Early lead evaporated in loss to MSJ
Wilmington College built a 14-0 first-quarter lead, but couldn't make the margin stand as Mount St. Joseph rallied to beat the Quakers, 26-16, in both teams' season openers at Williams Stadium Saturday night.
"I thought they pretty much outclassed us last year, but it was a different story tonight," Wilmington head coach Ken Minor said. "Tonight, we got off to a nice start and the kids battled hard and never gave up."
The Quakers took advantage of field position and turnovers to create some early distance.
Alex Brandt (Sanford, N.C./Lee County) forced and recovered a MSJ fumble at the Lions' 19-yard line. Four plays later Tyrell Richardson (Columbus/Centennial) scored from 9 yards out to give Wilmington a 6-0 lead. Max Gabbard (Waynesville) hit the PAT to put the Quakers up, 7-0, at 5:09 of the first quarter.
A short field again helped Wilmington score as the Quakers went 30 yards late in the first quarter, a drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Arehart (Wilmington) to Kyle Blakeman (Wilmington) on fourth and 1.
The Lions responded on their next possession by going 60 yards in four plays, the final 34 of which came on a James Clay touchdown run.
The ball bounced the Lions' way on what may have been a game-changing play late in the second quarter. Zachary Gerber returned a Logan McCormick (Wilmington) punt to the Quakers' 20, but was separated from the football by Kolt McDaniel (Homer/Northridge). The ball bounced downfield, but no Quaker could corral the pigskin before it squirted out of bounds at the Wilmington 2.
The Mount's good fortune turned into six points when quarterback Brian Pitzer rushed for a 1-yard score. The extra point sent the game to the half tied at 14.
"That fumble was a fluke play that kind of turned things around a little bit," Minor said. "We had the lead and probably didn't know to handle it. We haven't really been in that situation before. We didn't put the foot on their throat in any phase of the game. It has to be a total deal — offense, defense and special teams together."
Early in the third quarter, the Lions converted a Quaker turnover at the Wilmington 14 into a 20-14 lead when Pitzer scored from 5 yards out.
Wilmington's defense kept the Quakers around and scored what proved to be the team's final points of the game when Ben Dunahue (Kenton) sacked Pitzer in the MSJ end zone for a safety. With 10:04 remaining in the fourth quarter, Wilmington trailed 20-16.
"Our defense played their hearts out. There was a lot of hitting out there tonight," Minor said.
The Lions, though, iced the game with a 10-play 75-yard drive on the ground that was capped by a 9-yard touchdown run by Sean Keller.
Richardson rushed for 48 yards on 22 carries while Arehart gained 34 on eight attempts. Arehart passed for 85 yards and a touchdown. Blakeman had six catches for 100 yards.
On the defensive side, Dunahue had a forced safety, an interception and five tackles. Antwoine Shelton (Dallas, Texas/Duncanville) led the Quakers with 13 tackles, one of which was for a loss.
Wilmington will be off Sept. 10 and will return to action to open Ohio Athletic Conference play at Capital Sept. 17.
"We made our most improvement last year between the first game and the Capital game," Minor said. "Hopefully, the encouragement of knowing we could have won this game will make the kids work harder and do the things we need to do to get better."