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No. 15 Wesley’s Valiant Comeback Falls Just Short at No. 1 Mount Union

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ALLIANCE, Ohio – A valiant comeback attempt by No. 15 Wesley came up just short as it fell to No. 1 Mount Union, 62-59, in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon at Mount Union Stadium. The Wolverines conclude the season at 10-3 while the Purple Raiders move to 13-0 and will take on North Central in the Semifinals on December 14.

Sophomore quarterback Joe Callahan made NCAA and Wesley College history completing 35-of-52 passes for 633 yards and eight touchdowns. His yardage and touchdown totals break his own Wesley single-game record and his eight TD passes is a NCAA Division III Playoff record.  His 633 passing yards are also the fourth-most in NCAA Division III history.

Callahan's most frequent target was junior wide receiver Steve Koudossou who caught 11 passes for a Wesley single-game record 273 yards and two touchdowns.  Koudossou is now the Wolverines all-time leader with 150 career receptions for 2,508 yards.  Jeremiah Howe (6-101-1) and Bryce Shade (3-102-2) also went over the century mark receiving which is the first time that Wesley has had three 100-yard receivers in a single-game.

Things could not have been scripted much worse for the Wolverines in the first quarter as they fell behind, 14-0 just 82 seconds into the game.  After Mount Union returned the opening kickoff to its 33-yardline, BJ Mitchell took the first play from scrimmage 67 yards for a touchdown.  Callahan's second down pass was then deflected and intercepted, and Kevin Burke hit Sherman Wilkinson for a 23-yard touchdown on the very next play to go up by 14 points.

With the momentum in their favor, the Raiders then recovered their onside kick attempt but the Wolverines defense, led by junior Sosthene Kapepula who tallied a game-high 11 tackles with a tackle for loss, forced a turnover on downs. Kapepula finished the season with 110 tackles, becoming just the eighth Wolverine to tally over 100 tackles twice in a career. Both teams then traded three-and-outs, but after a second-straight drive that resulted in no first downs, Wesley punted and Luc Meacham returned it 76 yards a touchdown to extend the lead.

Two more interceptions thrown by Callahan led to ten Mount Union points, who led 31-0 after the first quarter.

Jamar Baynard put Wesley on the board with 11:40 left in the second quarter, the first of three second quarter touchdown passes thrown by Callahan, with the others going to Howe and Koudossou.  A field goal by Mount Union's Edward Ruhnke as time expired in the second quarter gave the Purple Raiders a 48-20 halftime lead.

The Wolverines scored all of the points in the third quarter with both drives culminating in passing touchdowns to Baynard, who caught seven passes for 74 yards and three scores. Coming into the game, Baynard, a Middletown High School product, had just nine catches for 66 yards. Kyle George had an identical 74 receiving yards on six grabs.

A 16-yard touchdown strike to Shade with 11:51 left in the fourth made the ballgame a one touchdown game at 48-41 with 11:51 left to play. However, Mount Union was quick to respond with a seven-play, 79 yard drive that ended with a 41 yard touchdown pass to Wilkinson with 8:46 remaining.

Callahan then led the Navy & White on another quick downfield drive, completing 4-of-5 passes for 56 yards to get inside the Mount Union 10-yard line.  On a second down play, Callahan scrambled right but was picked off by Tre Jones in the endzone, who took it out and was tackled by Shade at the one-yard line.

On the very next play, defensive tackles Brenton Barnes and Payton Rose stuffed BJ Mitchell for a safety, making the score 55-43 in favor of the Purple Raiders with 5:45 left in regulation.

Wesley was unable to capitalize on the extra possession as it fumbled the free kick, allowing Mount Union to take over inside the red zone. After two runs by Mitchell only gained one yard, Burke took the read option run 16 yards for a score, extending the lead to 62-43 with 3:51 left to play, and setting a new record for combined points in a Wesley football game.

On the very next drive, Callahan hit Shade down the middle of the field and he outran the Raider defenders for an 81-yard score with 2:54 left to play. 

Jon Storck's squib kick then went out of bounds, giving Mount Union the ball at its own 36-yardline.  Mitchell was limited to just two yards on each of the first two plays and after a Wesley timeout with 2:06 left, Malik Jones beat the tackle and sacked Burke for a five-yard loss, leading to another timeout and a punt which was fair caught by Shade at the Wesley-28 with less than two minutes to play.

Just like the Johns Hopkins playoff game two weeks ago, Koudossou got the ball from Callahan when it mattered most.  Callahan first found his speedy receiver for 16 yards and again for a 56-yard score.  Head Coach Mike Drass then went for two and Callahan once again scrambled right and found George open in the endzone, making it a field goal game with 1:30 left.

 With just one timeout remaining, Wesley's onside kick attempt was no good and Mount Union ran out the clock to advance to the seal the victory despite allowing its most points in a Playoff game.

Burke finished 16-of-27 for 280 yards and three scores while also rushing for two touchdowns for the Purple Raiders who did not turn the ball over once today compared to six for the Wolverines.  Mitchell finished with 27 carries for 134 yards but after the first play from scrimmage was held to just another 67 yards on 26 carries.

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