Football undefeated, goes 4-0 on the season
Sophomore running-back Kenneth Hamilton didn’t always score three touchdowns and 2.5 times more rushing yards than his opponent’s entire offense combined.
He entered the university as a wide receiver, playing in seven games for 20 total rushing yards and no touchdowns. After his freshman season, his main gripe was that he was hungry for more time on the field. “Last year kind of sucked, not being able to play as much as I would like to,” he said in the spring.
But after the team graduated five running backs, the coaching staff approached Hamilton and asked him about making the switch. It took the then-freshman no longer than one day to make the decision. “[I] was like, ‘I’ll do anything that helps the team.’ I really don’t care where I am, as long as I’m playing football,” he said.
And in the team’s fourth game, where they came away with a 56-21 win against North Park University, he led the offense with 165 rushing yards and three touchdowns, simply outpacing the rest of the field. Yet, he was also only one of the many competitive pieces of the Bears’ running back core.
“The skillset on the offense is ridiculous — best in the CCIW, probably the best in Division III,” Hamilton said. “We just [create] problems [for our opponents] everywhere: [there are] four receivers in the field [and] two or three running backs in the backfield that can do whatever they want. It’s not an easy game plan for a defensive coordinator.”
Hamilton found the first hole in the North Park defense, cementing a 4-play, 40-yard drive to put the Bears to an early 7-0 lead with a touchdown. Despite striking first, the ensuing kickoff led to a 99-yard return for a touchdown by Vikings returner Juan Nieves, which tied the score at 7-7 after the converted extra point.
After this brief slip-up, including a fumble on the very next drive, WashU scored touchdowns on its next four drives to push the lead to 35-7 with around six minutes left in the first half. North Park’s next score came right after WashU’s fifth touchdown drive. The 75-yard drive was the last of the half, which ended 35-14 for WashU.
Despite leading by 21 points going into the half, the team still had the mindset of having something to prove. “If we’re really the team that we want to be, let’s show it,” junior nose tackle Johnathan Smith said about the team’s mindset. They continued to put on a dominant defensive performance in the second half, only allowing three additional rushing yards and shutting down any offensive sparks from North Park.
The second half was defined by an illegal contact penalty. As the ball was punted to the WashU field post, a North Park defenseman put sophomore reciever Collin Goldberg in the dirt. Even after the penalty, WashU was awarded two unsportsmanlike-play penalties in a chippy game that got aggressive in the fourth quarter.
“When somebody hits one of your best players defensively, it just changes your whole mindset. It’s like, I’m not trying to win this game; I’m trying to embarrass you. Because you don’t do that,” Hamilton said.
“We’re a very close team emotionally, and we fought this game — we got into [it] a little bit. I mean, these are the guys that you go to war with every week. And we are a close enough unit [that] we are willing to defend each other,” Smith added.
An interception in the third quarter from QB Matt Rush brought the Vikings to within 21 points, but the fourth quarter began with another Bears touchdown. WashU added one more to bring the team to a 56-21 victory, which they held until the final whistle. Rush went 18-24 to average the fourth-best passing efficiency in Division III.
“It’s always good to get a win, but it wasn’t very pretty,” senior captain Cole Okmin said. “We let our emotions get the best of us — that’s something we have to do better, at least for me. We won by a lot. But we’re gonna have to play a lot better going forward.”
WashU has outscored their opponents 207-51 in these four games and looks to continue the offensive barrage against Illinois Wesleyan University at a 1 p.m. showdown on Francis Olympic Field. It’s a rivalry that spans six matchups. Last year, WashU won 38-22, but it will likely be their most challenging game to date.
“It doesn’t matter what level or what competition — if we’re doing what we do, if we’re doing our jobs, if we’re doing each individual job to the best of our [abilities], we go toe-to-toe with anybody,” Smith said. “Yeah, man. I don’t think anybody’s afraid of it.”
The team got another win, but they also learned an important lesson about playing in a high-tension matchup.
“The better teams get in our schedule, [we also need to work on] keeping our exposure. Once we got hot and angry, we actually played even worse,” Okmin said. “So yeah, it was a good lesson to learn; now, we’ll carry it forward.”
Head coach Aaron Keen’s coaching philosophy has been clear to his players: one day at a time. “We have a theme of just not looking too far ahead,” Hamilton said. “North Central, they’re not having a year like they had last year. They had some dogs last year, and they don’t this year. I don’t think they’re as good as they were last year, and I think that [that] matchup is gonna be one [that] everyone’s gonna want to watch.”