Saxton, Spartans finally click

More news about: Case Western Reserve
With a season and a half under his belt, Drew Saxton is making a name for himself at quarterback for Case Western Reserve.
Case Western Reserve athletics photo by Naji Saker

By Joe Sager

Every team hopes to have a moment where everything clicks.

Case Western Reserve believes its time came Saturday in a 35-19 win over Washington & Jefferson in a key PAC battle.

The Spartans’ offense produced a season-best 520 yards to knock off the Presidents.  The squad picked up 309 yards through the air and finished with 211 on the ground. It’s that kind of balanced attack the team has been waiting to see.

“Offensively, we’ve been trying to find an identity after graduating five senior wide receivers from last year,” CWRU coach Greg Debeljak said. “Colt (Morgan) was the most experienced receiver we had back and teams have been playing us differently, trying to take Colt away. Our younger guys weren’t there yet, but they’ve gotten better.

“It all culminated in that win Saturday. We really got good production from the receivers, as a whole, and our running backs. We have some younger guys who haven’t been asked to carry the load and they’ve developed to where they are ready for that role.”

Behind those experienced receivers and then-freshman quarterback Drew Saxton, the PAC’s Newcomer of the Year, CWRU slung the ball all over the place to the tune of 3,289 yards en route to a second-place finish last season.

The team hopes its diversified attack leads the way to a championship.

“We knew Drew was ready and our offensive line has four starters back and is outstanding. Colt is the threat everyone has to worry about,” Debeljak said. “The running backs and the other receivers, we knew they had the ability and they just weren’t there yet. They’ve matured at their own rate. There definitely has been improvement and that’s why we’ve gotten better through the first few weeks of the season. The guys that aren’t the big-name players have improved and gotten more confident. Drew is more confident in them. Earlier in the year, you could see he was hanging onto the ball and not sure. It was hurting us. He has confidence in them now and he’s getting the ball out of his hands quickly and we’re a better offense because of that.”

Saxton passed for 309 yards and four touchdowns against the Presidents. The four scoring tosses went to his four primary receivers – Chase Witte, Mario Robaina, Michael Wojkowski and Morgan.

“Last year, one of our biggest strengths was our receivers because we had a lot of older guys there. We knew that’d be an area some guys would have to step into this year and I think they are doing a fantastic job,” Saxton said. “It was a lot of hard work throughout the first few weeks, correcting a lot of the little mistakes. It was nice to really execute what we planned on doing. Everyone had a good role and a big hand in it.

“It’s nice having four guys who can all make plays and take a little short route to the house. I think they have grown a lot over the year. It’s nice that we’re improving in the direction we want to go.”

Morgan, a 6-5 junior who led the PAC with 79 catches last year, remains the team’s top receiver despite drawing the most attention from defenses.

“I definitely have noticed teams double- and triple-teaming me, at times. It’s definitely been something I’ve been working on to overcome,” Morgan said. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity for other guys to make plays. If my role is to draw more defenders to myself, that’s fine because other guys on the team have the ability to make plays and step up. We’re starting to see that as the season goes along.

“It was great to see all those guys involved Saturday. Now, they are reaping rewards for all the hard work they’ve put in. It was definitely an encouragement to the offense, as a whole. It makes defenses have to focus on all four guys out there. The running backs had a great game, too. Our o-line is constantly improving as is Drew. Now, defenses can’t focus on one or two guys. They have to look to everyone, in terms of coverage.”

Saxton, a sophomore, feels more comfortable, too.

“Things have definitely slowed down. I really have to take what teams are giving me,” he said. “Last year, they didn’t know what to expect when I came in. They know we’ll try to throw the ball and I have had to adjust my game a bit and play at more of a mellow pace and understand where my guys are and not try to force everything.

“It’s really nice when you really don’t have to do much. You throw the ball 10 yards and the guys take it 60. That’s nice to have. It seems like I keep having those guys coming around me. It’s been really good.”

Don’t be fooled, though, Saxton has been given much more responsibility within the team’s offense.

“I think, last year, we had such great talent around him, all he really looked for was who was singled up. This year, he has done a lot of great checks to our run game, where, last year, it wasn’t even a thought because he was a freshman and had so much on his plate,” Debeljak said, “Our offensive line is doing a great job with run and pass protection – I think Drew’s only been sacked six times – so he is checking to the right plays, going to the run and from one protection to another. He has a better overall knowledge of our offense and what he’s seeing out there.”

In addition to another year of experience, Saxton has benefited from working with assistant coach Kevin Burke, a former Mount Union standout quarterback and the only two-time Gagliardi Trophy winner in history. Burke is in his third year on the CWRU staff.

“Kevin has done a great job teaching Drew the game,” Debeljak said. “We’re not surprised Drew has been great. Kevin has done a great job developing Drew as whole quarterback and not just a passer.”

Saxton, who came to CWRU after a very successful high school career, is thrilled to learn from Burke.

“He is the best quarterback coach in the country. I think the thing is, he has lived it and been there. What he says has a little more depth to it than when most people say it,” he said. “He is an unbelievable guy and coach. We have a great relationship within the quarterbacks room. He sees stuff you think no one else can see. He understands the game more than the normal person by a million miles. He’s an unbelievable resource. I just try to ask as many questions as I can and try to be a student of the game and listen to the people who did it the best. And, no one did it better than him.”

The Spartans’ offense is eager to build off its breakout performance against the Presidents.

“We still have a lot to improve on. We know we can be much, much better. We can be smoother and crisper,” Saxton said. “I think we like where we are, but we have a lot more to work on and I think everyone knows that.”

Buoyed by an experienced defense that helped carry the load while the offense found its way, CWRU (5-0 overall) sits alone atop the PAC standings at 4-0.

“We know we have a target on our back. We can’t look over any team or play down to anyone’s level. We have to prepare every week like we’re playing the best teams in the conference,” Morgan said. “As long as we keep focused and work hard the rest of the season, we should see a good deal of improvement and put ourselves in a good position at the end of the season.”

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