Presidents Knock Saints From Unbeaten Ranks With Turnovers, Special Teams
WASHINGTON, Pa. -- Senior running back Dion Wiegand (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks) scored three touchdowns, including a momentum-turning, 92-yard kickoff return during the third quarter, to help Washington & Jefferson defeat 20th-ranked Thomas More 45-21 on Saturday evening at Cameron Stadium.
The Presidents (4-2, 3-1 PAC) forced a logjam atop the Presidents' Athletic Conference standings as five teams (W&J, Waynesburg, Thomas More, Bethany and Geneva) all have one loss. The Saints (4-1, 3-1 PAC) had their five-game win streak snapped versus W&J despite outgaining the Presidents by a 415-345 margin.
W&J fell behind twice in the first quarter and the Saints got on the scoreboard first on the first possession of the game. Domonique Hayden, the nation's leading rusher, scored on a 28-yard rush 3:09 into the game.
The Presidents were forced to punt after just three plays, but Thomas More muffed the punt and junior cornerback Alec Schram (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) recovered at the TMC 25. Seven plays later, senior wide receiver Alex Baroffio (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) took a direct snap out of the wildcat formation and scored from a yard out to force a 7-7 tie.
The Saints wasted little time reclaiming the lead as Hayden took a short pass from Jensen Gebhardt four plays after the kickoff and raced 48 yards for a 14-7 advantage.
Sophomore safety Bryce Merrill (New Stanton, Pa./Hempfield), who made his first appearance of the season, ended a Thomas More drive late in the first quarter with a sack and W&J capitalized with a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Senior quarterback Matt Bliss (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) completed five passes to Baroffio on the drive, including a 10-yard scoring pass on the fifth play of the second quarter.
Senior cornerback Sam Comly (Littlestown, Pa./Delone Catholic) batted down a Gebhardt fourth-down pass in W&J territory and the Presidents string together another long drive (11 plays, 66 yards) to claim their first lead. Senior placekicker Craig Popp (Wilbraham, Mass./Minnechaug) booted a 19-yard field goal, the first of his career, for a 17-14 lead.
The W&J defense forced a quick Thomas More punt and sophomore Daniel Lis (Washington, Pa./Chartiers-Houston) sprawled to block it, setting up the Presidents at the TMC 3. Two plays later, Wiegand dove in for a 24-14 lead.
The Saints threatened late in the quarter, but senior safety B.J. Monacelli (Cassadaga, N.Y./Cassadaga Valley) picked off Gebhardt in the end zone to preserve the 10-point halftime lead.
W&J received the second-half kickoff and drove to the TMC 19, but was forced to turn the ball over on downs. Hayden was responsible for 61 of the Saints' next 81 yards and he narrowed the gap to 24-21 with a 1-yard run.
Wiegand then changed the momentum by following a wall of W&J blockers in front of him along the Presidents' sideline for the 92-yard kickoff return touchdown. The play marked the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a President since Sept. 10, 2005 (Aaron Krepps, 83 yards).
The W&J defense allowed only 79 yards the rest of the way. A 59-yard touchdown slant pass from Bliss to Baroffio with 1:53 left in the third quarter put the Presidents ahead 38-21. Wiegand's 16th touchdown of the year, a 1-yard rush, stretched the lead to 24 points on the fifth play of the fourth quarter.
Wiegand totaled 239 all-purpose yards, 111 of which came on 26 rushing attempts. Bliss completed 17-of-26 passes for 176 yards and two scores, while Baroffio caught eight of those passes for 119 yards. W&J did not allow a sack or commit a turnover. Merrill racked up a game-high 14 tackles to lead the defense, while senior defensive end Evan Fuentes (Pittsburgh, Pa./Fox Chapel) notched seven stops (two for a loss).
Hayden finished with 268 all-purpose yards, 205 of which came on the ground. Gebhardt passed for 158 yards before leaving with an injury.
W&J hits the road again for the fifth time this season next Saturday at Westminster for a 7:00 pm kickoff.