Wheaton rallies to defeat #12th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan 38-33

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Wheaton, Ill. - The Wheaton College football team used a strong second half and a pair of fourth-quarter Mark Hiben touchdown receptions to rally for a 38-33 victory against Illinois Wesleyan under the lights at Wheaton's McCully Stadium on Saturday night. Wheaton improves to 5-2 on the year and 3-1 in College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) play. Illinois Wesleyan, ranked 12th in this week's D3Football.com Top-25 poll, takes its first loss to fall to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the CCIW.

Thunder sophomore receiver Mark Hiben caught three touchdown passes, with eight receptions for 132 yards. Hiben caught two touchdown passes in the final five minutes of regulation to help Wheaton rally from an 11-point deficit. Morgan Cook caught eight passes for 115 yards on the night. Quarterback Jordan Roberts completed 25 of his 39 passing attempts for 360 yards with four TD tosses. Charlie Velling ran for 58 yards on 16 carries with one touchdown run.

Defensive backs Jackson Edwards and Garrett Cook each recorded a team-high seven solo tackles for the Thunder. Cook also made a key interception and broke up two passes in the game. Junior linebacker Brett Anderson also made seven tackles (five solo), including 1-1/2 tackles for lost yardage of 11 yards.

Titan quarterback Rob Gallik passed for 337 yards, with 25 completions on 36 attempts and three TD passes. Alex Garvey caught eight passes for 153 yards, with one touchdown catch. Running back Devonte Jones ran for 109 yards on 21 carries. Kyle Pfister led the Titans' defense with a game-high nine tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

Wheaton racked up 463 yards of offense and the Titans amassed 452 in the evenly fought battle. The Thunder owned a 255-151 edge in yardage in the second half. Wheaton threw for 393 yards, with 70 rushing yards. Illinois Wesleyan recorded 337 passing yards, with 115 rushing yards.

The Thunder scored first when placekicker Sam Cote booted a 36-yard field goal with 7:19 left in the first quarter to give the Thunder a 3-0 lead. The Titans took the lead when Gallik threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Tate Musselman with 3:16 left in the first quarter to give the guests a 7-3 lead.

Gallik extended the IWU lead to 14-3 on a one-yard touchdown run with 14:53 remaining in the first half. Wheaton connected with a quick strike on the first play of a drive midway into the second quarter when Roberts hit tight end Ben Leong on a 35-yard touchdown pass that cut the Titans' lead to 14-10 with 7:18 remaining in the first half. Gallik threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Alex Garvey three plays later to increase the Titans' lead to 21-10. Wheaton responded on the very next drive when Roberts threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Hiben with 3:18 left in the second quarter. Hiben's touchdown was setup one play earlier when Wheaton was at the IWU 48-yard line and Roberts threw a 25-yard pass to Morgan Cook that put the hosts at the IWU 23-yard line and on the very next play Hiben was in the end zone. Illinois Wesleyan  marched down the field on the ensuing nine-play, 72-yard drive that culminated with Gallik scoring on a two-yard run that gave IWU a 27-17 lead with 13-seconds remaining in the first half to allow the Titans to hold that lead at halftime.

Wheaton's first drive of the second half was a 14-play march down the field for 80 yards, lasting 5:32. The drive culminated with a four-yard touchdown run by Velling that cut the Illinois Wesleyan lead to 27-24 with 7:11 left in the third quarter.  The Titans responded on their next drive of the game when Gallik threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Musselman to give IWU a 33-24 lead with 3:26 left in the third quarter.

Thunder defensive back Matt McReynolds intercepted an IWU pass at the Titans' 28-yard line with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Wheaton strong field position. The Thunder made the most of McReynolds' interception two plays later when Roberts threaded a pass through the Titans' defense to Hiben for a 23-yard touchdown catch that cut the guests' lead to 33-31 with 4:21 remaining in regulation. The Wheaton defense stymied the IWU offense on the Titans' next drive as the Thunder forced a three-and-out for the guests.

The three-and-out forced the Titans to punt from their own 35 yard-line and Wheaton punt returner Luke Davis returned the kick 13 yards to the Thunder 40-yard line. On third down, with six yards needed for a first down, Roberts connected with David Washko for a 17-yard pass that put the hosts into Titan territory at the IWU 39-yard line. Later in the drive Wheaton again converted on third down to extend the critical drive. Two plays later, Hiben made a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to give Wheaton its first lead since the first quarter. The eight-play drive of 60 yards gave Wheaton a 38-33 lead with 1:17 remaining in regulation. Illinois Wesleyan started the ensuing drive at its own 24-yard line and the Titans moved the ball to the Thunder 48–yard line until Wheaton defensive back Garrett Cook intercepted a pass at the Wheaton 13-yard line with 13-seconds remaining in the game to secure the victory for the hosts.