The Waynesburg University football program has done a lot over the past 11 years, including earning bids to five Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) bowl games and a share of the 2012 Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) title. However, one thing has eluded the Yellow Jackets over that stretch … a win over rival Washington & Jefferson.
The Yellow Jackets have not been able to solve the Presidents since a victory in 2003. That all changed on a cold, clear Saturday afternoon at John F. Wiley Stadium. This year’s 25-man senior class, which was honored prior to kick-off against W&J, gave 10th-year head coach Rick Shepas and their teammates a fantastic going away present by handing the program’s leader his first win over Red and Black, which came by way of a dramatic 31-28 win.
The victory allowed Waynesburg to finish the 2014 regular season with an 8-2 overall record and a 7-2 conference mark and strengthened its chances for a sixth ECAC bowl bid. The upset victory ended 11th-ranked W&J’s bid for a perfect season (9-1, 8-1).
The Jackets received huge plays from all three aspects of their team (offense, defense and special teams). Waynesburg’s specials teams shined the brightest as the game came to its thrilling end in overtime.
After W&J scored with under a minute left to tie things up at 28-28. Waynesburg won the overtime coin toss and elected to play defense against the Presidents during the first possession of extra play. After senior defensive tackle J.T. Thompson batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage to force fourth down, the Presidents lined up to attempt a 31-yard field goal. Another senior, linebacker Kyle Richey, continued an amazing season on special teams by blocking his third kick of the year to keep things tied up at 28-28.
After taking possession of the football, Waynesburg senior quarterback Carter Hill took two shots of the end zone, both of which nearly resulted in a game-winning score. Hill then hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Tim Cooper on a seven-yard pass to put the ball at the 18-yard-line. After taking a timeout to think things over, Shepas decided to send out junior kicker Scott Lewis and his field goal team to attempt a game-winning 35-yard field goal. Lewis didn’t flinch under the pressure and delivered on a boot that had just enough on it to clear the cross bar and ignite a joyous celebration on the turf at John F. Wiley Stadium in front of more than 2,000 fans.
Before Richey and Lewis were given the opportunity for their heroics, Waynesburg’s offense and defense produced a multitude of highlight reel plays over 60 thrilling minutes of action.
Hill set the stage for what ended up being a historic day for the senior signal-caller during the game’s opening possession. The home team took possession of the ball at its own 33-yard-line, but backed up five yards because of a delay of game penalty. That didn’t seem to deter Hill, who needed just three completions in four attempts to go 72 yards for the game’s opening score. Two of those completions went to senior wide receiver Andrew English for a combined 64 yards. The second of those hookups traveled 25 yards for the touchdown. Lewis connected on the first of four successful PAT tries to give his team an early 7-0 lead.
The Jacket defense provided its home crowd with the first of many big plays on the opening W&J drive. The visitors marched the football to the Jacket three-yard-line and set up with a first-and-goal situation. Waynesburg showed its mettle by stopping the Presidents short of the goal line on three-straight plays to set up a fourth-and-goal from the two. Richey and fellow senior linebacker John Sikora combined to stonewall a quarterback keeper from the Presidents at the one to force a turnover on downs.
Two drives later, W&J found the end zone for the first time on the day to tie things up at 7-7. Waynesburg was able to regain the lead prior to the start of the second quarter when Hill was able to orchestrate his team’s second scoring drive of the opening period. The Jackets marched 64 yards in nine plays to pay dirt. Hill completed five-of-six passes on the possession for 58 yards, the final four of which went to senior wide receiver Bernie Thompson for the score. Lewis’ second extra point of the day gave his team a 14-7 edge, which it carried over into the second quarter.
The Jacket defense made its presence known during the first W&J possession of the period, which ended with Richey and sophomore defensive lineman Zach Machuga combining on a fourth-and-one stop. Unfortunately, the Presidents were able to break through for their second touchdown of the day on their next possession to tie the score at 14-14.
The Jacket defense was called upon for more theatrics later in the half, as the Presidents were driving into Waynesburg territory. After W&J completed a pass play to the Waynesburg 17, senior defensive end Josh Tolliver jarred the ball loose, which allowed senior safety Mitch Vacek to pounce on the pigskin and end the threat.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next respective possessions before the two teams departed for the locker rooms at the halftime break.
Things started out well for the Waynesburg defense in quarter number three, as a sack by junior defensive lineman Jordan Voitus forced W&J to punt the ball away. Unfortunately, the Presidents were still able to score first by turning an interception into a go-ahead touchdown.
Trailing 21-14 at the end of the third quarter, the Jackets entered the final 15 minutes of regulation time with possession. The first play of the fourth quarter saw Hill find English for a second touchdown connection, this one from 29 yards out. Lewis was true for a third-straight PAT try to tie the game back up at 21-21.
Two possessions later, after Thompson stuffed another W&J fourth-down try to give the ball back to the offense, the Jackets took the lead back on Hill’s fourth touchdown pass of the day. The 26-yard pass, which included a highlight reel grab by Thompson in the back of the President end zone, concluded a six-play, 42-yard possession. Lewis’ final PAT of the day made the score 28-21 in favor of the Orange and Black with just under 10:30 left in the fourth.
Another long President drive was halted by the inspired Waynesburg defense when the Jackets forced W&J quarterback Pete Coughlin to be flagged for an illegal forward pass on fourth down. The penalty gave Waynesburg the ball at its own 29-yard-line.
The Jackets did a fine job of running time off the clock, but was unable to land a knockout blow on offense. Waynesburg punted the ball back to the Presidents with 2:12 showing on the clock. Sophomore Jonathan Hager and his coverage team did a great job of pinning the Presidents back at their own five-yard-line. However, the potent W&J offense was able to march 95 yards for a game-tying score
The Presidents actually got the ball back after Waynesburg’s final drive of regulation time ended at its own 42-yard-line. After another solid Hager punt gave the visitors the ball back at their own 14-yard-line, W&J decided to simply kneel on the ball and send the game into overtime, where Richey and Lewis came up with their memorable efforts.
Despite three interceptions, Hill still put together one of the biggest games of his three-year Jacket career. He completed 32-of-51 pass attempts, both of which were season highs, for a season-high 366 yards. His quartet of scoring passes allowed him to move into first place in the school’s all-time career touchdown pass list with 67 scoring strikes. He also broke his own single-season touchdown pass mark with his 29th of 2014. As of that wasn’t enough, the senior standout moved past former Jacket great Brad Dawson for second place in career passing yards with 6,694.
W&J rarely had an answer for the senior wide receiver tandem of English and Thompson, who caught 10 passes each for a combined 265 yards and all four scores. English racked up a personal collegiate-best 181 yards to lead all pass catchers.
The numbers from the members from the Jacket defense were just as impressive. Safety Mike Lopuchovsky racked up a game-high 16 tackles, 10 of which were solo stops, including 12 in the first half to lead the charge. Richey’s field goal block was just the biggest highlight of a fine day on defense, as he made 10 stops, five of which were solo hits, and two tackles for loss. Tolliver collected two sacks as part of a seven-tackle afternoon. All of his stops were of the solo variety.
Hager made his own contributions to the Waynesburg win by averaging a booming 46.7 yards per punt, with a long of 60 yards. He dropped four kicks inside the W&J 20 and didn’t give up a touchback.
Waynesburg must now wait to see if it will qualify for an ECAC bowl game to continue its 2014 campaign. That decision is expected to be made by Sunday night.