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Illinois Wesleyan's Nico Gubenko (2) celebrates with teammate Ryan Swift  during the Titans' 24-14 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory over Wheaton last month.

BLOOMINGTON — Nico Gubenko doesn't want to go through a fourth quarter like last week again.

Carthage rallied from a 14-point deficit in the final six minutes to tie Illinois Wesleyan and force overtime. However, the Titans defense regrouped and held the Red Men to a field goal in two overtimes as IWU escaped with a 40-34 victory to keep its undisputed College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin lead.

The No. 18-ranked Titans (4-1, 4-0) hope for an easier time when they entertain Elmhurst (1-4, 0-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Tucci Stadium.

“They had all the momentum,” said Gubenko, IWU's junior strong safety. “We kind of got together and said we have to buckle down or this is it. We felt it was our season and we need to get this win. We had to step up, and we all made the plays.”

It might be natural to assume the Titans, especially after such an emotional game on homecoming, could suffer a letdown against an opponent without a CCIW win.

IWU coach Norm Eash is having none of that.

“We've got to defend our opportunity every week no matter who we are playing,” said Eash. “Our approach to things has to be the same — take care of details, know your opponent and then we have to play well on Saturday.”

Gubenko said that's fine for him.

“Personally, I try not to care about the record and focus on what their offensive plans are and what routes they're going to be running and what fits I need to be in,” he said. “I think the whole team is doing that also.”

Gubenko, who transferred to IWU last year from Winona State, is part of an experienced secondary. Cornerback Quintin Walters also came in as a transfer last year and became a starter along with cornerback Trevor Koepke and free safety Trevor Staley.

“Nico works well not only with Trevor (Staley), but the corners,” said Eash. “The key in your secondary is making sure everyone is on the same page. Things were new for Nico last year as a transfer guy, but he feels right at home this year.”

As they had to do for Carthage, the Titan defense is preparing to possibly see a couple quarterbacks. Elmhurst senior Orlando Hernandez made his debut against IWU three years ago and poses a running threat. The Bluejays also used senior Chase Hankins, who is more of a thrower, in last week's 23-10 loss to Washington (Mo.).

“Whoever is in there, we have to respond to how they play and just fly around,” said Gubenko, a Wheaton North High School graduate.

Elmhurst's defense was torched by Carthage two weeks ago, allowing 568 yards in a 63-7 rout. But the Bluejays looked like a different unit against Washington by giving up 287 yards.

The biggest task for Elmhurst could be stopping IWU quarterback Brandon Bauer and wide receiver Jack Healy. The pair has hooked up 30 times for 505 yards and four touchdowns the last three weeks.

“They (the Bluejays) are coming off a game they're feeling pretty good,” said Eash. “They held a high-powered offense of Wash U to limited yards and limited points. They feel like they're playing better.”

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Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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