WOOSTER, Ohio – Darrian Owens caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Richard Barnes with :40 remaining, then Shawn Bowman blocked Ohio Wesleyan University's 47-yard field goal attempt with no time left to complete The College of Wooster's thrilling 28-27 comeback victory, as the Fighting Scots trailed 27-7 early in the fourth quarter before storming back with touchdowns on their three final drives.
The season-ending win puts Wooster alone in third-place in the North Coast Athletic Conference – a five-spot improvement over last year's tie for eighth – and its 7-3 overall record is the program's best since the 2008 season (8-2). Also notable, the Scots close 2013 on a four-game winning streak, the first time they have ended the regular season on such a long streak since 2004.
It did not appear that Wooster would achieve those milestones, down 20 throughout the third quarter and into the fourth. The tide began to change when Ohio Wesleyan (5-5, 4-5 NCAC) turned the ball over on downs at the Scots' 19. Six plays later, Jake Zoldan rumbled into the end zone from one yard out. Zoldan, normally a tight end, lined up in the backfield and scored his first career touchdown on 3rd-and-goal to make it 27-14 at the 10:53 mark.
The Battling Bishops gained one first down on the ensuing series before punting, and Wooster took over on its 36 with 7:07 on the clock. The very first play of the drive saw Barnes go deep to Owens, who hauled it in for 44 yards, which allowed the Scots to set up in the red zone. Barnes converted two third-downs, first connecting with Adam Coppock on a six-yard out pattern to convert a 3rd-and-5 from the 15 and then finding a seam on the right side for a six-yard rushing touchdown as Wooster pulled with 27-21.
The next possession began with 4:45 and the Scots' defense forced a three-and-out when Bowman broke up a pass on 3rd-and-4.
Following a good punt by Ohio Wesleyan, Wooster's final offensive series started at the 26 with 3:00 left. The Scots steadily covered the 74 yards in 11 plays, only facing two third downs, with Sean Hackel gaining the first via a four-yard run and Barnes scrambling for 12 on the second to get down to the eight-yard line. After a Bishop timeout, Barnes threw a back-shoulder pass to Owens in the right side of the end zone, and Zack Moore broke the 27-27 tie by booting through the extra point, the eventual game-winner.
Ohio Wesleyan nearly rallied during the final 40 seconds, gaining possession on its own 39-yard line after a squib kick. Mason Espinosa directed the Bishops to a couple of first downs, passing to Scott Jenkins for 12 yards and to Dave Mogilnicki for 13, the latter putting the ball at the 30 with :06 remaining.
Miles MacKenzie, who made a 43-yard field goal earlier, lined up for a 47-yarder, but the 6-3 Bowman came off the edge, reaching out for his second block of the game.
Ohio Wesleyan had jumped out to a 27-7 halftime lead, behind 312 yards of total offense and owning the time of possession, 20:33 to 9:27.
The Bishops scored the game's first 20 points – a MacKenzie 27-yard field goal, an Espinosa 10-yard pass to Erik Wall in the first quarter, then MacKenzie's 43-yarder and an Espinosa-to-Mogilnicki 10-yard touchdown early in the second.
Wooster finally broke through when Hackel got free to the left, and keyed by a block from wide receiver Nate Kleinman, sprinted down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown to make it a 20-7 game.
Ohio Wesleyan, though, gained further momentum, intercepting a Barnes pass at the Scots' 41 with :22 before the half, and executing a hook-and-ladder play to perfection as Espinosa threw to Mogilnicki around the 30-yard line and he then flipped it to Jenkins, who was untouched going down the right sideline the final 30 yards.
It stayed 27-7 as both teams missed field goals during the third quarter. The highlight of that period was Wooster's Tyson Vogel forcing his second turnover of the day, a fumble recovered by Stephen McKinney. In the first half, Vogel intercepted an Espinosa pass in the end zone to halt a drive.
Those takeaways helped the Scots stay close enough to put together their epic comeback in the fourth.
Statistically, the game was pretty even, as the Bishops narrowly outgained Wooster 419-391 and had two more first downs (20-18).
Barnes completed 14-of-22 passes for 169 yards, setting the single-season school for passing yardage (2,243) in the process, while Hackel became the first Scot back since 2006 (Dustin Sheppard) with a 1,000-yard season, rushing for a career-high 158 on 31 totes.
Highlighting Ohio Wesleyan, Espinosa threw for 321 yards on 30-of-49 passing, with Mogilnicki catching eight balls for 120 yards.
|Players and coaches, and the marching band (background), celebrate their dramatic victory, as Wooster caps the 2013 season with a 7-3 record, a five-win improvement over last year.|