Bears stave off comeback, earns second straight win
The Bears’ defense denied Oberlin College’s fourth-quarter comeback on their final drive of the game, coming up with a huge pair of stops on third and fourth down to help the Bears come away with a 24-21 victory.
In a game that the Bears led 21-0 after three quarters, the defense never wavered in the final minutes.
“We were still confident,” sophomore defensive back Scott O’Brien said of the defense on Oberlin’s last drive. “We knew what we could do. We knew if we stopped the long pass, we could eliminate most of their offensive production.”
Despite going deep into Wash. U. territory on both of its first two drives, the Oberlin offense tallied no points in the first quarter, thanks to a missed field goal and a fourth-down stop by the Bears. The Yeomen’s third drive ended with no points as well after an interception by O’Brien.
“Our philosophy as a program is to shut down the run, and we pretty much did that,” head coach Larry Kindbom said. “You force teams to be one-dimensional, and we did pretty good with that.”
The Bears’ offense, however, had some troubles of its own in the early going. An interception, a punt and a missed field goal were the end results of Wash. U.’s first three drives on offense.
With 5:12 remaining in the opening half, the Bears struck first as junior quarterback Dan Burkett hit senior wide receiver Easton Knott for a 46-yard touchdown, his sixth of the season. Oberlin threatened to score at the end of the half but came up just short once again. The Bears maintained the 7-0 lead going into halftime.
“That was very big,” Kindbom said of Knott’s score. “It was fun to see him get the ball and be able to make a play, and that’s what he did. Some people had the angle on him, but he just took off.”
After a three-and-out by the offense to begin the second half, the Bears seized the momentum as freshman Ryan Bednar intercepted a pass and took it all the way to the one-yard line. It took the Bears four plays from the one, but a sneak by Burkett made the score 14-0.
The Wash. U. defense went into lockdown mode at that point, forcing the Yeomen into three straight third-quarter three-and-outs. Across four drives in the third quarter, the Bears allowed just four yards.
“Our front seven did a great job,” O’Brien said. “They just couldn’t do anything on the ground. So that helped us out a lot.”
A quick-strike drive brought Wash. U. another touchdown, as the Bears needed only four plays to go 56 yards and make the score 21-0 with six seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Yeomen, however, made it clear that they weren’t going down without a fight on the first play of the fourth quarter, when they hit a 70-yard touchdown pass to get on the board.
Suddenly it was the Bears who found themselves struggling on offense, with a pair of three-and-out drives of their own. Wash. U. stopped another Oberlin drive on fourth-down, but a seven-play, 82-yard touchdown drive brought the Yeomen within one score with 8:14 remaining.
“They made some good plays. Their quarterback was pretty good, and he did a good job of passing. They just kind of opened it up deep, and their wide receivers just made plays,” O’Brien said.
On the Bears ensuing drive, Burkett connected with sophomore Mike McGovern on third down for a 43-yard gain. Despite being forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal from junior Eric Chalifour, Wash. U. had some breathing room that it would ultimately need.
Oberlin turned the pressure up by returning the ensuing kickoff for 59 yards to the Wash. U. 18-yard line, and six plays later another touchdown pass brought the score to 24-21. The Bears recovered the onside kick that followed but couldn’t run out the clock and punted.
Taking over at their own 18-yard line with 1:43 remaining, Oberlin advanced to their own 46 before stalling on their final drive. Junior Will Small picked up a sack on first down, and a pair of incompletions on third and fourth down sealed the win for the Bears.
Despite being outgained 462-300 in yards and beaten in several other statistical categories, some key stops in their own territory made a difference for the Bears. With three games left in the season, they will go into conference play on a two-game winning streak.
“We told our kids two games ago ‘let’s make a run at this thing,’” Kindbom said. “We’re going to try to run the table.”
Wash. U. will be back in action on Saturday at Carnegie Mellon University. Kickoff from Pittsburgh, Pa., will be at 12 p.m. EST.