TERRE HAUTE —
Jeff Sokol’s debut as the Rose-Hulman football coach did not go exactly the way he wanted on a hot, humid Saturday evening at Cook Stadium.
But in the second half of the Engineers’ 23-13 loss to DePauw University, he started to see bright spots that give him hope for the rest of the season.
Rose fell behind 14-0 at halftime, thanks to a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by DePauw safety Robby Schuler in the first quarter and a 38-yard punt return for a TD by Taylor Wagner in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Engineers’ shotgun, no-huddle offense put up only 80 yards in the first half.
“We’re a big momentum offense,” Sokol explained afterward. “We struggled early on to get momentum and move the chains… [DePauw] did a couple things we weren’t prepared for. We knew they’d be a little bigger, faster and stronger.”
On the bright side for Rose-Hulman, DePauw’s offense did not score in the first half.
“It doesn’t matter how you put the points on the board,” DePauw coach Robby Long emphasized. “All three phases of the game have to contribute. You hope your special teams can contribute and you hope your defense can score. We talk about it every day when we’re [practicing] those units.
“Because the offense is the unit that is expected to score, it doesn’t mean we can always put it on their shoulders. There are going to be times when there is adversity.”
On the first possession of the second half, the Tigers from Greencastle appeared ready to punch in their first offensive touchdown of the season. Starting from their own 31-yard line, they used 10 plays to march to the Rose 1. But on the 11th play, Rose-Hulman safety Jordan Martin forced a fumble by Armani Cato and Rose’s Brad D’Agnillo pounced on it at the 1.
After that, the Engineers’ offense started to show life. Junior quarterback Mitch Snyder of Casey, Ill., directed a 12-play, 99-yard drive that culminated with his 15-yard TD toss to speedy freshman Dominic Sena. Probably the highlight of the drive, besides the score, was Snyder’s 35-yard aerial to senior Jordan Nielson, who battled a defender tooth-and-nail for the reception near the right sideline.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Nielson continued making an impact throughout the second half, finishing with a team-high seven receptions for 117 yards. Interestingly, Nielson caught only seven passes all of last season and had 10 receptions for his entire collegiate career before Saturday.
“He’s a great kid,” Sokol mentioned. “He works really hard. He gets absolutely the most out of his ability. I’m glad he had such a nice day today.”
Near the end of the third period, Eric Malm booted a 29-yard field goal to increase DePauw’s lead to 17-6.
Early in the fourth frame, the visitors finally tallied their first offensive touchdown of the game on a 14-yard quarterback sneak by Ethan Schweir. Although the extra-point kick failed, they padded their cushion to 23-6.
With 8:29 left in the contest, Nielson hauled in a 7-yard TD strike from Snyder. Nick Schneider’s PAT pulled the Engineers within 23-13, but that was the last point they were able to manufacture.
“I was a little disappointed,” Long admitted from the DePauw perspective. “I felt like the scores we gave up there at the end, we shouldn’t have. It was just guys making mistakes.
“You got to give credit to Rose-Hulman. They’re a good football team and they’re going to make plays. But as a defense, we wanted to put a shutout up there on the board and weren’t able to.”
Both teams will get a bye next weekend, with Rose-Hulman’s next action slated for Sept. 17 at Kalamazoo.
“It’ll give us a little time to recover,” Sokol said. “Yeah, we’ll learn a lot from this [DePauw] game. There were definitely mistakes made. We can definitely be better and we will be better.”
Tribune-Star correspondent Steve Fields contributed to this report.