Fumbles Key As W&J Football Falls At Grove City
GROVE CITY, Pa. – Three second-half fumbles led to 12 Grove City points and helped the Wolverines defeat Washington & Jefferson 24-21 on Saturday afternoon in PAC football action at Robert E. Thorn Field.
W&J (4-4, 3-3 PAC) was unable to hold on to an early three-touchdown lead and fell to Grove City for the first time since 1998, ending a 12-game win streak over the Wolverines.
W&J opened the scoring 3:03 into the first quarter. Sophomore quarterback Matt Bliss (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) completed a six play, 33-yard drive when he hit classmate Dion Wiegand (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks), who broke a tackle and scampered into the end zone for an 11-yard score. The touchdown was set up by Wiegand’s season-long, 47-yard return of the opening kickoff.
The Presidents took a 14-point lead just 4 1.2 minutes later, as junior running back Tim McNerney (Butler, Pa./Knoch) took a handoff 31 yards into the end zone. W&J drove 52 yards over five plays after its defense denied a Grove City rush on fourth down and inches near midfield.
The W&J offense found itself pinned deep in its own territory to begin its third possession after a Wolverine punt late in the first quarter. Bliss keyed a trio of third-down conversions to extend the Presidents’ drive, first hitting sophomore wide receiver Alex Baroffio (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) for 12 yards and classmate Max Creighan (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills) for nine yards. Bliss then scrambled out of the pocket for 20 yards to get the Presidents into Wolverine territory on a third and long play. Four plays later, senior quarterback Taylor Hockman (Martinsburg, W. Va./Hedgesville) took a shotgun snap and ran straight through the middle for a four-yard touchdown. In all, the Presidents traveled 93 yards in 14 plays, taking 5:06 off the clock.
Grove City threatened on its first possession of the second quarter as the Wolverines got all the way to the Presidents’ 5-yard line before senior linebacker Neil Sorice (Youngstown, Ohio/Canfield) picked off Brian Pell’s fourth-down pass on the goal line.
After the Presidents went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Grove City got on the board for the first time in the game. Pell completed a three-yard pass to Joe Gulasky to finish off the 11 play, 41-yard drive, cutting the W&J advantage to 21-6 after the extra-point was missed wide.
The Wolverines continued to cut into the Presidents’ lead just 2:51 later. Pell completed a pass to Blaine Miller, who broke a tackle and ran 56 yards down the sideline for Grove City’s second score. Pell’s pass on the two-point conversion fell incomplete, holding the Presidents’ lead at 21-12 in which W&J would take into halftime.
Grove City immediately took advantage of a Bliss fumble in W&J territory on the Presidents’ second possession of the second half. Pell threw his third touchdown of the day, a 26-yarder, to Anthony Ritchie on the Wolverines’ first play of the drive. The PAT once again failed, leaving W&J with a three-point lead.
Grove City took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter following another W&J turnover. Pell found Jimmy Bailey for a 46-yard score, completing a four play, 85-yard drive to give the Wolverines a 24-21 lead.
W&J threatened to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The Presidents took the ball down to the Grove City 14-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, but a second effort on a rush by McNerney was thwarted and he fumbled the ball away. The Wolverines were able to pick up two first downs and run out the remaining time.
In all, W&J fumbled six times on the day, losing three of them, while Grove City did not turn the ball over. Grove City gained 381 yards of total offense to W&J’s 367, but the Presidents held a slight 19-18 first down advantage.
Bliss finished the day with 207 yards on 23-36 passing and one touchdown, along with the two turnovers. Pell finished with four touchdowns and 305 yards passing, the fourth-highest total in Grove City history.
McNerney ran for 127 yards on 21 carries and scored his seventh touchdown of the year. Baroffio reeled in eight passes for 106 yards, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the fifth time this season.
Sorice paced the W&J defense with eight tackles, an interception and a blocked extra point. Senior linebacker Mitch Rose (Uniontown, Ohio/North Canton Hoover) pitched in seven stops, while junior defensive tackle Gavin Donathan (Hurricane, W.Va./Hurricane) made six stops.
The Presidents return home next Saturday at 1:30 pm against Thiel.