The hype surrounding a matchup between two CCIW leaders turned out to be a little overplayed. What began as a hard-fought contest for conference superiority between Wheaton and Elmhurst instead ended in Thunder blowout, 56-20.
Though they may not have the CCIW mathematically wrapped up, all signs point to the Thunder breaking their frustrating streak of 8-2 seasons. With their convincing victory on the road at Elmhurst on Saturday, Wheaton is now 8-0 and in the driver’s seat for an undefeated season and the conference championship.
“Elmhurst is a place we have struggled at over the years,” head coach Mike Swider said after the final whistle. “Our kids came out to play. We really played well in all phases of the game.”
Sophomore quarterback Johnny Peltz earned player of the week honors for his performance against North Central, but he may have one-upped himself on Saturday. Peltz accounted for all eight Thunder touchdowns, throwing for four and rushing for four, while totaling 408 yards of offense.
Unsurprisingly, Peltz repeated as CCIW offensive player of the week. The Thunder offense recorded 548 yards of offense with the young quarterback under center. That and the 56 points were both season highs.
Early on, the two sides were evenly matched, trading big plays for scores. Early in the second quarter with Wheaton leading 14-13, Peltz found senior receiver Luke Thorson with a beautiful back shoulder throw in the corner of the endzone for the 27-yard score. The touchdown began a run of 28 unanswered Thunder points, a deficit from which Elmhurst could never recover.
Luke Thorson caught eight passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns, his fourth multi-touchdown game of the season. Thorson’s 10 touchdown receptions are most on the team and tied for 11th in the country. Junior receiver Keegan Kemp had his biggest receiving day of the year, finishing with six catches for 132 yards. Junior back Danny Puknaitis was one of two Thunder rushers to surpass 100 yards on the day, finishing with 105. Peltz was the leading rusher with 119 on 16 carries.
As coach Swider said after the game, the defense gave up 20 points on essentially two big plays and a turnover. The Blue Jays were held to only 6-14 on third down and despite winning time of possession, the Thunder defense kept them from finishing off drives.
Junior linebacker Logan McRae was the leading tackler for the Thunder with eight, also picking up two sacks on the game. Senior end Jared Todd recorded team-leading sack number five and a half, already surpassing his total from his All-CCIW effort last season.
The CCIW threw the gauntlet at the Thunder the past two weeks, and Wheaton came out on the other side unscathed. With two games left in the regular season, the playoffs appear to be part of the Thunder’s future.
Before they can get there, however, they must get by the Spartans of Illinois-Wesleyan. Although they are having a down year in 2014 at only 3-5, IWU has been a consistent nuisance for the Thunder in the past. The Spartans beat the Thunder 30-19 in Bloomington a year ago and have come out on top in two of the past three contests. The coaching staff is confident no one on Wheaton’s sideline is looking ahead.
“We won number eight,” Swider said. “We got to put it behind us and focus on number nine.”
This year, Wheaton gets to host Illinois Wesleyan at McCully Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. A live stream of the game will be available via Wheaton’s Athletics page.