The 75th anniversary season of Wartburg football kicks off Saturday night when the Knights host Monmouth of Illinois in a battle of teams ranked in the top 20 of various preseason Division-Three polls. The Knights enter their opener with strong expectations of competing for the Iowa Conference title, despite being picked to finish third in the league race behind Central and Coe.

Wartburg Coach Rick Willis says they are very hungry and many of the players stayed around this summer to work in the weight room. He has 14 starters back from last year’s 6-4 team but lacks experience at quarterback. The Knights have to replace record-setting signal-caller Nick Yordi, who threw for nearly 5,400 yards and 41 touchdowns the last two seasons.

Willis says senior Mike Sosnowski of Eldridge; junior Dan Stiefel, a transfer from Sterling Heights, Michigan; and sophomore Mike Wurtz of Okoboji are all being considered to replace Yordi under center. He says those three will handle the spot and although they lack experience, he feels good about their development through camp.

Saturday’s opener is a rematch of a 2008 NCAA second-round playoff game that Wartburg rallied to win 30-28 on the final play. Willis expects the same type of game this year with Monmouth, which he says will be a tough opener. Monmouth’s quarterback is pre-season All-American Alex Tanney, who needs just 43 yards to break the Midwest Conference career passing record of 10,200 set by Grinnell’s Troy Daughtery in the late 1990’s.

The past two seasons, the Fighting Scots have averaged more than 45 points per game with Tanney calling the signals. Willis says the Knights’ defense will be tested. He says they want to try and keep the scoreboard from blowing up, as he says they will score some points and could throw the ball a lot. But Willis says his team will be able to score some points too.

 Wartburg has a number of events planned Saturday to celebrate the school’s 75th season of football, including an all-football alumni reunion and a community tailgate party before the 7 p.m. game. Tickets for the season-opener have been lowered to half-price and a fireworks show is also planned after the game at Walston-Hoover Stadium in Waverly.

By Elwin Huffman KOEL Oelwein