BLOOMINGTON — A week earlier, Illinois Wesleyan's football team needed to play a full 60 minutes to pull out a season-opening upset victory.

That wasn't the case Saturday — and the way it ended didn't sit quite right with IWU coach Norm Eash.

Brandon Bauer threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Titans built a 35-point lead against Nebraska Wesleyan with five minutes left in the third quarter at Tucci Stadium.

The Prairie Wolves weren't done playing, though. While IWU, ranked No. 14 in the poll, was never in real danger and still earned a 42-21 victory, Eash wasn't entirely pleased.

"I don't think we managed the game very well," said Eash. "I told the players be happy with the win, but I don't think they feel good about the way the game was played. For us to give up 25 first downs and 461 yards passing, you're not going to feel good about that."

Nebraska Wesleyan quarterback Jonathan Curti completed 32 of 65 pass attempts for 461 yards and three touchdowns. The 65 attempts set a record for an opponent against IWU, while the 461 yards was just short of the record of 462 set by Wheaton in 1998. 

IWU (2-0) opens College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin action next Saturday against No. 6-ranked North Central at Naperville.  

Actually, the Titans might have started to think about the Cardinals before the game against Nebraska Wesleyan (0-2) was done.

"It was a lack of focus," said IWU senior linebacker Josh Akin. "When the lead gets that big, you maybe lose a little concentration which we definitely have to clean up with North Central coming up."

Still, there was no denying the IWU offense looked much more potent than it did during a 17-10 win over then No. 3-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater a week ago.

Bauer completed 15 of 21 attempts for 189 yards while rushing for 60 yards in less than three quarters before giving way to Jack Warner.

IWU tailback Morgan Alexander broke off a couple long runs and finished with 124 yards rushing on 12 carries. The Titans amassed 496 yards of total offense, with 266 of those coming on the ground.

IWU went three-and-out on its first series of the game after receiving the opening kickoff. But the Titans scored on four of their next five series and cruised into the intermission with a 28-7 lead.

Bauer's 39-yard run up the middle gave IWU a 7-0 lead with 8:06 left in the first quarter. Nebraska Wesleyan tied the game when Curti hooked up with Bradley Pelkey for a 55-yard TD late in the first quarter.

The Titans dominated the second quarter. Bauer's 6-yard pass to tight end Andrew Apel gave IWU a 14-7 lead with 14:07 left. Matese Scott went untouched around left end on a 2-yard run for the next score before Bauer connected with Jack Healy on a slant for a 7-yard TD pass for a 28-7 lead at the intermission.

IWU scored on its first possession of the second half. Taking over at midfield after a punt, it took four plays as Alexander broke loose on a 34-yard run into the end zone for a 35-7 lead.

After Jeremy Giderof intercepted a pass tipped by Matt Szyska and returned it to midfield, Alexander ripped off a 40-yard gain. Two plays later, Bauer found Liam Keffer for a 10-yard TD pass and a 42-7 advantage.

"Offensively we did a lot of nice things," said Eash. "Brandon Bauer had a great day running our football team, throwing the ball, running the ball, he was very effective. I thought we had the game in control."

But Curti found Bryce Darner alone behind the IWU secondary for a 93-yard TD late in the third quarter. Curti and Pelkey connected again for a 14-yard scoring pass with 10:06 left.

"It all started when we gave up that long touchdown pass," said Eash. "We couldn't bounce back from that. We reacted instead of responded to that."

Warner, playing his first game since 2015 after missing last season with knee surgery, later took the Titans to the Nebraska Wesleyan 6. But Warner and Scott collided in the backfield, the ball came loose and the Prairie Wolves recovered.

"We had a miscue down there on the goal line and we had a delay of game penalty," said Eash. "Those are things that concern me that shouldn't happen." 

Curti had a sure touchdown pass dropped in the final seconds before the clock ran out with Nebraska Wesleyan on IWU's 10.

"We had a few mental mistakes on the blown coverages, but everyone played pretty well," said Akin as the Titans held Nebraska Wesleyan to 17 yards rushing.

IWU's win over Whitewater lost some prestige Saturday when Concordia (Minn.) also beat the Warhawks, 25-17. Interestingly, Concordia beat Nebraska Wesleyan last week.

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson


Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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