|Jordan West was part of a potent Presidents offense that surpassed 30 points for the ninth time in 11 games.
Washington and Jefferson athletics photo
By Joe Sager
Neither inclement weather nor long field goals were too big of an obstacle for Presidents’ Athletic Conference teams in Saturday’s playoffs.
Case Western Reserve battled through snowy conditions for a 28-0 upset win at Illinois Wesleyan, while Washington and Jefferson’s Mauricio Garibay booted a 46-yard field goal that bounced off and over the crossbar in the final minute for a 31-28 victory over Johns Hopkins.
“I was pretty proud to see Case Western win, too. It really shows the strength of the PAC,” Washington and Jefferson star receiver Jesse Zubik said. “I think it was good for us both to be in the playoffs. We saw negative reports on the PAC; pretty much everyone was saying both teams were going to be done after the first round. It’s great that we both got to advance.”
Case Western Reserve coach Greg Debeljak was happy to see a text from W&J coach Mike Sirianni with the good news about the Presidents and congratulating the Spartans. Both teams are 11-0 and shared the PAC title. They did not match up head-to-head due to the conference’s unbalanced schedule. They would meet if they both win on Saturday, though.
“It was nice to receive word they won, too. I am real happy for Mike and our kids, especially a group of seniors that really worked hard to make this happen,” said Debeljak. “I think it’s great for the conference. I am sure it was unexpected by most throughout the country.”
The Spartans had to navigate through rainy, then blizzard-like conditions and one of the nation’s toughest rushing defenses for the victory. And, they did it without their main rusher, Jacob Burke, who suffered a lower-body injury and was limited to two carries.
No problem, though. Pressed into duty, senior Aaron Aguilar rushed for 136 yards and three scores against the Titans (9-2), who had allowed one rushing touchdown all season. They ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed as well. Aguilar entered the game with nine carries for 48 yards on the year. Myles Anthony added nine carries for 24 yards and a touchdown.
“Probably the biggest surprise was that we were able to move the ball on the ground against a really good run defense team. Doing it without Burke was probably even more of a surprise,” Debeljak said. “Aaron is a senior and so is Myles. They both stepped up and I think we adjusted well.”
Case Western Reserve took advantage of some special teams opportunities, too. The Spartans blocked a punt in the first half, which led to their first score. A bad snap on an Illinois Wesleyan punt early in the fourth quarter set up another Spartans score.
“It’s nice to have a senior-laden team. We’ve been through a lot. I told the kids before the game that I thought the team that did a better job securing the ball in all three phases of the game would win the game. The difference came down to special teams,” Debeljak said. “It was really difficult holding onto the ball. The quarterbacks struggled throwing the ball and receivers struggled to hold onto the ball. The game was swung on punting teams.
“Getting the first score was critical. It put less pressure on us and we could play more of a field position game. It forced Illinois Wesleyan to take some risks, too.”
The victory earned the Spartans a game at Mount Union (11-0), which blanked Washington and Lee, 21-0.
“In their four years, this group has had in the back of their minds how they’d do against Mount Union,” Debeljak said. “I coached at John Carroll for 12 years and I saw a lot of teams play Mount Union for the first time and you just don’t know how it’ll be until you step on the field. We scrimmaged John Carroll and I think that was helpful. Everyone is good in the playoffs, but to have already played a team like John Carroll will give them an idea of what to expect.”
The Presidents used special teams to win their game, too, thanks to Garibay's boot.
|Despite the conditions, the visiting Spartans scored more points than any Illinois Wesleyan opponent had this season.
Photo by Karen Espaldon
“Seeing that go over was a great feeling,” Zubik said. “We’ve had trouble with field goals all season long. I was so excited to see that ball bounce over.”
The call to try a field goal was not an automatic one. Facing a 4th-and-14 on the Johns Hopkins 29 with 1:03 to go, Sirianni elected to let Garibay take a shot. It was the fifth-longest field goal in program history.
“Our kicking game hasn’t been the greatest this year. The chances of us getting a first down were not great. I knew he had the leg to get it that far. Hopefully, he could just keep it straight,” said Sirianni. “We were a little lucky and that’s OK. We’ll take it. We kind of did control the game and I thought we deserved to win.”
After giving up a touchdown on the Blue Jays’ first drive on the fourth quarter, the W&J defense buckled down and intercepted a pass in the red zone, forced a punt and a turnover on downs to close the game.
“I thought our defense played lights out all day long. They started off the game all over the quarterback,” Zubik said. “In the second half, the Johns Hopkins offense started to roll a bit, but when it came down to crucial situations, the defense made a bunch of big plays that kept us in the game.”
The Presidents look forward to playing at home again after Frostburg State upset Wittenberg, 35-7.
“It’s another game where, athletically, we’ll be the underdog. I don’t think there’s a question about that. Especially defensively, I don’t want to watch more tape on them or I won’t be able to sleep all week,” Sirianni said. “Their coach has done a great job building that program back to a high level. We have some weapons, too. We don’t have as many athletes as Thomas More or Westminster, but we were able to get the job done against those two teams. We’ll play as hard as we can. Even though we’re at home, I am sure we’ll be considered the underdogs. We’ll see what we can do.”