BLOOMINGTON — Two of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin's best defenses will be on display at 1 p.m. Saturday at Tucci Stadium in a crucial league showdown.
Nicholas Monferdini figures the Illinois Wesleyan offense can have a big say on whether the Titans’ or Carthage’s defense emerges as No. 1 at the end of the day.
"That’s what we’re looking to do, put our defense on top by kicking the heck out of their defense," said IWU’s senior offensive tackle.
IWU, ranked No. 11 in the D3football.com poll, comes in 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the CCIW. Carthage (5-1) is tied in the league with North Central and Millikin at 3-1 after already going through their bye weeks.
Carthage leads the CCIW in total defense, allowing 214.7 yards per game. That includes a league-leading 129.0 yards passing.
IWU is No. 3 in total defense at 266.3 yards, just behind Wheaton's 262.0. The Titans are first in the CCIW — and No. 3 in Division III — in rushing defense at 51.4 yards. IWU also leads the CCIW in scoring defense at 11.0 points per game, while the Red Men are No. 2 (13.2 ppg).
Carthage will provide a stern test for the Titans’ run defense. Lafayette McGary and Jamel Davis both went over 100 yards rushing last week in the Red Men's 31-8 victory over Elmhurst.
"They're going to run power right at our defense," said IWU coach Norm Eash. "It's going to be a great challenge for our defense."
It's a challenge IWU defensive tackle Justin Krzeczkowski accepts.
"I've been saying Carthage week is one of my favorites of the year," said Krzeczkowski. "I love when teams come and try to attack right down our throats. That's my forte, in my opinion."
IWU has the CCIW’s leading rusher in Morgan Alexander. The junior tailback has amassed 751 yards. Davis is No. 5 (418 yards) and McGary is sixth (398).
"Morgan makes the first guy miss most every time," said Monferdini. "He'll do his job and we'll do ours. He's intelligent. He sees what's going on and makes a good read. He won't force anything that's not there."
Carthage quarterback Kyle Friberg has completed 68 of 114 attempts for 960 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Red Men are led by end Pete Laughlin’s 6½ sacks while free safety Amani Dennis and linebacker Shawntrel Garner each have three interceptions.
Laughlin was named CCIW Defensive Player of the Week after recording three sacks and blocking a field goal against Elmhurst.
"They do movement on their line and bring pressure with the linebackers," said Eash. "They bring at least 6-7 people and play man-to-man in the secondary ... you have to pass protect to give your quarterback time. Then our receivers have to get separation from the defensive backs and then catch the ball."
IWU’s Brandon Bauer has thrown three TD passes in each of the last two games, upping his season total to 14. The sophomore has completed 113 of 197 attempts for 1,326 yards.
Carthage probably feels like it owes IWU. The Titans won in the final minute each of the last two years in Kenosha, Wis., edging the Red Men, 21-17, in 2015 and 19-14 last season.
"The tempo of the game is going to be most important," said Eash. "It will be at the same level as (against Wisconsin) Whitewater, North Central and Wheaton. It's going to be highly intense and physical. We have to go until the whistle blows and make plays."
IWU has beaten the Red Men in seven of the last eight meetings. The Red Men's lone win (20-10) in that stretch came at Tucci Stadium in 2014.