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Illinois Wesleyan sophomore defensive back Justin Correll (24) and Wisconsin-La Crosse's Dominic Labellarte await the ball during their nonconference game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, at Tucci Stadium.

BLOOMINGTON — Brandon Bauer called last year's 13-play, 86-yard drive in the final three minutes to beat Wheaton on its homecoming “special.”

Illinois Wesleyan's junior quarterback also realizes the Thunder would like to return the favor.

The Titans and No. 12-ranked Wheaton square off at 6 p.m. Saturday under the lights at Tucci Stadium in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin football opener. A year ago, IWU pulled off a 14-10 upset at Wheaton that ultimately put the Titans in the Division III playoffs and kept the Thunder out.

“We got it done, which I'm proud of,” said Bauer, who threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Walsh with six seconds left. “We have to take it to this year. They're thinking about that, I'm sure. Their coaches are harping on that game and how it hurt them. They'll be coming for us.”

IWU is trying to forget about last week's season-opening 34-31 loss to Wisconsin-La Crosse. Wheaton comes in well rested after a bye week. The Thunder's defense was stellar in beating Monmouth, 32-7, on Sept. 1, holding the Fighting Scots to 54 total yards and two first downs.

“They take a lot of pride in their defense. They always want to control the tempo of the game and dictate to the offense,” said IWU coach Norm Eash. “I told our players we have to be focused … you have to have game awareness against Wheaton and we have to make plays.”

Bauer threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns against UW-La Crosse while running for two more scores. However, Bauer had a TD pass to tailback Morgan Alexander called back by a holding penalty while IWU gave up a late sack that forced a punt and allowed La Crosse a chance to drive for the game-winning field goal on the final play.

“Opening losses are tougher to shake,” said Bauer. “It's tough because you never want to lose. But you learn from your mistakes and go on to the next one. It's disappointing until you get your next win.”

Wheaton senior tackle Patrick O'Connell was named CCIW Defensive Player of the Week after recording five tackles against Monmouth, including 3½ for loss. O'Connell was named a preseason first-team all-America by D3football.com, while senior linebacker Eric Stevenson and senior cornerback Tyler Sigler were on the third team.

Curtis McWilliams, who returns at quarterback for the Thunder, threw for 363 yards and three TDs against Monmouth. Adam Terrini had seven receptions for 105 yards and two scores.

“We got it fixed up,” said Dubose. “We realize it was just small things with every little group of people. All those small things can equal up to one big mess-up.”

While only the second game of the season, this might be considered a must win for the Titans. Another loss would make it extremely difficult for IWU to qualify again for the Division III playoffs.

Eash said the Titans haven't even talked about that. Instead, he said IWU's goal, as it always has been, is to win the CCIW title.

“They (Wheaton) realize, like we do, it's the first conference game and whoever wins the first conference game is going to be in the driver's seat,” said Eash. “Half the teams are going to win and half are going to lose. The teams in the other half will be playing catch-up and need help from other teams.”

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

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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