WILMINGTON – A pair of fourth quarter touchdowns lifted Olivet College over Wilmington College 20-17 Saturday in the season-opening football game at Townsend Field.
It appeared the Quakers were headed for a victory, up 10-6, but the visiting Comets had other ideas.
Despite the loss, Quakers’ head coach Bryan Moore felt his team made great strides from a defensive standpoint. What had to be frustrating to Moore and the coaching staff were some offensive drives that gained yardage but yielded no points.
And Olivet took advantage of it.
“Olivet is a good football team that has had a lot of success in recent years,” Moore said. “I’m really proud of our kids for battling through some adversity.”
After a strong defensive series led by Tavion Bryant, Wilmington made the most of its first offensive series, putting together a 12-play, 90 yard drive that ended when quarterback Kyle Barrett reached the end zone for the touchdown. Tyler Butcher’s extra point kick was good giving WC a 7-0 lead. That was the only scoring in the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, each team committed turnovers, but Wilmington made the Comets pay for their miscue. Tre’ Quez Parks forced a fumble deep in Quaker territory and teammate Ameer Jackson made the recovery at the 14. Unable to reach the end zone, Wilmington had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Butcher to extend the lead to 10-0.
Branden Lemley stripped an Olivet running back in the next series, but Wilmington was unable to capitalize, and failed to convert on fourth down.
“There were a couple critical moments of situational football that we did not do very well,” said Moore. “We didn’t get any points on that short field.”
Olivet got on the scoreboard with 34 seconds remaining in the half as Kaleb Jarrett scored a touchdown to end a 12-play, 70-yard drive. WC led 10-6 at the half.
It was a battle of field position for both teams in what amounted to a scoreless third quarter. However, the momentum switched over to the Comets and they utilized the running game, led by Noah McMinn to their advantage.
Three minutes into the final quarter, Olivet took the lead when McMinn (110 yards on 26 carries) scored from six yards, and the PAT kick by Samuel Roose put the Comets in front, 13-10.
Wilmington could not respond in the ensuing series, and Olivet engineered an eight minute drive for its second TD of the quarter. After relying on McMinn to move the ball down field on eight consecutive carries, Wilmington stopped him at the six. Olivet gambled successfully on fourth-down when quarterback Jarrett found Seth Young for the TD with 2:12 remaining. After the PAT by Roose, the Comets lead was 20-10.
WC responded with a Barret to Ace Taylor 17-yard scoring pass with 45 seconds remaining. Butcher’s kick was good but the Quakers trailed by three. Olivet recovered the onside kick to preserve the victory.
“We saw a lot of growth in our defense tonight,” Moore said. “Despite getting worn down, they battled and kept us within an onside kick recovery of possibly winning the game.”
The final numbers were close in terms of yardage (Olivet with 265 and Wilmington with 259), but the biggest advantage for the Comets was on the ground. Olivet had 168 yards on 47 rushes while Wilmington gained just 47 yards on 28 attempts.
Barrett completed 18 of 28 passes for 212 yards. His top receiver was Taylor with eight for 75 yards and Clinton-Massie grad Luke Richardson had three receptions for 60 yards.
Defensively, Bryant led Wilmington in tackles with 11 while Eli Berner had nine. Parris Weathersby and Brandon Weaver each had a sack.
Next Saturday, the Quakers go on the road to begin Ohio Athletic Conference play against Heidelberg. They return to Williams Stadium Sept. 21, hosting Ohio Northern for Homecoming.
Bill Liermann covers college and high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @lierjet.