OZARK, Mo. – Utilizing a high-powered passing attack that accounted for 395 of their 498 yards of offense, the Evangel Crusaders notched their first victory of the 2020 season with a 28-13 decision over the Clarke Pride Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium.
Sam Buckner and Joshua Tips turned in big afternoons for the Crusaders, combining for 13 catches and 319 receiving yards. Meanwhile, EU’s quarterback tandem of Dyllan Decker and RJ Wakley teamed up to complete 22-of-29 passes and three scoring strikes to spearhead the Crusaders’ best single-game passing performance in head coach Chuck Hepola’s five-year tenure.
Evangel seized control of the contest with its rejuvenated passing game, racking up 198 yards and two touchdowns through the air in the opening half, while the EU defense forced a pair of Clarke fumbles that were ultimately converted into Crusader touchdowns.
Decker completed 8-of-11 passes for 160 yards and connected with Will Jackson on a 20-yard scoring pass on the Crusaders’ opening offensive series. Wakley was effective in his lone offensive series of the half as well, engineering a 10-play, 61-yard drive early in the second period. The redshirt sophomore connected on three of his four pass attempts, including an 11-yard TD strike to Tips on a third-and-seven call with 8:43 to play in the quarter.
EU’s offense continued to click on its ensuing drive, as Decker capped off a 91-yard scoring march with a one-yard run, handing the Crusaders a 21-6 lead with 1:50 left in the half.
Evangel racked up 251 yards of offense over the first 30 minutes of play, while limiting Clarke to a Cesar Aguilera nine-yard scoring run late in the first period.
Clarke emerged from intermission with a purpose, moving 80 yards on its opening possession of the half to trim the Evangel lead. Brandon Mueller completed 5-of-6 passes on the drive, including a 30-yard scoring toss to Aguilera on fourth-and-five call that punctuated a 12-play, 80-yard drive and pulled the Pride to within eight points.
The Crusaders threatened on their ensuing drive after Decker hooked up with Buckner on a 62-yard completion that moved the ball to the Clarke 23. But the Pride defense held its ground, as Bryan Valdes and Kenneth Spaight teamed up on an 11-yard sack of Decker to derail the drive.
EU’s defense was equally impressive down the stretch, holding the Pride to a combined total of two yards on its next two possessions. The Crusaders also stopped Clarke on its final two drives after CU had made its way into EU territory. Still a one-possession game with just under 10 minutes to play, EU stopped Clarke at the Crusader 38 after a holding penalty and a pair of incompletions stalled a promising drive.
Moments after Mueller’s pooch punt pinned the Crusader offense at its own one-yard line, Wakley and Buckner connected on a back-breaking 68-yard touchdown to give EU all the breathing room it would need to finish off the victory.
Decker finished the afternoon 17-of-23 for 281 passing yards, while Wakley completed 5-of-6 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
For Clarke, Mueller completed 24-of-37 passes for 299 yards, with Max Steffen leading the Pride attack with seven catches for 95 yards.
Evangel will travel to Atchison, Kan., next Saturday (Oct. 17) for a 1 p.m. Heart of America Athletic Conference contest against Benedictine at O’Malley Field.