WAVERLY — One week removed from surviving a game that wasn’t decided until the final play in overtime, No. 15 Wartburg College delivered an early knockout Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
Wartburg forced six turnovers and set a single-game school playoff record for points with a 49-7 blowout of previously unbeaten No. 22 Trine University inside Walston-Hoover Stadium.
The Knights advanced to face Wisconsin-Oshkosh (12-0) in the quarterfinal round next Saturday at a location to be determined.
“It’s a big step,” Wartburg coach Rick Willis said after his program secured its third quarterfinal appearance. “Our seniors were part of the team that made it to this round in 2014. We’ve never made it past this round.
“We had some goals going into this game that we just checked off — play in December, win 12 games, that ties for the most in program history. Pretty obvious goal this week, win 13 games.”
A total of three fumbles in seven Trine plays helped transform this playoff battle into an early rout.
After a Wartburg defensive lineman coughed the ball up on his attempt to return a fumble recovery on Trine’s opening drive, Knights’ cornerback Peyton Imhof returned a second fumble by Trine running back Lamar Carswell 51 yards to set up the game’s first touchdown.
Wartburg quickly extended its lead on the ensuing kickoff as Jake Kloft returned a fumble 30 yards to paydirt.
Taking advantage of miscues, Wartburg’s offense was unforgiving.
Quarterback Matt Sacia prevailed over his Trine counterpart Evan Wyse in a pairing of two of the nation’s 10 semifinalists for the Gagliardi Trophy awarded to NCAA Division III’s top player.
Sacia completed 15 of 18 throws with his receivers often creating extra space after catches for a 236-yard passing total. Riley Brockway led the way with five receptions for 130 yards, including a 49-yard play that set up Sacia’s goal-line touchdown run to take a 28-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Wartburg touchdown receptions were recorded by Lee Bonifas (25 yards), Griffin Brennecke (six yards) and Ben Strathman (23 yards). Sacia now holds the program’s single-season record with 33 TD passes compared to just three interceptions.
“That feels really good,” Sacia said. “It’s something to be proud of, especially with those who have come before me.”
Balance was found within the Knights’ offense. Running back Connor Schrader delivered touchdown runs of 58 and 14 yards and finished with 147 yards on 12 carries.
“We were able to click on offense as a whole,” Sacia added. “We had the running game going, and we knew they were pretty committed to trying to stop the run, so that opened up some of the balls to get behind the safeties. The biggest key is we were able to be multi-dimensional today. That kind of kept them on their toes.”
A turnover discrepancy of minus-six certainly was too much to overcome for a disciplined Trine team that entered this game with a 36-13 advantage in that department.
“About everything bad that could happen first half did,” Trine coach Troy Abbs said. “They (Wartburg) did a good job schematically. They’re fast and they executed better than we did. ... Defensively, they played with great leverage. They were disciplined.”
Wyse, Trine’s talented dual-threat quarterback who is one of two 1,000-yard rushers on the team, was held to 95 yards passing and 84 rushing. He was sacked three times and threw two interceptions.
“They’re a pretty heavy run team so we were able to match up a little better this week,” Wartburg linebacker Tony Anstoetter said, after finishing with five solo tackles and a red zone interception. “Everybody did what they’re supposed to do.
“Our offense, they were really clicking today. We knew when we were able to get them the ball, they would score. It was kind of up to us this week to keep the points down and give the offense a chance to keep scoring.”
No. 15 Wartburg 49, Trine 7
Trine 0 0 7 0 — 7
Wartburg 21 14 14 0— 42
Wart — Lee Bonifas 25 pass from Matt Sacia (Jordan Johnson kick), 7:59.
Wart — Jake Kloft 30 fumble recovery (Johnson kick), 7:49.
Wart — Connor Schrader 14 run (Johnson kick), 3:42.
Wart — Sacia 1 run (Johnson kick), 14:57.
Wart — Griffin Brennecke 6 pass from Matt Sacia (Johnson kick), 2:14.
Wart — Ben Strathman 23 pass from Sacia (Johnson kick), 11:22.
Trine — Lamar Carswell 7 run, 7:30.
Wart — Schrader 58 run, 2:44.
First downs 13 20
Rushes-yards 49-133 34-258
Passing yards 95 236
Comp-att-int. 4-11-2 15-18-0
Return yards 0 49
Fumbles-lost 4-4 0-0
Penalties-yards 6-56 5-96
Punts-avg. 7-27.6 5-26.4
Time of possession 31:14 28:46
TRINE — Evan Wyse 20-84, Lamar Carswell 23-34, Seth Boggs 2-8, Mark Wilson 4-7.
WARTBURG — Connor Schrader 12-147, Mason 9-69, Dylan Binion 4-32, Matt Sacia 7-7, Noah Dodd 2-3.
TRINE — Wyse 4-11-2, 95 yards.
WARTBURG — Sacia 15-18-0, 236 yards.
TRINE — Jeffery Barnett 2-77, Andrew Bonfigli 1-19, Carswell 1-minus 1.
WARTBURG — Riley Brockway 5-130, Lee Bonifas 3-35, Denison Harrington 3-28, Ben Strathman 2-28, Binion 1-9, Griffin Brennecke 1-6.