October 2, 2012

Waynesburg quarterback sloughs off slow start

More news about: Waynesburg
In addition to coming into his own as a passer, Tyler Fatigante has rushed for four touchdowns and nearly 300 yards over the course of Waynesburg's first five games.
Photo courtesy of Mike Kabay

Tyler Fatigante waited three years to have his shot at becoming the starting quarterback at Waynesburg.

So when his moment finally arrived, when the chance to take center stage was right there in front of him, he stumbled.

Oh, the final score in his debut game read Waynesburg 34, Muskingum 23. The stat line for Fatigante, however, was far from impressive. It featured only six completions on 24 attempts, no touchdowns, two interceptions and 16 total yards. He was also sacked once.

"I played bad that day," Fatigante said. "It was tough to not be able to go out there and do my job. I was not happy with my performance, but I was glad we won. But I didn't get too down on myself. I learned from my mistakes and worked on getting better.

The effort paid off. In a game against Frostburg State a week later, Fatigante was in a zone, displaying the poise and confidence that earned him the starting job in the preseason.

He went 11-of-14 for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown and rolled up a team-best 64 yards on the ground as the Yellow Jackets cruised to a 21-7 victory.

Life has been good ever since, not only for Fatigante, but also for the Yellow Jackets, who are 5-0 overall, 3-0 in the Presidents' Athletic Conference and receiving votes in the Top 25 poll.

In a 35-14 win over St. Vincent in the PAC opener on Sept. 17, Fatigante connected on 14 of his 15 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception and also rushed for a touchdown. His effort earned him PAC Player of the Week honors.

The thing is, Fatigante is not going to pretend as if he is perfect. Yes, he has completed 47 of his 86 passes for six touchdowns and has also rushed for 285 yards and four scores.

On the flip side, he has been picked off six times, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

"I know I haven't played my best yet. I have a lot of room for improvement, but the individual success that I have had this season is a credit to my teammates," Fatigante said. "Having guys like Adam Moses and Christian Jackson to throw the ball to has made my job easier. Our running game is led by two great running backs in Dominic Moore and Bertrand Ngampa. I also owe a lot of credit to my offensive line and to the defense for making big plays."

Waynesburg head coach Rick Shepas has been impressed with what Fatigante has been able to do so far after watching him develop over the last three years behind Brad Dawson (2009 and 2010) and Josh Graham (2011).

"Tyler brings a lot of leadership to the team," Shepas said. "He has the ability to make great plays with his feet, and he usually makes good decisions when he throws the ball. His understanding of the game has improved a lot during his time here, and he knows how to go out there and get the job done.

Fatigante didn't play varsity football as a freshman, and he saw action in four games as a sophomore, carrying the ball three times for nine yards and playing on special teams as well. A year ago, he played in seven games, completing one pass and rushing for 83 yards.

"Even though you are on the bench, you can still learn a lot about the game," Fatigante said. "I was still involved with the team. I paid a lot of attention to the defenses we faced each week and just tried to learn as much as I could about being a quarterback at this level. I also got a lot of repetitions at practice and felt like I was ready to play when I got my chance this year."

Fatigante learned about patience in high school. During his senior season at Avonworth in Pennsylvania, he broke his collarbone in the second game.

Rather than mope around, Fatigante took on the role of an assistant coach, working with the quarterbacks and the scout team offense. He was cleared to play in a game that decided the Eastern Conference championship, and after a sluggish first half, he led a rally in the second half. His team won the game in overtime and earned a trip to the postseason for the first time since 1959.

"That was one of the toughest things I had to deal with," Fatigante said. "But I learned a lot about being a leader that season. I could have gotten down on myself because I couldn't play, but I stayed involved with the team and showed up to every practice. I made the most of the situation I was in."

And now Fatigante is making the most of his final run with the Yellow Jackets, who have taken aim at delivering the program its first PAC championship and playoff berth since 2003.

"We have done what we have been expected to do so far, but we all know we have a long way to go," Fatigante said. "We have a good football team. There is a lot of talent on it and we are very tight as a group. It's been fun so far, and we want to keep things going in the right direction."

Shepas had Waynesburg on the verge of a PAC championship in 2006, his second season as the head coach. The Yellow Jackets missed out on the title by one win.

A year ago, Waynesburg finished 6-4 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

"We have come a long way from where we were last season," Shepas said. "Our guys have worked very hard to get into this position and we have to continue to get better if we are going to compete for a title in our league. It's a tough league, and you have to be ready to play every week."

