NEW CONCORD, Ohio (Sept. 1) – During their last two season openers the Waynesburg University football team came close to beating a quality opponent, but came up short by less than a touchdown each time. During Saturday’s 2012 opener, the Yellow Jackets battled Muskingum, a team that showed last year that it can hold its own in the powerful Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC). As the game wound down into its final minutes, it looked like the Jackets would once again come up short in a season debut. However, trailing by nine points with just over 10 minutes left, Waynesburg showed that the past was just that as they scored the final 20 points of the game to pull out a 34-23 triumph over the Muskies.
In that decisive final quarter, a pair of heroes made their presences known off the bench and drove the visiting team to a nine-point victory. With the Muskies ahead 23-14, Waynesburg senior Travis Kuhn blocked a punt, which was recovered by the home team at their own six-yard line, giving possession to the Jackets. Four plays later, junior running back Dominic Moore pounded in a two-yard touchdown run to pull his team to within three points at 23-20. First-year junior kicker Alex Henry tacked on the extra point to make the score 23-21 Muskies.
Four-and-a-half minutes later, the Waynesburg came back on the field and because of a hit that knocked the helmet off of starting quarterback Tyler Fatigante, sophomore backup Dave O’Brien checked into the ball game. During his first play under center, O’Brien drilled in a 22-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Bernie Thompson on third-and-five to give the Yellow Jackets a fresh set of downs. On the very next play, backup running back Bertrand Ngampa came into the backfield and ripped off a 13-yard run that was followed by a 40-yard sprint to pay dirt that gave the visiting team the lead at 28-23 following a Henry extra point. However, Waynesburg wasn’t done and was just minutes away from putting the game out of reach.
On the Muskies’ next drive, senior defensive tackle Matt Krause recovered a Muskingum fumble at the home team’s 24-yard line. Though the Waynesburg offense struggled to move the ball against a veteran defense, they gained enough ground to set up a field goal try for Henry, who drilled his first collegiate three-point kick from 39 yards out and gave his team a 31-23 lead with two minutes left to play.
Speaking of veteran defenses, Waynesburg’s unit, which yielded just one offensivtouchdown in the second half, put the clamps on the opposition down the stretch to seal the win. One of the unit’s senior members, cornerback Matt Czulewicz snared a key interception with one minute left to play and gave the ball back to the offense at the Muskingum nine-yard line.
Once again, the Jackets didn’t move the ball far following a late turnover, but the three yard gained on three running plays not only drained all three of the Muskies’ timeouts, but it put Henry in position to knock in his second field goal of the day, this one coming from 23 yards out. With just 35 seconds left in the contest, Waynesburg’s lead swelled to 11 points (34-23) and the season-opening win was secure. During that massive final 15 minutes of action, the visiting team not only held a 20-0 lead in scoring, but it also possessed the ball for 10:58 and out-gained the Muskies 110-to-45 in total yards.
Things started out well for Waynesburg, which is under the leadership of eighth-year head coach Rick Shepas. After a scoreless first quarter, Moore pounded in the team’s first touchdown of the season when he capped a four-play, 33-yard drive early in the second quarter. Muskingum responded with nine-straight points to take a 9-7 lead into halftime. The Muskies extended their lead to a game-high nine points (16-7) with a touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
The Jackets sliced into the multi-score lead when Fatigante scored from one yard out with just over three minutes left to play in the third. However, the Muskies regained control of the game on the ensuing kickoff, when Andrew Davis took the ball back 85 yards for a touchdown that made the score 23-14 in favor of the home team.
Waynesburg’s offense was led by its running game, which cranked out 223 yards on 4 attempts. Muskingum, on the other hand, managed 113 yards on the ground, but out-passed the Jackets by a 124-to-29 margin. Ngampa paced the Jacket ground attack with a game-high 91 yards on 12 carries. While Fatigante had a day to forget when it came to passing the ball, he was very effective running it, going for 79 yards and a score on 12 totes.
The Yellow Jackets were led defensively by junior safety Bryan Gary, who piled up a team-high seven tackles, six of which were solo stops, and an interception. Junior defensive end Brandon Fedorka, who piled up 16.5 tackles for loss in 2011, notched his first 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage of 2012 in the win.
With a hard-fought road win under its belt, Waynesburg turns its attention to its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 8. The Yellow Jackets welcome Frostburg State to John F. Wiley Stadium next weekend, with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.
Photo Credits: Waynesburg University