GREENCASTLE — It shouldn't be this easy. In a rivalry that has been played 120 times and the overall record separated by only five games, one head coach shouldn't dominate like he has been able to in the series.
Yet Wabash head coach Erik Raeburn has seemingly found the secret in not just how to beat rival DePauw but to beat it soundly. In his sixth Monon Bell Classic game as a head coach, Raeburn and No. 18 Wabash (9-1) won yet again in dominating fashion 38-21 over DePauw (4-6) at Blackstock Stadium.
It makes Raeburn 5-1 in the series, tying him for the best win percentage of a coach in the series and putting at the top of the list for Wabash coaches. Even more impressive is in the past five wins, his team has outscored DePauw 185-47.
“Obviously this game is critical,” Raeburn said. “All losses are devastating, but you know a loss in the Bell Game is 10 times worse, and so I've obviously been happy for our players and our students and our fans these last five years.”
The win also marked the first time in nearly 50 years since Wabash has won five straight games in the series. The last time the Little Giants did it was 1949-1954, and the current win streak tied the mark for the third longest in the series.
“This game means so much more than just the guys playing,” Wabash senior linebacker Nate Scola said. “It means so much to the community, the school, the guys that played before us. Keeping this thing (the Bell) on the campus symbolizes success.”
This win came behind Wabash doing something it doesn't normally do – passing. The Little Giants had averaged 239 yards rushing a game coming into the contest, but it went through the air to take control.
Behind sophomore quarterback Michael Putko's first start in the rivalry game, he passed for 293, more than 100 yards above his season average. He connected on 21 of 29 passes for three touchdowns.
“DePauw tried to do a little bit of trying to stop the run and blitzing a lot and made us throw a lot more,” Putko said. “I mean they were just playing really aggressive and jumping the shorter routes and letting things slip behind them.”
The holes came open from the very beginning of the game. The biggest benefactor of this was senior receiver Sean Hildebrand who went for 125 yards on 10 catches with one touchdown receiving and another one rushing.
“That was coaching, and they noticed their corners were playing very soft so we were going to take advantage of it,” Hildebrand, who was cleared to play after sustaining a concussion last week, said. “Credit the coaches for putting the trust on us. I just happened to be fortunate enough to be on the end of two of them for two touchdowns,
but it was all of us, a team effort.”
For Wabash, it also helped to get out front early once again and squash any hope of DePauw pulling the upset and ending the streak. The Little Giants were up 21-0 by the end of the first quarter and then 28-0 after DePauw punter Eric Malm fumbled the snap and Wabash recovered on the Tigers 18 leading to a quick score in the second quarter.
The Tigers couldn't recover from the deficit, never getting closer than the 17 points at the end of the game.
“They outscored their opponents 131-31 going into the first quarter, so we knew that early in the game was going to be important for us, and we just didn't play well enough in the first quarter on either side of the ball,” DePauw head coach Bill Lynch said.
Overcoming the large deficit certainly is an issue, but Lynch and DePauw will also have to figure out how to slow down Raeburn's abilities to get his team to play its best game of the season in the rivalry if it wants a chance to bring the Bell back to Greencastle.
“Means a ton (to win) and obviously really happy for our seniors,” Raeburn said. “Their the second class in a row that's going to graduate from Wabash having never lost a Bell, and it's huge for them, huge for all the seniors at Wabash to graduate with having the Bell all four years.
“I never get tired (of hearing the Bell), I love it.”