116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe gave Wartburg something it hadn’t experienced in more than a month.
After outscoring its last three opponents by a combined 211-9, the NCAA Division III 14th-ranked Knights faced a much tougher test in their regular-season finale Saturday at Clark Field.
Trailing by four at intermission, Wartburg (10-0, 8-0 A-R-C) forced turnovers and capitalized on a few short fields in the second half to preserve its perfect season in a 19-14 win over Coe (7-3, 6-2).
“It feels great to be able to have a perfect season,” Wartburg head coach Chris Winter said. “It’s not easy to do. I think it’s only happened five times before in our program’s history.
“To have that happen today, it’s special. Certainly, you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Coe. Those guys battled today. They’ve got a heck of a football team and a lot of pride.”
Facing the nation’s second-ranked scoring defense and top-ranked rushing defense, Coe dominated time of possession in the first half (19:16-10:44).
It was Wartburg that struck first, however, as Cael O’Neill connected on a 30-yard field goal as time expired in the first quarter.
On its second possession, Coe managed to do something no other team had been able to against Wartburg this season — score a first-half touchdown.
Ray Seidel capped a 13-play, 58-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown, giving Coe a 7-3 lead with 10:30 left in the second quarter.
For the first time all season, Wartburg trailed at intermission.
“Going into halftime losing 7-3, I think they were ‘out-physicaling’ us a little bit in the first half,” Winter said. “Certainly, we haven’t been in that situation much this year.”
The Knights turned things around in the second half, thanks to some stingy defense.
With 9:55 left in the third, Wartburg forced and recovered a fumble at Coe’s 10. Two plays later, Nile McLaughlin connected with Thor Maakestad for a 9-yard score.
After forcing a Coe punt, Wartburg started its next drive at Coe’s 43. On the sixth play of the drive, facing fourth-and-7, McLaughlin found Thomas Butters open for a 22-yard TD.
“We found a way to get that momentum going with getting a couple big plays by our defense,” Winter said. “Our offense capitalized and made some huge plays. That fourth-down catch in the corner of the end zone was a big-time play.”
Early in the fourth, the Knights forced and recovered another fumble and took possession at Coe’s 15. The turnover led to three points as O’Neill connected on a 27-yard field goal.
Down 12, the Kohawks kept battling.
Senior receiver Dominic Shepardson capped a seven-play, 71-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown reception from Carter Maske with 7:51 left.
“We drew up that play and I knew I was going to score on that play,” Shepardson said. “I needed to do it for my team.”
Earlier in the game, Shepardson broke Coe’s single-season record for receptions.
“I didn’t even know I did it, I didn’t even hear the announcement,” said Shepardson. “But everyone was coming up to me congratulating me.”
“He’s (Shepardson) a competitor,” Coe head coach Tyler Staker said of the three-time team captain. “He always works his butt off in practice and in games.”
Following Shepardson’s score, Wartburg methodically marched down the field, running out the clock after converting a fourth-and-5 from Coe’s 16.
“That’s a real college football game,” Winter said. “To be able to finish it in a game like that and have to get tested that way, to come out on top and gain a little bit of confidence in terms of being able to handle ourselves in a game like that will be big for us moving into the playoffs.”
Wartburg has now reached the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years. The Knights will play in the round of 32 next Saturday.
“I want to tip my hat to Wartburg,” Staker said. “They have a really good football team and they’ve had a great season.”
For the Kohawks, it wasn’t the ending to the season they’d wanted, but it was a rewarding season nevertheless.
“I’m really proud of our guys, especially our seniors and their effort today and how they battled and competed,” Staker said. “Four years of being a student-athlete and the expectations that we have, those guys have always stepped up and exceeded all our expectations. I’m just happy for them.
“Obviously, this isn’t the outcome that we wanted. It’s going to sting. It’s one of those deals where it’s part of life, part of the game. So, this one’s going to hurt for a while, but I told the guys, ‘the sun is going to come up tomorrow.’”