MOUNT PLEASANT – Iowa Wesleyan College will be looking to put last week far in its rear view when it opens Mid-States Football Association Midwest League play Saturday at McKendree (Ill.) University at 6 p.m.
The Tigers finish a gauntlet of three straight games against teams ranked in the top 20 in national NAIA or NCAA polls. McKendree comes in ranked 14th in the NAIA, and IWC’s game against the Bearcats follows up games against Coe and St. Francis (Ind.). Coe was ranked 12th in NCAA Division III at the time and has since climbed into the top 10, while St. Francis was ranked 17th going into last week’s game and this week is ranked #11 in the NAIA.
Wesleyan lost to St. Francis last week, 70-7. The Tigers got a touchdown in the first quarter when Kevin McConnell (So.-Kansas City, Mo.) hit Marc Ballatori (Fr.-Tequesta, Fla.) with a nine-yard pass, cutting USF’s lead to 14-7. IWC would struggle the rest of the way, though, picking up just 53 yards of offense the rest of the game while the Cougars exploded for 28 points in the second quarter.
THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT – IWC faces a McKendree team coming off a 45-12 loss to then-unranked Marian (Ind.) University. McKendree was ranked eighth in the NAIA coming into the game, but Marian jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, amassing 484 yards of total offense and shutting down the Bearcats’ ground game to 54 yards on 31 rushing attempts.
McKendree has been one of the top teams in the MSFA Midwest since joining the league in 1998. Last year the Bearcats reclaimed the league title after a three-year absence, finishing 7-0 in Midwest League play for their fifth league title and advancing to the NAIA playoffs. The Bearcats continue to use the Wing-T offense that has been a staple of the program for many years. Defensively the Bearcats are especially stout up front, allowing 103 rushing yards per game through the first three games. McKendree set a new NAIA single-game record two weeks ago, allowing -96 yards rushing against Olivet Nazarene in a 34-0 win.
SERIES HISTORY – McKendree has won all 12 meetings all-time between the Tigers and Bearcats. Last year the Bearcats won 40-0 at IWC, rushing for 305 yards in the game. The closest game ever between the two teams was their first meeting in 1998, when McKendree defeated Wesleyan 19-7.
HAPPIER RETURNS – Leondre Washington (Fr.-St. Louis, Mo.)’s 45-yard kickoff return last week was the longest kick return by the Tigers in four years. The last time IWC had a longer kickoff return was Sept. 17, 2006, when Chris Prospere returned a kickoff for 71 yards against St. Ambrose. As a team the Tigers have been improved in the kickoff return game this year. IWC is averaging 16.7 yards per return through three games, the best for the team since 2005 (22.6 yards/return). So far this year Washington is averaging 22.2 yards per return, which ranks fifth in the MSFA, and Warren Green (Fr.-Fairburn, Ga.) is also averaging 20.0 yards per kickoff return.
EARLY SEASON BRIGHT SPOT – One of the top newcomers for the Tigers through the first three games is Ballatori, the freshman wide receiver. In his first three collegiate games, Ballatori has caught eight passes for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns and is averaging 24.9 yards per catch. He has quickly become a deep threat with catches of 54, 52 and 48 yards.
SUCCESSFUL RETURN – Junior linebacker Kenrick Lawson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) has made a triumphant return to football this year after it appeared last year that his career may be over. Lawson redshirted in 2009 after it was found he had a problem with his heart that required surgery. He was a volunteer assistant last year and also helped broadcast Tiger football games, but received clearance to return to the field this year. He is listed second on the depth chart at defensive end and has seen significant playing time through three games, and is currently tied with Dominique Richards (Sr.-Bronx, N.Y.) for the team lead with 1 1/2 sacks.
DEFENSIVE DISRUPTION – The Tigers’ 0-3 start has not been the result of the team not getting some big plays on defense. IWC has forced eight turnovers from its opponents (tied for second in MSFA) and as a team is even in turnover margin through three games. Cameron Jones (Jr.-O’Fallon, Mo.) and Chris Owens (Sr.-Greer, S.C.) lead the team in forcing mistakes, as Jones had a fumble forced and two fumble recoveries while Owens has a fumble forced and an interception.
Wesleyan also has seven sacks through its first three games and is well ahead of its pace from last year in that category, when the team had just 14 sacks all season. The Tigers had four sacks last week against St. Francis and also recovered two turnovers in the game. Early in the season IWC ranks second in the MSFA in sacks, behind only McKendree, which has 13 sacks through its first three games.
ON THE AIRWAVES – Saturday’s game will be aired online from the IWC Web site at http://www.iwc.edu/onlinemedia. IWC Sports Information Director Adam Glatczak will call the play-by-play. McKendree will also have a broadcast available at mms://media.mckendree.edu/athletics, with Joe Zydlo calling the action.
Complete IWC-McKendree Game Notes