Block Football’s Attempt for Third Win
By Colin Smith
two and a half quarters they were in control. Through three-plus
quarters they were still in position to win. But ultimately, a combination
of seemingly minor miscues throughout the game added up to a heartbreaking
loss for the Oberlin College football team.
In a game that good defense and a stiff wind had turned into a field-position
battle, Oberlin built a 13-0 lead over Ohio Wesleyan University.
But a blocked punt in the third quarter set the Battling Bishops
up for an easy touchdown, cutting the lead to 13-7. The Bishops’
only real scoring drive was a nine-play, 54-yarder in the fourth,
but it proved to be the game winner as the Bishops edged the Yeomen
14-13. The win for OWU moved it past Oberlin in the North Coast
Athletic Conference standings with a 3-3 record, while Oberlin dropped
“As a team we didn’t play well enough to win,”
head coach Jeff Ramsey said. “I think at times we played not
to lose. You can’t do that. You have to play to win.”
The Yeomen still had a chance after the Bishops’
go-ahead touchdown, which came just over six minutes into the fourth
quarter, leaving plenty of time. Sophomore Vinnie Hachigian set
them up with excellent field position by returning the ensuing kickoff
45 yards to the OWU 40.
The Yeomen went to work on the ground as Oberlin called seven consecutive
rushes. With the offensive line moving the Bishops off the ball,
sophomores Chris Jordan and Travis Oman combined for 35 yards.
“It was good to see our kickoff return team come up with a
big return,” Ramsey said, “and then to see our offense
respond by driving to the five.”
But facing third and four from the five, Oman was stuffed on Oberlin’s
eighth straight run, forcing Oberlin to bring in the field goal
unit for a potential go-ahead kick. Sophomore kicker Steve Willever,
who has been money in the bank all season for the Yeomen, pulled
the 22-yard try left, with the wind helping to push the ball wide.
“Here’s a guy who holds all our kicking records,”
Ramsey said. “He wants the ball in that situation, to win
the game. He makes that [kick] 19 times out of 20.”
The defense allowed OWU a first-down, but forced a punt on the next
set of downs, giving Oberlin the ball at its own 22. Surprisingly,
the Yeomen called three straight rushes, gaining 30 yards against
an OWU defense geared for the pass, but burning a lot of time. Senior
quarterback Chris Moffatt followed by firing three straight incomplete
passes and a run up the middle on fourth and 10 failed, effectively
ending the game.
The Yeomen had been in position to take an early
lead on the third possession of the game when the game’s first
big field-position break went their way. After junior Joseph Lourigan,
punting in place of injured sophomore Ryan Drews, pinned the Bishops
at their own eight early in the first, the defense forced a three-and-out.
The OWU’s Neil Smiley shanked the punt and it landed out of
bounds at the Bishop 23. But after the Yeomen drove to the OWU 15
they were stymied, and Willever’s low field goal attempt was
That first blocked kick looked like it might prove inconsequential,
though, as the Yeomen took advantage of good field possession throughout
the first quarter, finally taking a 7-0 lead three minutes into
the second. Oberlin got a great return on a designed reverse, with
first-year Chad Kutting tossing a scary-looking lateral to Barker,
who returned it to the Bishop 42. Then, facing fourth-and-one at
the OWU 33, the Yeomen lined up in punt formation, but snapped the
ball to junior Greg Jaquay who plowed ahead for the first down.
Moffatt followed with a 25-yard strike to Barker and then on third-and-goal
from the five Jordan took an option and ran it in for the score.
After taking the second-half kickoff, Oberlin wasted little time
in adding to its lead. Jordan was stuffed on first down, but on
second down he took the draw as the offensive line opened a huge
hole and he was quickly into the secondary. Jordan easily outran
the nearest Bishop defensive back, taking the ball 59 yards for
“It was a pretty big confidance booster to start the second
half,” junior offensive lineman Andrew Roebuck said of the
But the six points were all Oberlin would get, as a protection error
allowed a Bishop through to block the PAT attempt.
The Bishops followed with their longest drive of the game to that
point, gaining 39 yards on eight plays before the defense forced
a punt, which OWU downed at the Oberlin seven. Oberlin got some
breathing room with a first down, but three plays later the Bishops
blocked Lourigan’s punt — their third blocked kick of
the game. The Bishops took over at the one and scored on the next
play to get back into the game.
