The 13th-ranked Wabash College football team opened defense of its North Coast Athletic Conference championship by rushing for a school record 513 yards in a 59-7 win over visiting Allegheny College.
Led by sophomore Matt Penola's 128 yards and three touchdowns, five different players rushed for touchdowns, including senior Drake Christen's 65-yard jet sweep that pushed Wabash's lead to 24-0 mid-way through the second quarter.
The team rushing record came as a bit of a surprise after the graduation of All-American Mason Zurek, who set individual rushing records for most yards in a game, season, and career.
"Setting a rushing record starts up front with the offensive line," Wabash head coach Don Morel said. "It was a super effort by all the guys on the offensive line. Some of those guys have been around, some of them are new, but they continue to gel every week.
"I thought we ran the ball well two weeks ago at Albion but today it really kind of came together"
"We take an immense amount of pride in a record like that," starting offensive guard Kyle Stucker said. "This is really huge for us because there are some new guys on the offensive line. The line we had last year had been together for two years in row. We ran a lot of outside zone. We were lock step with each other the whole time. The young guys are eager to learn new things and to put in as much effort as possible. And I learn things from them even as a multi-year starter. When I'm working with them I'm learning at the same time."
Wabash's first touchdown came via the pass. Senior quarterback Connor Rice was sharp and efficient, hitting on 6-of-10 passes for 117 yards, including a 65-yard strike to sophomore Ryan Thomas that staked the Little Giants to an early lead.
Senior linebacker Connor Ludwig paced a smothering Wabash defense with six tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery that led to a Penola touchdown run.
Allegheny mustered only eight first downs (three via penalty) and just 107 yards of total offense. Sophomore Dallas Pitts and juniors Brient Hicks and Klay Fullenkamp each had sacks, and senior linebacker LV Bowden intercepted a pass to go with three tackles.
Pre-season All-American Ethan Buresh had two tackles for loss, as did sophomore Byshup Rhodes.
Wabash held Allegheny scoreless until the fourth quarter when quarterback Logan Lee scored from a yard out — long after the Little Giant starters had left the game. Wabash had shut out Allegheny for 15 straight quarters dating back four years prior to the Gators' score. Over that span, Wabash had outscored Allegheny 234-0.
Penola added a 12-yard touchdown run near the end of the first half to give Wabash a 31-0 lead, and scored on a 42-yard dash to open the second half before taking a seat on the sideline.
On the next offensive series, junior Tyler Downing took a handoff from Rice and ran 60 yards to make it 45-0 with 10:24 remaining in the third quarter. Junior Bobby Blum added to the blowout with a 42-yard run.
After Lee's touchdown run put Allegheny on the board — on a drive extended after a roughing the punter penalty — freshman Isaac Avant went 57 yards down the home sideline for the final score.
It was sophomore Austin Hoover who helped make history. His 47-yard run on Wabash's last possession pushed the Little Giants over the old single-game rushing record of 470 yards, which was set against Principia in 1975.
In addition to Penola's 128 yards, Wabash got 91 yards from Avant, 84 from Downing, 75 from Christen, and 57 from Hoover. Blum finished with 44 yards and sophomore backup quarterback Austin Nightengale scrambled for 24.
"Clearly we have great depth at the running back position, maybe more than most teams," Morel said.
Wabash also broke the single game record for highest average gain per rush. Ten players contributed to 58 carries and an average of 8.8 yards per rush. The previous record of 8.4 yards per carry was set at Allegheny three years ago.
The lopsided loss spoiled the return of B.J. Hammer, former Wabash All-American and defensive coordinator, who is now the head coach at Allegheny, and his linebackers' coach, A.J. Akinribade '15.
"BJ and I coached together here at Wabash, but he's also a very good friend," Morel said. "And A.J. is a wonderful young man and will do great things in the coaching profession. But we all know once the whistle blows your focus is on the game."
Wabash will have its hands full next week when the Little Giants travel to NCAC power Wittenberg. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Springfield, OH.