Wartburg Gives Willis 150th Career Win In IIAC Opener
The Wartburg Knights gave Nebraska Wesleyan a rude welcoming to the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) Saturday afternoon (Sept.17, 2016).
A strong second half propelled the Knights to a 38-28 comeback victory over the league newcomers at Abel Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. Wartburg rallied from a 20-0 deficit to give Head Coach Rick Willis his 150th career win.
Playing in their first Iowa Conference game in program history, the Prairie Wolves (1-2 overall, 0-1 IIAC) introduced themselves loudly to the Knights, who have won the league's title three of the last six years. Big plays on specialty teams sparked an early offensive explosive for Nebraska Wesleyan, which scored on its first four possessions.
Joel Wiedel returned the opening kick-off 49 yards to mid-field for the Prairie Wolves, then then capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge on a 4th-down play.
Wartburg (1-1, 1-0) was stopped on its inital offensive drive of the game, despite getting the ball inside Nebraska Wesleyan's 5-yard line. The Prairie Wolves forced a field goal attempt that was blocked by Preston Franzen, who scooped up the pigskin and rambled 76 yards to the Knights' 2-yard line. Wiedel again capped the drive with a 3-yard run, putting the home team ahead 14-0.
A pair of field goals expanded Nebraska Wesleyan's lead to 20-0. An intercepted pass set up the first kick from 25 yards out and Kramer Rath's second boot came from 32 yards away. The Prairie Wolves wouldn't score again until late in the game.
Wartburg rallied with 38 unanswered points. The Knights got on the scoreboard when Connor Schrader crossed the goal line on a 2-yard run with six-minutes, 36-seconds left in the first half. Brayton Brandt then added a 21-yard field goal 1:18 later and trailed 20-10 at halftime.
The Knights elevated their play in the second half. Sophomore quarterback Matt Sacia connected with junior Riley Brockway for a pair of third quarter touchdown passes, covering 18- and 35-yards. The second TD was set up by a Hunter Baldus interception and gave Wartburg a 24-20 edge, an advantage the Knights' would not relinquish.
Schrader scored his second touchdown of the day early in the fourth quarter on a seven-yard run, before Wartburg capitalized on another interception. The Nebraska Wesleyan turnover resulted in a 27-yard scoring pass from Sacia to Griffin Brennecke and put the Knights ahead 38-20.
The Prairie Wolves added a late touchdown and two-point conversion, setting the final score at 38-28.
Wartburg piled up 565 yards of total offense, while limiting Nebraska Wesleyan to 300. Sacia led the Knights with 344 passing yards and three touchdowns. Brockway had nine receptions for 168 yards, while Schrader ran 27 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
UP NEXT: The Knights host Finlandia of Michigan in their home-opener on Saturday (Sept. 24) at Walston-Hoover Stadium in Waverly. Kick-off is set for 1 p.m.