Football falls short against Wittenberg University at home

| Sports Reporter

Sophomore Tate Byers (34) tackles Wittenberg University running back Conner Wayre in the fourth quarter during Saturday’s game. Byers picked up nine tackles in the team’s 20-17 loss to Wittenberg.Nathaniel Margolies | Student Life

Sophomore Tate Byers (34) tackles Wittenberg University running back Conner Wayre in the fourth quarter during Saturday’s game. Byers picked up nine tackles in the team’s 20-17 loss to Wittenberg.

Senior wide receiver Easton Knott caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Dan Burkett, narrowing Wittenberg University’s lead to just three points with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter.

Francis Field shook with excitement as the Washington University football team was on the verge of an extraordinary comeback against the 21st-ranked team in the country. However, on the Bears’ final drive, Wittenberg’s defense brought the heat, forcing Burkett to throw an incompletion in a crucial fourth-and-long.

The game ended in a 20-17 loss.

“Well, I’m proud of them…We really played our butts off and someone had to lose that football game,” head coach Larry Kindbom said.

“It didn’t quite work out, but, no matter, our kids still played great.”

In the first half of Saturday’s game, the Tigers concentrated on establishing their running game with senior tailbacks Corey Weber and Conner Warye. Despite giving up a few first downs on the ground, the Bears’ defense showed its strength and relentlessness, giving up only 2.5 yards per carry.

“We knew they were going to do whatever it takes in their mind to win and we knew coming in that we had to shut down their running game,” Kindbom said

The Bears’ offense struggled to move the ball in the first half as Burkett found difficulty in establishing his rhythm with his receivers. After failing to convert on third down in their first drive, Wash. U. attempted a fake punt; junior quarterback Adam Banks’ pass sailed incomplete and gave the ball back to the Tigers, who capitalized on the opportunity with a field goal.

“Absolutely no regrets,” Knott said of the fake punt. “That’s just the way we play and our team likes to take chances. Nine out of 10 times, we’ll run that play and it’ll work. It’s too bad we couldn’t make it work [in the game].”

Later in the quarter, Wittenberg’s defense picked off a Burkett pass that was intended for Knott. Wasting no time and using a no-huddle attack, Weber and Warye moved the chains down to the Bears’ goal line, where quarterback Reed Florence’s touchdown pass gave Wittenberg a 10-0 lead.

The Wash. U. coaching staff subbed in Banks, hoping that he could spark the offense. The decision paid off, as Banks completed several precise throws to junior running back Chris Castelluccio, senior wide receiver Austin Morman and junior wide receiver Drew Sexton, ending the drive with a field goal. The Bears finished the half trailing 10-3.

Wash. U.’s offense exited the break firing on all cylinders as Burkett came back in with much more confidence, establishing a rhythm with his receivers. He connected with senior tight end Brennan Fox for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 8:44 left in the third quarter.

“I thought we took over in the game at that point, but, you know, they’re a good team. They’re tough to beat,” Kindbom said.

Tied at 10-10, the Tigers marched down the field twice in the fourth quarter to score a field goal and a touchdown. Faced with a two-possession deficit, Wash. U. desperately needed to score with six minutes left in the quarter. Burkett connected with Knott for a 30-yard touchdown pass on a crucial fourth down that had the crowd of 863 standing and cheering.

“We knew that we had to get this first down in order for us to have a chance,” Knott said. “I just ran down the field hoping to make a play and Burkett threw a great pass.”

Down by a field goal, the Bears’ defense made crucial tackles to stop the Tigers, but Wash. U.’s offense couldn’t get the chains moving as the Wittenberg defense brought the pressure. Burkett overthrew sophomore wide receiver Mike McGovern, who ran a deep route that could have potentially given the Bears the lead on the drive’s first play. Burkett was sacked on third-and-ten for a loss of 9 yards and overthrew Knott on fourth down to turn the ball back to Wittenberg with 1:02 left.

“Yeah, it’s definitely disappointing. We came in thinking that we would win this game and we know that any given day we could have,” sophomore running back John Hagemann said. “We came out and fought, and that showed a lot about this team.”

The Bears will look to bounce back from their loss against North Park University on Saturday, Sept. 24, in Chicago.

“[The players] will be OK,” Kindbom said. “It’s tough to lose, but I think we’ll be ready for next week. We’ll learn and rebound from our loss and get better.”