CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The Elmhurst College football team scored its first-ever playoff victory and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship by upending 10th-ranked Coe College 27-24.
"This is certainly a historic win for our program," said Elmhurst head coach TIm Lester. "We weren't going to be content to just make the playoffs and our guys kept fighting and found a way to win late like they have all season long."
Joe Furco's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Corey Thonn on a fourth-and-goal proved to be the difference as the Elmhurst defense turned away Coe on their final two possessions of the game. The Bluejays' defense also stopped Coe on three fourth-down attempts in the contest while Elmhurst's offense was a perfect 3-of-3 on fourth down.
Scottie Williams rushed for 196 yards and a touchdown and picked up a key fourth down conversion near the end of the fourth quarter to put the game away for Elmhurst.
The two evenly matched squads posted almost identical numbers. Elmhurst (10-1, ranked 17th in the latest D3football.com poll) compiled 429 yards of total offense and 21 first downs. The Bluejays rushed for 265 yards and passed for 164. Coe (10-1) totaled 415 yards of offense and 24 first downs. The Kohawks rushed for 208 yards and compiled 207 through the air.
Elmhurst took the opening kickoff and promptly put points on the scoreboard. Williams ripped off a 61-yard run all the way to the Coe two-yard line, but the Kohawks stuffed Elmhurst's ground attack on the next three plays. The Bluejays settled for a 21-yard field goal from David Tomis to take a 3-0 lead just four minutes into the contest.
On Coe's first possession, the Kohawks drove to the Elmhurst 25-yard line, but Dan Vicari and Ryan Johnson stuffed Coe running back Brendan Leiran on a fourth-down carry, giving the ball back to the Bluejays' offense.
After an Elmhurst punt, the Kohawks evened the score by driving 59 yards on 12 plays and settling for a 23-yard field goal from Wes Anderson.
Elmhurst pinned Coe down at the three-yard line after a punt, but the Kohawks mounted an impressive 12-play, 97-yard drive capped by a five-yard touchdown run from Leiran to take a 10-3 lead.
The Bluejays answered immediately, evening the score on a two-yard toss from Furco to WIll Caspers. The 57-yard drive was keyed by a 31-yard completion to Ryan Maguire.
After both teams punted, the Kohawks went to work on offense late in the first half. Coe quickly moved downfield, marching 71 yards in just eight plays and taking a 17-10 lead on Jared McNutt's seven-yard touchdown pass to Jared Kuehner with less than a minute left on the clock.
Elmhurst managed to tack on three points just before the end of the half. After fielding a short kickoff from Coe, the Bluejays drove to the Coe 32-yard line with less than 10 seconds remaining. Tomis boomed a 49-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired, giving Coe a 17-13 lead at the half.
Coe took the opening kickoff and drove to the Elmhurst 18-yard line. The Bluejays' defense stopped the Kohawks on a fourth-down attempt, giving Elmhurst the ball at their own 18.
The Bluejays moved the ball down to the Coe one-yard line and facing a fourth-and-goal, Williams pounded his way into the end zone to put the Bluejays on top 20-17.
Elmhurst tried to catch Coe off guard with an onside kick, but Coe recovered at the Elmhurst 45-yard line and three three plays later, McNutt hit Kuehner for a 24-yard touchdown to put the Kohawks on top 24-20.
Elmhurst fumbled the ball away on its next possession, but the Bluejays defense forced Coe to punt.
"Our defense was aggressive today," said Lester. "They hit hard and played hard all game long. One of the big keys to the game was when they forced Coe to punt after we had turned the ball over and were trailing. It was a huge momentum boost for our team."
Elmhurst took over at its own two-yard line and drove down to the Coe 7-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-three, Lester sent the field goal unit on to the field, before calling timeout. The Bluejays sent the offense back on the field and Furco capped the 98-yard scoring drive with a seven-yard strike to Thonn over the middle with 11:41 left in the game.
Elmhurst's defense forced Coe into a three-and-out, and the Bluejays took over at their own 15-yard line. Elmhurst had appeared to score when Furco found Vince Gabrys open down field and Gabrys pitched the ball to Williams who ran the final 15 yards to the end zone, but the Bluejays were flagged for pass interference. Elmhurst still managed to run nine plays and eat up over five minutes before punting away to Coe.
With just 4:33 left on the clock, Coe took over at its own 25-yard line. Marvin Carr and Vicari wrapped up Leiran for no gain on first down. McNutt completed a seven-yard pass to Kuehner on second down, but McNutt's third down pass to Keaton Juergens was jarred loose by an Elmhurst hit. Facing a fourth-and-three from their own 32-yard line, McNutt overshot Juergens and Elmhurst took over on offense.
Facing a fourth-and-one from the Coe 23, Williams pushed forward on the right side to pick up a yard and a first down. On the very next carry, Williams broke free to the Coe three-yard line, allowing the Bluejays to kneel down twice and run out the clock.
Lester's confidence in his entire team allowed for some aggressive play calling on fourth down. "I have a ton of confidence in our offensive line, quarterback, running backs, and receivers, but I also have confidence that our defense will have our backs if we don't convert on fourth down," he said. "I always run any ideas past [defensive coordinator] Joe Adam before going for it on fourth down. Joe was actually the one who convinced me to go for it early in the fourth quarter when I originally had sent the field goal unit it."
Furco finished 15-of-24 through the air for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Maguire was his top target, catching six passes for 83 yards. Williams carried 35 times for 196 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.6 yards per carry in the win.
McNutt led Coe through the air, finishing 22-of-34 for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Leiran carried 33 times for 181 yards and a touchdown while Kuehner caught eight passes for 110 yards and two scores.
Wayne Tuckson led the Elmhurst defense in the win, totaling 14 tackles. Jamall Lane and Johnson finished with 11 tackles apiece.
With the victory, the Bluejays move into the second round of the NCAA playoffs where they'll face fourth-ranked University of St. Thomas next Saturday. The game's location and start time will be announced tomorrow.