Despite leading early in the contest, the EC Bluejays football team stumbled to a 10-6 loss at the hands of the Wheaton College Thunder (4-0) this weekend as they competed in their second CCIW Conference matchup of the season.
The Bluejays won the coin toss, elected to defer, and promptly sacked Wheaton quarterback Andrew Bowers on the first play off from scrimmage. Defensive end Cameron Hall was credited with the sack, as he set the tone for an afternoon that proved to be a defensive struggle.
That sack led to a three and out from the Wheaton offense, as they were forced to punt the ball from deep in their own territory. The punt only netted them 36 yards, and the Bluejays offense took over in great field position at their 41- yard line.
EC quarterback Orlando Hernandez found wide receiver Korey Partenheimer and they connected for a 26-yard gain on third and 11 early in the drive. After a pair of unsuccessful plays, Hernandez and the offense found themselves in another third-and-long situation, this time at the Wheaton 34-yard line.
Once again the Bluejays moved the chains by way of a Hernandez throw, as freshman wide receiver Jawan Gaines snuck open for a 15-yard gain down to the Wheaton 19- yard line. After a pair of rushes and an incomplete pass, the offense was faced with 4th down and 4 to gain from their opponents 13-yard line.
Facing his first tough decision of the game, Head Coach Ron Planz opted to play it safe as the field goal unit came on and freshman placekicker Blake Bailey converted his second attempt of the season into 3 points and an early lead for the Bluejays with less than 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
After trading unsuccessful possessions, EC delivered a 41 yard punt; however, a strong Thunder punt return gave Wheaton possession at the EC 42-yard line to begin their next drive.
Beginning the drive in four down territory, Wheaton proceeded to convert an early fourth and three into a first down and they appeared to be gaining steam. Their momentum was short lived as the Thunder were called for an illegal block on first-and-10 from the EC 24 yard line.
The penalty set them back into a first-and-17 situation. With a pass completion and a positive rush, they managed to put themselves into a manageable 3rd down and 4 from the Elmhurst 18-yard line.
Wheaton took to their passing game in hopes of continuing the drive, but the EC defense stood strong as the Thunder pass went incomplete.
Faced with a situation nearly identical to the one EC faced earlier in the game, Wheaton also decided to attempt a field goal. That plan went awry when the kick sailed wide right and the Bluejays kept their lead as they regained possession.
Defense continued to be the main storyline as the first quarter turned into the second quarter. After another field position swap, EC found themselves with the ball at their own 31.
Hernandez took charge and led the Bluejays down the field, completing three straight passes gaining for 61 yards. The third pass, a 26-yard completion, found the safe hands of senior Wide Receiver Connor Brewer and brought the Bluejay offense back into the red zone as he went out-of-bounds at the Wheaton 5-yard line.
Upon entering the red zone, the short field stumped the offense for a second time when Wheaton stuffed a first down rushing attempt, followed by a pair of incomplete passes. Coach Planz called for the sure points and Bailey came through again, giving the Bluejays a 6-0 advantage with just over nine minutes to play in the second quarter.
With a little over three minutes remaining in the half, Wheaton took over on offense.
Quarterback Bowers hit five straight passes for 49 yards and added 23 on the ground, bringing Wheaton down to the Elmhurst 6-yard line with 11 seconds to spare.
After a pass attempt aimed at the end zone fell incomplete, Wheaton was forced to kick a second down field goal which put them on the scoreboard heading into the half. Elmhurst 6 – Wheaton 3.
Elmhurst received the ball to commence the second half of play.
The third quarter proved to be inconsequential as neither team could manage much offensively and field position was swapped numerous times.
The fourth quarter of play got off to a tumultuous start when an Hernandez pass attempt was intercepted near midfield and was returned all the way to the EC 25-yard line.
The sudden change proved to be too much for the Bluejay defense to handle with Wheaton scoring the first touchdown of the ballgame on an 11-yard Bowers strike thrown to sophomore Thunder wide receiver Trey Hanley.
The extra point attempt was kicked through the uprights and Wheaton suddenly found themselves in front 10-6 with a little over 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Taking over possession with hopes of reclaiming the lead, despite their best efforts, the EC drive hit a wall after a Wheaton defender broke free and sacked Hernandez on a first-and-10 at the Elmhurst 48-yard line.
On the very next play, EC was charged with a holding penalty that brought them all the way back to their 34-yard line. Facing second-and-24, the Bluejays were unable to pick up the first down.
Facing another difficult decision, Coach Planz placed his faith in his veteran defense and sent on the punt team. That decision paid off as his special teams came through, pinning Wheaton back just inside their own 20-yard line.
On the ensuing Wheaton drive, the EC defense stood tall and quickly forced the Thunder offense off of the field. Provided with one final opportunity to find the end-zone, the Bluejays offense took over with a little more than three minutes left to play.
Looking to move quickly, the Bluejays dropped back to pass, but the Thunder saw it coming as they sent linebacker Caleb Ashby and lineman Chase Greenlee on a blitz and they took down Hernandez on a second-and-seven pass attempt.
A pair of incompletions followed and Wheaton regained possession of the football with a little more than two minutes to play. Bowers promptly ran for a 12-yard gain, giving his offense a first down and presenting his team with an opportunity to run out the remainder of the clock as Wheaton went on to seal the victory.
Despite the loss, the veteran EC defense proved its worth by holding an unbeaten Wheaton squad to a season low 244 yards of total offense and as well a season low 10 points scored.
The Bluejays will look to get back on track this weekend when they are scheduled to make a trip out west to Augustana College for their third CCIW Conference game. With both teams currently holding 2-2 records on the season, the Vikings will be a fair challenge for the Bluejays.
Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on the campus of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 1.