The 2008 West Chester University Golden Rams football season came to an end on Nov. 22 at Bloomsburg 28-21. After a fourth quarter interception return for a touchdown ended the season for West Chester, the seniors leave with a lot accomplished and the returning players look ahead to what needs to happen to capture that elusive national championship. This season the Golden Rams won the PSAC East with an undefeated conference record for the second consecutive season and played in the re-emerging PSAC Championship game for the first time since 1987.
Led by an offense that was one of the best in the country and a defense that made big plays down the stretch, West Chester made the NCAA DII Tournament for the fifth consecutive season under Head Coach Bill Zwaan.
The season opened on Aug. 30 against a high powered California University (Pa.) Vulcans team that made the NCAA semifinals the season before. With first time starter Joe Wright at the helm for the Golden Rams, West Chester put up a fight but fell short losing 44-32. After the loss, everybody had a feeling that this wouldn’t be the last time the two teams would meet.
After lowering the hammer on the Lock Haven University Bald Eagles, West Chester traveled to Delaware to face the Blue Hens. Even though the offense put up 20 points against the normally tough Blue Hens, the defense struggled as Delaware put up 48 points for the win.
A week later, everyone was introduced to stud sophomore running back D’Andre Webb. In the 41-10 victory over the Marauders, Webb ran for a school record and career high 306 yards and four touchdowns.
Another record fell a week later when the Golden Rams defeated Kutztown 49-8. Wright threw for a career high 385 yards and tied the school record with six touchdown passes. Harlon Hill candidate and pre-season All-American Mike Washington again entered his name into the record books. Washington, who scored on a 57-yard pass play, set the school’s all-time touchdown reception record on this day.
A week later, against then undefeated East Stroudsburg, West Chester took the comeback path to come away with a victory. Sophomore cornerback Dan DePalma intercepted Warriors quarterback Tim Roken on the first play of the fourth quarter and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Golden Rams the lead for good. Redshirt freshman Jackson Fagan, starting for Webb, rushed for a career-high 178 yards in his first start.
After disposing of PSAC newcomer C.W. Post, West Chester welcomed the Shippensburg Red Raiders to Farrell Stadium on homecoming weekend. The Golden Rams came away with a 25-7 victory. DePalma recorded an interception that he returned 96 yards, which was followed by a 5-yard touchdown run by Washington.
West Chester than showed no mercy as they bullied Cheyney in their 60-6 victory over the Wolves. A week after the win, West Chester traveled to Bloomsburg for the right to go onto the PSAC Championship game.
Late in the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-goal, Wright snuck into the endzone from 1-yard out to give West Chester the lead. When Bloomsburg went for it on fourth-and-two, the West Chester defense stepped up and stopped the powerful running game of the Huskies to win the PSAC East and go on to face California for the second time this season.
During the PSAC Championship game, West Chester and California went back-and-forth, but the Golden Rams were not able to pull out a victory. West Chester had a 75-yard fumble returned for a touchdown and a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown but the defense was not able to stop the high-powered offense of the Vulcans.
Sitting with an 8-3 record, West Chester had to wait until selection Sunday to hear if they were going to make the playoffs or not. After waiting and waiting, the word finally came out that the Golden Rams were not only in the playoffs, but were hosting a playoff game.
West Chester welcomed the Southern Connecticut State University Owls to Farrell Stadium for a fierce playoff matchup. Behind 172 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Fagan, the Golden Rams defeated the Owl 52-32 to advance to the second round of the NCAA DII Playoffs.
In the final game of the season against the Huskies, West Chester was in it until the very end. Wright threw one touchdown pass to Washington but that was not enough to come away with the victory.
West Chester finished the season 9-4 and 7-0 in the PSAC East.
The accolades for West Chester have continued rolled in. Washington was named PSAC East Offensive Player of the Year. Mike Dell was names PSAC East Defensive Player of the Year. Bill Zwaan was named PSAC East Coach of the Year.
The Golden Rams will be without eight seniors next year:
-Captain Mike Washington
-Captain Mike Walter
-Captain Tyler Downes
With many of the offensive and defensive starters returning next season, the Golden Rams have a chance to advance even further into the playoffs next season.
A strong point on the offense next season has a chance to be the running backs. With Kevin Garland, D’Andre Webb, Lee Hopkins and Jackson Fagan all returning, the Golden Rams running attack could be as fierce as any in the country. With Wright returning for his second season as a starter, and Steve Miller and Ryan Paulson coming back as seniors, the offense will be tough to stop.
The strong point for the defense could be the linebackers. All four starting linebackers: Dell, Sam Scott, T.J. Cascio and Greg Smith will all be returning for their senior seasons and with another year together could be one to be reckoned with.
On the defensive line, PSAC sack leader, Walter, will be tough to replace. With Troy Wasserleben and Lucas Fickel battling it out, they could combine to be a formidable replacement for Walter along the line with James Thorpe and Travis Ford-Bey.
A point of concern for the Golden Rams could be the kicking game. With punter/kicker Walsh graduating, the duties will now belong to Chris Hill. The freshman will have big shoes to fill next season.
As Walter said following the loss to the Huskies: “They’re going to be good next year, boys. We’ll be back. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.”
Next year could be a great season for the Golden Rams. As we looked back on a successful 2008 campaign, we can look ahead to the 2009 season and what could happen. West Chester has a chance to do something special. If injuries are avoided this team has a chance to bring home that long elusive national championship.
Offensive Player of the Year
Mike Washington. The senior wide out broke 12 national, conference, and school record en route to one of the most prolific careers of any player in the history of college football. He is also a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist, which is rewarded to the best player in college football at the DII level. He finished the season with 64 receptions, 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Offensive “Rookie” of the Year
Joe Wright and Jackson Fagan. Wright passed for over 3,000 yards in his first season as the starting quarterback for the Golden Rams. His 28 touchdown passes were tied for fifth most in a single season in school history. Fagan filled in admirably when Webb was lost for the season with a knee injury. The redshirt freshman finished with 979 yards and seven touchdowns on the season to lead the West Chester running attack.
Defensive Player of the Year
Mike Dell. The junior linebacker finished with 113 total tackles. He also has four consecutive games with double-digits in tackles. Dell also had 4.5 sacks and two interceptions on the season.
Defensive “Rookie” of the Year
Dan DePalma. The sophomore finished with a team-high four interceptions with one bein
g returned for a touchdown. He also made a big difference as a kick and punt returner as the field position battle seemed to always be in West Chester’s favor.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Walsh. The senior averaged 42.4 yards per punt. He also had 14 touchbacks, turning the field position battle in West Chester’s favor in a number of games. Walsh also finished 6-9 on field goals, with a long of 32 yards.
Coach of the Year
Bill Zwaan. In his sixth season leading the Golden Rams, the head ball coach led West Chester to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. He also led the Golden Rams to their second consecutive PSAC East Championship and third overall during his tenure. Zwaan has accumulated a 54-22 record in his six seasons at West Chester.
LJ Harrell is a third-year student majoring in business. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.