WILMINGTON, Ohio - Trailing 21-20 with just over five minutes to play, the Wilmington College football team engineered its version of "The Drive", marching 99 yards in 4:39 to score the game-winning touchdown of a thrilling 26-21 victory over Capital University at Williams Stadium on Friday evening.
The Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) victory was the Fightin' Quakers' third-straight win, something the program hasn't achieved since 2000, the College's first season in the OAC.
"It felt unbelievable to be out there tonight," Head Football Coach Bryan Moore said. "All the work that went into getting back out there overshadowed the fact that we had to play situational football for two full halves. For a lot of our guys, that didn't click in right away."
Neither team scored in the first quarter, but Wilmington ended the period deep in Capital territory and scored three plays into the second quarter on a Kyle England run on 4th-and-goal from the three-yard line. The Crusaders answered on the very next drive, scoring on 4th down themselves as Kameron Lee caught a pass in the corner of the end zone on 4th-and-12.
Each team's next drive ended in deep in enemy territory as both defenses stepped up and made plays on fourth down, unlike the preview two drives. The Quakers, who got the ball back at their own 29-yard line with four minutes to go, drove deep into Crusader territory thanks in large part to a 55-yard hookup from Kyle Barrett to Ace Taylor. In a similar situation to the first score, Wilmington ran the ball on 3rd-and-4 from the five-yard line, but Tyreeq Nebbitt, attempting to stretch the ball over the goal line, fumbled. Capital recovered and went into halftime tied 7-7.
"We felt great at halftime, despite the miscues, some in part because of the long layoff, in the first half," said Moore. "We felt confident we'd win the football game because we were moving the ball, our defense was played great and we received the second-half kickoff."
Both teams punted on their first possession of the second half, but another miscue, this one a Barrett interception, that was returned to the red zone by Aralius Walters, who coincidentally was involved the Quakers' other two turnovers. Five players later, the visitors had a 14-7 lead as Ben Everson scampered in on 3rd-and-goal from the 14-yard line.
Two punts followed, but Barrett hooked up with Lathan Jones late in the third quarter for a 56-yard pass on 3rd-and-16 to setup another red zone opportunity. The Capital defense came up big once again, stopping a Barrett sneak on 4th-and-2.
"The emotions of the game got to me a little bit as a decision-maker," said Moore of his decision to go for it. "Hindsight is always 20-20, but we said we were going to be aggressive as a coaching staff. We told that to our players before the game, and I wanted to follow through on that."
The Quaker defense, which played soundly the majority of the evening, came up with two tackles for loss to open the fourth quarter forcing the Crusaders to punt and give Wilmington good field position. A drive that started in Capital territory went to the red zone quickly as Barrett dumped a pass down to Nebbitt on the first play. Nebbitt made amends for his fumble earlier, scampering 41 yards to the Crusader six. Three plays later, Barrett found Itika Wynn Jr. for a score.
After two punts, the Crusaders took the lead on a one-play, 49-yard drive that resulted in a second Lee touchdown. The Quakers answered right back on Barrett keeper, but missed the extra point. Leading 21-20, Capital nearly pulled off a 3rd-and-19 conversion near midfield, but Tre'Quez Parks stopped Mike Smith a yard short. The Crusaders contemplated going for it, but after a timeout from first-year Head Coach Brian Foos, Lee pinned Wilmington at its own 1-yard line with 5:18 to play.
What happened next will be remembered by the Wilmington faithful for years to come. A 16-play, 99-yard drive that featured three conversions on third down and culminated with a second Barrett-to-Wynn Jr. touchdown. Capital got to midfield, but a Hail Mary pass was battled down.
"Kyle [Barrett] didn't have his best game, but when we needed him most, he stepped up," Moore said of the final drive. "That's why having seniors is huge. They didn't flinch. There was no panic."
Wilmington more than doubled Capital offensively 550-265 including rushing for 171 yards as well as holding the Crusaders to negative yards rushing. The Quaker defense also held the Crusaders to just 3-of-13 on third-down conversions.
"Our defense kept us in the game despite the offense putting them in some bad situations," Moore said. 'We started five freshmen on defense, and man, they just kept answered the call."
Barrett finished 25-of-43 for 379 yards and two scores to go along with the one interception. Taylor hauled in six receptions for 116 yards while Lathan Jones also went over 100 yards with five receptions. Wynn Jr. caught both touchdown passes. In the running game, the Quakers went by committee with five individuals – Malik Sims, Nebbitt, Yvan Tientcheu, Barrett and England – all carrying at least six times.
Everson and Luke McCarrell split the quarterback duties for Capital as both threw for over 100 yards. Lee hauled in six passes for 139 yards and the two scores while Smith grabbed five receptions for 87 yards in defeat.
"I want to thank everyone in our athletics department to get us to the point of competing tonight," said Moore. "It's taken a ton of sacrifice and made my job as a head coach very easy. I have nothing but love and admiration for the support I have here at Wilmington College."
Wilmington (1-0) heads to Otterbein University next Friday.