Knights win close-knit contest, move to 8-0
WAVERLY – On a day when visiting Luther College held the lead in several statistical categories, the number that mattered went to No. 15/13 Wartburg Oct. 30.
"It was a tough ballgame," Coach Rick Willis said. "We expected it to be. We talked about it all week with our team. It didn't surprise me by the way the game played out."
The Knights, moving to 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the IIAC, held off a determined effort from the Norse (4-4, 3-3) in a 24-18 final. Coach Rick Willis' offense amassed 360 yards, gaining 169 on the ground and 191 through the air, for a strong balance, while the Knights' defense played a "bend-but-don't break" role when it counted, picking up three sacks and recovering a key fumble despite 444 yards from the Norse.
Wartburg appeared headed to another impressive home win early. The Orange and Black marched 70 yards on its opening drive with sophomore running back Brandon Sims of South Holland, Ill., going the final 14 for the score. The home side marched again to begin the second period, going 46 yards for a score as Sims scored his second touchdown, diving in from two yards out.
However, Luther served notice they were still part of the game to end the half, scoring nine points in a row to make it 14-9 at the break. A 63-yard drive set up the field goal from sophomore place-kicker Seth Streeter, and junior quarterback Chris Reynolds hit sophomore wide receiver Drew Helle on a 53-yard hail mary touchdown strike to end the quarter.
The visitors continued to close with a 52-yard drive for three points to begin the third quarter. Streeter knocked it in from 39 yards to make it 14-12. A big 10-play, 74-yard drive for the Knights followed with sophomore running back Reese Thompson of Van Horne diving in from three yards out. Wartburg added to the margin behind a 25-yard field goal by senior Devin White of Decorah to make it 24-12. The field goal had been set up when the Norse, moving towards Wartburg's five-yard-line on a rushing attempt, fumbled.
Luther gave itself a chance at a wild finish by going 75 yards in 10 plays midway through the final stanza. A 15-yard scoring run from Reynolds made it 24-18. The Norse tried an on-side kick, but it was fair caught by the Knights on their own 47. After holding the home side three and out, Luther drove to the Knights' 44, but a fourth-down pass attempt was wide to preserve the win.
Sims led the offense on the ground with 93 yards and the two touchdowns. He's now scored six over his last two games. Junior quarterback Danny Stiefel of Sterling Heights, Mich., despite two first half interceptions, ended with a strong day, throwing for 191 yards to mark Wartburg's 40th consecutive 100-yard-plus passing effort. Junior Levi Helbling of Malvern and senior Jason Roskam of Sioux Center topped the receivers with a combined 14 catches for 154 yards. Defensively, senior linebacker Blake Suckow of West Union had a big day with 13 and a half tackles and a half sack. Sophomore defensive back Garrett McGrane of Fairbanks added the big fumble recovery in the second half.
Notes – Wartburg has now won 19 of the last 20 against Luther. … The Knights are now 43-8 inside Walston-Hoover Stadium. … The Orange and Black take to the road for their final two regular season dates. The trip starts with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Kuyper Stadium in Pella for a top 20 showdown with No. 17/18-ranked Central.