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He's come a long way

More news about: Wittenberg
Evan Killilea (43) is in the middle of everything on the Wittenberg defense.
Wittenberg athletics photo

Evan Killilea almost missed out on a chance to become a standout football player at Wittenberg.

He suffered an ankle injury when he was cleated by a teammate in a preseason practice in 2010, but that wasn’t even the worst part of the injury. Pellets from the turf got into the cut, resulting in a staph infection of the bone.

The early diagnosis wasn’t good for Killilea, who arrived on campus as a freshman with high expectations for himself.

“It wasn’t good at all. They talked about maybe having to cut my foot off,” Killilea said. “I was in tears.”

Fortunately, it never got to that point. Killilea had surgery on his right ankle and began the road to recovery. He spent the first two months injecting himself with antibiotics three times a day. Soon, he was going through rehab and determined to get back on the field and play.

“It was really tough not being able to play that first year because I wanted a chance to go out there and prove myself,” Killilea said. “I am thankful I was able to play again. I’ve been able to play in a lot of big games. I love being a football player at Wittenberg.”

Killilea, a former high school star at state powerhouse Columbus DeSales, has made quite an impact during his career, coming a long way from that moment where he wondered if he ever would play at the college level.

He leads the 11th-ranked Tigers in tackles with 81 and has also tallied two interceptions and a fumble recovery. A year ago, he was a second-team All-North Coast Athletic Conference selection, racking up 77 tackles.

He credits his willingness to work hard as a key to success.

“I’ve worked hard to be the best player possible and I always encourage younger players to work as hard as they can each day,” Killilea said. “You never know when your chance is going to come or when it could be taken away. I’ve been fortunate. I want to make my mark here and be remembered as one of the best players.”

Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said the experience Killilea brings to the field is invaluable.

“When you have fifth-year players at the Division III level, you are going to have a player who is mature physically and mentally,” Fincham said. “Evan has done a great job for us and he’s been a great leader.”

Killilea has been instrumental in the success of the Tigers on the defensive side of the ball. Wittenberg is allowing only 11.7 points per game and has given up just 35 points in the last four games.

This past Saturday, Wittenberg clinched its fifth NCAC championship in six years by topping rival Wabash 21-15. It earned an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs as well. The Tigers have 13 conference titles, the most in league history.

Wittenberg allowed 352 yards but forced two turnovers, including a fumble that Dwight Hill returned 58 yards for a score. The Tigers have forced 29 turnovers in all on the season.

“Our defense is certainly the most experienced part of the team,” Fincham said. “We have a lot of seniors on that side of the ball. One of the big keys has been our ability to force turnovers. We have done a great job of making plays on the ball.”

Killilea is one of several players who has done just that.

Nick Gibson is second on the team in tackles with 69. He has also recovered four fumbles. Dustin Holmes has come through with 66 tackles while Josh Bannick has tallied 54 to go along with three forced fumbles.

Wittenberg has come up with 21 sacks and opponents are converting just 35 percent of the time on third down.

“We take a lot of pride in playing great defense,” Killilea said. “We put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and are a gap sound defense. We all focus on doing our job the best we can.”

Wittenberg wasn’t favored to win the NCAC title this year after losing more than 30 seniors, but it found a way to get the job done. Killilea said the win over Wabash was emotionally draining, but he knows there is no time to rest.

The Tigers close out the regular season at Allegheny on Saturday before turning their attention to the postseason.

“That Wabash game is in the past. Our focus is on the game this week because we have a chance to win the title outright,” Killilea said. “We’d love to be able to make a run in the playoffs, but we’ll worry about that once we get through this week.”

Making plays

Chaney Fulton delivered a stellar performance for Muskingum in its 17-13 win over Marietta on Saturday in Ohio Athletic Conference action.

The junior linebacker racked up a game-high 11 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and also tallied a sack as the Muskies nailed down their second win of the season and improved to 6-0 all-time in the Shriner series.