That focus has carried over to the players. And if anyone had any thoughts of looking ahead, those thoughts were chased away after Waynesburg survived a grueling battle against a one-win Thiel team on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets prevailed with a 20-19 road win.

"The close game might have been the best thing that happened to us. It showed all of us that we can't take anyone lightly," Fatigante said. "We can't get complacent because of the success that we have had. We have to stay focused and be ready for each opponent."

In the poll

Mount Union is still the No. 1 team in the nation. The Purple Raiders blasted Ohio Northern 54-0 on Saturday as they rolled to their 67th consecutive win in the regular season and won their third consecutive game in shutout fashion.

Mount Union has given up just seven points all year en route to starting 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the OAC. Jack LaForce was one of several defensive players to rise to the occasion for the Purple Raiders, tallying a career-best nine tackles. Nick Driskill added five tackles for a defense that limited the Polar Bears to 147 yards of total offense.

Baldwin Wallace suffered its first loss of the year on Saturday, falling 38-17 to Otterbein in the 35th annual Shriners' Game in Berea.

The Yellow Jackets, who entered the game ranked 15th in the nation, only trailed 24-17 at halftime but failed to score in the second half. It marked the first time all season that the Yellow Jackets have failed to score in the final 30 minutes of action.

Baldwin Wallace dropped to 3-1 overall and to 2-1 in the OAC. Josiah Holt had a big game despite the setback, catching seven passes for 191 yards and two scores.

The Yellow Jackets tallied 308 yards, with Ryan O'Rourke throwing for 260 yards on 13-of-22 passing. Michael Stacchiotti played well defensively despite the loss, tallying 16 tackles.

It looked like Wabash was going to be on the brink of another upset. The Little Giants, the victim of a 20-17 overtime loss to Allegheny last week, trailed by two touchdowns after one quarter of play against Carnegie Mellon on Saturday.

Leave it to quarterback Chase Belton to make sure that didn't happen. Belton surged into the school record book on Saturday with the performance of a lifetime, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for three scores in a 54-28 victory.

The touchdown total is the most by any player in program history. Belton, who had a hand in five touchdowns in a game against Kenyon last season, rushed for 198 yards and threw for 183 as Wabash rolled up 566 yards of offense and improved to 3-1 overall and to 1-1 in the NCAC. The win bumped the Little Giants up one spot in the poll to No. 16.

Houston Hodges played a key role in the victory as well. He caught two passes for 79 yards and one score and also racked up five tackles. The touchdown was the first for Hodges since high school.

Star power

Ohio Wesleyan still has its name in the mix for a NCAC championship. The Bishops were fueled by the play of quarterback Mason Espinosa and defensive end James Huddleston.

Espinosa threw for 306 yards in the first half alone, completing 23 of his 31 passes in the first 30 minutes of play. He finished his night going 28-of-43 for 380 yards. Huddleston recorded nine tackles and broke through for four sacks that totaled a loss of 31 yards. He also recovered a fumble as the Bishops surged to 4-0 overall and to 2-0 in the NCAC. They won a total of four games all of last year.

Espinosa is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes this season. He is 122-of-180 for 1,264 yards and six touchdowns. The star signal-caller has been picked off only once. Huddleston, not surprisingly, is the team leader in tackles. He has 31 on the year, including 11.5 for a loss, and has racked up 6.5 sacks.

Don't look now, but it is starting to look like there could be a surprise contender for an OAC championship this season.

Otterbein is 4-0 after stunning No. 15 Baldwin Wallace 38-17 on Saturday in Berea, and quarterback Aaron Kingcade played key role in the upset. He rushed for three touchdowns and completed 15 of his 20 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He hooked up with six different receivers in the victory on a day when the Cardinals chalked up 462 yards of offense.

Kingcade is 70-of-107 on the season and has thrown only two interceptions. He has thrown for 998 yards and six touchdowns and has been equally impressive with his feet, rushing for 177 yards and nine touchdowns.

Linebacker Chad Pepper anchored a defensive effort that limited the Yellow Jackets to 308 yards, including only 25 on the ground. Pepper tallied seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Pepper is tied for second on the team in tackles with 22 and has come through with two sacks. The Cardinals, ranked No. 25 in the poll this week, are 3-0 in the OAC and have won their first four games for only the fifth time since 1950. Otterbein won only three games last season.

