For the fifth consecutive season, PSAC East Coach of the Year Bill Zwaan led the West Chester University Golden Rams (9-3) into an NCAA D-II Playoff game. For the first time since November 18, 2006, the Golden Rams came out on the winning end of a playoff game. This time the Golden Rams defeated the Southern Connecticut State University Owls 52-32 to advance to the second round of the tournament. “We do so much stuff on offense out of so many formations,” Zwaan said. “I know in one week’s time it’s tough to prepare for everything we do. So I always feel like when we’re in that situation we have an advantage.”
West Chester came out and scored quickly. Redshirt freshman Jackson Fagan ran off right tackle and scampered 61 yards to the end zone to open the scoring for the Golden Rams less than two minutes into the game.
The West Chester defense came out onto the field with the same intensity as the offense. Two plays into the Owls first offensive possession, senior defensive end Mike Walter forced Southern Connecticut’s quarterback Chris Roberts to fumble. Nose tackle James Thorpe recovered the fumble for West Chester setting the offense up with great field position.
Two plays into their next offensive possession, junior quarterback Joe Wright found tight end Ryan Paulson for a 12-yard touchdown pass giving West Chester an early two touchdown lead.
“We had a good game plan going in,” Wright said. “We saw a couple things that we like to take advantage of. We called the right plays at the right time and executed well. Our line played great and our receivers came up with big catches when we needed them to.”
Southern Connecticut came out on their possession looking to get back into the game. Roberts hit wide receiver Andre Privott for 29 yards to put the Owls in Golden Rams territory. Roberts than hit Tyron Marshall for 20 yards to put the Owls inside the red zone. Following a series of runs by halfback John Wiechman, Roberts took a low snap and ran three yards into the end zone to put the Owls on the board.
Early in the second quarter, West Chester got fancy. On third -and-eight from their own 39-yard line, the Golden Rams executed a perfect double reverse, flea-flicker pass that went 49 yards to Darryl Canty to put West Chester at the 12-yard line. Four plays later, Wright found Harlon Hill Trophy Candidate and PSAC East Offensive Player of the Year Mike Washington for a 3-yard touchdown to extend West Chester’s lead to 21-6.
“We’ve been running that play for years,” Zwaan said of the trick play. “As soon as we call it our kids know exactly what to do. It’s been a great play for us.”
Just like last week’s PSAC Championship Game against the California University of Pa. Vulcans, this game started to become a back and forth affair.
Southern Connecticut began going to the run. Wiechman rattled off a couple of runs, including a 27-yarder to put the Owls inside Golden Rams territory. Robert than found Privott for 18 yards to move the Owls closer to the end zone. Roberts threw his first touchdown of the day hitting wide receiver Chris Bergeski from 12 yards out to make it 21-12 West Chester.
Wright and company came back on the field looking to put more points on the board. Wright hit Fagan for 10 yards to start off the drive. Wright than hooked up with junior Steve Miller for 19 yards to move inside Owls territory. Wright hit Andrew Taylor for 16 more yards to continue to move the chains. Following a Paulson 14-yard reception, Fagan scored his second touchdown of the game from seven yards out to extend the Golden Rams lead.
Southern Connecticut came back onto the field and began their march down the field. Roberts completed a series of passes to numerous receivers to move closer to the end zone. With less than a minute remaining in the half, Roberts found wide receiver Johnny Lee from 11 yards out to make it 28-18 West Chester at the half.
At the half, Fagan led all rushers with 77 yards and two touchdowns. Wright had 205 yards passing, tossing two touchdowns and one interception.
Southern Connecticut looked to cut into the West Chester lead to start the second half. Roberts hooked up with Bergeski for a 10-yard pass play to open the half. Roberts again exploited the Golden Rams secondary hitting tight end Peter DiGangi for 15 more yards. The secondary for the Golden Rams finally made a play.
“Our defense didn’t play as well as we wanted them to,” Zwaan said. “But they made big stops, they got big plays. From the stand point they did some great things for us and that helped us get some points.”
The unsung hero for the Golden Rams defense this year, Dan DePalma, recorded his team leading fourth interception of the season. Roberts threw a pass out left that was tipped by a Golden Rams linebacker and picked off by DePalma and returned 13 yards.
“There are always them plays in the game that change the momentum,” Zwaan said. “No question that that helped turn the momentum because at the end of the half they scored and we didn’t get that last touchdown. This play got us back on top.”
