ROCK ISLAND — When Liam Keffer decided to play for Illinois Wesleyan's football team, he was well aware there would be plenty of competition for catches within his own class.
"Coming in freshman year (last season) we were a strong wide receiver class," said Keffer. "We were told that by coach (Norm) Eash before we came here. We all decided we could work together and team up together."
So far, it's working out well. Now, Keffer and his fellow sophomore receivers would like to see the IWU offense put up some more points on the scoreboard.
The No. 12-ranked Titans, fresh off a 14-10 upset victory over Wheaton, face Augustana at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ericson Field. IWU is 2-1 in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, while the Vikings are 1-2 after last week's 24-19 win over Elmhurst.
Keffer, a Marist High School graduate, had a team-high eight receptions for 96 yards against Wheaton. Another sophomore, Zach Walsh, made a nifty one-handed grab for a 12-yard touchdown with six seconds left to give IWU its first win at Wheaton in 21 years.
Together with classmates Jack Healy and Dean Zigulich, the IWU sophomore receivers are starting to make a name for themselves in the CCIW.
"That's the key to our offense, how quickly the sophomore receivers have come along," said Eash. "I said last year we brought in a great freshman receiving class. The only thing they have to guard against is complacency. They're hungry to be better all the time. They've made the transition fast."
Together with sophomore quarterback Brandon Bauer, the Titan receivers have formed a special bond.
"We're all best friends and a close-knit group," said Keffer, who has a team-high 20 receptions for 217 yards and one TD. "Coming in here all together you have to be. We're a team. It's been fun for us this year."
What would be more fun for Keffer and the Titans is scoring more points.
The Titan defense has keyed the team's fast start in the first five games against three opponents ranked in the top seven of Division III preseason polls. IWU has scored only 45 points in the last three games, although the North Central and Wheaton defenses are no slouches, either.
"It's been frustrating. Our defense is helping us out and putting us in some good situations," said Keffer. "We think it's time we put the pedal to the metal."
That could happen against Augustana, which is allowing 33.8 points per game. Opponents have moved the ball well on the run (187.2 yards) and passing (205.6 yards) on the Vikings.
While IWU played arguably the toughest Division III schedule in the country in the first five weeks, the Titans figure to be favored in all five remaining games.
"We have to have the attitude where we know we can beat anyone left on our schedule, but anyone we have left on our schedule can beat us," said Eash.
The IWU coach pointed out Augustana just as easily could be 3-2. The Vikings lost to Cortland (N.Y.) State, 34-32, in their season opener and fell at Carroll, 28-25, to start the CCIW campaign.
Augustana has used three quarterbacks. Freshman Alek Jacobs led the Vikings to their first win against Elmhurst, rushing for one touchdown and throwing for another.
Jacobs is Augustana's second-leading rusher (216 yards) behind junior tailback Ryan Pitra, who ranks fourth in the CCIW with 416 yards rushing.
IWU's Morgan Alexander has taken over the CCIW rushing lead with 522 yards. Bauer is third in passing by completing 85 of 146 attempts for 961 with eight TDs and five interceptions.