WAVERLY — Hard work and preparation is often revealed Saturday on the football field.
Wartburg College’s climb back to the top of the Iowa Conference hasn’t been easy, but for the team’s battle-tested seniors the journey has been rewarding.
NCAA Division III’s No. 16-ranked Knights surrendered just 190 yards of total offense Saturday afternoon during a 23-0 shutout over Dubuque that clinched Wartburg’s first league title and playoff berth since 2014.
“It’s a big weight lifted off our shoulders,” senior linebacker Tony Anstoetter said, after leading Wartburg with 15 tackles. “Us seniors have been waiting since our freshman year to do this. We’ve been working hard our last couple years. It’s just awesome with this group of guys to get it done.”
It has been a team driven to succeed since dropping a home overtime game against Luther for its third conference loss last season. The Knights (8-0, 6-0 IIAC) haven’t been defeated since, now owning a nine-game win streak with a trip to Buena Vista and a home contest with Nebraska Wesleyan remaining.
“This was our goal,” Anstoetter added. “After losing to Luther last year, we set out on our little revenge tour — going out and beating everybody we can and winning a conference championship.”
Wartburg’s defense took advantage of a bizarre and predictable game plan from Dubuque (5-3, 3-3) on this afternoon. The Spartans elected to hand off to running back Maurece Herrion on their first 17 plays and didn’t cross their own 45 in the first half.
When Dubuque finally reached Wartburg’s red zone on a pass interference call, the drive stalled on a fourth-and-inches run by Herrion, who was met by linebacker Marcus Johnson in the backfield. Herrion finished with 73 yards on 32 carries, and Dubuque was held to 102 yards passing with just 10 completions on 25 attempts.
“We had to stop the run, and the way you stop the run is by being in the right gaps, gang tackling,” Wartburg coach Rick Willis said. “We didn’t give up big plays.”
Sophomore running back Dylan Binion led Wartburg’s offense with 25 rushes for 187 yards. Binion capped an opening 30-yard scoring drive with a seven-yard option run. Wartburg later found on the end zone on a 19-yard completion from Matt Sacia to tight end Matt Mulford with 6:02 left in the third quarter.
Kicker Jordan Johnson booted two 30-yard field goals and also connected from 32.
With a league championship and playoff spot now clinched, Wartburg sets its sights on securing a strong postseason seed and as many home playoff games as possible.
“These guys have gone out and earned it every week,” Willis said, after winning the program’s ninth league title. “What you’re seeing is the effect of guys gaining experience and that experience showing up.
“It’s also hard work throughout a long period of time in the offseason, and guys are just playing with a lot of confidence and playing well as a team. They believe in each other, they work well together, they push each other and they’re buying into being better each week.”
Wartburg 23, Dubuque 0
Dubuque 0 0 0 0 — 0
Wartburg 7 6 7 3 — 23
Wart — Dylan Binion 7 run (Jordan Johnson kick), 10:55
Wart — Jordan Johnson 32 field goal, 4:23
Wart — Johnson 30 field goal, 0:01
Wart — Matt Mulford 19 pass from Matt Sacia (Johnson kick), 6:02
Wart — Johnson 30 field goal, 11:23
First downs 14 23
Rushes-yards 38-88 40-221
Passing yards 102 157
Comp-att-int. 10-25-0 12-26-1
Return yards 67 27
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 9-112 9-84
Punts-avg. 8-24.6 4-31.8
Time of possession 32:43 26:41
DUBUQUE — Maurece Herrion 32-73, Tyson Russell 5-15, Conor Feckley 1-0.
WARTBURG — Dylan Binion 25-187, Connor Schrader 7-25, Matt Sacia 7-10, Team 1-negative 1.
DUBUQUE — Feckley 7-14-0, 53 yards, Michael Briscoe 3-11-0, 49 yards.
WARTBURG — Sacia 12-26-1, 157 yards.
DUBUQUE — Dylan Schultz 4-32, Emanuel Jenkins 3-45, Sam Morton 2-17, Michael Briscoe 1-8.
WARTBURG — Riley Brockway 5-50, Denison Harrington 2-26, Griffin Brennecke 1-34, Matt Mulford 1-19, Binion 1-17, Sully Hofmeiester 1-9, Clayton Weltha 1-2.