Video: Seth Nutting
Wartburg’s defense had plenty of homework this week even without classes Thursday and Friday.
In Luther’s second year running the triple option, it came into Walston-Hoover Stadium on Saturday averaging 384.8 yards on the ground.
The sixth-ranked Knights passed another test with flying colors, only allowing half that total in a 52-7 victory, the largest ever over Luther.
“I think, today, you have to really take your hat off to the defense and the defensive staff,” Wartburg (7-0, 4-0) head coach Rick Willis said. “Our guys really did a great job with their preparation this week.”
The win sets up a first-place showdown in Storm Lake next week against Buena Vista (5-2, 4-0) for the outright conference lead.
Wartburg’s defense can go back to conventional formations then. Saturday, it implemented lessons learned from escaping a 24-21 win after giving up 309 rushing yards at Luther last year.
Eight of the Norse’s 13 non-half-ending drives ended in three-and-outs, three more via turnovers.
“Last year we didn’t really have an edge to the defense. This year, we focused on doing that,” said linebacker Will Janssen, who returned a fumble three yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. “We changed some different things around. Other guys got to play some different positions.”
Janssen’s touchdown may have been the turning point that made this game a blowout instead of a back-and-forth affair.
Luther (4-3, 1-3) fullback Josh Vos scampered 79 yards down the left sideline and into the endzone with just under 11 minutes to play in the second. But, a holding penalty took the points off the board.
Two plays later, Nick Clasen stripped quarterback JJ Sirios and Janssen scooped the ball and scored. Instead of 17-7, it was 24-0.
“That was a pretty big turnaround. Once we saw them run for a touchdown, we’re like, ‘What happened?’ but then we saw the flag, came back and ended up doing our jobs,” Janssen said. “That’s what happens when all you’re gonna do is run that triple option, you’ll make mistakes.”
Wartburg’s special teams got in on the scoring act, too. After a three-and-out on Luther’s next drive, Jon Cochrane’s punt hit a lineman and sailed right into the arms Taylor Hotek, who broke a tackle and ran 17 yards to the endzone for a 31-0 lead.
“It’s one thing to get turnovers, it’s another thing to score off a turnover, to score off special teams,” Willis said. “That really helps.”
The defense maybe could have won this one on its own, but the offense still exerted itself with 408 yards, including 290 through the air.
Logan Schrader completed 15-of-21 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, including a 33-yard toss to Mitch Rahm that gave the Knights a 17-0 lead with 11:11 to play in the second, two plays after the defense stopped Luther on a 4th-and-3 at the Wartburg 30.
Schrader also hit Will Ebert for a 25-yard score over the middle on to give Wartburg a 45-0 lead on its first drive of the second half. Taylor Jacobsmeier led the Knights with 106 yards receiving.
Brandon Domeyer started the scoring with a five-yard touchdown run on the Knights’ first possession and finished with 34 yards and two scores on eight carries. His four-yard run made it 38-0 at the half. Brandon Richardson scored Wartburg’s final TD and gained 38 yards on six attempts.
“We have a good thing going right now,” center Casey Krull said. “We have to make sure we get ready for next week and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Krull is part of an experienced offensive line that continues to improve.
“After the first two games, we got to staying on our blocks longer, we started communicating better and we just started clicking off plays better,” he said. “We’re starting to be a little bit more physical up front and I think that’s showing off.”
Luther’s lone score came with 8:08 left in the third when Sirios finished a 68-yard drive with a six-yard run. He had 54 yards rushing on 23 attempts. Josh Vos totaled 84 yards. The Norse allowed eight tackles for loss and did not complete a pass.
Gunner Tranel led Wartburg with 12 tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss. Clasen had two tackles for loss.
“I thought it was gonna be interesting because we both knew more about each other than we did last year,” Willis said. “We started, I think, from the same place that we started last year. We were just able to build more contingencies and such off it.”
Luther (4-3, 1-3) 0 0 7 0 — 7
No. 6 Wartburg (7-0, 4-0) 10 28 14 0 — 52
W — Domeyer 5 run (Bohlke kick) (9:55 1st, 0-7)
W — FG Bohlke 27 (2:51 1st, 0-10)
W — Rahm 33 pass from Schrader (Bohlke kick) (11:11 2nd, 0-17)
W — Janssen 3 fumble recovery (Bohlke kick) (9:44 2nd, 0-24)
W — Hotek 17 punt return (Bohlke kick) (7:56 2nd, 0-31)
W — Domeyer 4 run (Bohlke kick) (1:06 2nd, 0-38)
W — Ebert 25 pass from Schrader (Bohlke kick) (12:34 3rd, 0-45)
L — Sirios 6 run (Wirth kick) (8:08 3rd, 7-45)
W — Richardson 8 run (Bohlke kick) (1:03 3rd, 7-52)
Rushing — Luther: Vos 15-84, Sirios 23-54-1; Wartburg: Richardson 6-38-1, Domeyer 8-34-2
Passing — Luther: N/A; Wartburg: Schrader 15-21-252-2, Jacobsmeier 2-2-19
Receiving — Luther: N/A; Wartburg: Jacobsmeier 7-106, Miller 3-53
Tackles — Luther: Saemisch 8, Elton 6 (0.5 TFL); Wartburg: Tranel 12 (1.5 TFL), Kooi 9
Attendance — 3,517