It was not supposed to end this early. The seniors for West Chester were destined to win a national championship. But the Bloomsburg University Huskies had something to say about that as the Golden Ram’s season came to an end in the second round of the NCAA D-II Playoffs following a 28-21 loss at Redman Stadium on a frigid Saturday afternoon. “Tough loss,” Head Coach Bill Zwaan said. “We played our hearts out, but a couple mistakes hurt us and Bloomsburg is a really good football team. Beating them twice on their field is hard to do.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair as neither team was able to pull away from their opponent’s throughout the game.
West Chester (9-4) could not do anything at the outset of the game as their first offensive possession resulted in a three-and-out. However, the Bloomsburg offense came out on the field ready to jump on the Golden Rams defense.
In the game on Nov. 7 that West Chester won to claim the PSAC East title, the Huskies ran up 233 yards against the Golden Rams defense. Bloomsburg came to this game with the same plan. On their 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive on their opening possession, Bloomsburg ran the ball 10 times and ate up five minutes and 39 seconds of clock.
PSAC East Freshman of the Year Derrick Price and second team All-PSAC East running back Stefan Adams accounted for 50 of the 70 yards on the opening possession.
“We came out on the first drive and had a lot of individuals trying to play to a different level and overcompensating,” senior defensive end Mike Walter said. “After that series, we sat down and realized that the only way to win this game is by playing team defense. By playing really well together with everyone flying around.”
Junior quarterback Joe Wright came back onto the field and executed a drive to tie the score. Wright completed four passes to junior wide receiver Steve Miller, senior wide receiver Darryl Canty, redshirt freshman Jackson Fagan and senior Harlon Hill Candidate Mike Washington to move inside the Bloomsburg 10-yard line.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Wright snuck into the end zone behind the left side of his offensive line to tie the score at 7-7. The West Chester scoring drive was an impressive 11 plays, taking over five minutes off of the clock.
Fagan, who needed 70 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau after starting the season as the third-string running back, started to become a focal point for the offense. After rushing for a short four yards, Fagan caught an 8-yard reception to give West Chester a first down inside Huskies territory. On the next play, Bloomsburg brought pressure and Wright threw up a wobblier that was intercepted by Huskies defensive back Jesse Cooper.
West Chester’s defense was not going to be outdone by the Bloomsburg defense. After moving into Golden Rams territory following an 11-yard rush by Huskies quarterback Dan Latorre, including an addition 15 yards for a personal foul penalty on West Chester, the linebackers stepped up and made a big play.
Junior linebacker T.J. Cascio blitzed from the right side of the Golden Rams defense and leveled Latorre who fumbled. Following a mad scramble for the ball, junior linebacker Sam Scott jumped on top of it to give the ball back to the West Chester offense with good field position.
“We gave it our all,” Walter said. “We fed off turnovers, just like any other team.”
The Golden Rams went back to work on offense. Wright found Miller for 14 yards to move down the field. Wright then hit Washington for 17 more yards to move within Huskies territory. But West Chester made another mistake. Two plays later, Fagan caught a pass from Wright and tried to gain a couple extra yards but was hit by Huskies defensive lineman Dave Huot forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Bloomsburg.
“You play this time of year in this game, second round of playoffs, and mistakes will come back to haunt you,” Zwaan said.
West Chester and Bloomsburg went into the locker rooms tied at seven-all at the half with both teams making mistakes and neither team able to take advantage of the mistakes.
The second half started much like the first half. After Bloomsburg came up short on a fourth-and-eight play, and West Chester went three-and-out. Bloomsburg went back to the ground game.
Dan Latorre showed off his wheels running a couple times. Price followed with a couple big runs of his own. And the big bruising Adams finished off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Huskies up by a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore Dan DePalma scampered 52 yards down the field to set West Chester up at the Bloomsburg 31-yard line.
The Golden Rams went back to Fagan who scored his first touchdown of the game from six yards out to tie the game at 14.
West Chester had the ball to start the fourth quarter and was moving down the field to try and score the go ahead touchdown. Following a couple of run and pass plays to Fagan, Wright made the biggest mistake of the season. Wright threw the ball to the outside and Cooper stepped in front of the West Chester receiver and ran 62 yards down the field for the Bloomsburg touchdown.
“It was a bad read,” Wright said. “It was a mental error on my part.”
“They’ve got a pretty good player,” Zwaan said of Cooper. “He makes big plays. He made a big play there. Sometimes other teams do good things, too. It was a major turning point obviously. I thought we had a little momentum at that point.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Bloomsburg was looking to put the game away. Following 10 consecutive runs, including nine from running back Kenny Domzalski, Bloomsburg caught the West Chester defense off guard. On a play action pass, Latorre found wide receiver Kyle Ream for a 28-yard touchdown reception to give the Huskies a two touchdown lead.
“They just keep plugging away and plugging away,” Walter said. “When Latorre scrambled for the first down, I got there a step late.”
West Chester needed to score and score quickly, and that they did. Wright found Fagan for 14 yards and a first down inside Bloomsburg territory. Wright and Fagan hooked up again for another 10 yards to continue moving the chains.
On fourth-and-10 from the Bloomsburg 18-yard line, Wright went to his money man. Wright bootlegged out to the right and found Washington dragging across the field to the left for an 18-yard touchdown to get within one touchdown of the Huskies.
“I made a bad throw,” Wright said. “He went up and snagged it out of the air. That’s Mike for you; he is an unbelievable player. He means so much to this team.”
Alex Walsh came out and attempted an onside kick but the Huskies were able to recover it. West Chester was looking to stop the Huskies from gaining a first down so they could have a shot of tying the game.
Following two runs, Bloomsburg went to the play action as Latorre found Ream for 32 yards down the field to end the game and West Chester’s hopes at a National Championship.
The seniors for West Chester: Washington, Walter, Walsh, Andrew Taylor, Tyler Downes, Canty, Jeff Broyan and Kennis Jones, have helped establish this program as one of the best in the nation.
“It’s a sad moment,” Walter said. “I’m done playing college football. Who knows if I’ll get to play football again. When I really think about it, I have no regrets. Nothing I left behind. I played as hard as I could from freshman year to senior year on every play. I can look myself in mirror and say it’s over but I did what I thought I needed to do.
“But it’s been a great experience. From day one to whatever today is. Hopefully I get a shot to play somewhere else. This program has always been in my head, this game in my head,” Walter continued. “One thing my parents always tell me is never have any regrets. One thing I accomplished was that I played my balls off,
man. I worked through injuries.
“They’re going to be good next year, boys. We’ll be back. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.”
Mike Washington finished his West Chester career with 4,715 yards receiving, sixth all-time in college football history . Washington’s 58 career touchdowns is also sixth all-time in college football history. Washington finished with 103 yards receiving, his 24th career 100-yard receiving game . Jackson Fagan finished with 973 yards rushing on the season . Joe Wright is fourth on the school’s all-time single-season list for passing yards with 3,336 yards
LJ Harrell is a third-year student majoring in business. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.