NACC Playoff Semifinals Matchup: Wisconsin Lutheran vs Aurora
The Wisconsin Lutheran College Warriors take on the Aurora University Spartans on Saturday in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference (NACC) football semifinals. WLC enters the contest at 1-2, advancing to the playoffs by winning the tie-breaker over Concordia Wisconsin and Rockford University. Aurora enters undefeated at 3-0 after sweeping all three of their regular season games.
How Wisconsin Luther Got Here
The Warriors opened the season with a decisive 28-14 victory over Rockford. Quarterback Nick Yockey threw for 390 yards and three touchdowns as Wisconsin Lutheran College opened with 21 unanswered points.
The Warriors then lost to Concordia Wisconsin, 39-38. WLC took a 24-17 lead at the half on a Hail Mary pass from Yockey to Orlando Nicksion as time expired. However, Concordia rallied from 14 down, scoring 16 points in the final quarter for the victory. Yockey led the way with a career high 474 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Last Saturday, Wisconsin Lutheran was dominated by Lakeland, 62-14. The Muskies jumped out to a 34-point lead before the Warriors were able to get on the board. Mykael Ignaszak continued his impressive season, making nine tackles, including two sacks.
How Aurora Got Here
Aurora opened the season with a dominating 42-7 victory over Eureka. Eureka was able to make this a seven-point game early in the second quarter, but the Spartans closed it out with 28 unanswered points. Quarterback Gavin Zimbelman threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns. Trey Madsen made four catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns and Cameron Moore had two catches for 95 yards and two scores.
The Spartans then rolled over Concordia -Chicago, 49-13. Aurora blew open this game with a 35-point third quarter Zimbelman had another solid day, throwing for 267 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 127 yards and a score on just eight carries. Madsen had 10 receptions for 135 yards and three touchdowns.
Last Saturday, Aurora finished off their undefeated season with a 36-30 victory over Benedictine. This gave them the top spot in the South Division. Tyran Bailey rushed for 140 yards on 22 carries and Zimbelman scored four touchdowns on the ground to lead the Spartans.
Tale of the Tape
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Record: 1-2 (2nd in North Division)
Home Record: 1-1
Away Record: 0-1
Points Per Game: 26.7
Yards Per Game: 395.0
Rushing Yards Per Game: 45.3
Passing Yards Per Game: 349.7
Third Down Conversions: 33.0% (15-46)
Red Zone Touchdowns: 6-7 (86%)
Time of Possession: 27:57
Points Allowed Per Game: 38.3
Yards Allowed Per Game: 503.0
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 188.7
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 314.3
Turnovers: 3 (2 Fumble Recoveries, 1 Interception)
Kick Return Average: 19.4
Punt Return Average: 11.3
Point After Attempts: 5-6 (83.3%)
Field Goal Attempts: 1-1 (100%)
Punting Averaging: 35.8
Record: 3-0 (1st in South Division)
Home Record: 1-0
Away Record: 2-0
Points Per Game: 42.33
Yards Per Game: 465.0
Rushing Yards Per Game: 185.3
Passing Yards Per Game: 279.7
Third Down Conversions: 25.0% (8-32)
Red Zone Touchdowns: 10-11 (90.9%)
Time of Possession: 25:08
Points Allowed Per Game: 16.7
Yards Allowed Per Game: 296.7
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 106.0
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 190.7
Turnovers: 6 (1 Fumble Recoveries, 5 Interception)
Kick Return Average: 36.8
Punt Return Average: 7.0
Point After Attempts: 5-6 (83.3%)
Field Goal Attempts: 0-1 (0.0%)
Punting Averaging: 31.9
Wisconsin Lutheran on Offense
Quarterback Nick Yockey is the key for the Warriors. He has thrown for 1,021 yards and eight touchdowns, completing 60.8% of his passes. However, he left Saturday’s contest and his status is uncertain for this game. If he is unable to go, freshman Matt Davis will take over. Davis completed six of 15 passes 28 yards and a touchdown.
There is a trio of exceptional wide receivers no matter who is calling the plays. Jordan Jewell leads the team with 18 receptions for 275 yards and two TDs. Both Trevion Green and Justin Parbs have 17 receptions and a touchdown. Green has 152 yards receiving while Parbs has 157. Three other players have recorded double-digit receptions.
Parbs is the leading ground gainer with 84 yards rushing. He is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
Aurora on Offense
Gavin Zimbelman is coming off an All-American season and is having another spectacular year. The senior has thrown for 839 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is completing 52.0% of his passes but has thrown seven interceptions this season. He is second on the team in rushing with 257 yards and five touchdowns.
Tyran Bailey is the leading around Gaynor at 261 yards and two scores. He is averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry.
Trey Madsen is the leading receiver with 18 catches for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Brock Harner is second on the team in receptions with seven.
Wisconsin Lutheran on Defense
Mykael Ignaszak is arguably the best defensive player in the conference. He leads the Warriors in tackles with 32, second most in the NACC, and he is tied for the conference lead in sacks with four. Ty Castillo is second in tackles with 30. Pablo Zamudio has the team’s lone interception. Nathan Ewaskowitz has three sacks and a forced fumble.
Aurora on Defense
Aurora is lead in tackles by Blake Martz with 16. That may not seem like very many, but nine players on this Spartans squad have at least 10 tackles this season. They are a group that moves well to the ball. Martz also has an interception. Jared Pratt is the team leader in sacks with 1.5 and has 13 tackles, tied for second.
Keys to the Game
- Do not give up the big play. The Warriors gave up four touchdown passes of over 45 yards last week to Lakeland. They must do a better job of limiting the deep ball or this game is going to get ugly early.
- Keep Yockey up right. Regardless of whether it is Yockey or Davis, the team must do a great job of blocking. If Wisconsin Lutheran is going to win this game, it is going to be because they outscored Aurora.
- Be daring. First-year head coach Eric Treske has been bold in his play-calling. Look for some wrinkles and a lot of unconventional thinking in this game.
- Let Zimbelman do what he does. The senior nearly led the Spartans to an upset of St. John’s in last year’s NCAA playoffs. He is an exciting player who can make big plays with his arm or his feet.
- Do not get rattled. Should WLC get off to a fast start, stay cool. This is a team capable of scoring touchdowns in five consecutive possessions, so falling behind should be of no concern.
- Do not let Yockey beat you. The wildcard for the Spartans will be how well Yockey plays. If he is able to put up 500 yards and throw for five touchdowns, the Spartans will be in trouble.
The Warriors have played well, but they were exposed last week against Lakeland. This team has trouble defending the big play, and that is not a flaw you want to have against a team like Aurora. The Spartans are a veteran team that knows how to win. They have their sights set on a second straight NACC conference title and this is another step toward earning it.
Take Aurora to win, 48-21.
By Robert Pannier