Friday, October 29, 2010
Though not for lack of trying, Saturday’s UMAC Dome Day game against Northwestern (Minn.) College at the Metrodome in Minneapolis will be the biggest venue in which Westminster College freshman quarterback Scott Rodgers has ever played a game.
The first-year player from Centralia had his team one win away from a state title appearance in St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome in 2009, but the Panthers couldn’t close the deal.
“It’s going to be different,” Rodgers said. “I know people who have played in domes, but this is going to be exciting and it’s going to be fun.”
Rodgers will be one of two quarterbacks that head coach John Welty will switch in and out when the Blue Jays (3-4, 1-3 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference) take on Northwestern at 1 p.m. Saturday. After last weekend’s 30-21 UMAC home loss to Greenville (Ill.) College, Welty said a decision would be made this week between staying with senior starter Tyson Kankolenski or going with Rodgers.
Kankolenski made that decision easier for Welty when he came in Monday and was diagnosed with a concussion. With three games left, and with the Blue Jays’ conference title hopes on life support, Kankolenski will have all the time he needs to heal up.
“He’s going to travel with us and be up there to help (senior QB) Dan (Franklyn) and Scott on the sidelines, rather than on the field,” Welty said. “He is a senior who has three games left in his career, but he’s a kid that has 70 more years of life to live.”
Northwestern comes in with a record of 1-6 overall and 1-3 in the UMAC. Welty is not letting his team be fooled by the Eagles’ sub-par record. Turnovers doomed Northwestern from the start in last week’s 40-14 conference loss to Eureka.
“They’re 1-6, but they’re the best 1-6 football team we’ve seen,” Welty said. “They gave that game away to Eureka, but they’re a quality football team that’s been bitten by the injury bug, so don’t let their record fool you.”
In narrow losses to Greenville and Martin Luther the past two weeks, the Blue Jays have had to prepare for healthy doses of the run game. Greenville and Luther fielded two of the league’s best running attacks and rode said strategies to wins.
Northwestern will show a more traditionally balanced setup. The Eagles average 27 points per game and 312 yards — good for fourth and sixth, respectively in the UMAC. It won’t be easier by any means for the Westminster defense, but it’s a change of pace nonetheless.
Offensively, the Blue Jays will implement a plan much like they did against Greenville. Rodgers will take the snaps on some downs, while Franklyn will play on others. Defensively, Northwestern allows almost 35 points per game, making this the sort of game that could help build confidence in Rodgers.
He performed admirably in the second half against Greenville, leading two touchdown drives and helping to move the ball downfield for an otherwise struggling offense.
“Having that two-quarterback system really helps because I’m still new, so I still have a lot of questions about this offense,” Rodgers said.
A conference championship for Westminster would require them winning out and the teams in front of them losing. Far-fetched as that may sound, there is still a chance. But Welty is more focused on his team finishing strong and with a winning record.
“That’s our goal is to play strong and finish strong at 6-4,” Welty said. “We’re playing for pride now, to put one foot in front of the other and get after it.”
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•Notes: Westminster is 3-4 all-time against Northwestern, dating back to the their first meeting in 1998 — a 55-50 Blue Jays victory. The Eagles won the last meeting between the two teams, 28-14 in Fulton in 2007.