ELMHURST, Ill. — In a tight contest and looking for its first win of the season, the Augustana football team went back to basics Saturday afternoon here at Langhorst Field.
And that approach paid off in the CCIW battle.
The Vikings went on a 15-play (all runs), 71-yard drive that ate off eight minutes and 14 seconds of the fourth-quarter clock. Ryan Pitra carried the ball on 11 plays, including the final tote on a 4-yard run that gave the Vikings the margin they needed for a 24-19 league victory over Elmhurst.
The hosts responded with a penalty-aided touchdown drive to answer, but a two-point conversion run with 11 seconds left failed, and the ensuing on-side kick attempt bounced out of bounds as the Vikings chalked up their first victory.
“It's an absolutely great feeling right now,” said Pitra of the victory after he rushed 23 times for 89 yards. “It feels great to finally have all of our work pay off. In our eyes, we feel as if this was overdue; it's been in our grasp a couple of times and slipped away. It's nice to finally get it.”
As coach Steve Bell said, it was also hard-earned as the Vikings (1-4, 1-2 CCIW) made some big plays in all three phases of the game.
While the defense was chunked for a few big plays, it also came up with a tremendous stand and got a turnover on downs after Elmhurst (1-4, 1-2 CCIW) had a first-and-10 at the Augie 11 midway through the third quarter. Augie had just taken a 17-7 lead on Alek Jacobs' 8-yard TD toss to Ryan Hennessy and was desperate to keep control at that point.
Former Bettendorf prep Cassin Wolfe's interception had set up a short field for Augie's third score and that 10-point lead.
A factoring play early was a first down out of punt formation in the first quarter as freshman Alex Bryan ran 13 yards. That kept alive Augie's first offensive possession and allowed the Vikings to drive 71 yards in 12 plays and tie the score early, squashing Elmhurst's momentum.
“The thing is, the kids earned it. For me, that was the big thing,” Bell said. “Our coaches and our players earned that victory. It wasn't handed to them on a platter; we had to make some plays to make it happen. It was nice to see that we made those plays in critical moments.”
That had not happened earlier in the season as the Vikings couldn't hold leads in their first four losses.
Jacobs, the former Rock Island standout, took all but two second-half snaps at quarterback as the Vikings attempted just 14 passes the entire game. Starter Luke Bleyer was 4-of-6 for 50 yards and Jacobs 5-of-8 for 43 yards. Augie rushed the ball 46 times for 188 yards, with Jacobs adding 74 yards in 16 carries.
As both teams got off 60 offensive plays, Elmhurst held a 363-281 yards advantage.
Augie's final scoring drive, though, was vintage — all positive yardage plays, no penalties, and three third-down conversions out of manageable yardage.
"We did a wonderful job of chewing the clock up,” said Bell on that game-clinching drive. “That was absolutely huge. That was a wonderful job of making plays at the right time and keeping the ball in our hands so they did not have much time to score.”