FERRUM, Va. -- It’s easy for a team to let the hangover of
a close defeat burden its poise and execution on the field
afterward. And it’s easy to fall prey to the same mistakes
over and over.
In Week 1 against Emory and Henry, Ferrum saw its lead snatched away with just 14 seconds left in the game. On Saturday, a furious Bridgewater rally that began with the closing drive of the first half again appeared to back the Panthers into a corner. A 21-point lead eroded, and the volume of voice and enthusiasm shifted from the home stands to the visitors’ side.
“I’m not sure there’s a big difference between this one and the first one,” Ferrum coach Dave Davis said. “We probably should have won the first one, but we didn’t play well defensively. And we didn’t play well defensively in the second half of this one. … But our kids are so young and inexperienced. They’re going to grow up and get better.”
Photo by Ryan Tipps, D3sports.com
No better of a growth moment was there that when an overtime
kick by Ferrum’s Scott Puschell sailed through the uprights,
letting the Panthers teammates see their hard work translate into a
37-34 win over the Eagles.
With cool cloud cover hovering above, Ferrum is a picturesque setting for such Saturday afternoon intensity. The field is surrounded by mountains, which are already beginning to show the turn of the season. But the Ferrum football team was staring at a different kind of mountain throughout much of the game. Bridgewater had already made short work of two USA South teams in Weeks 1 and 2 and came armed with a slinger that would test Ferrum’s newly minted secondary starters.
Ferrum had built a 21-0 lead until the final 55 seconds of the second quarter, when Bridgewater marched 67 yards for its first score. Ferrum again answered with points of its own, going into the break 24-7.
Coming out of the half, it was clear the energy on the field had turned. Ferrum seemed to have been more tired, more sluggish. Eagles quarterback Hagan Driskell began to connect with his tall receiving corps to move the ball almost effortlessly at times. No pass seemed to be uncatchable, no defender fast enough.
Just minutes into the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 27.
The emotional and athletic rollercoaster that was this game became uniquely apparent to me. I had three family members sitting in the Panthers' stands: two were Ferrum graduates while the third was my dad visiting from Indiana and seeing Virginia football for the first time. As hearts pounded, the delicate mix of trepidation and happiness increased: This wasn’t going to be the boring blowout that the early minutes suggested.
At the end of regulation, it was difficult to tell which team was more charged up. What made this game what it was was the determination on both sides of the ball. Despite the mental and physical drain of the game, neither would yield, no matter how the momentum swayed. It was football in its best form, and it’s something that can stay with you as a player.
“You always hope that [the players] are going to grow up a little bit each time,” Davis said, contrasting the end result of the team’s first two games. “That’s a true character builder, when you’re ahead like that and they fight back in it, and then you come back and win the thing. That’s got to build some character, some confidence.”
Several factors united in the long run to give Ferrum its edge: among them the running game, special teams and the defensive secondary. Three rushers -- Steven Harris, Mike Vann and Aaron Johnson -- as well as quarterback Matt Dobson each had big play ground performances of at least 30 yards. Vann also channeled some of his best playing into his kick returns, giving Ferrum the field position to put points on the board. Vann had five returns for 172 yards.
“The kick return team blocked great, and they made me some awesome holes. I just took advantage of it,” a smiling, and somewhat relieved, Vann said after the game. He admits being a little worried as Bridgewater poured on the offense and tightened its defense after the break.
Ferrum, too, had its own monster on defense in Maureik Goode. Stats often tell only part of a player’s story, but here, Goode’s stats paint a definite picture of how the linebacker impacted the game. His two interceptions were crucial, but more so, his forced fumble and recovery in overtime ended Bridgewater’s drive and gave Ferrum the opportunity for a win.
Anxious about overtime, I noticed the relative ease of Ferrum’s head coach, joking and smiling with a nearby official before his team got the ball.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s not about me, it’s about these kids, and I want to put these kids in the best position I can to be successful,” he said. “And if laughing with the official keeps me calm, I’ll laugh with the official.”
Moments later, from 28 yards out, the freshman Puschell split the uprights with 0:00 on the clock for the second time that day. Ferrum dodged a second narrow loss.
For Puschell, Vann, Goode and the rest of the team, they mustered a performance to become victors. It was a day of drama, the heartened and the heartbroken who laid it all on the line.
“A player is what a player is, and I cannot make him be something he is not,” Davis said. “Maybe they’ll grow up a little bit because of this, I hope so.”
The tension was thick in many parts of the Mid-Atlantic on
Saturday as several games either ended in overtime or faced
vigorous races at the end. Here are the highlights:
• The two teams combined for 880 yards of offense and 88 points, but in the end, Dickinson stayed on the Conestoga Wagon Trophy for the sixth year in a row with a 45-43 win over Franklin and Marshall. The shootout was most exciting in even-numbered quarters, when the teams put up 41 points in the second and 26 points in the fourth. But the win came down to points scored as time ran out. Junior kicker Gordon Craig sent the ball 19 yards through the goalposts to avoid the upset.
• Despite N.C. Wesleyan scoring the go-ahead points with just 17 seconds to go in its game against Emory and Henry, the Wasps completed two passes for 48 yards and six points to secure a 36-34 win with just one second left on the clock. Perhaps most interesting about the outcome wasn’t these final seconds, but what happened in the 15 minutes prior. The Wasps erased a 28-7 Bishops lead going into the fourth quarter. NCWC lost the ball twice to turnovers in the fourth quarter and also twice went three-and-out on drives. Emory and Henry advances to 3-0 on the year, and the Bishops fall 1-2, continuing a topsy-turvy season where, when the team is on, it’s really on, but when it’s off, others are prone to take advantage of it.
• Christopher Newport and Salisbury battled into three overtimes before the Captains emerged with the 27-21 win on Saturday. With running back Tunde Ogun still not at full strength, CNU found a breakout performance from sophomore Corey Legister, who tallied 168 yards and a touchdown. The first 60 minutes ended in a 14-14 tie, with the Captains finishing the day dominating most statistical categories. Salisbury, led on defense by lineman Paul Cynewski, had three players with double-digit total tackles and two others who logged nine each.
• Frostburg State narrowly missed notching its first win of the season as Brockport State’s quarterback connected with the end zone with only 33 seconds left on the clock. The 37-32 result came after the Bobcats posted one of its strongest efforts of the year amid 480 yards of offense. The defense was led by sophomore linebacker Travis Blair, who totaled 13 tackles.
• Greensboro tied its game against Washington and Lee with 22 seconds left and then capitalized in overtime with a touchdown strike to Antwan Thorpe for the 26-20 win. The Pride showed itself a proficient pass team with 280 yards while W&L countered with 322 yards on the ground. W&L seemed to have put the game away with a touchdown with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter, but the last Greensboro drive of regulation lasted barely a minute and went 66 yards.
Saturday will mark my annual roadtrip to Pennsylvania, where I will head to historic Gettysburg to take in the Bullets’ game against Muhlenberg. I’ve never had the opportunity to see either team compete before, and I look forward to making the journey. I would love to say hi to any column readers out there. Feel free drop me a note at email@example.com.
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure that I missed some highlights in the region. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread at www.d3boards.com. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.