Faraway, and yet so close! Though Oberlin football lost their past three games, the Yeomen came so close to victory last Saturday that they could taste it, losing to the Earlham Quakers 19-14 in Richmond, Indiana. The Yeomen held a 14-13 lead going into half, but the defense surrendered one score and the offense was stifled in the second half, leading to another frustrating defeat.
The victory would have been the first of the season for Oberlin, and the first since last year's opening-game victory over Thiel. Instead, Oberlin's losing streak was extended to 16 games.
"We should have won," defensive lineman first-year Mike Runshe said, "[But] we made some mistakes we shouldn't have. We learned from our mistakes, though."
The game started in more encouraging fashion than any other this season. The Yeomen defense held Earlham to one first down before shutting them down and forcing them to punt.
Oberlin's offense also showed more promise earlier than it has in any other game this season. The Yeomen got the ball at their own 25 and drove the ball down to the Earlham 28, fueled by a strong ground game and a 15 yard run by first-year J.J. Gilmore. The drive stalled there, with the Yeomen turning the ball over on downs.
The Quakers took advantage of Oberlin's inability to capitalize, covering 72 yards in 7 plays, all on the ground, for the game's first score. They could not, however, convert the point after, and so the score stood at 6-0.
The teams exchanged the ball several times, but neither put together a drive for the rest of the first quarter. However, Earlham defensive back Nate Norton intercepted a pass by sophomore quarterback Geno Walker on the first play of the second quarter, giving the ball to the Quakers at the Yeoman 38. Earlham took advantage of the turnover and good field position, crossing the goal line after six plays. This time, the point after touchdown flew through the crossbars, and Earlham led 13-0.
Though the Yeomen had played tough football up to that point, it appeared that they might fall into the same pattern of getting behind big early and becoming frustrated, digging themselves an even bigger hole. That was not the case this fair Saturday. Instead, Oberlin put together a 37 yard drive following the kickoff, but ultimately had to punt. But on the very next play, junior Jabari Spruil picked off an Eric Schuemann pass, and returned it 19 yards to the Earlham 31. Five plays later, Walker connected with senior wideout Anthony Johnson for 14 yards into the end zone for the first Oberlin score, Johnson's first touchdown catch of the year. The two point conversion attempt failed, and the score sat at 13-6 in favor of Earlham.
After getting the ball back, the Yeomen put together one of their best drives of the year. Starting at their own 29, they drove down the entire field, 71 yards, in 13 plays, capped finally by another scoring pass from Walker to Johnson, this one 8 yards.
And this time, the Yeomen successfully converted the two-point conversion
Johnson finished with his best day of the year by far, showing the form that led him to set school records in receptions and yards receiving last year. He ended with 8 catches for 111 yards, including the two touchdowns. Teammate wideout senior Felix Brooks-Church had an off day, finishing with only one catch for 13 yards, that catch coming in the first Yeoman scoring drive.
After several exchanges back and forth without a score, the Quakers got the ball on their own 29-yard line. On the first play of the drive, running back first-year Jeremy Swank broke loose down the field, and didn't stop until he reached the end zone with a 71-yard touchdown run. Though the Quakers again failed to convert on the point after, this time a two-point conversion attempt, this was the last blow to the Yeomen.
Swank finished the day with 15 carries for 182 yards, out-rushing the Oberlin ground attack by himself.
Oberlin came within striking distance twice again during the game, with fourth-down attempts falling short at the Earlham 20 and 9 yard lines. The second drive, which ended at the 9, was followed by Earlham running out the clock against an exhausted and demoralized Oberlin defense.
Wideout senior Sean Wesolowski was obviously disappointed with the outcome of the game. "It felt bad," he said. "We played well all game, and made one mistake, one big mistake." Wesolowski, however, is optimistic for the remainder of the season. "We've steadily improved," he said, "That's what kept us in the game and had us winning. We know that we can play with most of the teams in the league. Kenyon [a week from Saturday] is another type of game that we have a chance to win."
Runshe says that Oberlin's personnel are not lacking in one particular aspect, at least. "The guys on this team have an unbelievable amount of heart."
The Yeomen came into the Earlham game on the heels of a 68-0 home loss to undefeated Wittenberg October 17 and a 55-8 road loss to likewise undefeated Wooster October 10. Oberlin plays Saturday at Case Western Reserve University.
Butting heads: The Crimson Thunder square off in practice on North Fields. (photo by Matt Maddy)
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 7, October 30, 1998
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