Norm Eash remembers two years ago when Illinois Wesleyan’s football team traveled to Kenosha, Wis., a little bit down against Carthage.
IWU quarterback Brandon Bauer was hurt during practice and wasn’t going to play. His backup, Johnny Dicanio, had limited experience and was being thrust into his first start. So how did the Titans respond?
“We got off the bus up there and got off to a 25-0 lead,” said Eash, IWU’s head coach, as the Titans earned a 31-7 victory. “We controlled the momentum and they weren’t able to recover.”
Eash hopes for a similar effort, especially defensively, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Art Keller Field when IWU and Carthage meet in a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game.
The Titans have gotten off to an 0-2 start, including last week’s heartbreaking 34-33 loss in the CCIW opener when IWU’s Andrew Stange missed a 30-yard field goal on the final play.
Carthage (1-1) is coming off a 34-17 victory at Elmhurst in the league opener and eager to break a five-game losing streak to IWU.
“Obviously it hurts and stings to lose two games in a row,” said IWU senior offensive tackle Jake Tencza. “But at the end of the day — obviously you want to look at that (Carroll) game and make improvements from that game — but you have to forget about it. You have to have one (win) to start a winning streak.”
Eash isn’t signaling out the defense for IWU’s troubles in the first two games, pointing out the Titan offense missed three opportunities for touchdowns in a season-opening 35-21 loss to Franklin (Ind.).
However, IWU knows it has to tighten up a defense that has allowed 402.5 yards and 34.5 points in the first two games.
“Defensively we’ve had to go back to the drawing board a little bit,” said Eash. “The thing we wanted to do was simplify things and let our kids play and not think so much and see if that helps us. It’s not like we’re going to switch players. We have players that we’ve been working there. They have to understand about doing their job.”
Eash concedes losing senior middle linebacker Bo Neidballa (lower body injury) indefinitely has hurt the Titans. IWU also is without senior cornerback Tyler Maple, who had surgery on his hand and won’t play for the second straight week.
While Eash said “no one is getting benched,” players listed Nos. 2 and 3 on the depth chart will be given an opportunity to show what they can do.
“It comes down to competing in practice. We’ve emphasized that,” he said. “We had a really good practice (Tuesday). I thought it was one of the better ones we’ve had.”
Senior tight end Zack Tencza said the Titans are still confident they can put together a good season.
“It’s not like poor me. It’s extremely accountability and what do I have to do for this team to win this week,” he said. “If you have 150 guys who have that mindset, you can really do some things. We’re going to finish the season strong, no doubt.”
IWU will be facing a freshman quarterback. Bryce Lowe has completed 13 of 20 attempts for 226 yards, including two touchdowns last week to junior Eddie Ell III.
Carthage has seven seniors starting defensively and will attempt to slow down IWU’s Hamid Bullie, who leads the CCIW with 327 yards rushing on 46 carries. Quarterback Sage Shindler has completed 40 of 64 attempts for 555 yards and five TDs.
“The football gods are challenging our football team,” said Eash. “We’re not where we expected to be or what to be, but the only thing we can do is keep moving forward and never lose our confidence in who we are.”
Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_benson