November 6, 2013

Bears surviving nail-biters

More news about: Washington U.
It's safe to say Alex Hallwachs' 45-yard field goal in the closing seconds set off some excitement on the Wash U. sideline.
Carnegie Mellon athletics photo 

The season for Washington University in St. Louis can almost be capsulized in one series Saturday with time winding down in the fourth quarter of its University Athletic Association opener on the road in Pittsburgh against Carnegie Mellon.

Trailing 7-6 with no time outs on its own 49, the Bears faced a fourth-and-11 with 0:50 left in the game. Washington U. quarterback Eric Daginella found freshman Hank Childs for 17 yards and a first down. Daginella found Childs one more time before Alex Hallwachs came in to kick a 45-yard field goal with eight seconds left to give the Bears a 9-6 victory.

Coach Larry Kindbom admits it has been that kind of season for Washington U. The week before, the Bears survived a 7-0 win over Macalester. The week before that, Washington U. won a wild, four-point game on the road against Hendrix.

"My hands were over my eyes at that point," said Kindbom with a laugh, the 25-year veteran coach of the Bears. "Eric just loves to compete but it's kind of neat because with all of our guys they have this makeup that they really don't get flustered.

"There are a lot of things that had to happen to have that play come off. Hank is a freshman who wasn't even stepping on the field to start the season and he just laid out to make this diving catch and Eric kept the play alive long enough to find him."

Kindbom said Daginella, like most of his team, is someone who just goes out and make plays for the Bears when the team needs them the most.

"Eric has done a great job for us in weathering the storm," Kindbom said. "He's helping new guys coming in and we've been able to play well enough to win. He's not a real vocal guy but he loves to compete. Eric reflects the way our team is composed right now. He's not going to get the grease board and draw up plays. But he's just able to go out there, make plays and make other guys feel comfortable."

The Carnegie Mellon victory was Washington's fifth straight win after losing to No. 6 UW-Whitewater and Coe in two of its first three games of the season. Now at 6-2, the Bears have put itself in a position to finish the regular season with six-straight wins to make a case for themselves for a Pool B playoff bid.

Kindbom said, though, he doesn't necessarily see the Bears' 17-7 loss to Whitewater on the road as a plus for them. Washington U. led the game 7-0 in the fourth quarter before surrendering 17 unanswered points for the come-from-behind Warhawks victory.

"We feel blessed to have an athletic director who lets us go out and play some of the best teams in the country, but our goal is to beat them," Kindbom said. "We were up in the fourth quarter and couldn't put them away. That's not a game we hang our hats on because we thought we had a pretty good shot at winning. Like a good team is supposed to do, they made some plays late and beat us."

And Kindbom don't want to even discuss the possibility of being considered for the playoffs if the Bears win out, even it would be an uphill climb with two losses.

"I don’t' even think (about the playoffs) that way," Kindbom said. "The only thing that interests us right now is if our guys are ready for Case Western by the opening kickoff on Saturday. I've been around long enough to realize if you start to get ahead of yourself this game has a way of humbling you. That's why we don't look beyond the next play.

"This team is well-grounded and humble. We're getting as much out of our ability. Every kid here belongs here. The average ACT for our freshman class is 33. Our guys understand the scope of it. They understand that tradition doesn't win games, but don't mind having that tradition behind them."

The Bears defense has played well this season. Washington held UW-Whitewater to its lowest point total year in that season opener for both teams. Only one team has scored more than 20 points on Washington all season, when the Bears outscored Hendrix in a 45-41 shootout on Oct. 12.

"We've been doing a good job swarming to the football and making big plays," Kindbom said. "You can't always count on that but we've been able to do that. In general, we've been pretty solid. We have a lot of seniors show up and we have a junior we think is pretty special in Fade Oluokun (linebacker, 49 tackles). Peter Lowery (senior linebacker, 44 tackles), Nelson Nwumeh (senior defensive lineman, 55 tackles) and our defensive front are playing pretty special. We have a lot of kids who have been with us for three years."

Kindbom said his biggest challenge is keeping the Bears healthy down the stretch. Last week, he said the Bears were playing six freshmen. Washington's leading rusher Zach Lonneman (81.4 yards per game) didn't even make the trip for Pittsburgh because of injury and Kindbom said he wasn't sure if he would be ready to play this week at home against Case Western Reserve.

Kindbom said he is hoping for consistency in his lineup and play to get the Bears through the next two games – and he'll worry about what comes next after those contests are over with.

Watch these games

No. 4 North Central (8-0, 5-0 in CCIW) at No. 19 Wheaton (7-1, 4-1): After an impressive 46-17 victory over No. 17-ranked Illinois Wesleyan, the Cardinals will battle rival Wheaton in the annual Little Brass Bell game. Throw the records and rankings out the window. It was just last year that a flying-high Cardinal team lost to the Thunder 35-21 in this contest at North Central. If the Cardinals win, they will wrap up the CCIW's automatic playoff bid. Lose, and things become a little more complicated.

No. 22 Illinois College (8-0, 7-0 in MWC) at Cornell (5-3, 5-2): Illinois College was able to maintain its six-quarter lead over St. Norbert (7-1, 7-0) in the Midwest Conference with two games and eight quarters to go. That means the Blueboys can wrap up the second tiebreaker against the Green Knights by winning three of the four quarters – and the game – against Cornell on the road. Cornell may not make it that easy. The Rams fell to St. Norbert by three points and Lake Forest by seven points in their two losses, so this could be interesting.

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Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.

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