BLOOMINGTON — The underdog Carroll University football team hung with No. 11-nationally ranked Illinois Wesleyan for half of homecoming on Saturday before the Titans paraded to a 30-0 victory.
Brandon Bauer's three touchdown passes and 16-of-25 accuracy for 228 yards helped IWU improve to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin while Carroll dropped to 1-5 and 1-3.
"The first half, we didn't do what we wanted," said Bauer, whose team had a 7-0 halftime lead. "They had a good game plan for us.
"The second half, we just put it all together, showed a lot of energy, executed and made plays. That's what we've got to do every game to win out and possibly make it to the playoffs."
IWU's second shutout of the season featured interceptions by two-time CCIW Player of the Week Jordan Hassan and Erich Lieser.
"They've got to be one of the best defenses in the country," Bauer said. "Give Coach (Jeff) McDonald some credit as defensive coordinator."
The Pioneers lost the total yardage battle, 248-196, as Hassan tied Josh Akin for team-high tackle honors with eight.
"He's having a heck of a year," said Titan coach Norm Eash of Hassan, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior linebacker in his first season as a starter.
"He's waited patiently in the wings for his opportunity. He's a good story to tell all the underclassmen because patience and perseverance are what Jordan Hassan is all about."
IWU rusher Morgan Alexander also displayed patience while picking his way through the Carroll defense 24 times for 87 yards and one touchdown.
"I know he's a little banged up and he's sore, but he played great," Bauer said. "He's always patient. The linemen give him good blocks, he hits the holes and makes good plays. He could be our offensive MVP right now."
Alexander’s 14-yard touchdown run around the right side with 13:46 left in the second quarter accounted for all of the first-half scoring. Patrick Tata added the extra point.
That score capped a six-play, 44-yard drive set up by sophomore Liam Keffer’s 16-yard punt return. Keffer had five punt returns for 75 yards.
"He's a playmaker, not only as a receiver, but as a return man," Eash said. "He's got that natural ability to know where the open spot is."
In the second half, IWU scored on its first three possessions beginning with Keffer's 36-yard TD catch. Then Jack Healy added a 9-yard TD grab to augment his seven-catch, 72-yard day.
Healy's score ended a four-play, 67-yard drive that featured a 38-yard pass to Zach Walsh and a 22-yard slalom run by Alexander.
"We went in at halftime and told our offense, 'It's not the plays. It's the people in the plays that we have to have success with,'" Eash said. "We just had to execute. They came out and responded really well."
Carroll's defense got fooled when Keffer threw a 20-yard pass to Bauer during a 12-play, 52-yard drive that ate 6:34 off the clock before Tata's 34-yard field goal made it 23-0. Tata shrugged off missing a 40-yarder and an extra point earlier.
Anthony Ryan ended the scoring with a 26-yard TD catch, his first of the season, with 2:42 remaining in a game where Carroll only sacked Bauer once.
"That was my fault," Bauer said. "I've got to get the ball out of my hand."
Michael Johnson, a 6-3 freshman, was Carroll's surprise starter at quarterback. He completed 24 of 35 for 196 yards in his first appearance of the season.
"We knew in the recruiting process he was a very talented young man," said Pioneer coach Mark Krzykowski. "I'm happy he's with us and is going through the growth and maturing process of coming into a college program. I'm proud of him, but not surprised."
Krzykowski was impressed by the Titans.
"We knew there was a reason they were rated that high," he said. "They deserve it. They are playing well. They beat some really good teams, but I am proud of my guys. We put together a good game plan and for the most part executed. The parts that we didn't execute, it cost us."