PLATTEVILLE, Wis – It's not exactly the position one envisions for a quarterback who has not taken a snap since 2015: down 28-27 with just over four minutes to play, but that's the challenge UW-Platteville quarterback Cade Earl met—and successfully answered—to lead the 15th-ranked Pioneers to a 30-28 victory over George Fox University Saturday in the season opener.
Earl drove the Pioneers 45 yards to set up Michael Pratl's 27-yard field goal with 1:41 to play for the game-winning score.
"What I like about Cade is that he is cool as ice," said Coach Mike Emendorfer. "He just smirked, in a positive way. He was very poised for a freshman."
Earl completed 37 of 49 passes for 434 yards, including all six of his attempts on the final drive.
"My mindset really didn't change," he said. "We were executing in the first half but weren't really in the second half. We were confident we could score. None of us were rattled. We stayed composed and went out there and performed like we could."
The Pioneers reached the Bruins' 10-yard line and faced a fourth-and-one, when Pratl drilled his third field goal in five attempts in the afternoon.
"The percentages showed that's the play, and we've seen Mike in practice," Emendorfer said. "That was our best shot. We ran a lot of offensive plays (89 to GFU's 60), and we were getting tired. When you have a 27-yard field goal, you have to take that."
Earl added, "it was pretty satisfying to take the lead, and we knew the defense could hold them."
Clayton Becker and Nick Kilianek combined on an 11-yard sack on the Bruins' first play after the kickoff, and three more George Fox plays failed to gain a first down. The Pioneers took over on the GFU 26, and Earl took two knees to end the back-and-forth season opener.
The teams exchanged long scoring bombs less than five minutes into the game, with the Bruins' Grant Schroeder hitting Kenny May for 80 yards on GFU's first offensive play. Fifty-nine seconds later Earl connected with Tim Jansen from 73 yards out.
Earl did not play football last year, and missed much of this year's training camp with an injury. "I was injured coming in; it was my foot, but I'm 100 percent now, and I'm just happy I got the chance to play," Earl said.
The freshmen QB hit Zack Rappel on a perfectly-thrown 42-yard TD pass and added a two-yard scoring run. Pratl connected from 27 yards out in the second quarter and 23 yards in the third for a seemingly safe 27-7 lead.
The visitors from Oregon, in their fourth year as a program with many veterans who went through that four-year process, stormed back on three Schroeder TD drives and scoring passes.
"We knew George Fox, being in their fourth year and seeing a lot of those players last year, were a hard-nosed group, scrappy and well-coached," said Emendorfer, who improved to 19-0 in Pioneer season openers.
Emendorfer said, "He led us on some important drives and made some big-time throws."
He also had some big-time help from Tim Jansen, who caught 14 passes for 224 yards. Seven different players caught passes, helping UW-Platteville hold a 517-352 advantage in yards and 36:51 to 23:09 in time of possession.
"We knew Tim would have to step up," Emendorfer said. "When you graduate eight senior receivers, guys like Dan Arnold and Patrick Sheehan, we had to find guys to make plays, and we did."
The Pioneers held the Bruins to 81 yards on the ground in 28 attempts and forced three turnovers. The Pioneers also turned the ball over three times themselves. They have off until traveling to Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, on Sept. 16. Their next home game is against defending Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference champion Lakeland Sept. 23 at 6 p.m.
"Our youth showed up at a couple of key positions, but we made plays when we needed to," Emendorfer said. "The bye week is coming at a great time. It's harder to identify those things in practice, but now we can see those things on film and correct them."
By Paul Erickson, Director, Communications, 608-342-1194, firstname.lastname@example.org