Injuries plague opening win
Maintaining the Washington University football team motto, sophomore defensive back Sam Noffs said of the season’s first game Saturday, “I thought the team did really well, and we found a way to win.”
The 34-27 victory over Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. was the Bears’ twelfth consecutive season-opening win, breaking the school record of 11 straight season-opening wins that began in 1914.
“We won the first game. That’s all that’s important,” said senior defensive back Kyle Runnalls. “We only lost about, oh four or five guys.”
Unfortunately those four or five guys were going to play major roles on the team this season. Freshman receiver Jeff Buening broke his wrist and junior linebacker Kevin Cherrick broke his leg. Also, having likely torn his anterior cruciate ligament and fractured his left knee, Gus Haug, a key starter at tight end, may never make it back in for his senior year. Plus, starting running back John DeLeon came out injured.
“There was an interception so I went to go tackle a guy,” said DeLeon. “I grabbed him around the neck, and then other guys came in. The whole pile got flipped around, and my leg ended getting caught under something.
“I might not be playing anymore this year if it’s as bad as I think it probably is,” said DeLeon, expecting a torn ligament. “If that’s the case I might have to have surgery. It’s definitely not cool.”
Already having to rely heavily on their freshman forces, the Bears are a little worried about these injuries.
“If we keep this pace up we’ll have to go recruit some high school kids to come play for us,” joked junior offensive lineman Bo Murphey.
Fortunately, DeLeon had a willing and ready replacement. Beginning his rookie WU season, sophomore running back Bobby Collins made a good first impression with “phenomenal” playing, according to fellow sophomore DeLeon. Collins rushed for 152 yards on 21 carries to pace the WU offense. The Bears totaled 228 rushing yards on 44 carries and outdid WC’s -31 yards rushing.
Head coach Larry Kindbom also praised his special teams and freshman defensive back Reggie Crume, who ran back five punts for 93 yards.
As predicted, Westminster quarterback Chris Marshall kept the game close with 395 yards passing and four TDs, while the Bears’ air attack netted only 81 passing yards from QB Brian Tatom.
Sophomore kicker Jonathan Feig hit a pair of field goals from 26 and 38 yards to give the Bears an early 6-0 lead, and junior RB Mike Friedman’s two-yard run with 0:22 left in the first quarter extended the lead to 12.
However, by this time, the Bears had already realized a 37-0 shutout like last season would not nearly be as simple a task.
“In this game, we just found out that we’re going to have to fight our way through every game of the season,” said DeLeon. “We played well enough, but we’re definitely going to have to get better to make it through the schedule we have.”
Suddenly, the back-and-forth battle began as Marshall and WU’s senior defensive back/ kick returner Quincy Davis dominated the second quarter.
Marshall brought the Blue Jays to within five on a 15-yard pass to Jeff Hawkins, but Davis quickly answered with an 85-yard kickoff return. Down 18-7, Marshall threw another TD, this time a 19-yard pass to get back within five again. However, with 3:04 left in the half, Davis blocked an extra point attempt and returned it 90 yards for a two-point conversion, sending the Bears into the locker room with the psychological edge.
“That rarely happens,” said Murphey. “Due to the fact that the game was so close, the three-point swing was definitely a killer for the other team.”
Soon after the second half began, WU found its greatest lead, 27-13, on a four-yard scamper from DeLeon’s.
But Marshall would not give in just yet. He ignited a Westminster comeback, delivering a 38-yard pass and a 58-yard bomb to Andy Jahnsen, who racked up eight catches for 249 yards.
With the game tied, Friedman completed a key one-yard run early in the fourth for the 34-27 winning margin.
Facing fourth-and-20 at his own 10-yard line with under two minutes to play, Marshall looked to please the home team once more, while Jahnsen caught a 46-yard Hail Mary. But the Bears would not allow WC within the 30-yard line, as Runnalls broke up a fourth-down pass in the endzone to secure the win.
“I told our guys before the game it was going to be a four-quarter game,” said Kindbom. “That was probably more prophetic than I would have liked. They were well prepared, and I was impressed.”
“They threw a lot of loops at us, like parts of their defense showed our offense a lot of different things that we hadn’t prepared for,” said Murphey.
Now the men that can still play will look to improve defensively by forcing turnovers and by finishing off offensive drives.
“I’m happy that we pulled off the victory, but we all know that we are going to have to improve a lot to meet our goals for the season,” said Noffs. “We have some pretty high goals. We want to win our conference and make the playoffs, then do well in the playoffs.”
He and his teammates also look ahead to their next match-up, the home opener against Illinois Wesleyan University at 6 p.m. this Sat., September 8. Wesleyan went 9-1 last season and shut out WU 24-0 in their meeting last year
“This time we want a shutout,” said Noffs. “That’s what we shoot for every time.”
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