Carnegie Mellon suffered its first loss of the year on Saturday, falling 54-28 to nationally ranked Wabash on the road. Quarterback Rob Kalkstein had a big game despite the loss, hitting on 17 of his 24 passes for 229 yards. He threw one touchdown pass. Running back Patrick Blanks stepped up as well in defeat, rushing for 157 yards on 26 carries. He scored one touchdown.

Kalkstein has been solid all season, going 57 of 79 for 1,225 yards. He has connected on 11 touchdown passes, and despite being sacked five times, he has thrown only one interception. Blanks is the leading rusher for the Tartans, churning out 342 yards on 72 carries. He has scored four times.

Adrian got an early jump on its quest to win a MIAA title by blanking Hope 24-0 on Saturday in the conference opener for both teams.

Wide receiver Justin Hemm delivered a clutch performance in the victory, hauling in 10 passes for 146 yards and returning four punts for 57 yards. Running back Dae'Von Robinson led the rushing attack with 84 yards. He scored the first touchdown of the game on a 44-yard run as the Bulldogs improved to 3-1 overall.

Defensive tackle Kevin Kleine deserves his share of credit as well. The standout racked up 10 tackles as Adrian posted its first shutout of Hope since 1983.

Hemm has caught 27 passes for 463 yards and three scores this year, while Robinson has rushed for 147 yards and one touchdown. Kleine is tied for second on the team in tackles with 23 and has one sack.

Case Western Reserve gave nationally ranked Wittenberg all it could handle on Saturday before falling 14-10 and dropping three consecutive games for the first time since the 2006 season.

Linebackers Ryan Ferguson and Kevin Nossem came through with 11 tackles apiece to pace the defense, which limited the Tigers to 263 yards and didn't give up any points in the second half. The Spartans fell to 2-3 on the season.

Ferguson and Nossem are the top two tacklers on the team. Ferguson has tallied 38 tackles and has forced one fumble, while Nossem has come up with 44 tackles and two forced fumbles.

Thomas More defensive back Zach Autenrieb made a little history on Saturday despite his team's wild 50-48 four-overtime loss to Geneva on Saturday.

Autenrieb tied the Division III career interception mark as he picked off two passes to push his total to 29. He came up with one interception in the second quarter and got his other interception in the fourth quarter, returning that one 25 yards for a touchdown to give the Saints a 22-15 advantage.

Autenrieb is now tied with Ralph Gebhardt of Rochester. Gebhardt played from 1973-75.
On the season, Autenrieb has tallied five interceptions to go along with 22 tackles. The Saints are now 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the PAC.

Notes

Spencer Leno and Jamaal Everett came through with big games defensively to help Wittenberg slip past Case Western Reserve 14-10 on Saturday in Cleveland. Leno tallied a season-high 17 tackles and Everett picked off his third pass of the season and the seventh of his career... Jarrett Leister turned in a solid performance to help Alma earn its first win of the year on Saturday. Leister completed nine of his 19 passes for 145 yards and two scores to lead the Scots to a 20-14 win over Olivet...Rocco Colavecchia did everything he could to make sure Geneva won its first game of the season. Colavecchia rushed for four touchdowns, including the game-winner on a five-yard run in the fourth overtime of a wild 50-48 win over Thomas More on Saturday. Manny Sicre had a big game offensively for Case Western Reserve despite a 14-10 loss to Wittenberg. He rushed for 80 yards and caught eight passes for 83 yards...The defense of Allegheny was tough to crack on Saturday in the Gators' 15-3 win over Oberlin. The Gators held the Yeomen to no yards in the fourth quarter. Rudy De Stefano led the charge with 14 tackles, Colin Hartford picked off a pass and John Douglas tallied four tackles and recorded one safety....Akwasi Brefo racked up 11 tackles to pace the Carnegie Mellon defense in its loss to Wabash. The Tartans gave up 556 yards of offense...James Washington caught three passes for 66 yards and one touchdown to help Muskingum earn its first win with a 45-0 blanking of Wilmington on Saturday. Wilmington now ranks 10th all-time in receiving yards with 1,032...Louis Danesi tallied three sacks, tying the single-game mark for the second most in school history, as he helped Trine hold off Kalamazoo 30-20 on Saturday. Danesi also came through with seven tackles. The Thunder racked up seven sacks in all, which is the second-best single-game total in program history...CJ Powell scored twice in Heidelberg's 56-24 win over Marietta on Saturday. He caught a 35-yard scoring strike and returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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