BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- On a cold and blustery Saturday afternoon, Wartburg blew away Illinois Wesleyan 41-7 in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs at Tucci Stadium.
Ignoring the 24-degree temperature and 21-mph wind gusts, the Knights (9-2) took it to the Titans (9-2) on the ground, amassing 274 yards rushing, while holding IWU to minus five. Bulldozing running back Brandon Domeyer, a sophomore from Manchester, scored three touchdowns en route to 161 yards on 34 carries. Quarterback Logan Schrader, a sophomore from Killdeer, Ill., chipped in two more scores, while running for 77 yards in 10 carries and evading any semblance of a Titans rush.
For good measure, linebacker Will Janssen, a sophomore from Mediapolis, scored on a fumble as the Knights took down Titans quarterback Rob Gillik early in the second half. That touchdown — with just over a minute gone in the second half — extended the Knights' lead to 28-0 and seemed to put the final nail in the Titans' coffin.
"We played as well as we have all season in all three phases of the game," said Wartburg coach Rick Willis about the dominating effort by the offense, defense and special teams.
"Football games are won upfront," Willis added. "I thought we did a great job on both sides of the ball."
"We kind of played like the weather," said coach Norm Eash of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin runners-up. "We were pretty cold today."
The Iowa Conference champion Knights, who had the ball for nearly 38 minutes, intercepted four passes and recovered three fumbles — with four of the takeaways stopping IWU drives in Wartburg territory.
An interception on the third play from scrimmage set the tone. On the opening kickoff, the Titans' 1,000-yard rusher Davonte Jones emerged from a swarm of would-be Wartburg tacklers at the 20 and raced downfield to the Knights' 35.
But any momentum was shortlived. On third-and-seven from the Knights 31 with Wartburg blitzing, linebacker Ryan Billings, a senior from Sterling, Ill., intercepted a pass from Gillik.
"We had the momentum and ended up with a pick," Gillik said. "Every time we tried to get something going, we made a mistake."
"Wartburg," he added, "pinned our ears back with pressure."
Jones, who needed 70 yards to break the IWU single-season rushing record, continually ran into a brick wall, gaining 39 yards, but losing 10, for a net 29.
On Wartburg's second possession, the Knights went 49 yards in eight plays.
Schrader, proving to be an elusive runner, had a nine-year scamper for the first score with 6:21 left in the opening quarter, capping an eight-play, 49-yard drive. Michael Bohlke added the PAT.
"They covered our receivers up," Schrader said, "and I just had to make a play."
The key play was Schrader's keeper around the left side for 17 yards on a third-and-four from the Titans 31 — among his 39 yards on four carries during the drive.
The Knights went 82 yards on 12 plays to score with 12:30 remaining in the second quarter with Domeyer blasting in from a yard. Behind a pile-driving offensive line, Domeyer went around and through the Titans, bulling his way for a crucial first down on third-and-one from the Wartburg 46 when he seemingly was stopped. The final four plays were Domeyer's 13-yard blast up the middle from the IWU 31, followed by Schrader's 11-yard keeper, and then two Domeyer charges for the last eight yards. Bohlke added the PAT to make it 14-0.
On their next possession, it was Domeyer scoring from a yard out after he carried six times and caught a pass from Schrader, who also ran four times. The key play in that drive was a 15-yard penalty on IWU for a helmet-to-helmet sideline hit on Domeyer on what had been second-and-15. Bohlke's PAT made it 21-0.
Willis was gratified by the half-time advantage.
"We wanted to be the aggressor," Willis said. "That's our mindset. We have to be going full throttle."
"Upfront, our guys just played outstanding," Schrader said.
After Janssen's fumble recovery in the end and another Bohlke PAT made it 28-0, the Knights got to work on their next possession at the IWU 43 following a sack and short punt. Seven plays later — the first six being Domeyer runs — Schrader went in from three yards and the PAT made it 35-0 with 10:13 remaining in the third quarter.
IWU finally had success through the air late in the third quarter with Galliik and Tate Musselman connecting from 18 yards to cap a five-play, 71-yard drive, that made it 35-7.
But even that joy in Coldville was shortlived. Donald Miller, a Wartburg junior from Maywood, Ill., took the ensuing kickoff back 50 yards. The Knights kept the ball in Domeyer's hands for the next nine plays and 29 yards, and he went in from the one with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter to make the final 41-0 after the PAT went wide.
The Knights will travel to the Twin Cities Nov. 30, to face archnemesis Bethel (Minn.), which defeated them in the second game of the season, 30-17. No. 6 Bethel blasted St. Scholastica 70-13 in the Metrodome to advance.
"We'll go up there and take another swing at it," Willis said.