BLOOMINGTON — There was driving rain, wind and cold during the first half Saturday at Tucci Stadium. Then it got worse.

As Illinois Wesleyan and Case Western Reserve returned for the second half of an NCAA Division III first-round playoff football game, snow had completely blanketed the FieldTurf.

Through it all, Aaron Aguilar looked like he was running on a dry surface.

Aguilar, a 5-foot-6, 182-pound junior fullback who had gained 48 yards for the season beforehand, rushed for 136 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns as No. 16-ranked Case Western Reserve beat the No. 11 Titans, 28-0.

“I don't know why, but I think I had it in my mind to play slow and have my feet under me before I made my cuts,” said Aguilar, who was pressed into ball-carrying duties when 1,000-yard rusher Jacob Burke left early with an injury.

IWU, which shared the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title with North Central, ended the season with a 9-2 record. Case Western (11-0) advanced to next Saturday's second round against No. 2 Mount Union.

“I don't think we were as physical as we could have been,” said IWU senior linebacker Jordan Hassan, who had 16 tackles. “We pride ourselves on physicality, and I think as a whole we did not bring it today. It showed. They had four rushing touchdowns and until now we had (allowed) one all year.”

Neither team was able to mount any kind of sustained passing attack because of the adverse conditions. IWU's Brandon Bauer completed 8 of 25 attempts for 73 yards, while the Spartans' Rob Cuda went 7 of 20 for 75 yards.

When Aguilar picked up a fumble by Cuda to complete a three-yard touchdown run with 1:31 left in the first half, the Titans trailed 7-0 at the intermission.

“With the way the game was going I thought the team that scored first would be in the driver's seat and the other team would have to be going uphill the whole ball game,” said Eash. “We got ourselves in that position and were pressing a little bit.”

The Titans were really pressing after Aguilar took an option pitch from Cuda on a fourth-and-one play from IWU's 33 and busted outside down the sideline into the end zone. That gave Case Western a 14-0 lead with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

“We've been behind this year, but not behind with these kinds of weather conditions. It changes that a little bit,” said Eash. “It did neutralize our physicality. It was hard for us to be physical with the weather conditions. But they had the same conditions.”

Case Western put the game out of reach when IWU punter Noah Baird couldn't handle the snap and the Spartans took over at the Titans' 5 early in the fourth quarter. Aguilar scored on a sweep the next play for a 21-0 lead.

Myles Anthony's 1-yard TD run with 3:19 left ended the scoring.

IWU had several chances. The Titans drove to Case Western's 35 on the game's opening drive before stalling. They took over at the Spartans' 26 after Jeremy Giderof's big hit forced a fumble that Justin Krzeczkowski recovered at the 21.

But IWU's Morgan Alexander, who gained 119 yards on 30 carries, fumbled on the next play and Case Western recovered.

Alexander helped the Titans move from their own 32 to Case Western's 17 early in the second quarter, carrying five times for 40 yards. But four straight incompletions gave the ball back to the Spartans. 

“The first half was windy and that was a factor, and with the wetness of the ball it was tough to get a grip right away,” said Bauer. “The second half, with the snow, it kind of froze on the laces there.”

While IWU's defense came in ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense and 11th in scoring defense, it was Case Western's defense that shined.

“Our defense is not loaded with stars. We don't have a lot of guys with huge stats,” said Case Western coach Greg Debeljak. “When it turned into a running game that was definitely to our advantage.”

IWU dropped several passes that could have sustained drives.

“We left some plays out there and their kids, to their credit, made some plays,” said Eash.

Alexander set the IWU single-season rushing attempts record (247) while his 1,076 rushing yards was the second highest total in school history behind Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore's 1,143 from last season.

“Today he ran hard like he has all season,” said Eash. “It was tough traction out there to get your footing, especially when it started snowing. The nice thing about Morgan is he's coming back.”

Hassan also set a school single-season record with 76 solo tackles, breaking Sean Garvey's mark of 72 in 2014.

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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