|Brandon Domeyer helps bring
balance to the offense and has three talented seniors to run
Wartburg athletics photo by Julie Drewes
By Adam Turer
Wartburg will be going for a 13th win for the first time in program history. Twelve teams have tried and failed to stop one of the most balanced teams in the nation, but the Knights have steamrollered competition this season, trailing for a total of just 37:23 all year. After defeating two MIAC opponents to open the postseason, the Knights now have an opportunity to knock off the defending national champions.
Before winning its second straight IIAC title for the first time in a decade, Wartburg opened the 2014 season against two MIAC opponents and one from the WIAC. Wins over Augsburg, Bethel, and UW-Stout set the Knights on their path to make program history.
“From Day One, we’ve talked about doing things that no team at Wartburg has ever done. So far, it’s worked out really well,” said senior linebacker and captain Drew Kooi. “We feel like every week we have something to prove. Beating four MIAC teams makes a statement, but we know we still have a lot to prove.”
Those latter two MIAC wins are the most significant. The Knights defeated St. Thomas in a high-scoring opening round meeting, then held off St. John’s in a defensive struggle to earn a berth in the quarterfinals. They have won games scoring 81, and games scoring 21. Only St. Thomas came within two scores of the Knights. Winning two playoff games is huge; winning two distinctly different styles of games proves that Wartburg can play with any of the remaining seven teams in the tournament.
“We’re not just an offensive team or just a defensive team,” said head coach Rick Willis. “Any given week, either unit can step up and pull the other along. It’s exciting to have a team like that.”
Wartburg ranks 11th in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Even within each unit, there is balance. The Knights, led by dual-threat quarterback Logan Schrader, 1,000-yard rusher Brandon Domeyer, and receiver Taylor Jacobsmeier, average 472.3 evenly divided yards of offense per game. Wartburg rushes for 224 and passes for 247 per contest.
“We go into each game wanting to be balanced,” said senior center and captain Casey Krull. “That keeps defenses on their toes when they’re trying to defend us.”
“We feel like that’s the most difficult type of offense to defend,” added Willis.
On the other side of the ball, the Knights have been just as impressive. They allow 13.1 points and 275 yards per game. St. Thomas is the only team that has found any success against Wartburg’s defense this year, scoring 31 points. Wartburg’s defense is a swarming unit that is tenacious against the run and dominant against the pass.
“We’ve always prided ourselves here at Wartburg on playing great team defense,” said Willis. “There’s not one standout guy this year. We have a bunch of guys playing together and playing relentless 11-man defense.”
Having teammates running an uptempo offense can be a challenge for most defenses. Wartburg defenders are always ready to play. They know that any breather they catch on the sideline might not last long. They are happy to support an offense that averages more than 42 points in fewer than 30 minutes of possession per game.
“We’ve embraced it and prepared for it,” said Kooi. “It takes a lot of pressure off of us having that type of offense.”
Behind the experienced line led by Chris Brinkmeier and Krull, this team is built for playoff football. They proved that by rushing for a whopping 529 yards through the first two rounds. Domeyer has rushed for 247 and four scores, while Schrader has rushed for 199 yards and two scores in addition to passing for two touchdowns.
“Probably all offensive linemen are underrated. They’re where it all starts for us,” said Willis. “Those guys have been tremendous the entire season, especially these last two weeks.”
The veteran offensive line -- seniors Bjorn Nelson, Brinkmeier, and Krull, and junior Chase Wilhelms earned all-conference honors --has sprung Schrader for over 3,000 all-purpose yards. They know what to expect from each other before and during each snap. On the rare occasion where a play breaks down, Schrader has been known to bail the offense out.
“We have a veteran group up front and we’ve really jelled together. We know and trust what one another’s going to do. That builds confidence,” said Krull. “It’s a lot of fun knowing each and every week that we have a pretty explosive offense. We have a lot of great playmakers.”
Willis now boasts a 140-34 mark as Wartburg head coach. This is his fourth team that has entered the postseason undefeated. Yet, no team has accomplished as much as this one. The 2008 squad advanced to the quarterfinals, but had two regular season losses. The 2003 team that previously held the record for most wins in a season fell in the second round at Linfield. This year’s team turned things around after a disappointing-by-Wartburg-measures six-win season in 2012. They set extremely high goals and put in the work to reach this point, and beyond.
“We’ve had awesome offseasons the past couple of years,” said Kooi. “We’ve gotten mentally and physically stronger.”
The balanced game plan each week gives the team confidence. The complementary parts build trust within the program. On the rare occasion that the Knights struggle early or fall behind, they know better than to panic. A tested defense and prolific offense can keep any team in a game. With both of those combined and comprised of veteran players, it makes sense that Wartburg is one of five remaining undefeated teams still playing.
“We prepare every week the same way. If stuff doesn’t go our way early, we just keep going for four quarters,” said Krull. “It helps having a great defense, too.”
Soundly defeating Bethel in Week 2 was a springboard for this team. They knew they had potential after winning their opening playoff game in 2013 before they were bounced on a late touchdown by the Royals in round two. Carrying over that momentum into this season was crucial. The Knights have responded from the beginning and show no signs of slowing now.
“One of the great things about our team this year has been our consistency,” said Willis. “The week leading up the Bethel game really created that focus.”
“The leadership on our team is strong. They are committed to doing something special.”