JOLIET, ILL. - Marc Ballatori (Fr.-Tequesta, Fla.) caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Kevin McConnell (So.-Kansas City, Mo.) with 22 seconds left in the game, and Head Coach Kent Anderson picked up his first win as a collegiate coach as Iowa Wesleyan College defeated the University of St. Francis (Ill.), 24-21, on Saturday at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
The Tigers won their first game in five tries in dramatic fashion, getting the ball back after a late defensive stand and then going 71 yards on 11 plays in the final three minutes for the winning score. IWC also survived a final 49-yard field goal attempt by Alex Gallaher that went wide left as time expired, and the Tigers improved to 1-4 overall and 1-1 in the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League.
Wesleyan also got a career-best game from McConnell, who passed for 253 yards and in all accounted for 295 yards of offense. McConnell directed the game-winning drive and completed seven of his final eight passes, including a crucial 13-yard pass to Ballatori on 4th-and-8 to keep the drive alive. The sophomore quarterback finished the game completing 24 of 35 passes for a career high in passing yardage as well as two touchdowns.
IWC never led in the game until McConnell ‘s touchdown pass to Ballatori in the middle of the end zone in final seconds. The Tigers played courageously throughout the game, though, never trailing by more than seven points and twice answering USF touchdowns in the first half in going into the halftime break tied at 14-14.
Wesleyan also never would’ve had the chance for a final drive if not for several big defensive stops in the fourth quarter. The Tiger defense struggled against the run all afternoon, as USF running back Connor Krisch ran for 187 yards and averaged nearly seven yard per carry. But the Tigers stiffened up for a big stop on 3rd-and-2 early in the quarter, and later in the quarter stopped St. Francis on 4th-and-5 from the IWC 29-yard line with 3:12 left in the game, setting the stage for the game-winning drive.
St. Francis scored first in the game, going 66 yards in 11 plays on its opening drive with E.J. White finding Elliot Allen for an 11-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers responded later, though, when on 3rd-and-14 McConnell stepped up in the pocket to avoid the pass rush and found LiMichael Peeples (Fr.-Conyers, Ga.) streaking downfield for a 61-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.
The Saints came right back to score on their next drive, which started at the IWC 40 after an onsides kick failed and was halted for several minutes after a frightening injury to Wesleyan linebacker Cameron Jones (Jr.-O’Fallon, Mo.). Jones was down on the field for several minutes before being taken off on a stretcher, and Jones was later diagnosed with a broken ankle that was expected to require surgery Saturday night. USF would take eight plays to go 40 yards, with Krisch scoring from two yards out on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-7.
The Tigers would respond later in the quarter with what to that point was their most impressive drive of the season. Wesleyan drove the ball 80 yards in 16 plays and chewed up 7:48 off the clock, the drive not ending until Lawrence Moore (Sr.-Country Club Hills, Ill.) ran it in on 4th-and-goal from the 1 with 15 seconds left in the half. USF actually had a final chance for a field goal at the end of the half, but Gallaher’s 47-yard attempt at the horn came up short.
St. Francis took the lead back in the middle of the third quarter, getting all but 11 yards on the ground on a nine-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Krisch scoring from 17 yards out with 5:08 left in the quarter. Again the Tigers responded, though, going 71 yards in 11 plays before the drive stalled at the USF 4. Chase Tackett (Fr.-Camarillo, Calif.) caught passes of 19 and 29 yards on the drive to get IWC out of 2nd-and-long situations, and Kris Dolinsky (Fr.-Fishers, Ind.) knocked the field goal through from 21 yards out with one second left in the quarter to cap a drive that took 5:33 off the clock.
McConnell also was Iowa Wesleyan’s leading rusher with 42 yards on 22 rush attempts. Greg Fields (Sr.-St. Louis, Mo.) led the Tiger receivers with seven catches for 63 yards, including a big 16-yard catch on the final drive. Moore had six receptions for 22 yards and Ballatori caught four balls for 27 yards. Tackett also had three catches for 63 yards, with all three of his grabs going for first downs.
Darious Watson (Sr.-Bellwood, Ill.) led the IWC defense with 12 tackles, while Chris Owens (Sr.-Greer, S.C.) added 11 tackles, including 1 1/2 tackles for loss. Warren Green (Fr.-Fairburn, Ga.) also had nine tackles, and Mike Tupai (Jr.-San Francisco, Calif.) and Dominique Richards (Sr.-Bronx, N.Y.) both added eight tackles. Richards also had a pass break-up on third down on the Tigers’ defensive stop just prior to their winning touchdown drive.
The Tigers did not commit a turnover in the game and committed just three penalties for 20 yards. Wesleyan converted four of 11 third downs and was 2-for-2 on fourth down, as well as 3-for-3 in the red zone.
St. Francis outgained IWC 388-295 but dropped to 1-3 overall, 1-1 in the MSFA Midwest. The Fighting Saints were coming off a win over then #19-ranked Grand View University two weeks ago and had won the previous four meetings with Wesleyan.
Iowa Wesleyan will be back home next week for its Homecoming game against Waldorf College. The Tigers will take on the Warriors at 2 p.m. at Mapleleaf Stadium.
Box score IWC 24 St. Francis (Ill.) 21