BETHANY, W.Va. (Oct. 13) – During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the one thing that seemed to keep the Waynesburg University football team from getting to where it wanted to go was coming up short in close games. Over those two campaigns, the Jackets were 4-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less. In 2012, Waynesburg has found a way to win those close games, and did so once again during Saturday’s Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) contest at Bethany.
The Yellow Jackets trailed the upset-minded Bison until there were just 18 seconds showing on the game clock. That was when first-year junior kicker Alex Henry made the biggest kick of his short collegiate career to send his team to a 23-21 comeback win. With the victory, Waynesburg stayed unbeaten and at the top of the PAC standings at 7-0 overall and 5-0 in conference. For the Bison (1-5, 1-3), it was their third loss by four points or fewer in what has been a frustrating 2012 season.
Things started well for Bethany as its spread passing game had the usually stingy Waynesburg defense back on its heels. The Bison scored the only points of the first quarter on a 25-yard field goal and added to its lead with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 7:51 to play in the second quarter. However, the Jacket special teams made a crucial block on the extra point to hold the Green and White to a 9-0 lead.
The Jackets fired back on the ensuing possession to put some points on the board and it was junior Bertrand Ngampa, who had his best game as a collegiate running back, who did most of the damage. Facing a third-and-four situation, Ngampa first kept the drive alive with an eight-yard run. On his next carry, the Fairfax, Va. native broke free for a 53-yard touchdown run that got his team on the board. After junior Dominic Zappa tacked on the extra point, Bethany’s lead was cut down to 9-7 with 5:44 to go until halftime.
The long touchdown run didn’t seem to shake Bethany, as the Bison marched 69 yards on 13 plays for their second touchdown of the day. Once again, Waynesburg was able to block the PAT try and kept crucial points off the board. Waynesburg sophomore quarterback Carter Hill completed a 30-yard pass to All-American tight end Adam Moses before the first-half clock expired, but the toss came up 31 yards shy of pay dirt. As the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms, the Bison led 15-7 and looked poised to hand the Yellow Jackets their first loss of the season.
Things didn’t get any better for the visiting team in the third quarter, as the Bison took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 65 yards to the end zone in nine plays. The Bethany special teams failed to add on valuable extra points for a third time, as a two-point conversion try by junior quarterback Matt Grimard fell incomplete and the Bison went on defense with a 21-7 advantage.
Despite a two-touchdown deficit, Waynesburg head coach Rick Shepas and offensive coordinator Matt Stansfield didn’t abandon the team’s powerful running game. Their faith in the ground game paid off on the Yellow Jackets’ next offensive possession, which featured 10 runs, including five in a row by senior running back Dominic Moore, on an 11-play drive that covered 61 yards. Moore capped the possession with his eighth carry of the drive that yielded a two-yard touchdown plunge. Zappa connected on his second extra point try of the day and with 5:20 left to play in the third quarter, Waynesburg pulled back to within one possession (21-14) of their opponents and momentum seemed to be swinging back to the visitors’ favor.
After struggling through the entire first half and the first few minutes of the second, the Jacket defense followed the lead of its pounding running game and started to clamp down on the explosive Bison offense. Neither team was able to find its scoring touch for the remainder of the third quarter, but during its first possession of the fourth quarter, Waynesburg marched down the field on the Bethany defense and really made the game interesting.
After getting good field position at their own 45-yard line, the Yellow Jackets went back to work with its ground attack. Waynesburg ran the ball on six-straight plays of a six-play possession, with the final tote of the drive being taken by Ngampa, who went in from 14 yards out to cut the Bison’s lead down to 21-20. Unfortunately, the Bison picked up a blocked PAT of their own to maintain a one-point edge with 11:59 showing on the clock.
After the Waynesburg defense continued its stellar second-half showing by forcing a turnover on downs to give the Yellow Jackets the ball back at their own 30-yard line. The visiting team was once again able to march the ball down the field, but were stopped at the Bison 19-yard line, where Zappa missed a go-ahead 36-yard field goal.
The missed kick gave the home team the ball with just 3:33 left to play and a chance to melt the rest of the clock away. The Bison’s chances for victory increased greatly after picking up a first down on the possession, but the Jacket defense forced an incomplete pass on second-and-10 and held Grimard to just a five-yard run on third-and-10 to force the Bison punt unit onto the field.
With 1:45 left to play, the Jackets took over at their own 40-yard line. Following an incomplete pass, Ngampa put his team in scoring range with consecutive runs of 15 and 35 yards that put the ball at the Bethany 10-yard line. After a two-yard run by Moore and two incomplete passes, Bethany took a time out with 18 seconds left to play and Waynesburg facing a fourth-and-goal from the Bison eight-yard line. That stoppage didn’t seem to bother Henry, as he calmly sent a high, sailing kick through the uprights to complete the Jacket comeback.
Bethany had one more possession to try to pull out a miraculous victory, but after a nine-yard completion on first down, a hook-and-ladder play by the home squad ended up going out of bounds at the Waynesburg 40-yard line.
The victory was the third-straight by the Jackets that was determined by seven points or less. Waynesburg’s 7-0 start is the first in program history since 2007, when the Jackets ended up going 8-3 for the season.
The Jacket run game, which came into the contest with a PAC-leading average of 179.3 yards per game. That mark rose to just over 200 per contest after the visitors rushed for 325 yards on 46 carries (7.1 yards per carry). That total is not only a season high for 2012, but it is the most yards on the ground put together by a Jacket offense since going for 370 yards during a win in the final week of the 2007 regular season.
Ngampa and Moore provided a punishing speed/power combination to led the ground game. Ngampa piled up a career-high 206 yards on just 19 carries, giving him a personal best 10.8 yards per carry. The junior from Virginia was gashing Bethany for big runs, Moore was doing his job of pounding out difficult yards through the middle of the defense. The senior piled up 97 yards and a score on 24 carries.
Hill only threw the ball 13 times on the afternoon, but he completed six of those tries for 94 yards and didn’t turn the ball over. Moses was on the receiving end of three of those completions for 55 yards. The Waynesburg offensive line not only opened up gaping holes for the team’s running backs, but they also kept Hill on his feet by not allowing a sack for the fourth time this season.
The Jacket defense was led by junior safety Bryan Gary, who racked up a team-high 13 tackles, including one for loss. Linebackers Jordan Helmick and John Sikora chipped in nine tackles each, while junior defensive end Brandon Fedorka picked up his team-leading seventh sack as part of a five-tackle day. He also forced a fumble in the victory.
After another hard-fought win, Waynesburg will turn its attention to another team with a high powered offense in Geneva. The Golden Tornadoes came into this weekend as the top-scoring offense in the PAC, and they will host the Yellow Jackets in Beaver Falls on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.