Wesley Beschorner was hired for his offensive prowess, but it was his defense that powered his first win.
The Blugolds’ pass rush was constantly in the face of Loras quarterback Noah Sigwarth, sacking him seven times and forcing him into a pick six and a fumble in UW-Eau Claire’s 35-3 victory on Saturday afternoon in Carson Park.
For Beschorner, it was his first victory at UWEC and his first as a head coach.
"My wife will tell you too, I was nervous," the new Blugolds head man said. "Our guys, they played so hard. They did what they were told and they did a great job. All the credit goes to those guys. It's their football team. I'm just here to help."
The defensive stands by D-coordinator Matt Ebner’s crew were often needed, especially in the first half. The Blugolds’ offense struggled with mental errors, from penalties and dropped passes to overthrows and interceptions. The group, led by first-time starter Jonathan Malueg, left the field after five or fewer plays in their first three drives, with the third concluding on an interception at the 50 yard line.
"If offense is struggling, defense picks up," UW-Eau Claire linebacker Sam Romanski said. "When we're struggling they're going to pick us up. We're going to build on that."
The defense held long enough for the offense to find some sort of rhythm, often fueled by an explosive run. That started on the fourth drive with a stellar scamper by Austin Belot, who found space on the left side and ran for a 58-yard touchdown on the first play after Loras was forced into a turnover on downs.
Belot scored a second touchdown in the later stages of the second quarter, but it was a tackle-breaking 31-yard run by Keshaun Story and a 22-yard pass from Malueg to Killy Kitzmann that accounted for most of the heavy lifting.
A PAT and kickoff later and the Blugolds made it a three-score game when Jared Churak intercepted Sigwarth after the Duhawks quarterback was hit in his motion and returned it 40 yards to the house. With the way the defense was playing, it already felt like the team had built an insurmountable lead when the Blugolds went into halftime up 21-0.
"They play hard, they get to the football and they get it out," Beschorner said of the defense. "That's what we need."
The Blugolds defense was even impressive when Loras scored its only points. Malueg put the unit in a bind in the third after throwing an interception that was returned to the UW-Eau Claire 8-yard line. Sigwarth ran six yards to the 2-yard line, but the defense stood tall in the next two downs to force the field goal.
Malueg made up for the mistake later in the period, running for a 9-yard touchdown after Belot's 54-yard run got the team into first and goal territory four plays earlier. Conrad Rolz put the finishing touches on the win with 1:18 left in the fourth, running for a 2-yard score.
"It means a lot," Romanski said of getting Beschorner his first victory. "He works harder than anyone else in the building so it's pretty cool to be able to be a part of his first win."
Malueg, taking over the reigns as a sophomore, looked the part of a young player making his first collegiate start. He went 8 for 18 and threw a pair of interceptions right to Loras defenders.
"It's hard, that first game that you start," Beschorner said. "But John did some really good things and some things that he wishes he has back, obviously. ... He's a really good player. I've got a lot of confidence in him. You can see some of the things that he can do. He's got to take some things off the tape and he will, no doubt."
Josiah Johnson relieved Malueg for the final three and a half minutes of the game, going 2 for 2 for 17 yards while orchestrating the final plays of the Blugolds' last touchdown drive.
Belot finished with 168 yards, well on his way to the 195 he accumulated all of last season. Story had 49 yards and Bolz notched 23.
"We had a lot of ups and downs, but I feel like there's a lot to grow on," Belot said. "The offensive line did a phenomenal job for us. They really got me into a position to make plays."
Kitzmann led the receivers with five catches for 56 yards, while Darius Jones had 42 yards on one catch.
Victor Martinelli had two sacks, while Vince Coenen and Alex Mashak had one each and Anthony Rauch, Jared Churak, Daniel Chuchwar and Romanski each had a half sack.
With the win, the Blugolds have won two season openers in a row for the first time since the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Former Blugold Cary Osborn was honored with a moment of silence before the game. The four-year running back and former coach passed away in April at 49.
UW-Eau Claire heads to the road for Week 2, traveling to De Pere to face St. Norbert on Saturday at 1 p.m.
"Obviously there's some things we need to improve on, no doubt about it," Beschorner said. "And we will. I'm confident that our kids will improve on those things, our coaches will, I will."
UW-Eau Claire 35, Loras 3
Loras 0 0 3 0 — 3
UWEC 7 14 7 7 — XX
UWEC: Austin Belot 58 run (Brad Goetsch kick), :44.
UWEC: Belot 1 run (Goetsch kick), 1:52.
UWEC: Jared Churak 40 interception (Goetsch kick), 1:42.
L: Timmy Tischer 20 FG.
UWEC: Jonathan Malueg 9 run (Goetsch kick), 4:05.
UWC: Conrad Bolz 2 run (Goetsch kick), 1:18.
Team & Individual Statistics
RUSHING (att-yds): Loras (43-125): Elijah Thomas 7-77; Noah Sigwarth 22-25; Jerry McDaniel 14-23. UW-Eau Claire (42-247): Belot 17-168; ; Keshaun Story 2-49; Bolz 6-23; Antwan Moore 11-3; Malueg 5-2; Kitzmann 1-2.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yds): Loras (11-32-1-96): Sigwarth 11-32-1-96. UW-Eau Claire (8-20-2-115): Malueg 8-18-2-98; Josiah Johnson 2-2-0-17.
RECEIVING (rec-yds): Loras: Sam Maloney 5-51; Zach Vondra 1-16; Mike McDevitt 2-10; Thomas 1-10. UW-Eau Claire: Kitzmann 5-56; Darius Jones 1-42; Will Adair 1-7; Story 1-4; Belot 1-3; Braden O’Laughlin 1-3.