FOOTBALL: Upcoming Gateway games are must-wins for Elson

Michael Casagrande

Halfway through the season, the Toppers find themselves in a familiar position.

Just as in 2001 and 2002, Western (4-2, 1-1 Gateway Conference) lost its Gateway Conference opener to Western Illinois Oct. 4. Now every Gateway contest is a “must win” for coach David Elson’s squad.

Elson said his team’s performance was “just OK” in a 9-6 victory over Southwest Missouri State Saturday. The offense’s inability to produce a big play is a problem, Elson said.

“We couldn’t make any big plays that we needed to make,” Elson said. “We had some good drives going … and to make it a scoring drive, we needed a big pass or run to break their back.”

Western’s five remaining conference opponents have a combined record of 21-12, but the Toppers are not about to panic.

Haddix, a freshman quarterback, has had trouble pitching the ball on option plays. Working to perfect the pitch has been key for him in practice.

“We have been working on it in practice a lot more,” Haddix said. “We’ve been running a lot more and working on the pitches.”

Saturday the Toppers will look to improve their conference standing at Illinois State. The Redbirds (3-4, 0-2 Gateway) have an offense that can pile up yardage, but have trouble putting points on the scoreboard.

ISU ranks 22nd in I-AA in rushing offense (208.57 yards per game), but slips to 74th in scoring offense, with 21.8 points per game.

To combat that offense, Western will have to stay healthy longer than it has in recent weeks. Junior fullback Maurice Bradley and junior free safety Antonio Thomas will be out for Saturday’s game.

The status of junior linebacker Charles Thompson is not known for Saturday’s game.

Even though Thompson missed the last two games, the defense rescued the offense against SMS.

“Our defense continues to get better,” Elson said. “We’ve won with defense, special teams and running the football.”

The Topper’s two losses this season have come on the road, a trend Erik Dandy would like to end.

“We haven’t put together a good game on the road yet this year,” Erik Dandy said. “To win the Gateway, we need to win road games. That’s been a big thing we’ve been talking about this week.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]