Midway through the third quarter, West Chester began mixing it up a little. Following an 11-yard pass play from Wright to Paulson, Fagan got into Owls territory with a 14-yard run. Wright then completed consecutive passes to Canty and senior Pat McDermott to move further inside Owls territory. Fagan added to his big day with a 4-yard touchdown run, his third of the game.
Southern Connecticut’s offense came out looking to find a way back into the game. Following a couple of short runs by Jarom Freeman, the West Chester defense made another huge play. On third-andfive, Roberts threw a pass that was intercepted by nose tackle Scott Schiavo and returned 22 yards for a West Chester touchdown to increase their lead to 42-18.
“I grabbed the ball out of the air,” Schiavo said. “I saw the corner and I was like ‘I’m scoring.’ There ain’t anything else you can do. Sam [Scott] had a nice block.”
After a defensive stand late in the third quarter, Wright made a mistake of his own. Early in the fourth quarter, Wright was intercepted by Owls linebacker Jerome Pinckney and returned 24 yards to the West Chester 31-yard line.
On the first play of their next possession, Roberts connected with Privott for a 31-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-26 following the two-point conversion.
West Chester went to the ground game to try and eat up as much clock as possible. Fagan ran six consecutive times for 25 yards, including a 15-yards personal foul penalty against the Owls. Senior kicker Alex Walsh booted a 31-yard field goal to make it 45-26 West Chester.
On the Owls next possession, Walter recorded the first and only sack of the game for both teams when he took down Roberts for a 7-yard loss. That did not faze the Southern Connecticut offense. Roberts found Bergeski for a 51-yard catch and run to move inside the West Chester 5-yard line. One play later, Wiechman scored from 5 yards out to cut into the Golden Rams lead.
After falling on the onside kick by the Owls, Fagan again became the main focus on the next offensive possession. With a 13-point lead, the Golden Rams were looking to move down the field and take time off the clock.
West Chester was also helped by some mistakes by the Owls. On a 9-yard run by Fagan, Southern Connecticut was called for a 15-yard face mask penalty to move the ball inside the 20-yard line of Southern Connecticut. Chad Halterman finished the drive off plunging into the end zone from two yards out to make it 52-32 West Chester.
Linebacker Greg Smith ended the Owls chance of a comeback with a interception with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Fagan led all rushers with 172 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Wright finished 18-25 for 250 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Washington finished with 52 yards rec
eiving and a touchdown on seven receptions. PSAC East Defensive Player of the Year Mike Dell led West Chester with eight total tackles.
“Of course it’s fun,” Fagan said. “But I’m more for team than anything. I’m more happy we got the win more than anything else. Everything worked. The offensive line played really well.”
“Our offensive line really played well,” Zwaan said. “Jackson ran the ball very well. The one thing that people have found out over the years is that we are more than Mike. He’s a great, great, great player and has had an unbelievable career, but when Mike hasn’t had great days, we’ve had other guys step up and play. We’ve got some good players on offense, not just Mike.”
Roberts finished 23-35 for 350 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Wiechman led the Owls with 86 yards rushing and one touchdown. Bergeski led all receivers with 103 yards receiving and one touchdown. Privott added 102 yards and a touchdown.
Next week, West Chester travels to Bloomsburg to face the No. 1 seed in the Super Regional One bracket the Huskies. This will be the second time in three weeks that the Huskies and Golden Rams will meet. This will also mark the second time in three years that West Chester will travel to Bloomsburg for a playoff game. Bloomsburg defeated the Golden Rams 21-20 in 2006.
“Of course it’s going to be hard fought,” Zwaan said of facing Bloomsburg next week. “They’re really good. We’re really good and we know each other really well. There won’t be any fooling anybody. We got to go out there and make plays and they got to make plays. I think it’s going to be a heck of a football game.”
West Chester is now 5-8 in NCAA Playoff games . West Chester swept three of the four major awards in the PSAC East – Offensive Player of the Year (Washington), Defensive Player of the Year (Dell) and Coach of the Year (Zwaan) . Mike Washington now has 57 career touchdown receptions, a WCU record . With his seven extra points, Alex Walsh is the all-time leader in extra points in the PSAC . Joe Wright is just the fifth quarterback in school history to pass for 3,000 yards in a single season . West Chester landed 16 players on the All-PSAC East first and second teams
LJ Harrell is a third-year student majoring in Business. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.