WAYNESBURG, Pa. - Last year, the Waynesburg University football team scored one of its biggest wins in recent program history when the Yellow Jackets stunned then sixth-ranked Thomas More at the Saints' home field.
One of the players that wasn't able to participate in the victory was then-freshman WILLIE LEAVELL, who missed all of the 2011 campaign with a knee injury.
During Saturday's re-match, though, this one at sunny John F. Wiley Stadium, Leavell, an East Liverpool High School graduate, was not only in uniform, but he made the biggest play of the Yellow Jackets' season to lead his team to a 14-10 victory over the 23rd-ranked Saints.
Waynesburg's Willie Leavell
With Waynesburg Trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter, the Jacket defense forced Thomas More to punt from its own 30-yard line. The Saints got the kick off to a good start, but Leavell busted through the opposing protection and not only blocked the punt, but fielded the ball almost immediately off the foot of Saint punter Mitch McDowell.
After cleanly pulling the ball into his arms, Leavell took off untouched for the end zone and raised his index finger into the air as he scored the game-deciding touchdown.
It was Leavell's first collegiate TD. A 5-foot-7, 155-pound reserve running back, Leavell primarily has played special teams this season although he has received some fourth-quarter carries at running back.
It's the second-straight week Leavell has been involved in a blocked punt. A week ago, teammate ANDREW ENGLISH, also an East Liverpool graduate, blocked the punt and Leavell was there to recover it at well.
With the win, the Jackets maintained their status as the only unbeaten team in the Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) at 4-0 and improved their conference record to 2-0. The loss dropped the Saints to 1-2 overall and 1-1 in PAC action.
Thomas More entered No. 23 in NCAA Division III, according to D3football.com - a site that releases a weekly Top 25 poll voted on by 25 coaches, SIDs and the media. Waynesburg had received 2 votes.
In the first American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll last week, Thomas More was just outside the Top 25 having received 65 points - basically placing the Saints in the 28th spot. Waynesburg did not receive any votes in the poll, as voted on 40 Div. III coaches representing all Div. III conferences.
Leavell and English are two of five former East Liverpool Potters now donning the Orange & Black colors of Waynesburg. All are sophomores.
English is a 6-3, 170 wide receiver and has started two games this season. He has 3 catches for 23 yards and a TD.
JT THOMPSON started at defensive tackle against Thomas More and collected 4 tackles - the opposition gained a mere 5 yards (2-, 1-, 2- and 0-yards) on his stops. It was the first college start for the 6-1, 250 sophomore.
Thompson has played in all four games this season and collected 9 tackles including a pair of sacks.
KYLE WEYAND, listed as a 5-8, 165 receiver, and KODY EDWARDS, a 6-2, 290 offensive lineman, also are members of the Yellow Jackets.
Weyand has appeared on special teams in two games this season, while Edwards has yet to see time
Leavell has 7 carries to his credit this season, seeing time in the last three contests, and has totaled 12 yards with a long gain of 8-yards.
While the game was decided in a most thrilling fashion, the two teams struggled through most of the day. The Thomas More passing game was hindered by the windy conditions in Waynesburg and a slew of dropped passes, while the Jackets committed an uncharacteristic four turnovers on two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
The day started with a pair of miscues by the home team as senior Christian Jackson took the opening kickoff and appeared to be free for a 100-yard touchdown return. Unfortunately, he tripped at the Saint 20-yard line to set up the Jackets' first offensive possession. After committing a penalty on the first play from scrimmage, Senior quarterback Tyler Fatigante had his first pass of the game intercepted and nearly returned for a touchdown. However, Fatigante kept his head and ran down the Saints' Zach Autenrieb at the Waynesburg 11-yard line.
As they did all day, the Jacket defense helped to cover up the home team's errors and turned back Thomas More, which ended its first offensive possession with a missed field goal. After the next two possessions both ended in punts, Waynesburg broke up the scoreless shutout with just over eight minutes left to play.
The Orange and Black started at its own 20-yard line and on third-and-two, senior running back Dominic Moore broke free for a career-long 56 yards to the Saints' 15-yard line. Two plays later, both of which were runs by junior running back Bertrand Ngampa, Waynesburg took a 6-0 lead on a two-yard scoring tote by the third-year back. Junior kicker Alex Henry drilled the extra point try and with 8:12 left to play in the first quarter, the Jackets held a 7-0 advantage.
The home team maintained its one-score lead through the opening period, but Thomas More found the end zone in the second quarter after a 10-play, 80-yard possession. The game remained tied until the second half, when Saints kicker Tim Gormly knocked in a 21-yard field goal halfway through the third quarter to put his team ahead 10-7.
Waynesburg looked poised to regain the advantage early in the fourth quarter when the Jacket offense drove into Saint territory. On fourth-and-10, senior tight end Adam Moses showed the skills that made him an All-American by leaping over several defenders in the middle of the field and snaring a 13-yard pass at the opposition's 21-yard line. Unfortunately, an interception ended the threat and kept Thomas More in the driver's seat. Luckily, the ensuing Saint possession ended with Leavell's highlight reel play on special teams.
From there, the Waynesburg defense put the finishing touches on the thrilling win by forcing a punt and a four-and-out before Fatigante was able to kneel on the football to melt away the remaining seconds of the game.
For the first time this season, Waynesburg failed to crack the 200-yard rushing mark, but the Jackets still out-gained the Saints on the ground by a 165-to-143 margin. Moore led the way with his second-straight 100-yard effort on the ground (106 on 21 carries).
Fatigante completed 10-of-20 pass attempts for 93 yards on the day. The majority of those completions went to Moses and Jackson. The senior standouts pulled in a game-high four receptions each, with Moses posting a game-high 56 yards on the day. Jackson chipped in 25 receiving yards.
The Waynesburg defense was led by junior safety Bryan Gary, who paced all defenders with nine total tackles, including five solo stops. Three other Jackets recorded seven tackles each. The trio included junior defensive back Logan McAnany, junior linebacker Ronnie Skinner and senior defensive lineman Matt Krause. Skinner made 1.5 of stops in the Saint backfield.
While Leavell made the most noticeable impact on special teams, senior punter Zack Rogers continued a fantastic final year in orange and black. The veteran booted seven punts and averaged 43.1 yards per kick. He also dropped three attempts inside the Saint 20-yard line and launched a long kick of 57 yards.
After beating a nationally-ranked Thomas More team for a second-straight season, Waynesburg will look to run its season-opening win streak to five games when the Jackets head on the road to square off with Thiel on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
ETHAN LUDWIG, another ELHS graduate, is a senior linebacker for the Tomcats. The 5-10, 180 senior leads the team with 35 tackles, an average of nearly 9 per contest.
By Jim Mackey, email@example.com