For the seniors on the West Chester University Golden Rams football team, 2009 hasn’t gone the way they had hoped. But after defeating arch-nemesis Bloomsburg University last week, the seniors had the opportunity to finish off their careers in purple and gold with a win on Saturday. They did just that defeating the Mercyhurst College Lakers 45-13 on Senior Day at Farrell Stadium.”It’s always good to end on a positive note especially your career somewhere,” senior linebacker Mike Dell said. “We started one game too late. If we hit the playoffs right now we’re rolling.”
“Once we lost to Shippensburg with three games left and the probability of not making the playoffs, I was concerned with how our group would finish it out,” head coach Bill Zwaan said. “Whether they would suck it up and play hard even though they didn’t have the playoffs in front of them and they did. You have to give our guys, especially the seniors, a lot of credit for coming down the stretch for playing the way they can.”
With the win over the Lakers (4-7, 3-4 PSAC West), the Golden Rams (7-4, 5-2 PSAC East) finish the season with three consecutive wins and momentum heading into the 2010 football season.
“Obviously you want to keep on playing,” senior quarterback Joe Wright said. “This is a good way to go out. Last game, come down here have some fun and put some points on the board; you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
A week after being spent physically and emotionally in the win over the Huskies, the West Chester offense struggled to get going early on. Late in the first quarter, the Golden Rams finally found their rhythm.
“To be honest, we weren’t practicing great,” Zwaan said. “By the way we were practicing I was a little concerned about how we would come out and play. I was hoping we could get a couple big things early. I knew if we didn’t get on the board quickly, it might take us a little while to get going.”
Following a failed fake punt attempt by Mercyhurst, Wright orchestrated a 10-play, 45-yard drive that ended with junior running back D’Andre Webb scoring from one-yard out.
In the second quarter, West Chester opened up their offense and continued to shut the Lakers down defensively. Wright found junior wide receiver Dan DePalma for 45 yards to move deep inside Lakers territory. Two plays later, sophomore running back Jackson Fagan found the end zone from six yard out to increase the West Chester lead to 14.
On the Lakers’ next offensive possession, another senior stepped up for the Golden Rams. Dell intercepted Mercyhurst quarterback Joe Laffey at the Lakers 32-yard line and returned it 14 yards to set the offense up in great position to add to their lead.
Two plays into their offensive possession, Wright found senior wide receiver Steve Miller for a 21-yard touchdown reception to make the score 21-0.
West Chester continued to move the ball on the Mercyhurst defense. Wright found senior tight end Ryan Paulson for 16 yards. Wright completed consecutive passes to Fagan for 11 yards and 29 yards to get the ball to the Lakers one-yard line. On the 29-yard reception, Fagan made numerous Mercyhurst defenders miss with ankle-breaking moves. Unfortunately for West Chester, they were not able to get into the end zone as senior running back Lee Hopkins was stuffed on three consecutive runs. Chris Hill made an 18-yard field goal to make it 24-0.
Mercyhurst finally got something going on offense. Laffey found wide receiver Max Khuri three consecutive times for a total of 42 yards before hitting Khuri in stride in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown to cut the West Chester lead to 24-7.
On their next offensive possession, the Golden Rams put the finishing touches to their 24-point second quarter. Wright showed off his wheels rushing for 16 yards to midfield. He would then complete passes to Paulson (seven yards), Miller (eight yards) and Sean Beahan (nine yards). With 45 seconds left in the first half, Wright found Miller for a 26-yard touchdown to increase the West Chester lead at halftime.
There was no scoring in the third quarter, as defense became the name of the game. But in the fourth quarter, the seniors for West Chester played their last quarter in a purple and gold uniform.
Wright found sophomore wide receiver Will Gardner for 10 yards before hitting Beahan for 17 yards to move deep inside Laker territory once again. Two plays later, Hopkins ended his Golden Ram career with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 38-7.
After ceremoniously taking the seniors out, the young players for West Chester showed the Senior Day crowd what to expect for next year. Sophomore quarterback Jared Jorgensen entered the game and continued to show why this program has a bright future. After handing the ball off on four consecutive plays, Jorgensen hit DePalma for a 46-yard touchdown pass to end the scoring for the Golden Rams.
Mercyhurst scored late in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Travis Rearick found Garrett Kensy for a 12-yard touchdown.
West Chester finished with 458 yards of total offense. Wright finished 23-30 for 328 yards and two touchdowns in his final collegiate game. Fagan and Hopkins led the Golden Rams with 35 yards on the ground and one touchdown each. DePalma finished with 110 yards and a touchdown. Miller finished with 107 yards and two touchdowns in his final game as a Golden Ram.
“I do see us as one of the top talented teams in the East,” Wright said.
“The rankings don’t show it but coming down to the end of the season we are one of the best teams in the PSAC,” Dell said.
The West Chester defense held the Lakers to 198 yards of total offense in the game. Mercyhurst was 1-for-16 on third down. Senior linebackers T.J. Cascio and Mike Holland led West Chester with five tackles apiece. Sam Scott and Dell added four tackles. Travis Ford-Bey had West Chester’s loan sack. Seniors Kevin Garland and Corey Rhood finished the evening with two tackles apiece.
“A lot of good football players,” Zwaan said of the outgoing seniors. “Certainly that linebacking core is outstanding and I don’t know if we’ll ever have a core like that again. Ryan Paulson will probably end up being one of the best tight ends to ever play here. And Joey’s numbers are tremendous. And Steve is going to end up in the top 10 in every category. All those guys are great football players.”
“I’m going to miss these guys,” Wright said of his fellow classmates. “It’s been a fun season. Our linebackers are ridiculous. They have so much talent it’s a shame we couldn’t put more points on the board in a few games because that defense we have was just incredible. The defense carried us this year.”
“We had tons of talent,” Dell said. “A lot of great football players. This class has been one of the best in West Chester history, we won a ton of games and down the road in a couple years West Chester is always going to be a good football team year in and year out and that’s the legacy you want to leave.”
The Golden Rams and their coaching staff have an off-season in which they will answer questions and prepare to move forward with the players continuing their playing careers next year. With their returning players, you can expect to see West Chester flying high once again and to continue making strides towards that ever elusive national championship.
Wright finished his senior year with 2,759 yards passing and 20 touchdowns . DePalma had a team-high 832 yards receiving this season . DePalma and Miller had a team-high nine touchdown receptions this season . West Chester averaged 33 points per game this season . The Golden Rams defense gave up 17.3 points per game this season
LJ Harrell is a fourth-year student majoring in Marketing. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.