|After catching a pass, Keir Pace attempts to break the tackle of Wabash's Justin Woods during Saturday's action.|
WOOSTER, Ohio – The College of Wooster gained more offensive yards, 424, than Wabash College's first three opponents combined (397), but it was not enough as the No. 17 ranked Little Giants put together a 48-14 victory at an overcast and sometimes rainy John P. Papp Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The match-up of two of the three North Coast Athletic Conference teams that entered the day 2-0 in league action got off to an exciting start with three touchdowns in less than five minutes. First, on a 2nd-and-27 play, Wabash (4-0, 3-0 NCAC) running back Mason Zurek got around right end, broke a tackle, and outran the defense on his way to an 82-yard touchdown 1:37 into the contest.
The Little Giants made it 14-0 two plays into their next possession, as a play-action fake froze a cornerback and Michael Putko hit an open Sean Hildebrand in the end zone from 38 yards out.
A little over a minute later, Wooster (2-2, 2-1 NCAC) scored. Sean Hackel started the quick series by turning a short pass into a 47-yard gain, and three plays later on second down from the 13, the Scots showed a unique look with two quarterbacks in the backfield. The snap went to starter Richard Barnes, who handed it off to freshman Tyson Vogel, who quickly threw to Keir Pace in the center of the end zone for the touchdown, and it was 14-7 just 4:47 into the action. It marked Vogel's first career pass attempt.
Wooster followed with its first defensive stop, then the Scots gained a couple of first downs, moving the ball to the Wabash 34 before being turned away on a 4th-and-2 play.
Before the first quarter was over, the Little Giants added an Ian MacDougall 29-yard field goal, and on the last play of the period, the Scots fumbled the ball on their own side of the field. Wabash converted that into a 32-yard touchdown drive to start the second, capped by a seven-yard run by Anthony Stella, to make it 24-7.
Next, an aggressive play call by the Wooster coaching staff backfired. The Scots attempted a fake punt from their own 29, and it may have worked but the pass was just out of the reach of the receiver's hands. The Little Giants scored three plays later, this time Putko taking it himself for a two-yard touchdown.
Wooster had a couple opportunities to score more first-half points on the top-ranked statistical defense in NCAA Div. III. First, Stephen McKinney recovered a fumble on the Wabash 37-yard line, but the Scots turned it back over three plays later, as Barnes, under heavy pressure, was intercepted by Houston Hodges.
The Scots' defense forced a three-and-out, then the offense mounted a drive from its own 16-yard line to the Little Giants' 14, but an eventual 33-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
Before the half was out, Wabash produced a six-play, 80-yard touchdown series, extending the lead to 38-7. Zurek finished the series on a one-yard rush, the play after he received a pass and went 44 yards with it.
The Scots had a series of defensive highlights in the second half – a Shawn Bowman interception in the end zone to halt one Wabash drive, an 11-yard sack for McKinney, and a fumble recovery by Matt Osolinski in Wabash territory. Unfortunately, Osolinski's recovery was followed four plays later by Nate Scola scooping up a Wooster fumble and returning it 66 yards for a touchdown, increasing the score to 48-7.
Continuing to compete hard, the Scots executed an 11-play, 81-yard scoring march, with running back Chase Ullman toting the ball in from seven yards away for a touchdown.
Wooster's 424 yards came on 92 plays, as its up-tempo offense accumulated 26 first downs, compared to the Little Giants' 19.
Barnes hit the 300-yard passing mark for the second week in a row, this time 306 on 28-of-45 passing. Justin Rice and Pace were his top receivers, with eight catches apiece for 69 and 65 yards, respectively. Also of note, Nate Kleinman had a breakout game with six receptions and 65 yards and Hackel netted 99 yards on the ground.
For Wabash, Zurek piled up 228 rushing yards, 146 after the big 82-yarder to start the game, and Putko completed 13-of-21 passes for 206 yards.
The Scots will look to bounce back next Saturday at Allegheny College (0-5, 0-4 NCAC).