutheran open the season with a 35-28 win over Cal Lutheran. ... Aaron Jenny caught all three of UW-Stout’s touchdowns in a 21-17 win over Loras. ... Occidental survived Puget Sounds' late rally. The Loggers scored 19 straight points in the final three minutes, but a pair of failed conversions allowed the visiting Tigers to escape with a 34-32 victory.

Rank ’em

The West Region is represented by seven teams in the week’s Top 25.

UW-Whitewater remained the No. 1 ranked team, but is no longer the unanimous favorite. However, the Warhawks still received 24 of the 25 first place votes.

Linfield slid one place to No. 6 on the list while UW-Platteville moved up one spot to No. 7.

Wartburg made the biggest jump of the week, rising from No. 15 to No. 9.

St. Thomas remained ranked No. 11 and MIAC rival Bethel dropped from No. 7 to No. 15. Pacific Lutheran will spend another week at No. 17.

UW-Oshkosh was ranked No. 25 last week but fell out of the Top 25.

Chapman (25), Concordia-Moorhead (23), St. John’s (17) and Cal Lutheran (9) also received votes this week.

Number of the week

2,405 – As in the record attendance at Klas Field to watch host Hamline defeat Macalester, 23-13. In addition to winning the rivalry game and securing The Paint Bucket, the Pipers are celebrating their first 2-0 start since 2005.

Looking ahead

No. 7 UW-Platteville will travel to Naperville to take on No. 5 North Central (Ill.) Saturday in a rematch of last year’s playoffs. Elsewhere in the WIAC, UW-Oshkosh will play its third straight non-DIII opponent when the Titans travel to South Dakota State Saturday; UW-La Crosse’s difficult non-conference schedule continues with a home game versus Mary Hardin-Baylor; and UW-Whitewater will travel cross country to The College of New Jersey.

MIAC play opens Saturday. Concordia-Moorhead will face host St. John’s in an intriguing matchup. Both teams will put 2-0 records on the line. In other conference action, defending champion Bethel will host St. Olaf.

Linfield plays at Redlands on Saturday. The No. 6 ranked Wildcats are looking for their second win over a SCIAC opponent in as many weeks while the Bulldogs attempt to bounce back from a loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor. Other NWC-SCIAC crossover play includes Lewis and Clark at Whittier, Willamette at Cal Lutheran and Whitworth at La Verne.

Simpson’s 2-0 record will be put to the test when No. 21 Illinois Wesleyan visits Buxton Stadium for a non-conference meeting Saturday.

St. Scholastica and Northwestern (Minn.) are both hoping to improve to 3-0 overall when hosting UMAC rivals Crown and Martin Luther, respectively.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, break-out players or any other storylines in the West. Or just drop me a note and let me know what you like or don’t about the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter at @DU_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
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