La Crosse, Wis. - The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse football team improved to 2-0 on the season with a 33-27 double overtime victory over Illinois Wesleyan University Saturday afternoon at Roger Harring Stadium at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex. Illinois Wesleyan dropped its season-opener.
In a match-up of top-25 ranked teams on D3football.com, UWL scored the winning touchdown in the second overtime as Rusty Murphy forced and recovered a fumble returning it 86-yards for a touchdown. The Eagles, ranked 23rd this week on D3football.com, recorded seven turnovers in the game, including six interceptions. The Titans entered the game ranked 14th on D3football.com.
UWL improves to 11-8 all-time in overtime, including 2-0 this season. The Eagles earned a 21-14 victory over Concordia-Moorhead College (Minn.) September 7. UWL was playing its second straight overtime game for the first time since 2011, earning a 30-24 win over UW-Oshkosh while falling 28-21 to UW-River Falls.
The double overtime contest on Saturday was the first for UWL since a 24-21 win over UW-River Falls in 2013.
UWL took a quick 7-0 lead just two plays from scrimmage as Evan Lewandowksi connected on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Dominic Labellarte. Ryan Beirne's extra-point made it 7-0 with 14:12 left in the opening quarter. Illinois Wesleyan drove to the UWL 31-yard line later in the first quarter, but Max Brower intercepted Brandon Bauer in the end-zone. It was the first of six interceptions on the day for UWL.
The Eagles led 14-0 with 7:36 remaining in the first quarter on Zach Pierce's 54-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was UWL's first interception return for a touchdown since Luke Winnen's 22-yard return in a 56-7 win at UW-River Falls on November 11, 2017.
UWL led, 14-0, after the first quarter on Saturday. Bauer's third interception in the first half came by UWL's Joey Bolda at the Eagles' six-yard line with 9:31 left in the second quarter. Illinois Wesleyan got on the board after a UWL turnover as Lewandowski was intercepted by Trevor Koepke at the Titans' 20-yard line. Illinois Wesleyan drove to the UWL 25-yard line, but were stopped short on fourth-and-five. On the ensuing possession, Koepke recovered Jake Simuncak's fumble at UWL's 23-yard line. The Titans got on the scoreboard two plays later with Bauer throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jack Healy with :53 remaining in the first half. Jonathan Rukujzo converted the extra-point.
Beirne missed a 50-yard field goal with :24 left in the second quarter for UWL, but Joey Roth recorded his first of three interceptions one play latter at the Titans' 36-yard line. Beirne later connected on a 48-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to giv UWL a 17-7 advantage. The 48-yard field goal is tied for fifth-longest in single-game school history. Dewey Stendahl had a school record 51-yard field goal against St. Norbert College (Wis.) in 1969.
Illinois Wesleyan took the second half kickoff, going 68 yards in 11 plays and 5:02, to cut the lead to 17-14 with Bauer scoring on a one-yard run. After forcing a UWL punt, Illinois Wesleyan tied the game at 17-17 on Rukujzo's 32-yard field goal with 4:41 left in the third quarter. The game remained tied, 17-17, after three quarters. The Titans took their first lead of the day with 12:00 left as Rukujzo hit from 22-yards out.
Using a 10-play, 63-yard drive in 4:53, UWL responded with the go-ahead touchdown as Cole Spieker scored on a one-yard run. Roth recorded his second interception on Illinois Wesleyan's next drive, but Beirne's 43-yard field goal went wide left with 5:53 left. Illinois Wesleyan took a 27-24 lead with 2:43 remaining with Bauer hitting Healy from six-yards out. The titans went 74 yards in 10 plays and 3:19.
UWL tied the game to force overtime on its next drive. The Eagles went 54 yards in 10 plays and 2:16 with Beirne hitting from 38-yards with :18 left. Lewandowski completed six-of-eight passes on the drive for 55 yards, including four straight to open the drive.
Playing its second straight overtime game to start the season, UWL's Beirne missed from 37-yards on the first possession of overtime. Bauer was sacked by Roth on Illinois Wesleyan's first play in overtime and Roth followed with his third interception of the game on the next play to force the second overtime.
Illinois Wesleyan started with the ball in the second extra session and facing a third-and-six at UWL's 21-yard line, Bauer completed a pass to Chrystian Maciorowski to the 12-yard line. Murphy forced a fumble and picked it up at the Eagles' 14-yard line, returning 86-yards for the winning touchdown. It marked Murphy's second straight year with a fumble return for a touchdown. He had a 67-yard return in a 29-23 win at UW-Stout last season.
UWL finished with 277 yards of offense, including 53 rushing and 224 passing. Joey Stutzman led the Eagles with 19 yards rushing on six carries while Lewandowski went 14-of-40 passing for 224 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Spieker had four catches for 76 yards while Labellarte (75 yards), Simuncak (48) and Stutzman (12) each had three receptions.
The Eagles totaled 12 first downs while going four-of-16 on third-down and two-of-three in the red-zone.
Illinois Wesleyan totaled 544 yards on Saturday with 179 rushing and 365 passing. Hamid Bullie rushed it 37 times for 177 yards for the Titans. Bauer went 32-of-55 for 365 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions. Healy (98 yards, two touchdowns) and Dean Zigulich (69 yards) led Illinois Wesleyan with seven catches.
The Titans had 32 first downs in the game, finishing 12-of-22 on third-down. Illinois Wesleyan won the time of possession, 38:49 to 21:11, while going five-of-six in the red-zone.
Bolda led UWL with 12 tackles, including nine unassisted, along with the interception. Roth tied a single-game school record with three interceptions while also finishing with nine tackles, all unassisted. Murphy had eight tackles.
Roth is the eighth different player in school history with three interceptions in a game, joining Tommy Carroll, Fred Pongratz, Mark Gruen (twice), Dale Johnson, Brian Portilia, Jeremy Unertl and Steve Teeples (twice). Teeples was the last player to have three interceptions, coming versus South Dakota State University on Septembe 2, 2006.
UWL's six interceptions Saturday are tied for fourth-most in single-game school history. The Eagles had seven interceptions versus Winona State University, Minn. (9-4-82), Oregon Tech (12-3-88) and UW-Eau Claire (10-30-99).
UWL also scored on an interception and fumble return in the same game on Saturday for the first since a 21-17 victory at North Central College (Ill.) on September 1, 2012. Brandon Heeg had a 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown and Jacob Flegner a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Cardinals.
Koepke and Keenan Scott each had seven tackles (six unassisted) and two pass break-ups for Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday. Koepke also recorded an interception and fumble recovery while Scott had 2.0 tackles for loss.
UWL returns to action Saturday, September 21 at Dickinson State University (N.D.) at 2 p.m. (Central).