Despite strong defensive effort early on, EC football (1-3, 1-1 CCIW) faded late and lost 40-15 against conference rival Wheaton College (4-0, 2-0 CCIW) on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Langhorst Field.
“We played them strong through the first three and [a] half quarters and just kinda fell apart in the fourth,” said Bluejays senior cornerback Tristan Bolas.
The Bluejay defense limited damage when challenged by Wheaton, forcing the Thunder to settle with four red zone field goals, three of which were kicked from within the 10-yard line.
“[The problem] was our snaps,” said Wheaton freshman running back TJ Williams. “So as soon as we got those down, we were pretty much just working on being efficient with our play calls and we just handled it from there with our will power.”
Wheaton sophomore Jake Hibben replaced senior Kyler Kregel at center as Kregel refrains from participating in team activities after being charged with a felony in connection to the hazing scandal at Wheaton.
Williams carried the ball nine times for 117 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a 50-yard scoring run with 6:29 remaining to put the Thunder ahead 33-8. Williams also caught a pair of passes for 19 yards.
Williams credited his offensive line for leading the way on the 50-yard run, “[The key was the] great blocks from the pulls. It was Wide Zone Left, so basically all I had to do was read and just use athletic ability to improvise on the great blocking my o-line gave me.”
The Bluejays came into the game riding the momentum of their first victory of the season; however, their offense struggled to establish themselves in support of the defensive effort.
“We didn’t get the running game going early on,” said EC head coach Ron Planz. “[Not] enough to sustain some drives and change some field position.”
EC quarterbacks Orlando Hernandez and Jake Tahaney combined for three interceptions, increasing the season total to nine and consistently providing the Thunder with favorable field position.
“I think we lead the nation in tipped balls for turnovers. So when the balls bounce like that there's nothing we can do,” said Planz. “We’ve gotta make catches or we’ve gotta get the ball brought down or we’ve gotta look on tape and see what’s causing this stuff to happen.”
The Bluejays made the change behind center during the fourth quarter, opting for sophomore signal caller Jake Tahaney with 7:56 remaining in the contest. Tahaney took the field alongside much of the first-team offense.
“It’s just trying to see if we can get ... not necessarily a spark going, but just get somebody in there and throw it around a little bit and see what he can do,” said Planz, explaining the switch. “We were going to go to an uptempo kind of thing and just [give] an opportunity to Jake and see what he can do with it.”
Tahaney was two of nine passing for 34 yards and an interception. He also ran for 41 yards on eight rushing attempts and took one sack. Along with Hernandez’s efforts, the Bluejays quarterbacks were sacked five times.
Bolas recognizes areas that they can improve and come away with a homecoming win against Augustana College next week.
“Just finishing the fourth quarter, keep up those big redzone stops and come together as a team and get a homecoming victory,” said Bolas.
The Bluejays face the Vikings on Saturday, Sept. 30 with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.