On Saturday, the West Chester University Golden Rams showed why they were the preseason favorites in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Eastern Division. In the conference opener for both teams, the Golden Rams (1-3, 1-0 PSAC East) held on to defeat the East Stroudsburg University Warriors (1-3, 0-1 PSAC East) 35-31 in an exciting game that went down to the wire.”With a team like this they have to learn how to win and they have to learn how to win under tough circumstances,” head coach Bill Zwaan said. “In the end what we had to do we did and that is a huge, huge step for this football team. We learned how to win and make a play in the toughest of circumstances.”
“I think it was a very big step,” senior running back D’Andre Webb said after the hard fought victory. “We planned on coming in here and winning since we started 0-3. We can still win the East and we are trying our best.”
For the second consecutive week, West Chester ran the ball successfully to the tune of 182 yards, led by junior running back Jackson Fagan’s 94 yards.
The Golden Rams came out early looking to establish the running game against the Warriors, while also mixing in a couple of passes. Sophomore quarterback Mike Mattei started West Chester’s first offensive possession with a 24-yard pass to senior wide receiver Dan DePalma to get into East Stroudsburg’s territory. Mattie than found freshman Rondell White for 11 yards to move deeper into Warriors’ territory. Seven plays later, junior fullback Brian McDermott plowed into the end zone to finish off a 13-play, 71-yard drive in 7:17 for the Golden Rams.
On East Stroudsburg’s next offensive possession, the West Chester defense made a play against the Warriors offense. On the third play of the drive, quarterback Matt Marshall was intercepted by senior defensive back Cordero Newkirk after wide receiver Wade Williams couldn’t catch a pass that he tipped in the air.
The Golden Rams made East Stroudsburg pay for the turnover. Mattei found DePalma for 45 yards to get inside the red zone. Following a 13-yard run by Fagan, Webb scored from one-yard out to increase the West Chester lead to 14-0.
While the first quarter was all West Chester, the second quarter belonged to the Warriors. East Stroudsburg began to find momentum as they used a no huddle offense to get the upper hand on the Golden Rams defense. Eight plays into their possession, Marshall completed a screen pass to tailback Joe Klebon who scampered 25 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 14-6.
Following a West Chester three-and-out, the Warriors edged closer to the Golden Rams. Marshall completed a 12-yard pass to fullback Brent Jones to start the drive. Marshall completed four more passes before Jones rushed into the offense from one-yard out to make the score 14-13.
After another three-and-out for the West Chester offense, East Stroudsburg marched down the field once again. Marshall completed five passes for 63 yards to get deep into Golden Rams’ territory. With 37 seconds left, freshman kicker Taylor Groff nailed a 31-yard field goal to give the Warriors a 16-14 lead at the half.
In the second half, West Chester started the third quarter the way they started the first quarter. With 9:31 left in the third quarter, Fagan took a handoff from Mattei and patiently waited until a hole opened up along the left side of the line and darted down the sideline for a 73-yard run to the East Stroudsburg one-yard line. Two plays later, McDermott plowed into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game to make it 21-16.
“Jackson is a game breaker,” Webb said of Fagan’s long run. “Every time he touches the ball he is capable of doing that. I feel honored to be a one-two punch with Jackson.”
The Golden Rams defense made another play as sophomore free safety John O’Donnell picked off Marshall, broke a couple tackles and found his way into the end zone for a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown to increase the West Chester lead to 28-16.
“You need a big play and a big turnover,” Zwaan said of the O’Donnell pick six. “Even just a stoppage of these guys is huge. That play was unbelievable.”
It looked as though the Golden Rams were going to put the Warriors away after Webb capped off a 10-play, 76-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 35-16. Unfortunately for West Chester, East Stroudsburg had other plans.
“I walked in on my touchdowns,” Webb said. “Everyone blocked well and I walked into [the end zone]. Everybody did a good job; we played a good team game.”
Marshall finished off a 14-play, 56-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jones to cut the Golden Rams lead to 35-22. After West Chester’s third three-and-out of the game, the Warriors wasted little time in putting more points on the board. Marshall found Wade Williams in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 35-29.
After another three-and-out for the Golden Rams, East Stroudsburg had momentum, time and a hot quarterback coming onto the field with a chance for a come-from-behind victory. Marshall completed five passes to get inside the West Chester 10-yard line. But on fourth down, Marshall couldn’t connect with his receiver as the Golden Rams defense stepped up when they needed to.
Mattei ran out of the back of the end zone as time expired for a safety to end the scoring in the game.
Mattei finished 10-14 for 160 yards while not turning the ball over for the second consecutive week. Webb finished with 80 yards and two touchdowns. DePalma finished with a game-high 106 yards receiving.
“He’s growing every day,” Zwaan said of Mattei. “We need him to keep getting better because we’re going to need him to not just manage the game, but win a couple games for us down the road. But that’s okay because when that time comes I think he will be ready for it.”
Senior linebacker Morty Hoey and redshirt freshman defensive end Eric Edwers led West Chester with eight tackles apiece. Edwers (1.5 sacks) and senior defensive end Travis Ford-Bey (0.5 sack) each had a hand in a sack.
The Golden Rams entered the game with the top ranked pass defense in the PSAC, giving up 136 yards per game through the air. Marshall finished the game 30-44 for 302 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tailback Kendrick Williams led the Warriors with 58 yards on the ground, while Marshall added 57 yards. Wade Williams led East Stroudsburg with seven receptions for 66 yards. Linebackers Taylor Cave and Matt Freed led the Warriors with eight tackles apiece.
Next Saturday, West Chester hosts C.W. Post on Homecoming weekend at 2 p.m. This game is the first of three consecutive at home for the Golden Rams.
“Our kids are smart enough to recognize what it’s all about,” Zwaan said. “And we know what we want to do is win the East and we still have the opportunity.”
“Getting the first one was the hardest,” Webb said. “We played all four quarters this game and I think if we build off our performance today and continue to improve we will get where we need to be.”
LJ Harrell is a graduate student majoring in communications studies. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.