In order to finish within the top four and be considered a top tier team in the CCIW, the Elmhurst College football team needed to win its final two conference games. The ‘Jays did just that, beating Augustana College 28-27 on Nov. 5 and Carthage College 28-7 on Nov. 12.
The ‘Jays finished the season as the fourth best team in the CCIW with a 6-4 overall record, 4-3 in conference play.
“It is a little bit of bittersweet,” said head coach Tim Lester. “Having a winning record in the CCIW is very difficult to do. We have done it two times in four years now. We have got ourselves within the top four of a phenomenal conference. The frustrating game was [against the University of Chicago]. I really thought we would be a 7-3 team.”
Against Carthage, the ‘Jays captured the lead and never looked back, behind the play of junior Scottie Williams and senior Griffin Gibson, who both scored two touchdowns apiece.
The ‘Jays scored first off, in the second quarter, moving the ball 91-yards in 11-plays. Williams found the endzone for the first time from 15-yards out to give the ‘Jays a 7-0 lead.
On the ‘Jays next possession, they moved the ball 72 yards. Williams capped off the eight play drive with a four-yard touchdown run, his second of the day, to increase the lead to 14-0.
Carthage answered with a touchdown of their own on their ensuing possession off a 39-yard touchdown pass, pushing the score to 14-7.
The ‘Jays took control of the game in the second half, posting 14 unanswered points, holding the ball for 23 minutes and limiting Carthage to just 72 yards of offense.
“The defense really stepped up and shut down what they were trying to do,” Lester said.
Junior Joe Furco and the ‘Jays marched 82 yards down the field on their first possession of the second half. Furco capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Gibson, extending the lead to 21-7.
Furco put the game out of reach after finding Gibson for a 12-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to top off a 46-yard scoring drive.
The ‘Jays racked up 516 yards of total offense, 325 of which came on the ground. Carthage finished with 253 yards. The ‘Jays controlled the clock throughout the game, possessing the ball for 40:39.
“I thought we controlled the game, which was our goal going into it,” Lester said. “Controlled the line of scrimmage and manage the game as much as possible.”
Williams rushed for 182 yards on 33 carries and a pair of touchdowns. He ended the season with 1,374 yards, which broke his single-season record of 1,220 yards that he set last season.
“He is one of the hardest working young men you will ever meet in your life. He has the drive to get better,” Lester said. “He didn’t have a ton of yards in the first few games, and I think that really pushed him even more then he already pushes himself. He is one of the best players on the team and one of the best running backs in the league, if not the best, and he continues to work as if he is the worst.”
Williams also broke the 1,000-yard barrier in CCIW contests which was the first running back to do so since 2004.
“The only way I maintain improvement is through my offensive line,” Williams said. “There is not a lot I can do without those guys. We work together and watch film together. So, I guess maintaining that bound between me and my offensive line helps a lot during the season.”
With the season coming to a close, Lester commented on how he feels that this year was a big step for his team.
“I think we learned a lot,” he said. “You need to learn how to win close games, and that is something [we did]. We won two games in the last 30 seconds this year. I think those are huge lessons. We have been in a lot of close games in the last two years that we found a way to lose, but this year we learned and found the confidence to win them.”
The ‘Jays want to continue to be in the top four teams of the conference, and to do so, Williams believes that working hard in practice is the key.
“Not taking practices for granted,” he said. “Working hard at practice shows on Saturday. That is what we are going to work on next season: rallying guys around and working hard every chance you get.”
As with every season, the ‘Jays will lose their senior class and the leadership that came along with that. However, Lester is confident in his players that will be returning. “The amount of returns we have on offense and defense is enormous,” he said. “I think people are pretty excited for what the future holds.”