Case Western Reserve University senior running back Aaron Aguilar battled both blizzard-like conditions and one of the top rushing defenses in the country, running for a career-high 136 yards and three touchdowns to lead the 16th-ranked Spartans to a 28-0 win over 11th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, Illinois.
The win was the Spartans' second-ever post season victory, and their first since a 21-20 win over Widener during the 2007 season. Case Western Reserve improved to 11-0 overall, matching the program record for wins in a season. The victory sets up a second round meeting with second-ranked Mount Union next Saturday, November 25th at noon, with the location to be officially announced by the NCAA this weekend.
Aguilar was the unlikely hero on Saturday, entering the game with just nine carries for 48 yards in 2017. However, with weather playing a major factor in the game, Aguilar emerged as the primary offensive option for CWRU in the game. Illinois Wesleyan entered Saturday having allowed just one rushing touchdown all year, and ranked fourth in Division III in rushing yards allowed per game.
Meanwhile, CWRU's defense was masterful in the game, notching its first shutout of the season, and first shutout overall since a 55-0 win over Grove City on September 17, 2016.
An early driving rain and cold temperatures would limit both offenses early, but the Spartans would finally break through on their final drive of the first half after a blocked punt by senior safety Cody Calhoun. On the ensuing drive, on third and 10 from the Illinois Wesleyan 41 yard line, a pass from senior quarterback Rob Cuda was tipped up in the air and corralled by junior receiver Joey Spitalli for a 26 yard reception. Four plays later, Cuda attempted a sneak from the five yard line, and fumble on the three. The ball was scooped by Aguilar, who carried it into the end zone to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead heading into the halftime break.
As the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, snow began to fall, blanketing the field by the start of the second half. A 33-yard punt return by junior Justin Phan allowed the Spartans to start their second drive of the third quarter on the Titans' 42 yard line, where Aguilar would become the focus of the CWRU offense. On a fourth-and-one play, the Spartans ran an option toss, with Cuda pitching the ball to Aguilar on the outside. The running back would find an opening and carry it 33 yards for the touchdown, putting the Spartans ahead 14-0 with 8:00 left in the third.
Case Western Reserve took advantage of a bad snap on an Illinois Wesleyan punt early in the fourth quarter, gaining possession on the Titans' five yard line. Aguilar would carry the ball into the end zone on the next play for his third touchdown of the game, putting CWRU in front 21-0 with 13:18 remaining in the game. A late touchdown run by senior running back Myles Anthony extended the Spartans' lead to 28-0 with 3:19 to play, putting the game well out of reach for Illinois Wesleyan.
The Spartans outgained Illinois Wesleyan 272-185 in the game, and finished the contest with 204 total rushing yards. Illinois Wesleyan had entered the game allowing just 49.9 rushing yards per game. Cuda finished the bad-weather game seven-for-20 for 75 yards, including four passes for 61 yards to Spitalli.
More information on the Spartans' second round matchup against Mount Union will be posted throughout the next week.