CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. (Nov. 5) – The Waynesburg University football team did a lot more than just win a football game on Saturday. Not only did the Yellow Jackets score arguably their biggest win ever under seventh-year head coach Rick Shepas by upsetting sixth-ranked Thomas More 26-23, they ended the Saints' 29-game regular season winning streak, halted their 26-game Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) winning streak and kept their own postseason hopes alive.
With the win, which snapped a three-game losing streak to Thomas More, Waynesburg seizes sole possession of second place in the conference standings with a 5-2 PAC mark (5-3 overall). After tasting regular season defeat the first time since 2008, the Saints' season record falls to 8-1 (7-1 in conference action). Not only did the Jackets pick up an enormous victory, but they controlled the game from the start and never trailed.
Waynesburg's special teams got the ball rolling late in the first quarter. After failing to score on its second-straight offensive possession, the Yellow Jackets' Zack Rogers launched a 41-yard punt that was fumbled away by the Saints and recovered by junior Stephen Holt at the Thomas More 22-yard line. Five plays later, senior quarterback Josh Graham found junior All-American tight end Adam Moses on a three-yard touchdown pass that put Waynesburg up 6-0 with 3:44 to go in the first quarter. Senior Chris Marini nailed the first of several critical kicks to put his team up 7-0.
The Jacket special teams struck again on Thomas More's ensuing drive and put the home team in a rare two-score hole. This time, it was the Saints doing the punting, but things ended in an even worse fashion for the four-time PAC champions as sophomore Pat Depizzo blocked the kick, scooped it up and sprinted 40 yards to pay dirt to move Waynesburg ahead 13-0. Another Marini extra point widened the visiting team's advantage to 14-0 with just second remaining in the first quarter.
The Saints cut their deficit down to 14-7 at halftime, but Waynesburg rebuilt a multi-score advantage in the third quarter. During its first possession of the period, Thomas More looked poised to tie the game up or move into the lead as they put together 11 plays and advanced 41 yards to the Jacket 24-yard line. However, senior All-American cornerback Sean Hunt continued his recent hot play by intercepting his third pass over the last two games to give Waynesburg the ball back at its own 20-yard line.
The Jackets proceeded to take Hunt's interception and turn it into a 14-play marathon march that lasted 71 yard and resulted in a 26-yard Marini field goal that made the score 17-7 Waynesburg with 4:22 remaining in the third period.
The Jacket defense did it again on Thomas More's ensuing drive as it stuffed the Saint offense on 4th and nine at the Waynesburg 31-yard line to give the ball back to Graham and the offense with 2:08 left in the third. The fifth-year signal caller didn't need 14 plays to put his team back in the end zone. In fact, he didn't even need two as Graham found sophomore Mike Ferraro on a 69-yard catch and run that concluded with Ferraro in Thomas More's end zone. After a missed PAT try, the Jackets led 23-7 with just under 2:00 to play in the third quarter.
However, the home team showed the resolve that allowed them to go almost 30 regular season games without a loss by scoring the next 16 points over a span of around five minutes to tie the game at 23-23 with 10:41 left to play. Luckily, Waynesburg's defense answered their opponent's challenge by forcing the Saints into a three-and-out on their next possession, giving the ball to the Jacket offense at its own 49-yard line with 7:23 left to play.
From there, Graham and his offensive comrades showed tremendous poise by slowly working their way down the field. By slowly picking up yardage in small increments, Waynesburg not only moved the ball deep into Thomas More territory, but milked the clock down to under three minutes. The Jackets set up a first-and-goal situation from the eight-yard line, but were unable to find the end zone. Thankfully, Marini was able to bail his offensive counterparts out and nailed down a 24-yard field goal that concluded a 13-play, 44-yard drive that chewed up 4:44 of clock and gave Waynesburg the lead back at 26-23 with 2:39 left to play in regulation.
Thomas More had two more shots to tie the game back up or pull out a last-minute victory, but the Jacket defense stifled the Saint passing game to seal up the victory. Waynesburg held its opponent to just one completion in its last eight pass attempts and junior Bryan Gary not only sacked Saint quarterback Robert Kues, but forced and recovered a fumble that clinched the momentous win.
Waynesburg's offense was led by Graham, who threw a personal-high 51 passes. He completed 27 of them for 250 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His favorite targets on the day were Moses and junior wide receiver Christian Jackson. Moses pulled in a game-high nine balls for 64 yards and his second score in as many games. Jackson added seven receptions for 46 yards, while Ferraro tallied a game-high 87 yards on just two grabs.
The Waynesburg defense was spearheaded by Gary, who racked up nine tackles, six of them solo stops, two tackles for loss and the game-clinching sack that resulted in a fumble. Senior safety Ryan Williams tied for the game lead with 11 tackles, including eight solo hits, 1.5 tackles for loss and two passes defended. Hunt racked up eight total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss to go along with his team-leading third interception of the year.
Thomas More was led offensively by running back Domonique Hayden, who recorded 100 total yards (75 rushing, 25 receiving) and a touchdown on 24 touches.
Along with holding a slim 323 to 316 edge in total offensive yardage, Waynesburg's most impressive statistic had to be in the turnover department. Thomas More came into the game with a PAC-best plus-14 turnover margin, which tied the Saints for the number-seven spot in the Division III rankings. The Jackets forced three turnovers and didn't give the ball up once for a plus-three showing in the victory. Waynesburg also won the time of possession battle, holding on to the ball for 31:35.
While Saturday's win is one that will live on in Waynesburg football lore for years or even decades to come, the Yellow Jackets themselves won't be able to celebrate it for long. They must now turn their attention to the final regular season game of the year, which is the annual "PAC Backyard Brawl" between the Jackets and Washington & Jefferson. A victory over the Presidents could salvage a berth in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Southwest Bowl. Kickoff in Washington is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.