Blue Jays back from bye week, begin busy UMAC schedule

A little time away never hurt anyone.

In the case of the Westminster College Blue Jays, it just might be what they need to turn the season onward and upward headed into the heart of their conference schedule.

The off week has come and gone for John Welty's Westminster team and now it is faced with six straight weekends of Upper Midwest Athletic Conference football starting Saturday. The Blue Jays host Eureka (Ill.) College for homecoming game at 1 p.m. at Priest Field.

"I gave them Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, and then had them come back in on Monday," Welty said. "For the coaches, it was a chance for us to get away and I told them don't come in on Saturday or Sunday, and come back in with a new attitude on Monday.

"So a week off was good for us."

A week of no game action helped Westminster, among other things, heal some wounds to key players. The Blue Jays reach the season's halfway point relatively healthy in the words of Welty, but they didn't necessarily leave the game against Washington University that way on Sept. 25.

Senior starting quarterback Tyson Kankolenski banged up both his forearm and thumb during the game, resulting in him giving way to senior backup Dan Franklyn.

Westminster stayed within striking distance, down 10-0 at halftime. But the task of cutting into the deficit became a little more daunting when Franklyn also had to leave the game due to injury.

Enter third-string, freshman quarterback Corey Ward. Ward was serviceable while throwing for just under 100 yards and a touchdown, but he couldn't help the Blue Jays keep up as Washington University pulled away for a 36-6 victory.

"We ended up playing our No. 3, who is a capable guy," Welty said. "He led us to our only touchdown, but it was disappointing in that we played so well in the first half and played so poorly in the second half."

The Blue Jays' defense gave up 16 points in 4 minutes to Washington as the game went from salvageable to completely out of reach. Ward threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Carl Givens in the third quarter, but that was all the Westminster offense could scrape together in the points department.

Although they played one conference game, a 20-14 loss at Minnesota-Morris on Sept. 11, the Blue Jays conclude the season's first four games at 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the UMAC--the exact same record that Welty's team had going into the conference slate of games last season.

On the field, Westminster has worked for a level of consistency that hasn't quite shown through yet. In Welty's eyes, this would be the ideal time to get that going.

"A year ago, we were sitting at the exact same position we are in now, 2-2, and then we went on a run in conference play," Welty said. "We're striving for that right now and we control our own destiny.

"I think we've played some pretty good football teams prior to our conference play, and that'll set the table for us going into that part of the season."

Eureka (0-4, 0-1) comes off a 47-29 loss to Minnesota-Morris on Sept. 25. The Red Devils return a quarterback and three skilled receivers from last year's team that took Westminster down to the wire before being edged by the Blue Jays 35-34.

"We kind of told the guys we needed to circle the wagons and move on," Welty said. "It (the break) helped us get over that hump of that loss and now we're well-rested, fairly healthy. We'll hopefully be ready to go against Eureka."

The Blue Jays will have Kankolenski back in the lineup Saturday with little to no limitations. That'll help as Westminster is full speed ahead from now until late November.

The first four games were a warmup in Welty's opinion. The UMAC schedule is what is going to make or break this season for the Blue Jays.

"Now we're playing for something because those first four games we were playing to win," Welty said. "Now we're in conference play and playing for a championship, and it all starts with game one."

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