Sweeney’s big day not enough

Sweeney%27s+big+day+not+enough

The UW-Eau Claire football team went into the halftime locker room down 17-0 on the road against Division III powerhouse St. John’s (Minn.) University.

Then, the Blugolds jumped on the back of All-American running back Joel Sweeney to almost pull an improbable comeback before a fumble ultimately halted an Eau Claire rally that saw the Blugolds fall 17-14.

“We were proud of kids when we were down 17-0 coming down and chipping away with a blue collar type of mentality,” head coach Todd Glaser.

But before Sweeney broke loose, the Blugolds fell behind early.  After playing a scoreless first quarter, the host Johnnies scored 17 points in the second quarter behind two long touchdown passes, including one from 84 yards, from St. John’s quarterback Connor Bruns.

“The attitude coming in is that we needed to take a step, and in the second quarter we did not,” junior defensive back Thurgood Dennis said.  “That’s 14 points on two plays.”

Dennis said the defense responded, however, and the stats would agree.  The Blugolds did not give up a point the rest of the game, and for a unit surrendering 52 points a week earlier, Dennis said only giving up points in one quarter was very encouraging.

“The rest of the game, I think we took a big step as the defense,” Dennis said.  “We were able to create a lot of third and fourth down stops, we forced some turnovers and we had much more energy than the first week, which is huge.”

Not allowing a second half point let Sweeney get the Blugolds right back in the game.

The senior capped off his day with 266 yards of rushing on 43 carries with two touchdowns.

“He carried the load,” Glaser said of Sweeney.  “He did a great job of keeping us in the game.”

Sweeney, who only had 50 yards at eight carries at St. Thomas, said he was prepared to take the workload against the Johnnies.

“We were depending on the run,” Sweeney said.  “That’s what our game plan was going into it.  We started doing power plays and their defense started to struggle with it, so we kept exploiting.”

Exploiting indeed, as Sweeney’s monstrous game led him to WIAC Player of the Week honors.

As far as scoring goes, Sweeney scampered for a 17-yard run early in the third quarter to cap off a seven play, 66-yard drive.

Then, with eight minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, he knocked off a 14-yard touchdown run to capitalize off a Johnnies fumble at their own 33 yard line.

“They were blocked great by the line,” Sweeney said of his touchdowns.  “Everybody was on page when those touchdowns happen.  It was open field and I just kind of galloped in.  But I give props to everyone else on the field who made it possible.”

However, with the Blugolds driving late in the game, a Blugold fumble of their own cost them a chance to complete the comeback, as St. John’s recovered the ball at their own 18 yard line with 1:10 left in the game.  The Johnnies kneeled down to kill the rest of the clock.

“We have to win games,” Glaser said. “We can’t just be close.  The players want to win games and the coaches want to win games, and that’s what we’ll be working on this week.”

The Blugolds will actually have an additional week to work on closing out games as they have an off weekend before the home opener Sept. 28 against Pacific Lutheran University (Wash.).

Dennis said the team will be ready to greet the Carson Park faithful for the first time in 2013.

“Playing at home in front of our home crowd is going to be huge,” Dennis said.  “Being in front of the Blugold fans at Carson Park is going to be something else.  Hopefully we’ll have a big turnout and kick some butt two Saturdays from now.”

Kickoff for that contest is set for noon.