With two seasoned seniors leading the way, the Buena Vista football team won a tough, defensive struggle in its Iowa Conference opener here Saturday afternoon with a 14-0 shutout of Loras College.
Senior wideout/kick returner Jesse Schmidt set up the Beavers' first touchdown when he returned the opening kickoff 86 yards to the Loras five-yard line.
Cornerback Chad Hinrichs, a senior from Victor, paced an aggressive defense, picking off three passes, running back his third interception 48 yards for the game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
"It's a huge win for us," Hinrichs said Sunday night from his dorm room on the BVU campus. "Jesse's run back gave key because it gave us an early cushion.
"We were able to play more aggressive because of that. I thought our defense really played well, especially considering we have just two returning starters."
BVU Coach Steve Osberberger couldn't have asked for a better performance from his defense, and also talked about the importance of starting the conference season with a win.
"Getting a win in the first Iowa Conference game is something that you always want to do," he said. "It's an extremely balanced conference this season, and you have to keep plugging away every week, just like we did Saturday.
"We still have areas we need to work on; we want to protect our quarterback better than we have so far, and we need to improve our kicking game and our running game on offense."
Schmidt, a senior from Laurens, caught the opening kickoff on the left side of the field at his own nine yard-line, made his away across to the right side, then outraced Loras defenders. He was caught and downed at the Loras five
"It was a huge lift for us right away," Osterberger said.
On the game's first play from scrimmage, BVU's all-conference running back Chad Pearson dove right for three yards. On the next play, Pearson plunged into the end zone from two-yards out for a 6-0 lead, but Chris Kemmerer's extra-point kick was blocked.
The Beaver defense made up for that and more on Loras' second offensive series.
The Duhawks went three and out on their first possession and punted, with BVU taking over at its own 46.
The Loras defense, which returns six starters off of last year's team, held BVU on downs, but Kemmerer's punt pinned the Duhawks back to their own ten-yard line.
Facing a third and two from the 18, BVU defenders Tyler Horkey and Brant Goodchild dropped running back Brent McCarron for a two-yard loss.
Goodchild broke through Loras' offensive front on the next play, blocking Tyler Bruening's punt with the ball rolling past the end line for a safety. With five and a half minutes elapsed, BVU led 8-0.
"I thought our defense put good pressure on their quarterback and we also had outstanding pass coverage," added Osterberger.
"On offense, we didn't move the ball as well as we wanted, but it was also a key that we didn't have any turnovers. We have to get better on offense, but it just takes time for our inexperienced kids to get reps in games and practices. The more reps they have, the better they are going ot get."
With Loras kicking from its own 20 after the safety, BVU notched one first down and moved to the Loras 37 before quarterback Chris Hawkins was sacked for a drive-killing 11-yard loss.
The game was a defensive stalemate for the rest of the first half. Loras finally got into BVU territory late in the first quarter. Facing a third and 16 from the Beaver 33, Loras quarterback Matt McLaughlin threw short of his receiver down the middle and Hinrichs made his first interception near the goal line.
After a Beaver punt, Loras took possession at its own 42 and looked to get its offense going after a nine-yard run by halfback Austin Rushland. Facing a second and one, Hinrichs picked off another McLaughlin pass, returning it to the BVU 17.
"Loras was trying a lot of two-step drop backs and short passes by their quarterback," Hinrichs added. "We worked a lot against it in practice and we were prepared for what they were going to do.
"Our guys up front did a good job staying in the quarterback's face, and I thought our linebackers and secondary guys did a good job of covering their short routes."
The Beaver defense stayed aggressive - and stingy - throughout the second half. Loras drove into BVU territory once in the last two quarters.
On its first possession of the fourth quarter, the Duhawks moved from their own 42 to the BVU 37 but were stopped on a fourth and seven pass incompletion.
After an exchange of possessions, Loras moved to near midfield. On first down from the BVU 48, Jankovich's pass was tipped by BV defensive end Dustin Schulz. Hinrichs was all over the Loras receiver, stepped in front of him and notched his third interception.
Hinrichs, a sprinter on the Beaver track team, outraced Duhawk defenders 55 yards for the game's second touchdown.
"I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time," Hinrichs said. "After the ball was tipped, I just picked it off in stride and it was a footrace to the end zone."
With 8 minutes, 43 seconds left, Loras had time to mount a comeback, but wasn't able to. The Duhawks never got beyond their own 32 yard-line the rest of the way.
Sunday night, Hinrichs was already looking forward to next Saturday, when the Beavers host Cornell.
"It's going to be a challenge for us," Hinrich said. "For some reason, we've had some trouble with Cornell, even though we beat them last year."
Statistically, BVU limited Loras to 83 yards rushing and 85 passing, but the the three turnovers were the difference.
BVU's Pearson rushed 33 times for 103 yards, averaging 3.1 yards per run. Hawkins was sacked three times for 19 yards, and other runs for losses limited the Beavers' net rushing yardage to 89.
Hawkins connected on eight of 18 passes for 49 yards. Loras quarterback Jankovich hit on 8 of 24 passes for 78 yards and one interception.
Defensively, the Beavers, senior defensive lineman Rick Ohlinger had three sacks, with Wade Hammen and Mike Amick each adding one. Horkey and Tyler Pierce each finished with five tackles, with Ohlinger and Goodchild adding seven each.