“We gave them a score,” Ramsey said. “You can’t
put your defense in that position.”
More special teams blunders followed with a fumbled kickoff return
after the OWU score and later another botched punt, but neither
proved costly thanks to a huge forced three-and-out and a fumble
recovery by the defense.
But the Bishops finally produced a sustained drive when they took
over at their own 46 with 12:23 left in the fourth after an Oberlin
punt. They were given a huge yardage boost, though, by an Oberlin
penalty. After Oberlin had held OWU to one yard on a second-and-four
play from the 26, a Yeoman was called for a late hit on the play,
giving OWU 13 yards and a first down.
Junior safety Mark Lengal said that it appeared to the Yeomen that
the running back was still moving. “It was a late whistle,”
But the Bishops tied it with a touchdown three rushes later, and
hit the PAT for the deciding point.
The Yeomen’s struggles on special teams were
perplexing, as they have been strong in that area for most of the
season. Even with a committee of players doing the runbacks, the
return games have consistently produced good yardage, with several
large returns, while Drews has provided excellent punting. Willever
in particular has been a tremendous force for Oberlin. Prior to
last week, he had the highest field goal percentage among Division
III kickers with at least 10 attempts, having only missed one. Even
after missing two last week, he leads the NCAC in field goal percentage.
Lengal emphasized the difficulty of special teams plays, which require
good snaps, good timing and good protection. “One miscue and
it’s a blown play,” he said. Special teams particularly
hurt the Yeomen in costing them field position.
Jordan had a phenomenal day with the help of the offensive line,
rushing for 180 yards on 20 carries. Oberlin had 210 yards total
for the day. But Moffatt and the passing offense really struggled,
with only six completions in 23 attempts for 69 yards.
The defense, however, played it’s best game of the season,
allowing only 245 yards, its fewest of the season.
“We really played a great game,” Lengal said. “Personally
I think we shut them out. We played with a lot of heart. We played
The team had two sacks and seven tackles for losses, forced and
recovered a fumble, held OWU to seven of 19 on third down and forced
11 punts. Junior Greg Jaquay led the way with 20 tackles. The 14
points were the fewest the defense had allowed since surrendering
13 to Franklin an Marshall College in the season opener, but the
defense played more decisively against OWU. While the stats show
that Oberlin allowed two offensive touchdowns, one came from a first
and goal at the one.
“They were on the half-yard line. That was a tough one,”
The one-point loss was the closest game Oberlin
has played since losing 9-8 to Hiram in 2000. The OWU game was reminiscent
of last year’s game against Pomona-Pitzer College, in which
Oberlin led the entire game until Pomona won it in the last two
minutes with a punt return for a score. While Oberlin has now picked
up five wins during Ramsey’s years, the team has still had
trouble winning the close games.
“It’s a matter of learning how to finish,” Ramsey
said of holding on to tight leads. “It is a learned skill.
I’m looking at what I could do differently. I think it all
starts at the beginning of the season. That’s something I
need to improve on as a head coach.”
The Yeomen will have to put the heartbreaking loss
behind them as they face the Denison University Big Red, an NCAC
opponent, in their season finale at home on Saturday. The Yeomen
and the Big Red will come in with identical records, both in the
conference and overall (2-4 and 2-7). Both teams have beaten Hiram
College and Kenyon College, while taking losses to the higher ranked
conference opponents, but Oberlin defeated Denison last year and
is the more experienced, statistically better team.
“They shouldn’t be on the same field as us,” Ramsey
Although it is a game that the team feels it should win, the Yeomen
will have to avoid playing down to Denison’s level.
“We prepare for them the same way we prepare for anyone else,”
Roebuck said of that potential pitfall. “We have to play hard
for 60 minutes.”
The Yeomen will have plenty of motivation to play hard. Although
the loss to OWU cost Oberlin a chance to finish in the top half
of the conference, a win in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game would guarantee
Oberlin at least a sixth place tie in the conference, a place better
than last year. Combined with a Hiram College upset of Earlham College,
an Oberlin win would give them a tie for fifth. A win would also
tie Oberlin’s highest ever NCAC total, achieved in 1984.
In addition, the Yeomen will be trying to give a winning sendoff
to seniors Steve Barlow, Devin Heatley and Moffatt. Both Heatley
and Moffatt are three-year letter winners with the Yeomen.
“I think we’re going to let it all hang out and just
go 100 percent,” Lengal said.