Coming off their tough Saint Francis the week before, the Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats, and Head Coach Jordan Langs, anticipated another tall task with cross county foe Taylor.
But over the course of 60 minutes, Indiana Wesleyan put together its best performance of the campaign on both sides of the ball, recording a 23-0 shutout for its second win of the season and its second-ever triumph over its biggest rival.
With the win, the Wildcats now own a 2-1 series advantage over the Trojans. After dropping their program opener to Taylor in their inaugural season, the Wildcats have won each of the last two contests.
“We respect Taylor. They’re a great university and a great football program,” Langs said. “We’ve had three really fun games with them, and it’s always going to mean a lot to this program, and I hope it means a lot to these kids.”
Junior Devodney Alford led an efficient rushing attack for the Wildcats, compiling 127 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries and gashing the Taylor defense to the tune of 4.1 yards per rush.
“Devodney is just special,” Langs said. “One-on-one in the box, it’s hard to tackle him, so it was good to see him back in form tonight.”
Xander Stokes put together one of most efficient performances in a Wildcats uniform, completing 24 of his 33 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target was Brayden Smith, who caught 12 passes for 124 yards. With his performance, Smith surpassed 150 receptions and over 2,000 all-purpose yards for his career.
“Brayden Smith is just a dang good football player,” Langs said. “He’s a phenomenal kid, and he’s so humble. He did a great job of showing up tonight and giving his best.”
Tommy Fossett added three receptions for 72 yards and his first career touchdown, while Alford and Levi Tidwell each caught three passes for 21 yards.
In all, the Wildcats compiled 403 yards on 76 plays.
“We were in it the whole time,” Langs said. “Offensively, we played a good game. Our offensive line played well. They are a very good defense, and they’ve played good defense all year. We knew it was going to be a grind-it-out situation, and I was just proud of what they did.”
The headline of the game, however, was the IWU defense. The Wildcats clamped down on the Trojan offense throughout the contest, holding Taylor to just 107 yards of offense on 51 plays.
“We were behind the chains all night,” Taylor Head Coach Ron Korfmacher said. “Offensively, we strung our defense out. We just weren’t productive and executing to the top of our game. We are a better football team than we demonstrated.”
The Trojans carried the play 21 times for just 34 yards, while gathering just 73 yards through the air.
“We had a great plan.” Langs said. “Our defensive backfield is getting better and better, and I think our front seven was just stifling. When they do that, it makes your third-down calls easier. We got them to third down and medium and long quite a bit, and that is a recipe for success.”
After some stout defensive play from both sides in the first quarter, the Wildcats began to find their offensive rhythm as the second quarter began. With just under two minutes gone, IWU capped off a 14-play, 89-yard drive with a 34-yard touchdown run from Alford, giving the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.
The Wildcats scored on each of their next two possessions as well. After IWU held Taylor to a three-and-out, the Wildcats embarked on a 13-play drive, capping it off with a 38-yard field goal from Ben VonGunten. VonGunten added a 27-yarder in the final minute of the first half to increase the Wildcats’ advantage to 13-0.
IWU thoroughly outgained the Trojans in the first half, compiling 207 yards of offense while holding Taylor to just 45.
The Wildcats held on to their momentum in the second half. Another VonGunten field goal in the third pushed the advantage to 16-0, before a 61-yard catch-and-run by Fossett early in the fourth secured the Wildcats’ victory.
Though they will need a little help from some of the other teams in the MSFA, the Wildcats have a reasonable chance to make it to the National Tournament. But first, they need to take care of business next weekend against No. 2 Concordia.
“For us, we can’t get too shortsighted,” Langs said. “As a third-year program, we think about where [we want to go,] and Concordia is a big step in that direction. They’ve had our number for two years, and we better show up with our best effort, not just for that game, but for the mission and projection of the program.”