|Austin Damaschke was handed
the reins of the offense as a freshman at CUW and has continued to
Photo by Jordan Vredeveld for Concordia (Wis.)
Concordia (Wis.) coach Greg Etter said he hopes his Falcons have righted the ship after a 1-2 start in the nonconference play.
Nothing can do that better than a big conference win over an upstart like Benedictine last Saturday. Concordia's come-from-behind 28-27 victory has the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference favorites again looking like the favorites.
"We beat a very good Benedictine team which has probably the best running back in our league," Etter said of Michael McNulty, who rushed for 209 yards against Concordia. "We had to put forward our best effort. They bye week helped. We went through some growing pains but I think we took a big step forward."
If the Benedictine game does prove to be a turning point for Concordia, they will look at the Falcons final drive, where LaCurt Evans scored on a 2-yard run with 1:03 left in the contest. Concordia's big play combination of quarterback Austin Damaschke and Garrett Wenzelburger has proven golden this season.
Damaschke is completing 66.4 percent of his passes (97-for-146) for 1,045 yards. Wenzelburger has 36 catches this season for 480 yards and five touchdowns.
"Austin has flourished with what we're doing on offense," Etter said. "Our offense begins with him. He's a winner on the field and off. He's the leader of our football and guys look to him because he wants to pressure.
"Wenzelburger is a two-time all-conference player for us and everybody knows that he's our go-to guy. He's a big target but everybody think he's a fade guy. If you watch him, he has much more athleticism than people give him credit for."
While Concordia has been able to throw the football, Etter said the key to the Falcons season will be how well they can balance out the offense and run the ball more effectively. Etter said Concordia will lean on Evans, who is recovering from injury and former hockey player Shay Klitzke to build its ground game.
Concordia's biggest challenges lie on defense, where the Falcons are surrendering 33 points per game, with a 49-point average in the Falcons two losses. Etter said he has made to move around parts on defense and team is still growing in that area.
"We're really young," he said. "We have people who haven't played before or haven't played varsity before. Because of injuries, we've had to move safeties to linebacker and linebackers to the defensive line."
Joe Paul, for example, played wide receiver and running back last year but was converted to inside linebacker during the spring. Paul, though, added punt and kickoff returns to his resume as well. So Paul is one Concordia's leading tacklers (37) and one of top return specialists.
"There's probably not a lot of inside linebackers who are returning kickoff and punts," Etter said. "He's just learning to play linebacker but he has a toughness that makes him good at that position. I think up until last week he was one of the leading tacklers in the conference."
Another Concordia linebacker, Luke Scheuerlein, earned NACC defensive player of the week honors for collecting 10 tackles and coming up with a key fourth quarter interception that helped the Falcons secure its victory over Benedictine.
Etter said, though, his defense need to get better and do it quickly if the Falcons plan on pulling out the NACC title.
"We just have to get better on defense, there's no doubt about it," Etter said of his unit, which is surrendering 470.7 yards per game. "We also have to solidify our special teams. We have enough weapons on special teams that we should be able to create a big play potential."
The ground war
The fight the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rushing title is heating up between Sean Dunning of Millikin and Illinois Wesleyan's Devonte Jones. Dunning has led the CCIW pretty much all season, averaging 127.8 yards per game (511 yards total). Jones, though, rushed for 226 yards on 35 carries against Millikin last year in a 35-21 IWU win, bring his average to 124.5 yards per game (498 total yards). Both players have six games to go. Dunning and Millikin travels to No. 4 North Central this week while Jones and IWU are at home against North Park.
Watch these games on Saturday
Lake Forest (5-0) at Illinois College (4-0) and Cornell (3-1) at St. Norbert (4-1): All four of these teams are undefeated in the Midwest Conference and after Saturday the conference championship picture will clear up dramatically. St. Norbert is the perennial kingpins in the conference and managed to win the MWC playoff bid last year. Illinois College is the only team in this group receiving votes in the Top 25 ranking and could make a good case for itself with a solid victory over Lake Forest.
Mount St. Joseph (3-1) at No. 14 Franklin (2-2) – There was a time when this contest was the marquee matchup in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Lions are off to one of their best recent starts at 3-1 and 3-0 in HCAC play. Mount St. Joe's has also scored over 50 points in its last two contests against Bluffton (52-28) and Anderson (55-24). After close losses to No. 1 Mount Union and non-scholarship FCS Butler, Franklin is also 2-0 and coming off of scoring 80 points against Earlham. Someone may want to bring a calculator or two to this game.