BLOOMINGTON — Dave Lux knows there are limited chances to have an impact for Illinois Wesleyan's football team as a reserve linebacker.
"Being a sophomore right now, you have to make your plays on special teams and make your way up," he said.
To say Lux pulled off a special play Saturday would be an understatement. He just might have kept alive IWU's hopes for a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship and NCAA Division III playoff berth.
Lux blocked a Carthage punt in the end zone early in the third quarter, which IWU's Chase Bandolik retrieved for a touchdown. That shifted the momentum of a key CCIW game at Tucci Stadium.
Brandon Bauer later connected with Zach Walsh for a 16-yard touchdown pass. The IWU defense took care of the rest as the No. 11-ranked Titans held off Carthage, 13-10.
The Titans, who trailed 10-0 at halftime, improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the league ahead of next Saturday's game at Elmhurst. North Central and Millikin, who already had their bye weeks, remained a half-game behind the Titans at 4-1.
"Our kids are the most resilient team and persevere better than any group I've ever coached," said Norm Eash, in his 31st season as IWU's coach. "They refuse to lose. Our defense is playing great. It turned out to be the game we expected."
Carthage (5-2, 3-2) and its No. 1-ranked CCIW defense bottled up Morgan Alexander, the league's top rusher. Alexander had little room to maneuver and gained 19 yards on 22 carries.
The Red Men outgained IWU in total offense, 304-210 yards. However, the Titan defense also rose to the occasion.
In the first half, IWU stopped Carthage on fourth-and-1 at the Titans' 13-yard line. The Red Men also had to settle for Lance Unland's 20-yard field goal at the end of the first half when their drive stalled at the IWU 3.
IWU stuffed Carthage on another fourth-and-1 at IWU's 37 with 9:02 left in the game. The Red Men's final possession ended on Trevor Staley's interception at the Titans' 32 with 26 seconds left.
"It was just the will not to quit and having the heart and not breaking," said IWU linebacker Jordan Hassan, who registered a team-high nine tackles.
IWU benefited when Kyle Friberg's apparent 50-yard TD pass to Manny Jones with about four minutes left was called back by a Carthage holding penalty.
"I told the kids in the locker room this was, I thought, for the championship of the CCIW," said Eash. "Whoever won this one I thought was really going to be in the driver's seat."
Friberg's 10-yard pass to Jones put Carthage ahead, 7-0, with 6:17 left in the first quarter. The Titans proceeded to drive down the field before Patrick Tata missed a 33-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter.
IWU didn't have a first down in the second quarter and were fortunate to only trail by 10 at intermission.
"In the first half we could not get a run game going which really hurts our offense," said Eash.
The Titans went three-and-out again on their first series of the second half before Noah Baird's punt went out of bounds at Carthage's 1.
The Red Men faced fourth-and-9 at their 2 when Nick Candre was forced to punt from the back of his end zone.
"The first one they punted I got a feel for how they were blocking it," said Lux, a transfer from Illinois State who is in his first year at IWU. "I had faith in myself the second time coming in."
IWU defensive coordinator Jeff McDonald called for an all-out block. Lux broke through and delivered what he thought was his first block since being a junior at Lincoln-Way North High School.
"That was the play of the game, by far," said Hassan. "It came exactly when we needed it."
On its next possession, IWU's offense put together a five-play, 70-yard drive to take the lead. All the yards came through the air as Bauer hit Jack Healy for a 22-yard gain before finding Walsh down the sidelines for 32 yards.
Walsh, who caught a game-winning pass with six seconds left against Wheaton three weeks ago, hauled in another Bauer pass on the next play for the touchdown. Tata missed the extra-point kick.
"We made some plays and got some points on the board," said Eash. "The offense got the ball into the end zone, and that's all we needed. The defense shut them down completely the second half."
Bauer completed 14 of 26 attempts for 205 yards. Friberg was 22-of-36 for 252 yards.