DECORAH — Wartburg’s 17th-ranked football team couldn’t solve Luther in the first half Saturday.
The second half was a different story as the Knights sorted things out and broke loose for 34 points in a 41-16 victory in a battle for first place in the Iowa Conference.
After both teams scored on their first possessions, the Norsemen (4-3, 3-2) controlled the opening half with their defense and running game but couldn’t get back to the endzone.
“We had trouble with our angles on tackling in that first half,” Knights coach Rick Willis said. “We need to possess the ball more and we didn’t. It is difficult to win that battle anyway with this team as they run the ball very well.
“Our offensive staff made the right adjustments and I credit the guys for taking those adjustments to the field. It just seemed that Luther had an answer for everything we did in that first half.”
Wartburg (7-0, 5-0) used a 22-yard pass play from Matt Sacia to Denison Harrington on third-and-15 to keep its opening drive of the second half alive and went on to score for a 13-7 lead.
“I felt like we really needed that play,” said Harrington, a former Cedar Falls High standout. “We were struggling to get things going and someone had to get open for Matt to throw the ball to.”
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Chris McNutt returned a Luther fumble 22 yards for another score to give the Knights a 21-7 lead.
“You saw a little bit of air come out of us after that play,” Norse coach Aaron Hafner said. “That culminated into a lot of bad habits and mental mistakes on our part and you just cannot have that happen against a good team like Wartburg.
“You have to maintain a high level of play in a game like this and process what you did in practice. We did not have a very good week of practice.”
After each team scored in the fourth quarter for a 28-14 game, Wartburg used its own ground game and workhorse Dylan Binion to pull away.
“We just came out and did what we do in practice,” said Binion, who finished with 71 hard-earned yards. “We played our style and executed and we just kept pounding it at them.”
The Knights were challenged, and they responded.
“Today we took a good step as a team,” Willis said.
Wartburg 41, Luther 16
Wartburg 7 0 14 20 — 41
Luther 7 0 0 9 — 16
Luth—Yassine Ouazzani 18 run (Cory Wirth kick)
Wart- Dylan Binion 1 run (Brayton Brandt kick)
Wart—Lee Bonifas 28 pass from Matt Sacia (kick failed)
Wart—Chris McNutt 22 fumble return (Coen Brown run)
Wart—Connor Schrader 4 run (Brandt kick)
Luth—Ian Kuykendall 1 run (Wirth kick)
Wart—Binion 8 run (kick blocked)
Luth—Damon Stroup returned blocked kick for two-point conversion
Wart—Schrader 4 run (Brandt kick)
First downs 16 17
Rushes-yards 38-165 56-255
Passing yards 167 44
Comp-att-int 13-24-1 3-13-2
Return yards 146 163
Punts-avg. 6-45.5 6-36.2
Fumbles-lost 0-0 4-2
Penalties-yards 8-73 6-46
WARTBURG — Dylan Binion 14-71, Connor Schrader 17-84, Matt Sacia 5-10, Anthony Davis 1-0, Riley Brockway 1-0.
LUTHER — Anthony Hollingshed 6-16, Yassine Ouazzani 8-35, Nick Slavens 11-125, Brady Letney 7-31, Ian Kuykendall 11-27, Sam Houlihan 7-26, Travis Vargas 2-4, Jordan Baker 3-14.
WARTBURG — Sacia 13-24-1, 167 yards.
LUTHER — Letney 1-5-1, 9 yards, Kuykendall 2-8-1, 35 yards.
WARTBURG — Riley Brockway 4-53, Denison Harrington 3-39, Griffen Brennecke 2-20, Lee Bonifas 2-41, Schrader 2-14.
LUTHER — Justin Montgomery 2-35, Bryce Pierce 1-9.