CEDAR RAPIDS – Prior to a key Iowa Conference clash with No. 8-ranked Coe Oct. 16, Wartburg College head coach Rick Willis knew the areas of ball possession and turnovers would be critical.
He turned out to be correct, as the Orange and Black's offense kept possession of the ball for 38 minutes and 52 seconds, and the home-standing Kohawks didn't get a takeaway. Those factors helped lead No. 24-ranked Wartburg to a 31-21 win in front of a capacity crowd at Clark Field on Coe's campus.
"We came out ready to go," Willis said. "I am proud of the way our guys played in all three facets.
"It was critical that we had ball possession, especially in regards to our defense against a good offense," he added. "We did that with nearly 39 minutes. We also couldn't afford turnovers, and the offense handled the football very well. Both of those things were big."
Wartburg's offense was balanced en route to opening up its two-score halftime lead and carrying the margin through the second half. The sophomore backfield tandem of Brandon Sims of South Holland, Ill., and Reese Thompson of Van Horne figured in on 258 of the team's 287 rushing yards and one touchdown. Junior quarter Danny Stiefel of Sterling Heights, Mich., was also an integral part of the equation, firing for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
The Knights (6-0 overall, 4-0 IIAC) drove 59 yards for a score after a big opening kickoff return from junior Josh VanDenHul of North Sioux City, S.D. Stiefel hooked up with junior wide receiver Levi Helbling of Malvern on an eight-yard scoring strike. After Coe answered for a 7-7 tie, the Knights went back to work, marching 71 yards on 12 plays with Thompson crashing in from two yards out. Willis' defense stopped the powerhouse Kohawk offense on their next series to force a punt, and Wartburg came back on another 70-plus-yard scoring drive with Stiefel hitting Helbling for the second time from eight yards out.
Trailing 21-7 at the break, the home side (5-1, 4-1) came out of the gates quickly in the second half, using a 55-yard touchdown pass to trim the margin to 21-14. At that point, the Orange and Black put together their most crucial scoring march, going 49 yards in six plays after another big return from VanDenHul. Stiefel bowled in from a yard out for a 28-14 lead. A field goal from junior placekicker Marcus Williams of Council Bluffs later in the third stanza gave the visitors a 31-14 lead.
Thompson's 36-carry, 151-yard rushing day led the offense. Sims wasn't far behind with 19 rushes for 107 yards which were career single-game highs for him. The offense also had a star in Helbling with six catches for 71 yards to go with his two scores. As has been the case, Stiefel dished the ball out across the receiving corps with five players having at least one reception.
On defense, Wartburg held the Coe offense to 18.2 points less than their previous per game average. Senior linebacker Blake Suckow of West Union led the charge with 12 tackles, while the Knights proved opportunistic with interceptions by VanDenHul and senior defensive back Brandon Moeller of Fort Dodge. Junior linebacker Ben Rector of Carlisle added a sack as part of his five and a half tackles.
"It was good, from an overall standpoint, to see our team play this way on both sides of the field in a big game," Willis said.
Wartburg returns home for back-to-back games inside Walston-Hoover Stadium with the University of Dubuque visiting Saturday, Oct. 23, to begin the stretch. Kickoff for the Homecoming 2010 contest is 1:30 p.m.
Notes – Stiefel's 177-yard effort marked the 38th consecutive game in which a Wartburg quarterback has thrown for triple digits. … Helbling's 71-yard receiving outing was his second 70-yard plus outing of the year… Thompson's 151 yards on the ground marked the second time this year and was his third career 100-yard plus outing …. Wartburg has a seven-game road win streak and is 11-1 in its last 12 games away from home.