Pushed against its own goal line with time running out in the first half, the Wartburg defense needed a stop.
Ben Bentil brought down Derek Bellamy at the one yard line on 4th-and-goal from the one with 55 seconds left in the second quarter and Wartburg held on to its 13-10 lead.
The Knights (2-1) carried that momentum into the second half, not giving up another point on their way to a 27-10 victory in the home opener.
“Whichever way that play goes … that’s gonna be a huge momentum swing for one team or the other and it was for us,” head coach Rick Willis said.
The Knights held the Red Men to a field goal on the previous possession after Carthage moved the ball to the 10 yard line for a 1st-and-goal.
The ball went off Donald Miller’s foot on the ensuing kickoff and Carthage took over at the 19, looking to shock the home crowd of 3,000 with a halftime lead.
But Wartburg, which gave up 111 yards rushing in the game including 72 to quarterback A.J. Simoncelli, held when it mattered most.
“That was huge,” said defensive end Martin Hyatte, who had three tackles for loss Saturday. “Not just for stopping them and not letting them score but just for the team in general, just getting momentum.”
The Red Men moved the ball to the Wartburg 26 on their second possession of the second half but once again, the Knights defense made a big play.
On 2nd-and-11, cornerback Logan Pitz stepped in front of Simoncelli’s pass and returned it to the Carthage 37.
Logan Schrader found fellow QB Taylor Jacobsmeier on a swing pass out of the backfield on the very next play and Jacobsmeier made a few men miss on his way to the endzone to put the Knights up 20-10.
“That [interception] sets up the score and that was a huge play,” Willis said. Spencer Capitani, who led the Knights with nine tackles, intercepted a pass on the two-yard line on 2nd-and-6 from the Knights 42 that stopped another Red Men drive the previous possession.
Schrader and Jacobsmeier have split time at quarterback in all three games so far this season, but were on the field at the same time for a couple plays Saturday and was able to use his speed to his advantage.
“It was great,” Jacobsmeier said. “I’m glad I can help the team in any way I can. When coach calls my number, I want to be able to perform.”
“That was pretty cool,” Schrader said. “Coach threw in some little wrinkles there to get the ball in both of our hands and it worked out well today.”
Willis said he wants to maximize Schrader and Jacobsmeier’s strengths on the field.
“We’re just gonna continue to try to evaluate and use those guys, use their strengths the best we can,” Willis said. ”Obviously we want to try to find ways for Taylor to have the ball in his hands because he is explosive and he made a big, explosive play there at a critical time that really helped us stretch the lead out.”
Schrader was 11-of-17 passing for 93 yards, a touchdown and an interception and also ran six times for 54 yards while Jacobsmeier was 4-of-7 for 88 yards and a 30-yard TD pass to Donald Miller early in the fourth quarter. Jacobsmeier ran seven times for 41 yards and had two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Photos: Ta’Mone Williams
The Knights struggled running the ball but caught Carthage off guard by handing the ball to Brandon Domeyer on 3rd-and-8 and Domeyer took it 24 yards for six. The extra point snap went through the holder’s hands and the score remained 6-0.
Carthage drove the ball 82 yards in 6:08 on their next possession — including a pass from punter/wide receiver Pete Djurickovic to Robert Anderson on a fake punt on 4th-and-7 from their own 21 — capped off by Simoncelli’s 15-yard run on a misdirection play that fooled nearly everyone in the stadium.
Schrader then ran for first downs on carries of 17 and eight yards that kept a 15-play, 74-yard drive alive and Domeyer, who finished with just 48 yards on 21 carries, scored from six yards out to put Wartburg up 13-7.
“We were having a little trouble getting the running backs some open lanes and they were leaving the outside so I just kind of took advantage of that and tried to get yards, pick up first downs and get the ball moving,” Schrader said.
Brett Bukari kicked a 35-yard field goal before the fumble and goal line stand.
The Knights put up 343 yards of offense a week after gaining 314 in a 30-17 loss to No. 7 Bethel and although they came away with the win, Schrader said there are still plenty of things to work on.
“You leave the game with a better taste in your mouth,” Schrader said. “But we’re still not quite where we want to be. We’re still trying to get rid of the slow start that we seem to be having a problem with right now but it felt good to execute a lot better late in the game and get the ball moving.”
Wartburg is off next week before the Iowa Conference opener at home against Simpson (2-1), which has beaten the Knights on blocked extra points each of the last two years.
“We just have to continue to try to eliminate mistakes that we create ourselves and be more consistent from down to down,” Willis said. “That’s the thing we have to keep working on.”
Carthage 0 10 0 0 — 10
Wartburg 6 7 7 7 — 27
W- Domeyer 24 run (Bohlke pass failed) (5:27 1st)
C- Simoncelli 15 run (Bukari kick) (14:19 2nd)
W- Domeyer 6 run (Bohlke kick) (8:07 2nd)
C- FG Bukari 35 (4:43 2nd)
W- Jacobsmeier 37 pass from Schrader (Bohlke kick) (8:39 3rd)
W- Miller 30 pass from Jacobsmeier (Bohlke kick) (14:25 4th)
Passing — Carthage: Simoncelli 23-42-184, Djurickovic 1-1-21; Wartburg: Schrader 11-17-93-1, Jacobsmeier 4-7-88-1
Rushing — Carthage: Simoncelli 14-72-1, Bellamy: 10-36; Wartburg: Schrader 6-54, Domeyer 21-48-2
Receiving — Carthage: Anderson 4-65, Wright 8-57; Wartburg: Miller 7-71-1, Jacobsmeier 2-52-1
Tackles — Carthage: Motter 6.5, Cleveland 6.0 (3.5 TFL), Allen 6.0 (3.5 TFL); Wartburg: Capitani 9.0 (1.0 TFL), Billings 8.0 (2.5 TFL)