By Hayes Gardner
After allowing 61 points to Monmouth College last year when the Fighting Scots came to Grinnell, hopes were not too high for the 1-3 Pioneers to top traditional conference power Monmouth. However, that is exactly what Grinnell did, holding the Scots to a single touchdown and winning 21-7, improving their record to 2-3 overall and 2-2 in the Midwest Conference. Monmouth took their first conference loss and fell to 3-1 in league play and 3-2 overall.
The Pioneers lost their first three games of the season before starting a new trend by beating Beloit 13-7 on the road on September 22 and then using a bye week to prepare for and defeat Monmouth.
“We just kept being persistent on the little things and everyone was just real hungry after losing three times,” said wide receiver Max Jacobson ’14.
Offensively, the team was sharper as they adjusted to playing together.
“The offense is really young. We have a freshman quarterback and all new receivers who haven’t played receiver at the college level and a pretty young line and they finally got it going these past two weeks,” said safety Kevin Hwang ’14.
“It’s nice to see them finally gelling and getting that timing down on offense,” said head coach Jeff Pedersen ’02.
The defense allowed 106 points their first three games, all losses, but have only given up 14 points during their current two game win streak. Against Monmouth, the offense was able to stay on the field nearly 15 minutes longer than the defense, which helped the defense stay fresh and keep the Scots out of the end zone.
“I definitely think [time of possession] helps a lot because we’re really thin … having the offense stay on the field longer definitely helps our defense play better,” Hwang said.
Hwang also noted a couple of other reasons for the Pioneers’ successful day defensively.
“Monmouth’s strength is running the ball and our strength is stopping the run, so that definitely played in,” he said. “I think the bye week helped us the most. … we had a lot of guys who were still playing but were banged up.”
David Ternes ’15 had another successful game, tallying 15 tackles including 1.5 for loss. Linebacker Colton Feller ’14, Hwang, and defensive lineman Brian Taylor ’13 totaled ten, eight and eight tackles respectively.
“The defense did not let up one time all game,” Pedersen said.
Offensively, Sam Poulos ’16 had a big day, completing 28 of 35 passes for 240 yards, three scores and no interceptions. He gained a mere five yards rushing, but his legs proved as valuable as his arm as he scrambled several times to extend plays and find receivers.
“[Poulos’s scrambling] has affected our offense a lot. We’ve been working on scramble rules a lot in practice because of Sam’s ability to continue the play. … You’ve gotta be aware and try and get open. It’s really fun. It’s just like playing backyard football,” Jacobson said.
“He’s just gutsy. He’s proven that from day one … he’s always wanting to make something positive happen,” Pedersen said.
“I think it’s amazing what Sam is doing as a first year,” Hwang said.
Equally as impressive was Cody Weber ’13 who caught 15 of Poulos’s passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Running back T.J. Schaid ’13 caught six passes, including the other touchdown pass, for 31 yards.
“[It’s the] first time he’s played a game since last year when he’s been 100% healthy … and he just showed he’s difficult to handle,” Pedersen said of Weber.
For his efforts, Weber was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week as well as becoming the Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Additionally, the touchdown connection in the second quarter between Poulos and Weber was named the D3football.com Play of the Week. On that play, which lasted nearly ten seconds, the Pioneers snapped the ball at the 12-yard line. Poulos evaded defensive linemen as he searched for a receiver, going as far back as the 29-yard line before finding Weber in the back of the end zone. The play put the Pioneers up 14-7 and concluded a six-play, 42 yard drive that started after cornerback Max Keller ’14 snagged a diving interception.
This Saturday October 13, the Pioneers travel to Wisconsin to play the Ripon Red Hawks at 1 p.m. Grinnell will attempt to improve their record on the road, after defeating Beloit in Wisconsin.
“We went up [to Beloit] with an attitude. Coach called us the ‘road warriors,’” Jacobson said.
“[Ripon is] gonna have unique schemes on offense and defense. They run the old school triple option offense, so that always causes headaches and more preparation mentally,” Pedersen said.
Though playing on the road, Pedersen doesn’t see the road game as a disadvantage.
“It’s always fun when you can take on that ‘road warrior’ personality and be the underdogs. It helps the team stick tighter together,” he said.
To combat Ripon’s triple option, the Pioneers have prepared a defense that they worked on as early as fall camp, which looks to limit the run.
“It’s like we have five linebackers now,” Hwang said.
The Pioneers have dropped seven straight contests to Ripon, last winning in 2004, so they will look to break this losing streak and extend their own current season win streak on Saturday.
“We gotta build off [this win] and stay positive and believe in ourselves,” Hwang said.