When the President’s Athletic Conference schedule was released this summer, everyone quickly circled the date October 4.
That’s when W&J and Thomas More hooked up in their annual heavyweight bout.
The Saints came in committed to taking away W&J running back Ryan Ruffing, playing eight men in the box almost the entire evening.
That was just fine for the Presidents and quarterback Pete Coughlin.
Coughlin set career highs with 383 yards and six touchdowns in No. 20 W&J’s 51-28 victory over Thomas More. While Coughlin certainly was the difference maker on Saturday night, as the sophomore was named PAC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career, the W&J offense may not be as dynamic as it is if it weren’t for Daniel Lis and another group of extremely talented wide receivers.
Lis, a Chartiers-Houston graduate, was the beneficiary on many of Coughlin’s throws Saturday night, hauling in nine receptions for 188 yards and three touchdowns, including a 77-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the second half that all but broke the Saints back.
“It was a really big game for us,” said Lis. “Everyone played well. We made a couple of big plays. On the long one it was pretty much a broken play. I usually run across the field like that, but Pete typically doesn’t roll out that way. He had the vision to see me and it turned out to be a big play at a big spot in the game.”
The junior leads W&J with 25 receptions for 363 yards in W&J’s 4-0 start to the season. Throw in Max Creighan, a North Hills graduate who has 25 catches on the season and on the surface the Presidents seem to have a good one-two punch on the outside.
But look a little deeper and the W&J receiving core is much better than just Lis and Creighan.
It seems like since head coach Mike Sirianni came to W&J in 2003, the Presidents have always had a loaded wide receiving core, to the point that among Division III programs, W&J could be referred to as “Wide Receiver U.”
However no one really knew if that tradition would continue in 2014.
The Presidents came into the season as young of a team as they have been at any point in Sirianni’s tenure. And they had major questions at quarterback, running back, and especially wide receiver where W&J had to replace All-American Alex Baroffio.
All-American’s don’t grow on trees so many people may have been skeptical when Sirianni told me before the season that this current group of wide receivers had the chance to be much better than last years.
But Sirianni looks to be right as W&J has guys who can make plays all over the field.
Coughlin is superb at spreading the ball around and keeping everyone involved in the offense. And when teams are committed to taking away the Presidents ground game, they will learn the same lesson that Thomas More did as Lis and company will continue to make big plays.
“Everyone is touching the ball,” said Lis. “We all stay involved, which is great for wide receivers. That means other teams can’t pick up on tendencies. The way he is playing and the accuracy he is throwing the ball and the confidence he has is amazing. The depth we have is great, but we are mature also. We have a lot of juniors backing up juniors and when people have gone down it has allowed a lot of us to step up.”
The most impressive part about what Lis and some of the other W&J wide receivers have done this season is that they likely weren’t counted on to have to be leaned on heavily at this point in the season.
Eric Scott (Imani Christian Academy) and Cody Stumpf may be the Presidents two most talented targets. But both are out for the season with injuries.
That created an opportunity for a guy like Lis and Avonworth freshman Jesse Zubik to step up and play major roles in the Presidents’ offense.
Zubik, who likely wasn’t counted on to contribute much this season, stepped in on Saturday and made some big plays, finishing the night with three receptions for 52 yards and a 49 yard touchdown. This came a week after he exploded onto the scene with a 12 catch, 91-yard performance against Carnegie Mellon.
That’s not only a testament to another talented group of wide receivers, but a testament to the W&J offense, which has been so successful for years.
“Our depth has been quickly challenged,” said Sirianni. “Eric and Cody were two of our top three receivers coming in and I’m proud of the way guys like Daniel and Jesse have stepped up. We not only have been able to sustain graduation losses, but injuries as well. I didn’t even talk about Jesse in the preseason. It’s just a testament to all our guys and the style of offense that we play that we can continue to make plays.”
As they look for their third consecutive PAC championship and another automatic berth into the Division III playoffs, the W&J offense has averaged a whopping 51.5 points per game in their four contests.
As long as Lis and the rest of the W&J wide outs keep making plays, the Presidents’ offense should remain scary good the rest of the season.
“We just have to keep doing what we are doing,” added Lis. “Every game is a big one. Last year we slipped up against Bethany and we can’t do that this year. We have Grove City next and that is all we are thinking about.”
Photo Credit: W&J