Dec. 6, 2008

 

Courtesy of Wheaton (Ill.)

Franklin, Ind. – The Wheaton College football team extended its season farther than it has ever gone thanks to a 45-28 victory at Franklin College on Saturday in the NCAA Division III Playoff Quarterfinals. Wheaton is now 11-2 on the year and Franklin ends its season at 11-2. Today’s victory places the Thunder in the NCAA Division III Semifinal next Saturday at 12 PM (EST) in Alliance, Ohio.

Wheaton will face top-ranked Mount Union College for the right to advance to the NCAA Division III National Championship Game on December 20 in Salem, Virginia. Next Saturday’s game is Wheaton’s first-ever appearance in the National Semifinal as the Thunder becomes the first CCIW team since 1988 to play in a National Semifinal, since Augustana played Central (Iowa) in the 1988 Semifinals.

“This is a great win for Wheaton College and Wheaton football”, noted head coach Mike Swider following Saturday’s victory. Franklin entered Saturday’s game, averaging 50 points per game in its two previous playoff victories. Swider said of Wheaton’s effort to contain the Grizzlies’ offense and All-American quarterback Chad Rupp, “We knew that Rupp would get his yards. We told our players it was about limiting big plays and we were able to do that today.”

Wheaton’s defense and special teams played a key role today, scoring 17 points in the win. Senior Pete Ittersagen returned a first-quarter interception 52 yards for a touchdown and he returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. Senior Tim Ellingsen contributed a 41-yard field goal as well. Wheaton recorded 325 yards of offense, with 217 rushing yards and 108 passing yards. Franklin tallied 446 yards of offense, passing for 289 yards and rushing for 157 yards.

Swider noted, “I thought our special teams out-played them today. It allowed us to have good field position throughout the game.” He added, “I thought the biggest play of the game was the kickoff return. They had just scored a touchdown to make it a 10-point game and then Pete just busted it open to give us a lot of momentum back.” Ittersagen said of his kickoff return, “It was a big momentum play, they had just scored and that was really what we needed. We have been talking all year about trying to return a kickoff for a touchdown, which is something we have not done for a long time.”

Wheaton tailback Rocky Gingg played a key role in the victory as the sophomore carried the ball 26 times for 145 yards, with two touchdowns. Gingg noted, “We had a great game plan. We knew that we could run right at them and we did that early and we just wanted to keep it up.” He said of the team’s play in its three playoff games, “Everything seems to be clicking right now. Hopefully we can keep it up.” With his effort today, Gingg has now rushed for 1,290 yards this season for the second-highest single-season total in school history, just eight yards behind the record of 1,298 yards gained by Garrett Granberg in 2004.

Quarterback Sean Norris completed 11 of his 18 passing attempts for 108 yards, with two touchdown passes. Senior Alex Pokorny caught four passes for 49 yards. With his effort today Pokorny, established a school record with 1,347 receiving yards this season.

Ittersagen led the Thunder defense with 10 total tackles, including eight solo hits and the interception return for a touchdown. Linebacker Mike McKinney made nine total tackles, with an interception. Steve Pagh and Grant Rozskowiak each recorded a quarterback sack and Roszkowiak also picked off a pass.

Rupp led the Franklin offense with 289 passing yards, completing 30 of his 58 passes and two touchdown tosses. He also ran for 130 yards, with a touchdown run in 22 carries. Kevin Lynch caught eight passes for 101 yards and Tony Gregory caught eight passes for 81 yards, with a touchdown. Scott Martin led the Grizzlies defense with eight tackles.

Ittersagen’s interception return into the end zone with 12:53 left in the first quarter gave the guests a 7-0 lead. Franklin kicked a first-quarter field goal that was followed by Ellingsen’s 41-yarder with 3:22 remaining in the opening quarter for a 10-3 Wheaton advantage. Rupp threw a 15-yard touchdown pass with 14:08 early in the second quarter to tie the game at 10-10. Gingg scored on a seven-yard TD run with 10:04 left in the second quarter and Norris threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Mike Berttucci to give Wheaton a 24-10 lead with 1:53 remaining in the first half. The Grizzlies kicked a 34-yard field goal to cut the Wheaton lead to 24-13, which would be the halftime score.

Gingg reached the end zone with his second seven-yard score of the day, with 9:07 left in the third quarter for a 31-13 lead. Rupp ran into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown scamper with 6:04 left in the third quarter to cut Wheaton’s advantage to 10 points at 31-21. Ittersagen returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to extend the Thunder lead to 38-21. Freddy Ellis caught a five-yard pass from Norris with 3:34 left in the game for a 45-21 lead. A 20-yard touchdown pass for the Grizzlies with 1:30 left in the game cut Wheaton’s lead to 45-28 to account for the final score.