WILMINGTON, Ohio - The Wilmington College football team scored on its first two drives and outgained Marietta College, but three turnovers including two fumbles deep in its own territory proved costly in a 35-26 Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) loss at Williams Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Fightin' Quakers opened the game with a defensive stop followed by an 11-play, 65-yard drive capped by a Kyle Barrett one-yard touchdown rush on 4th-and-goal. After another defensive stop, Barrett found Itika Wynn Jr. for a 65-yard touchdown. The point-after attempt failed, and Wilmington led 13-0 after just over 10 minutes of play.
The Pioneers, who had won six straight over the Quakers entering the game, answered with a 13-play, 77-yard drive that took over six minutes and ended with a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone. Both teams failed to score on their next drives, and despite a 10-yard punt from Wilmington, the Quakers' defense stalled Marietta's drive and got the ball back to their offense with 6:17 to play in the half leading 13-7.
Then came the momentum shift that gave the Pioneers the upper hand. After a three-yard rush from Gino Hinton Jr. and a two-yard completion from Barrett to Ace Taylor, the Marietta defensive line got the the Quakers' quarterback on 3rd-and-4. Barrett, attempting to scramble away, fumbled the ball which was picked up by Marietta and returned to the one-yard line. Tanner Clark pounded it in on the next play to give the guests their first lead, 14-13. On Wilmington's next drive, Barrett was sacked and fumbled again, and Marietta's Drake Neuberger returned it for a touchdown.
The Quakers' offense, after two bad possessions, rallied for an 11-play, 83-yard drive that ended with Barrett finding Luke Richardson for a 25-yard score. Wilmington nearly doubled Marietta in offensive yardage in the first half (253-130), but entered the break down 21-20 thanks to the turnovers.
"We solid to good football for three-and-a-half quarters," Wilmington Head Football Coach Bryan Moore said after the game. "That span in the second quarter ultimately decided the game as we had a lead and couldn't get out of our own way. Mishandling a PAT snap, shanking a punt, a mental error running a kick return back from our own end zone, and two fumbles is a good recipe for losing games. I was proud of us battling back to put ourselves in position to win the game in the fourth quarter."
Wilmington opened the second half with a three-and-out, but its defense came up with a stop on 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line as Tavion Bryant got in the passing lane. The Quakers' offense drove into Marietta territory attempting to regain the lead, but the drive stalled as Barrett's pass to an open Ace Taylor on 4th-and-9 was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
Marietta answered with a long pass completion from Kyle McSweeney to Ryan VanMeter which setup a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Trailing 28-20, Wilmington wasted no time in answering as a one-yard Hinton Jr. run capped a 75-yard drive to get the hosts within 28-26. Unfortunately for Wilmington, the missed PAT in the first half would come back to bite them as the two-point conversion attempt failed.
The Pioneers scored on the next drive to go up by two scores, 35-26. The Quakers mustered one more drive deep into Marietta territory, but Barrett was intercepted on a tipped pass in the end zone.
Wilmington finished with 402 total yards including 341 on a 27-of-39 performance from Barrett. Marietta had 359 total yards including 132 from Clark, the OAC's leading rusher, on 42 carries.
"I thought Coach [Corey] Fillipovich and our defense staff put together a great plan to hold Tanner Clark to 3.1 yards per carry," said Moore. "That's no easy task. Offensively, we moved the ball pretty consistently despite relying heavily on our passing game."
Wynn Jr. hauled in 11 receptions for a career-high 164 yards and a touchdown, marking the fourth game the sophomore has gone over the 100-yard reception plateau in a game this season. Taylor pulled in 10 receptions for 89 yards while Richardson had four catches for 75 yards and a score.
VanMeter led the Marietta receiving core with six catches for 101 yards. Adrew Barker, who also caught six passes, had 80 yards. Defensively, a trio of Quakers - Michael Vargo, Bryant and Ameer Jackson - all had double-digit tackles while Vic Giovengo had 11 for the Pioneers.
"Overall, I love our team and how hard they play. I can't ask for much more out of them," Moore said. "Part of being a good team is simply not playing like a bad one, and we did exactly that for eight minutes. They will bounce back, though, there's a lot of grit and 'tuffness' in our locker room."
Wilmington heads to Baldwin Wallace University next Saturday.