Wabash came back from a two-touchdown deficit to knock off previously unbeaten Carnegie Mellon Saturday, 54-28. Senior quarterback Chase Belton had a record-setting day with four passing and three rushing touchdowns.
The seven touchdowns Belton accounted for is the most by in a player in a single game in Wabash College football history.
"Chase ran the ball great and did a great job finding the open guy and putting the ball on him," Coach Erik Raeburn said.
Belton turned in one of the best games of his career. He ran for 198 yards while throwing for 183. Belton accounted for 5 touchdowns in last year's homecoming game against Kenyon.
"Our offensive line came out really hard," Belton said. "I loved how they played. When Wabash is clicking on all cylinders, it is a pretty tough team."
The Little Giant offense clicked on all cylinders, and then a few extra. It totaled 566 yards in total offense and put up the most points it has scored all season.
After averaging slightly less than 100 yards per game, the Little Giant ground attack busted out for 383. Running backs Tyler Holmes, CP Porter, and Vann Hunt had 98, 58, and 43 yards rushing respectively.
"Obviously the blocking was great by everybody," Raeburn said. "The running backs ran really hard. They broke tackles and made guys miss which are things we haven't been doing. It was important we stayed committed to the run because they have excellent pass defense."
The zone running game worked all day. Belton either handed the ball to his back or decided to run it himself. He and the running backs consistently found gaping holes and green grass straight ahead. The 383 yards is the most rushing yards for Wabash since 2003 and is the fourth most in school history.
Carnegie Mellon scored a touchdown its first two series. Sam Thompson returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown to give the Tartans a quick 21-7 lead.
"I was pretty disappointed with the punt coverage, especially after we gave up a big return last week," Raeburn said. "Our guys aren't staying disciplined and they're running by their man. We have to get that cleaned up."
Belton and company responded again when the quarterback hit junior Sean Hildebrand for a touchdown on quick screen pass, 21-14. Hildebrand followed the downfield blocks as he knifed his way into the end zone. Hildebrand led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns
The defense then came to life. Linebacker AJ Akinribade sacked Tartan quarterback Rob Kalkstein on a second and long during the team's first possession of the quarter. Akinribade snuffed out a screen pass on the very next play and forced the Tartans to punt.
"They adjusted to what our defense planned for them early," Akinribade said. "It caught us off guard but we were able to adjust to their chess move. That's all it was: a chess game. We made adjustments with the defensive linemen stunting different gaps and changed what reads the linebackers made. It allowed us to get to the ball better."
After Akinribade and the defense forced the punt, Belton marched the ball into the red zone again. A key play on the drive occurred from the Tartan 32 yard line. Facing third and 14, Belton found junior Andrew Gibson on a post route over the middle. Gibson jumped up for the ball and corralled it on the way down. The 26-yard completion set up a Belton touchdown run to tie the score at 21 and bring the homecoming crowd of more than 5,000 back into the game.
The Little Giants got the ball back at their own 20 with 1:53 to go in the half after the defense forced another punt. Belton and his receivers shined in the two-minute drill.
Belton was 4-4 on the drive for 34 yards. He scrambled for another 48 yards. The drive was capped by a touchdown throw to Hildebrand.
Carnegie Mellon got the ball back with 37 seconds and moved the ball into field goal range. The 38 yard field-goal attempt was blocked by freshman linebacker Tyler McCullen to keep the score 28-21 at the half. The blocked kick gave the home team a lot of momentum heading into the locker room while the visitors silently walked off the field.
The Little Giants maintained momentum starting the third quarter forcing a Tartan fumble. And then Wabash picked up a 31-yard Ian MacDougal field goal but the Tartans countered with Kalksteiin to Patrick Banks 38-yard score, 31,-28.
Wabash steamrolled the rest of the way. Andrew Gibson caught a 3-yard pass for a score then two minutes later Houston Hodges, playing both sides of the ball Saturday, notched a 30-yard TD – the first of his Wabash career, 44-28. That quick turnaround was made possible by a gutsy but unsuccessful fourth down run attempt.
MacDougal hit from 24 yards before Belton added his third rushing touchdown and the final, 54-28.
"I haven't scored since high school so I didn't know what to do at first," Houston Hodges said. "The change of pace from defense to offense is the biggest thing. Defense is slowed down to make sure you get it right to where the offense is constantly running plays."
Houston Hodges had 2 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. He also had 5 tackles.
Justin Woods led all players with 10 tackles. McCullen and Akinribade eached chipped in with a sack for Wabash.