ELMHURST — Eric Dubose didn't even have to look at Langhorst Field's scoreboard on a dreary Saturday afternoon.
Illinois Wesleyan's junior defensive end knew something was wrong as the Titans took a long walk to their locker room trailing 15-13 at halftime.
“Our intensity was low in the first half,” said Dubose. “We talked on the field that we weren't ourselves. It was disappointing that first half, but we got it together.”
The Titans, ranked No. 12 in the D3football.com poll, looked more like a team intent on winning the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin and going to the NCAA Division III playoffs in the second half. Brandon Bauer threw four touchdown passes and ran for another as IWU rolled to a 47-15 victory over the Bluejays.
The Titans improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the CCIW, a half-game ahead of North Central. IWU has its bye next week before finishing the season at home Nov. 11 against Millikin.
“The question I posed to our team at halftime is we have played hard all year. Where is that at?” said IWU coach Norm Eash. “I don't think we matched their intensity in the first half. I told them I'm taking the wind in third quarter and we wanted to play on a short field, and we turned the game completely around in that third quarter.”
IWU totally dominated Elmhurst (2-6, 2-4) after the intermission. The Titans totaled 281 yards in the second half, while the Bluejays were held to 51.
Bauer's 6-yard pass to Jack Healy gave the Titans a 19-15 lead less than four minutes into the third quarter. It was the start of an avalanche as IWU scored on its first five second-half possessions, while the Titans' defense stiffened and didn't give Elmhurst any breathing room.
Morgan Alexander's 1-yard run put IWU ahead, 26-15, heading into the fourth quarter. The Titans kept rolling as Bauer's 5-yard TD run was followed by a 10-yard scoring pass to Healy.
Senior quarterback Jack Warner finished off the scoring with a 5-yard run, his first touchdown in two years after missing last season with a knee injury, with 2:59 left.
“They came out and played hard and had a good scheme for us. We were just making some little mistakes (in the first half), and we fixed those,” said Bauer. “At halftime we had to come out with faster intensity, gain the momentum and make more plays. We did that. I'm proud of our offensive line and our wide receivers and running backs for making plays.”
IWU gained 446 yards, with 217 coming on the ground. Alexander led the way with 120 yards on 19 carries, while Matese Scott (55 yards on five carries) spelled Alexander to start the second half and helped jump start the Titans.
“Matese has got some speed and quickness,” said Eash of the junior tailback. “He gave us a little life and got us going. Brandon did a nice job of managing the team in the second half.”
Bauer completed 18 of 25 attempts for 229 yards and rushed for 22 yards. The 6-foot-5 Healy snagged six receptions for 84 yards and three TDs.
“When they match up with him one on one, you just have to put it up in the air and let him go make a play,” said Bauer of Healy. “You can't leave it short. He's incredible when the ball is in the air.”
Eash, who won his 199th game as IWU coach, warned the Titans not to overlook Elmhurst. The Bluejays had their bye last week and enjoyed two weeks to prepare for league-leading IWU.
“It's what we say, everyone is going to measure their success when they play us,” said Eash. “It's the king of the mountain syndrome. Everyone is trying to knock us off. They had two weeks and prepared for us very well.”
However, it was IWU which started quickly.
IWU put together a six-play, 64-yard drive after the opening kickoff. Bauer threw four times, capped by a 26-yard pass to Healy. Anthony Sciarini's conversion kick gave the Titans a 7-0 lead with 12:46 left in the first quarter.
Elmhurst used a 31-yard run by Brock Bethke on a fake punt, down to IWU's 34-yard line, to keep a drive alive late in the first quarter. The Bluejays got to the Titans' 7 before settling for Blake Bailey's 24-yard field goal with 12:25 left in the second quarter.
“They got the fake punt, and I think that changed momentum,” said Eash. “We were in a dogfight the first half.”
Elmhurst took a 9-7 lead when wide receiver Hasahn Austin took a short pass from Orlando Hernandez, broke a couple tackles and turned it into a 77-yard touchdown. IWU's Mitch Pfeiffer fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Elmhurst recovered at the Titans' 29.
Three plays later, Hernandez hooked up with Jawan Gaines for a 7-yard TD for a 15-7 lead after a two-point conversion pass failed with 6:07 left until halftime.
The Titans responded with a 56-yard drive set up by Dean Ziglich's 30-yard kickoff return. Bauer's 17-yard pass to Zach Walsh cut the gap to 15-13 as IWU failed on a two-point conversion.
“Offensively, we were doing some good stuff in the first half. It was a defensive thing,” said Eash. “We had to get our defense off the field.”
Dubose paced IWU with eight tackles, including 3½ sacks. Elmhurst didn't cross midfield in the second half.
“The momentum got swinging our way and we kept it,” said Dubose. “That brought us to a whole new level and we played to our full potential in the second half.”
Hernandez completed 18 of 38 attempts for 188 yards. IWU, which came in fourth in Division III in rushing defense, held the Bluejays to 80 yards rushing.