STORM LAKE – Wartburg College's 28-0 Iowa Conference win at Buena Vista's J. Leslie Rollins Stadium helped lead head coach Rick Willis to a milestone.
The victory, which lifted the 2010 Knights to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the IIAC, was Willis' 100th. In his 12th season at the helm of the Orange and Black, he reached triple figures quicker than any other head coach in the IIAC's 88-year history.
"The biggest thing about this is that it's a tribute to Wartburg and the opportunities they've given our program to build," he said. "It also speaks to the hard work, dedication and commitment from all the players over the years."
The Knights turned to their defense again during a warm afternoon on the banks of Storm Lake. Wartburg picked off Buena Vista quarterbacks Bo Darrow and Nick Larson four times with one of them from sophomore defensive back Garrett McGrane of Fairbanks going to the house in the third period for an 18-yard touchdown. The Orange and Black "D" held their hosts to 233 yards with senior defensive back Andrew Creary of Knoxville leading the way in tackles (12). McGrane added 10, and senior John Mallen of Britt and junior linebacker Ben Rector of Carlisle each recorded a sack.
"It's a big step for our defense to come together and play solid football for four quarters," Creary said. "We're hoping to keep this going as move forward this season."
Junior defensive back Josh VanDenHul of North Sioux City, S.D., helped break up a scoreless tie midway through the second period with an interception and return to the Beavers' nine-yard line. Sophomore running back Reese Thompson broke through an otherwise stingy BV defensive front and went in from four yards out for a 7-0 advantage. Wartburg wouldn't look back.
"We needed someone to step up in the second quarter, after a choppy start to the game, and it was Josh (VanDenHul)," Willis said. "He made a big play with the interception in the second quarter. It was huge, giving us an offensive opportunity deep in Buena Vista's end. Garrett's interception was also big for us."
Junior quarterback Dan Stiefel of Sterling Heights, Mich., increased the Knights' string of consecutive 100-yard-plus passing games to 38 with an 18-of-30 effort for 196 yards and a touchdown. He dished the ball out to various targets with senior Matt Gustafson of Faribault, Minn., taking in seven catches, senior Jason Roskam of Sioux Center ending with four receptions, and senior Matt Wickert of Memphis, Mo., getting three receptions and the touchdown strike. Junior Levi Helbling of Malvern also had three catches.
Wartburg, ranked No. 24 by the American Football Coaches Association, turns its attention to another important league road trip Saturday, Oct. 16, at Coe College's Clark Field in Cedar Rapids. The Knights and the top-10 ranked Kohawks kickoff at 1 p.m. in a battle of league unbeatens.
Notes – Wartburg's 5-0 start is its best since the 2003 squad went unbeaten through the regular season. … The Knights' defense has recorded multiple interceptions in each of its five games and has recovered an opponent fumble in all five contests as well.