DUBUQUE -- When September concluded, the Wartburg College football team had two losses and a return trip to the Division III playoffs seemed dire.
"After our loss to Simpson (Sept. 29), we knew there were a lot of things up in the air," Wartburg quarterback Matt Sacia said. "We just said the only thing we can do is control what we can control."
Thanks to Dubuque knocking off Simpson last week and Wartburg closing the regular season with five straight wins, the Knights are back in the playoffs clinching the American Rivers Conference title Saturday afternoon with a 47-28 win over Dubuque at chilly Chalmers Field.
Three Quad-City area products played a prominent role in Wartburg's win.
Sacia, a North Scott graduate and three-year starter, completed 25 of 35 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-2 and 195-pound senior connected with Brandon Childs and Lee Bonifus for scores in the final 5-plus minutes to seal the win.
A finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy last season, given to the top player in D-III, Sacia surpassed Logan Schrader on Saturday for the most completed passes in school history. He also upped his school mark of career touchdown passes to 91.
"There were a lot of times today where things broke down a little bit and we had to do some make-shift plays," Sacia said. "Our guys executed and came up big."
Wartburg trailed 21-20 at halftime, but outscored Dubuque 27-7 after intermission. The Knights finished with 439 total yards to 235 for the Spartans (7-3).
Dane Steidler, another North Scott alum, had four tackles and a second-half interception for the Knights. Jacob Kloft, a Maquoketa graduate, was Wartburg's leading tackler with nine stops, 2.5 for loss.
Wartburg, which started the season in the nation's top 25, lost to Monmouth 24-18 in Week 2 and dropped a 37-36 home game in overtime to Simpson in Week 5.
Since then, the Knights have scored 30 or more points in each of their last five games to clinch their fourth league championship in six seasons.
"After that (Simpson) game, we sat back and used that as motivation," Steidler said. "We just took each week and focused on that team. We knew we had to get five check marks, and we got our fifth today."
Wartburg (8-2, 7-1) will learn its first-round playoff opponent Sunday.
Coming next week: We'll have more on Sacia's record-setting career with the Knights.