The Carthage College football team (3-2, 1-1 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin) began a brutal stretch of CCIW games on Saturday, Oct. 6 with a 44-10 loss to No. 20 Wheaton College (Ill., 4-1, 2-0 CCIW) ) at McCully Stadium in Wheaton, Ill. The Red Men's next two games are against No. 13 Illinois Wesleyan University and No. 11 North Central College.
Carthage took an early, 3-0 lead on a 31-yard field goal by Brett Bukari at 10:27 first period to cap the Red Men's opening drive. A 55-yard keeper by Thunder quarterback Garrett Meador on Wheaton's opening drive set up Sam Cote's 24-yard field goal that tied the game, 3-3, at 10:10.
Carthage missed a golden opportunity at the start of the second period. After recovering a Wheaton fumble at the Thunder 18-yard line, the Red Men had to settle for a 37-yard field goal attempt that Bukari missed at 12:56. Wheaton came right back with a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jordan Roberts to tight end Hunter Thorson at 9:58 that gave the Thunder a 10-3 lead.
Carthage recovered a fumbled punt return at the Wheaton 24-yard line at 8:33. Four plays later, the Red Men scored on a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback A.J. Simoncelli to wide receiver T.J. Trepanier that tied the contest, 10-10, at 7:13. The Thunder took the lead for good, 17-10, with 3:34 remaining in the half on an eight-play, 51-yard scoring drive the ended with a four-yard TD pass from Roberts to wide receiver Mark Hiben. Wheaton's go-ahead score was set up by 42-yard kick return by Justin Swider.
The Thunder worked the clock perfectly on their final drive of the half, going all the way from their own 27-yard line with 46 seconds to go and getting a 39-yard field goal from Sam Cote with one second on the clock. Wheaton led, 20-10, at halftime. Carthage recovered four fumbles and intercepted a pass in the first half.
The game got out of hand for Carthage in the second half, as the Thunder scored 34 unanswered points. Carthage was forced to punt on its first drive of the second half, and Pete Djurickovic's kick covered only 28 yards. Wheaton marched 53 yards on six plays and scored on a an eight-yard pass from Roberts to Garrett Cook, giving the Thunder a 27-10 lead at 11:09. Wheaton made it a 34-10 game at 4:20 third period with a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard TD pass from Roberts to David Washko. Carthage's A.J. Simoncelli was intercepted at his own 29-yard line, and the Thunder struck immediately with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to Garrett Cook, putting Wheaton up, 41-10, at 3:02 third period. Cote booted a 28-yard field goal at 4:48 fourth period, capping a 98-yard scoring drive, and the Thunder closed out the scoring at 44-10.
Wheaton rolled up 554 total offensive yards, 258 yards rushing and 296 yards passing, while Carthage was limited to 133 total yards, 56 on the ground and 77 in the air. The Red Men were zero-for-16 on third-down conversions. Thunder quarterback Jordan Roberts was nearly perfect, completing 24-of-27 passes for 258 yards and five touchdowns. Mark Hiben caught seven passes for 86 yards, with Charlie Velling rushing for 76 yards on 13 carries. Carthage's A.J. Simoncelli (Fr., Downers Grove, Ill./South) completed seven-of-27 passes for 60 yards.
Red Men outside linebacker Brandon Mecozzi (Sr., Kenosha, Wis../Bradford) collected a game-high 18 tackles (12 solo, 6 assisted), while defensive end Mike Merucci (Sr., Kenosha, Wis../Bradford) had two of Carthage's three sacks.
"We hung with them as long as we could," said Carthage coach Tim Rucks, "but things got out of hand in the third quarter. It was only a two-score game at halftime, and we needed to get something done on that first series of the second half. We needed to get at least a field goal. We didn't, and things just went downhill from there. Wheaton is really good, but I'm still convinced that we are going to be good. I surely expected a better showing today. We just couldn't get a first down and keep our defense off the field. Turnovers are good, but you have to be able to convert those into points. Wheaton just comes at you in so many different ways. Their receivers are huge, and they can run a power game, as well. They mix it up well. How we react to adversity will determine how we do the next few weeks. On the positive side, Brandon Mecozzi was just relentless today, he proved why he's an all-conference player. Same thing with Tyler O'Brien. This week, it's not so much that we're playing Illinois Wesleyan, but we're playing ourselves, and that's how we have to look at it. We have to get our house in order and get better as a football team."
Carthage travels to Bloomington, Ill., on Saturday, Oct. 13 to play CCIW-opponent and No. 13 Illinois Wesleyan University (5-0, 2-0 CCIW) in a 1:30 p.m. game at Wilder Field at Tucci Stadium.