Fulton helped fuel a defensive effort that held Marietta to 229 yards of offense. The Pioneers picked up most of the yards in the final two quarters after being held to 14 yards of offense in the first half.

Muskingum did most of its damage in the first half, scoring all 17 of its points in the second quarter and tallying 244 yards in the first half. It finished with 308.

Fulton has been having a solid season, leading the team in tackles with 92. He has racked up 5.5 sacks and has picked off one pass for the Muskies, who are allowing 418.3 yards per game.

Spoiler role

Hope ruined Trine’s bid to move one step closer to a Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship as it knocked off the Thunder 31-24.

Trine came in as the lone unbeaten in league play, but the Flying Dutchmen used a go-ahead touchdown catch by Matt Kroll late in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.

Trine was stopped on its next possession on four downs and will now play Adrian next week to determine the outright league champion and the right to go to the NCAA playoffs.

Kroll delivered in a big way for Hope, making eight catches for 97 yards. The junior is second on the team in receiving, catching 45 passes for 600 yards on the season. He has also caught nine touchdown passes for Hope, which is cranking out 393.6 yards per game.

Kroll’s effort on Saturday helped put Hope in a position to finish with a winning record in league play this season. The Flying Dutchmen are 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the MIAA.

One-two punch

Kevin Herman and Calvin Cagney teamed up to make several big plays in Ohio Wesleyan’s 50-13 win over Oberlin in a North Coast Athletic Conference battle.

Herman rushed for a pair of touchdowns Cagney caught two scoring strikes to help the Bishops run away with the victory. The win ended a two-game losing streak and the point total was a season-high for Ohio Wesleyan.

Herman finished with 16 carries for 90 yards while Cagney made four catches for 13 yards.

Herman is the leading rusher for the Bishops. He has rushed for 576 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per play.

Cagney has been the team’s top receiver. The talented tight end has caught 52 passes for 410 yards and four scores. His longest catch of the season is 66 yards.

Columbo stands out

Westminster quarterback Paul Columbo turned in one of his best performances of the year as he led the Titans to a 41-7 win over Grove City on in Presidents’ Athletic Conference play.

Columbo tied a career-high in touchdown passes as he completed 19 of his 31 passes on the day for a career-best 340 yards. He was picked off only once and scored on a school-record 96-yard run as the Titans won their third game of the season.

Columbo’s effort helped fuel an offense that cranked out 533 yards. Grove City was limited to only 204 yards.

He has had quite a year as a freshman. He has thrown for 1,935 yards and 18 touchdowns, completing more than 55 percent (55.9) of his passes along the way. The Titans are averaging 363.8 yards per game and have won three of their past four after starting the season with five consecutive losses, including three that were decided by seven points or less.

Poll points

Third-ranked Mount Union won its 92nd consecutive regular season game and set itself up for a shot at the OAC title again after crushing Baldwin Wallace 59-3. Kevin Burke threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns. The Purple Raiders rolled up 543 yards...No. 6 John Carroll hammered Otterbein 66-13 and set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Mount Union for the OAC championship. The Blue Streaks set a record for points in a season (497). Tommy Michaels became the first player to rush for 200 yards in a game since 1990, churning out 205 and two touchdowns, putting him at 1,000 for the year….Dwight Hill scored his first career touchdown, returning a fumble 58 yards to help 11th-ranked Wittenberg top 16th-ranked Wabash 21-15. The Tigers won their fifth NCAC crown in six years and have won 21 consecutive league games. The Little Giants outgained Wittenberg 219-54 on the ground. Mason Zurek rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown...Behind 701 yards of offense, No. 14 Washington & Jefferson rumbled to a 72-20 win over Thiel to clinch the PAC championship and an NCAA playoff berth. Pete Coughlin threw for 334 yards and four scores...No. 25 Thomas More closed out its regular season with a 66-34 win over Case Western Reserve. It was the Saints’ fifth consecutive win. Dominique Hayden rushed for 170 yards and four touchdowns and CT Tarrant churned out 100 yards and two scores.

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Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

2012-14 columnist: Brian Lester
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