Blue Jays looking to get off to better start

A side-by-side comparison of the Westminster College Blue Jays' play in the first half of games and their play in the second half is like showing an infant the difference between putting their hand on a hot stove or not placing it there.

The first side is good and the second side is bad.

"It's like we're up in the the ozone layer at kickoff and by the middle of the second half, we're back down to earth," Blue Jays head coach John Welty said.

A prime example is Westminster's game last week at Martin Luther, in which the Blue Jays scored 13 unanswered points before falling short 28-23 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference loss.

In fact, in the team's three losses this season, Westminster has scored just three points in the first half compared to 40 in the second half.

The first-half struggles aren't lost on Welty as he and the Blue Jays prepare for a visit from Greenville (Ill.) College at 1 p.m. Saturday at Priest Field. Putting together two good halves of football seems easy enough to say, but has been a struggle for the Blue Jays away from home.

"We were kind of struggling right off the bat and got off to a bad start," sophomore wide receiver James Gladstone said of the Martin Luther loss. "Our emotions got the better of us, so we started playing that way instead of as a team."

Westminster (3-3, 1-2 UMAC) is plenty effective within the confines of Priest Field. They are 3-0 there this season, averaging 32 points per game.

Lucky for the Blue Jays they will catch Greenville (4-3, 3-0 UMAC) on home turf. The Panthers are in first place in the conference and are fronted by the AMC's leading rusher, senior Anthony Ambers.

Ambers was the conference offensive player of the week after he rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago in a 35-7 victory over St. Scholastica. Last week against MacMurray, he ran for another 182 yards and two touchdowns, prompting Welty to give him some considerably high praise.

"He's a great player and is the best running back we've played against in probably the last four or five years," Welty said. "He's got speed, quicks, he's strong and runs with power, and is 80 percent of their offense."

With that in mind, the Blue Jays have a very specific defensive strategy -- don't let Ambers beat them. Through five games, he has amassed 1,131 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Simply put, Ambers' legs are the Blue Jays' primary concern. Greenville has passed for just 301 yards on the season, roughly 43 per game.

So the Panthers are run first, run second and run third. And sprinkle a pass in there every now and then.

"We want to stop him, make them spread the offense out and start throwing the ball," Welty said. "If they're throwing the ball, good things are happening for us."

As for the Westminster offense, the good vibes of being at home should help move the chains. In order to shake up the offense last week, the Blue Jays shifted starting quarterback Tyson Kankolenski to a slot receiving position and inserted freshman Scott Rodgers under center.

It's not the first time Welty and staff have thrown this wrinkle in and it surely won't be the last.

Kankolenski will be back at quarterback Saturday, leading an offense that Welty hopes will serve as an extra defender.

"I'm hoping that we win the opening kickoff and then have a 15-minute drive to score, get them on a three-and-out and then hold the ball again," Welty said. "Our best offense is keeping Ambers off the field."

The ramifications of defeating a first-place team, home or away, is not lost on players like Gladstone. Despite a sub-.500 conference record, the Blue Jays are in the thick of the UMAC championship race and hope to stay there with a strong showing Saturday.

"It can set the tone, especially going into our other games in conference," Gladstone said. "Hopefully it will allow us to finish strong."

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