Having just ended a three-game losing streak with a 27-9 win over Northwestern (Minn.) College in Minneapolis, the Westminster College Blue Jays let out a collective sigh that was equal parts joy and relief.
The win was good, but where they won was the best part. Away from the friendly confines of Priest Field, the Blue Jays racked up more than 400 yards of offense and, more importantly, came out with a win.
Westminster will try to turn that victory into a full-blown road winning streak Saturday when the Blue Jays travel to MacMurray (Ill.) College in Upper Midwest Athletic Conference action. Kickoff is 1 p.m. It will be the final road game of the season for Westminster (4-4, 2-3 UMAC), which lost its first three away games.
The Blue Jays will face a team in MacMurray (0-8, 0-5 UMAC) that, if sizing it up by numbers alone, looks like it won't match up well with Westminster. The Highlanders average 21.2 points per game, the lowest of all nine teams in the UMAC. They also give up 45.6 points per game, the most in the conference.
The MacMurray defense's best day came in a three-point loss to Northwestern last month, but it still surrendered 37 points.
But Blue Jays head coach John Welty isn't letting his team be thrown off by those statistics. The Highlanders have the personnel to make this their breakthrough game.
"They've got kids that, speed-wise, are the best matchup for us," Welty said. "They've got guys at the skill position that whenever they touch the ball, have the ability to break it."
MacMurray averages 226 passing yards per game. One X-factor in that success could be the play of wide receiver Marc Randle, who has 26 catches for 341 yards and four touchdowns in UMAC play this season.
That's all fine and good, but his most unique number might be his measurables. Randle, a senior out of St. Louis, is 6-foot-8. The Highlanders may be scraping for that first victory, but they'll have at least one advantage.
"He's a good football player and not just a big guy, but he can play," Welty said. "Every team they've played has had a matchup problem with him, but we're not going to do anything different than they've seen."
In terms of how his offense plans to proceed, Welty intends to use healthy doses of his run game against the Highlanders. MacMurray allows 232 yards a game on the ground, while Westminster averages 140 yards rushing. The offensive scheme is very clear.
"When we pound the ball and take six minutes off the clock, we can rest our defense because when they are rested, they're really good," Welty said. "Our best defense this week is going to be a good offense."
Offensively, the Blue Jays will be without senior quarterback Tyson Kankolenski for a second straight game. Kankolenski passed the concussion test and practiced with the team as recently as Wednesday. However, his body didn't respond well after practice, causing his coaches to make the call to sit him on Saturday.
"Unfortunately he's a senior and there's two games left, but until he's cleared, he's not playing," Welty said. "We'll do whatever he wants to do for the last game as long as it's safe."
That means another start for freshman Scott Rodgers, who threw for a touchdown against Northwestern and ran the Blue Jays offense the best way he could - by putting the Blue Jays in position to win the game.
"Scott managed the game for us," Welty said. "We tried to put him in positions in which he'd be successful and he did a really good job with that."
Last Saturday's win ended a losing streak, but the Blue Jays are out of the race for the UMAC title and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Now they'll try and end 2010 on a three-game winning streak to send their seniors out on a high note and reward everyone else for a hard-fought season.
"We're playing for pride and playing for our seniors right now," Welty said. "We've fought through so much adversity and never given up, and we still have the chance to finish with a winning record."