For Carthage football coach Dustin Hass, his team’s College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin contest against visiting Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon came down to one glaring statistic.
Third-down conversions — on both sides of the football.
Wesleyan converted 7-of-14 attempts on third down, while the Red Men were just 1-of-11, as the Titans jumped out to a 24-7 first-half lead and never looked back in a 31-7 victory.
“We couldn’t stay on the field, and on defense, we couldn’t get off the field,” Hass said. “I thought we kind of got beat up up front. They had a good D-line and got after us. I think it was just in the critical situations.
“I thought the kids did a good job for the most part, but when it got to some of those critical situations, we got beat up on both sides of the football, offense and defense. That’s what it came down to.”
The Titans (3-2, 3-1 CCIW) scored the game’s first 24 points, with their opening score coming with a bit of luck.
Facing third-and-3 from their own 40-yard line, the snap to quarterback Johnny Dicanio was fumbled, but he scooped it up and scampered 22 yards to move into scoring territory.
Three plays later, Dicanio used a little misdirection to give himself a wide-open running lane to the end zone, a run that he converted from 24 yards out, and the Titans were ahead, 7-0, halfway through the first quarter.
“We misfit both of those plays,” Hass said. “On the fumble, the safety thought it was a pass instead of coming down and doing his job. It should have been a tackle for probably no gain or in the backfield because of the snap.
“The second one, our linebacker just flew too hard, and the quarterback ran right behind him. It was a well-designed play. They’re a good offense, and you can’t misfit gaps against a good offense.”
After Wesleyan’s Andrew Stange converted a 46-yard field goal with a stiff breeze at his back, the Titans added touchdown passes of 24 and 18 yards from Dicanio to Dean Zigulich and Bryce Dooley.
Carthage (2-3, 2-2 CCIW) put together its best scoring drive of the game late in the opening half that ended in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Colton Klein (29-of-38, 225 yards) to Jovone Stricker, who out-jumped the defender in the end zone with 57.8 seconds left in the first half.
“You could see (on that drive) that we can execute,” Hass said. “We tell these guys all the time if you can execute once, you can execute the whole game. We have to be able to find that consistency, and it starts with us as a coaching staff putting these guys in better positions to succeed throughout the game.”
Stricker enjoyed another big game for the Red Men with 12 catches for 108 yards.
“He’s a good player who works his tail off,” Hass said. “He makes things happen when we get him the ball. We have to keep doing that. We have to keep feeding him and keep letting him play football.”
After Wesleyan fumbled two plays later, Carthage had a chance for points just before the intermission, but a 49-yard field goal attempt by David Collins narrowly missed to the left.
The kick had enough distance, and with those points, Hass felt the second half may have turned out a bit differently.
“It’s a long kick that had plenty of leg,” he said. “He just hooked it left there. It was just outside, maybe a foot.”
Wesleyan put the game’s final points on the scoreboard with 4:53 left in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Dicanio.
The Titans had a pair of 100-yard performances, as Hamid Bullie rushed 16 times for 117 yards, while Jack Healy caught 10 passes for 123 yards.
Healy, a 6-foot-5 senior, was a tough matchup all day for Carthage’s secondary.
“He’s been a first-team All-League kid since he was a sophomore,” Hass said. “He does a great job of using his body to box people out. He has a big catch radius. All the (quarterback) had to do was throw it somewhere close to him, and he was going to get it.
“I thought (sophomore) Jeremiah (Baker) did a phenomenal job on him all day. He was right there in coverage. It’s hard to guard when he has six inches on you and about 50 pounds on you. He’s a good player.”
Carthage finished with 40 total rushing yards. Dana Fontenot led the way with 19 carries for 68 yards.