BLOOMINGTON — Senior linebacker Ryan Swift and Illinois Wesleyan's defense knew securing the Titans' first victory rested squarely on their shoulders Saturday.
Augustana moved from its own 9-yard line to IWU's 10 in two minutes. With 3.2 seconds showing on the clock and trailing 21-17, the Vikings had a chance to prolong IWU's season-opening agony.
"This is it. This is the last play. We just have to step up," Swift remembered thinking in the huddle. "It's the defense's time. We've had some rough games in the past. Now is the time to stop talking and just get it done."
Augustana quarterback Zachary Fuller threw to halfback Bobby Jarosz, who was tightly guarded near the 5. Jarosz bobbled the ball as the pass fell incomplete and the Titans celebrated a 21-17 win in a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game.
"I don't know why we are being challenged so much right now, but we are," said IWU coach Norm Eash. "But the most important thing is to get our first win.
"They (Augustana) played hard, but we made the plays when we had to. That's the bottom line."
The game's biggest moment came from two unlikely players early in the third quarter after IWU took a 14-10 halftime lead.
Augustana couldn't get a first down on its opening possession of the second half. The Vikings sent out punter Justin Wehr on fourth-and-2 at their own 40.
IWU's Christopher Kosinski, a reserve defensive back, charged through and blocked Wehr's punt. Robert Neidballa, a Titan backup sophomore linebacker, scooped up the loose ball at the 20 and raced into the end zone for a touchdown.
Freshman Jonathan Rukujzo's third conversion kick gave IWU a 21-10 lead barely two minutes into the second half.
"It had nothing to do with what they did. It was our guys," said Augustana coach Steve Bell. "The saying we use a lot is, 'See a little, see a lot.' If you see a lot, you're going to see very little and you're going to get your eyes caught in the wrong place. We had a blown protection."
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Augustana (2-1, 1-1) cut the deficit to 21-17 when Fuller threw a 21-yard TD pass to Ethan Jennings with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
IWU nearly answered right back. The Titans moved to Augustana's 9. Brandon Bauer appeared to throw his third touchdown pass of the game, but sure-handed Zach Walsh dropped the ball all alone at the 1.
The next play, Bauer's pass was tipped and intercepted by J.J. Cervino.
The Titans got the ball with 4:20 left in the game. They made one first down before stalling and pinned the Vikings back at their 9 with 2:05 showing.
"We know they have to score a touchdown. We'll let them take easy tosses. We weren't nervous," said Swift. "We're confident in our guys. We know the end goal is they have to score and we have to stop them there. Bend but don't break, you know?"
Augie outgained IWU, 437-354, in total yardage and ran off 19 more plays than the Titans. Fuller went 26 of 45 for 348 yards and two touchdowns.
Bauer completed 22 of 38 attempts for 247 yards with scoring passes of 21 yards to Jack Healy in the first quarter and 12 yards to Dean Zigulich in the second quarter.
Rukujzo also missed a 21-yard field goal on the game's opening series.
"Our expectations are high for our offense. We haven't really clicked all year. We need to get into a flow," said Eash. "It's not just one person or one thing, but little things that always seem to stop us."
Swift and linebacker Keenan Scott led IWU with 13 tackles each, while linebacker Dave Lux made 11. Defensive tackle Mike Murphy recorded three sacks.
Augustana had outscored its first two opponents, 96-16. With 26 seniors on their roster, the Vikings could have put the other CCIW schools on alert with a road win.
"I knew we could play with anybody. We didn't need this game to prove that," said Bell. "I know we're a good football team, and unfortunately this is a game we should have won. We had the opportunities to win this game and our defense played well enough to win this game."