Saturday at Elmhurst College was a hot one for Wheaton. With heat wave protocols in place, the Thunder scorched the Bluejays 40-15. This improves the fourth-ranked Thunder to 4-0 for the season and 2-0 for CCIW conference play. However, if you hadn’t looked at the scoreboard, you might not have known just how much of a lead Wheaton had.
The Thunder had a rocky start on their opening drive when the ball was snapped too high, sending the Thunder back 20 yards during second down. The Bluejays quickly took the momentum after the Thunder’s blunder, scoring the first touchdown of the game and going for a two-point conversion. Elmhurst’s lead marked the first time all season that Wheaton has trailed behind in a game. Though the Thunder continued to have some setbacks, they managed to hold Elmhurst scoreless in the second and third quarters and scored an impressive 21 points in the fourth quarter alone.
Wheaton’s offense put up 402 yards, with 236 passing yards and 166 rushing yards. Senior quarterback Curtis McWilliams passed for all 236 of the Thunder’s passing yards, completing 17 of 25 passing attempts. Junior Carter Roberts lead the Thunder receivers with 87 yards. Sophomore Phillip Nichols contributed 48 receiving yards while senior Zach Lundquist had 32 and the lone touchdown for Wheaton’s receiving corps.
Freshman TJ Williams led the Thunder in rushing with 117 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Sola Olateju gained 88 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Spencer Peterson also added 26 yards for the Thunder. Last Saturday’s game marks the lowest number of rushing yards that Wheaton has gained all season, with their season average at 295 rushing yards before Elmhurst’s game.
The Thunder offense went 7-of-16 in third down conversions, which is an improvement from their 4-of-15 performance against Carthage. Of the six times Wheaton found themselves in the red zone, they scored on five of those chances.
Senior Stefan Knoerr kicked four field goals on Saturday, with all four soaring through the goalposts. Sophomore Griffin Bowes kicked for 430 yards with his nine kickoffs against the Bluejays. He averaged 47 yards per kick. Zach Feddeler had three punts for 117 yards. He averaged 39 yards, with a long kick of 50 yards and a touchback. On the receiving side, sophomore Phillip Nichols caught six punts, returning for 89 yards total. He also returned an Elmhurst kickoff for 23 yards. Senior Adam Sandy had a kickoff return, gaining 27 yards for the Thunder.
On the other side of the line, the Wheaton defense held the Bluejays to 222 yards of total offense. Junior Eric Stevenson led the Thunder with six tackles. Senior Chase Greenlee and junior Luke Smith both recorded five tackles and an interception each. Senior Marcus Smith had the Thunder’s third interception.
With the offense’s slow beginning, the defense played an integral role in last Saturday’s game with offensive coordinator Jesse Scott stating, “Our defense absolutely carried us through the first half.”
This week, the Thunder are back at McCully Stadium to face off against the Illinois Wesleyan Titans. The No. 20 Titans are currently 3-1 for the season and 1-1 for CCIW conference play. Kickoff for the Thunder’s Homecoming Game will be Saturday, Sept. 30 at 1 p.m.