WOOSTER, OH – A strong second half performance sparked Wabash to a 19-7 season opening win over Wooster Saturday afternoon. The Little Giants rolled up nearly 500 yards of total offense for its seventh straight win over the Scots.
An inconsistent Wabash first half littered the field with dropped passes, tipped passes and yellow flags. Wabash was down 7-0 before a Derek Rowe seven-yard run that had the halftime score at 7-6. The Little Giants re-grouped at halftime and then scored two second-half touchdowns while holding Wooster to just over 100 yards total offense. The game also featured a one-hour delay with 1:14 remaining because of lighting in the area.
"With it being the first game, everybody had nerves," quarterback Chase Belton said. "We knew we had to get it going. We had some great drives the first half but we have to finish them. So we came out in the second half and we got it together. On the first series out, it was time to go and time to pick it up. We had intensity and we had focus."
That initial second-half drive started with five straight Rowe carries for 26 yards. Belton then hit senior Jonathan Horn from four yards out on a quick slant to give Wabash its first lead.
"Obviously in first half we were a little sloppy with all the penalties," Coach Erik Raeburn said. "We had a bunch of drops on offense and a couple of turnovers. We had a couple times guys were running the wrong play and mental things like that kind kept us out of rhythm in first half.
"But I was happy to get a win. We're on the road against a good conference team so getting out of here with a win feels pretty good. It's always easier to go work on those mistakes when they haven't cost you a football game."
Those mistakes totaled 10 penalties, two interceptions, and several dropped passes. But the Little Giants still managed to rack up nearly 500 yards on total offense with 246 rushing and 244 passing yards.
"That's why I was frustrated," Raeburn said after hearing the offensive totals. "We shouldn't have shot ourselves in foot. One time we signaled a play on a third down that I thought we had them on. But we called the wrong play for the offensive line. So all the skill guys were running the right play and o-line is blocking a different play. We didn't convert after a long drive so that was kind of frustrating. We were moving up and down the field but we weren't finishing our drives."
Wabash clung to the 12-7 lead until late in the game. The drive that secured the win covered 13 plays and 76 yards in less than six minutes. Sophomore Tyler Holmes did the bulk of the damage with 29 yards on five carries. On his final carry of the drive, he went around end untouched for the score.Ian MacDougallconverted his first varsity extra point for the final, 19-7.
The Little Giant running game was stout with starter Vann Hunt picking up 85 yards on nine carries including a late 57-yard effort that was made for the highlight reel. Holmes had 64 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. Rowe had eight carries for 59 yards and Wabash's lone first-half score.
Belton hit on 17-of-35 passes for 244 yards and one score. Horn, last year's leading receiver, had a big game with 134 yards on eight catches and a touchdown. Wes Chamblee caught six passes for 69 yards.
Chamblee, of course, was making his first appearance since tearing his ACL last year in the Wooster opener. Afterwards, he was glad to have the first game behind him. He had a couple of uncharacteristic drops in the first half and was back to return kicks for Wabash.
"It felt great being out there," Chamblee said. "The knee felt wonderful. I could make all the cut that I needed to make, and I could make the blocks I needed to make. It was just a matter of getting my confidence back. I felt in second half I was able to do that."
Chamblee proved in his return that he remains a triple threat. He had 59 yards on kickoff returns, 22 on punt returns and his 69 yards receiving for 150 yards of total offense.
The defense played strong keeping Wooster's high-powered offense under 300 yards. The only Wooster score came in the first quarter after tacklers couldn't wrap up Scot quarterback Richard Barnes on a third-down conversion. Then at the 50-yard line, Barnes threw deep to Jordan McIntyre for 37 yards after the pass was tipped and nearly intercepted by Kyle Najar. The ball continued funny bounces two plays later when Scot Robert Flagg rushed for eight yards and fumbled after a Najar hit. The ball bounced into the end zone where McIntyre eventually recovered for the only Wooster score.
The defense was led by sophomore linebacker Nate Scola who and interception to go with his nine tackles. Junior Jonathon Koop started in the secondary and notched 8 tackles. CJ Gum had eight tackles. Freshman cornerback Houston Hodgeshad a strong debut with six tackles and an interception. The younger brother of cornerback Austin Hodges made his presence felt on the first series when he broke up a quick out pass with a huge hit.
Pat Clegg and Kyle Bottos had six tackles apiece. Luke Zinsmaster and Dan Allen had five tackles each.