When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. On Saturday, the #12 West Chester University Golden Rams (8-1), playing without Osagie Osunde and Brandon Hargrose, faced an unfamiliar opponent in the St. Joseph’s College (Ind.) Pumas, however,when it seemed like things were not going their way, WCU was able to find a way out of trouble to defeat the Pumas 34-20.
From the opening kickoff it looked like West Chester was going to be able to manhandle St. Josephs. D’Andre Webb returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back because of a holding penalty. As if that wasn’t enough, on that first possession, as West Chester was driving inside the red zone, Bill Zwaan Jr. was picked off by Pumas defensive back Deshon McClendon to end what seemed to be a nearly flawless opening drive.
“We were inside the twenty three times today, but we couldn’t score. We had two fumbles and I threw an interception,” Zwaan Jr. said of the turnovers in the red zone. “We can’t turn the ball over especially versus a good team like Califonia [next week]. I think we have bad luck or something.”
West Chester’s defense continued their strong play. The Rams did not allow the Pumas to do anything on their opening possession and Mike Walter intercepted Anthony Lindsey’s pass deep inside Pumas territory.
“The defense played great. The kickoff return and late touchdown were against the second group,” Coach Bill Zwaan said of his team’s defensive prowess throughout Saturday’s game, “We really played great defense throughout the whole game and in particular in the third quarter when we needed it to get the score separated.”
After the Walter interception, the Rams were in great position to put the first points on the board as they started at the Pumas 10-yard line. But on the first play, Pat McDermott ran up the middle, but fumbled and Lance Burns recovered to end what again could have been a scoring drive for the Golden Rams.
Midway through the second quarter, the fans witnessed history. Zwaan hit Mike Washington on a short 12-yard pass, which helped the junior pass Kevin Ingram’s career receiving yardage mark of 3,159 yards. With over one year remaining in his West Chester career, Washington could set this record at a high mark that may never be passed.
“It’s great. He has another year left so it’s going to be his record forever probably,” Zwaan Jr. said of his favorite target breaking the school’s all-time career receiving yardage record. “It’s great for him. He’s setting all kinds of records. He is a great receiver.”
Zwaan would connect with Steve Miller three times, including a 28-yard touchdown pass, to finally put some points on the board for the Golden Rams.
St. Joseph’s did not travel ten hours from Indiana for nothing. On their very next possession, the Pumas went down the field riding the legs of running back Greg Ford. Ford was able to break off a 46 yard run off of a draw play that beat the Rams defense. A couple of plays later, safety Mike Mignogno had a pass interference penalty called against him that set the Pumas up at the Rams two yard line. Jashon Banks plowed in for a two-yard touchdown run that would have tied the score, but SJC missed the extra point.
The turnover bug hit the Golden Rams again on the next possession. After driving down the field and again entering the red zone, Dean Millard fumbled the football on the four-yard line that defensive back James Wyatt recovered for the Pumas. West Chester went in at the half up only 7-6.
In the third quarter, West Chester’s defense stepped up again and forced the Pumas to punt. The Rams offense came out fired up. On a third and long, Zwaan was able to hit tight end Ryan Paulson for twenty-four yards and then he hit Washington for a 41-yard touchdown.
“I think they were a little bit angry with themselves. I wanted them to open up their eyes, see what was happening, and get out there and play and they did. They played that way in the second half,” Zwaan Sr. said of his team’s second half adjustments.
Deqwan Young returned the next kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to decrease West Chester’s lead back to one point.
West Chester received great field position when Kevin Garland returned the kickoff 20 yards to the 35-yard line, but the play also added five yards because a Pumas player was offside.
It then became the Zwaan-Miller show. Zwaan hooked up with Miller a couple more times, which including a 48-yard touchdown pass for Miller’s second, and Zwaan Jr.’s third touchdown of the game.
Even though they were backed up inside their own five-yard line, West Chester was able to move the ball down the field. Zwaan hit Washington for another touchdown, this one for 15 yards, to give the Rams a 28-13 fourth quarter lead.
West Chester would later score on a Lee Hopkins nine-yard run. St. Joseph’s would add a score late in the fourth quarter on a Lindsey pass to wide receiver Victor Torres.
The duo of Washington and Miller combined for 301 yards receiving and four touchdowns. This marked the twelfth time in school history that two players each surpassed the 100-yard mark in the game. This game also marked the fifth consecutive game that Mike Washington went over 100 yards receiving.
“I try to open things up for him; he tries to open things up for me. It’s a big thing for both of us to get a lot of yards,” Miller said regarding the play of Washington and himself. “He has helped me out a lot. With him getting double covered helps me a lot. Wide open down the sideline from him running people off and I try to run people off for him too.”
West Chester had 536 yards of total offense. Zwaan Jr. completed 21-29 passes and threw for 350 yards and had four touchdowns, which gives him a career high 24 on the season. The Rams racked up 186 yards rushing and one touchdown. Lee Hopkins led all rushers with 106 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.
“He played another great game. Hopefully he can keep doing it. If he plays like that the next few weeks we can be in great shape. We rely a lot on him. He has come through for us,” Zwaan Sr. said of his quarterback.
The defense, which has played great the past couple of weeks, surrendered only 223 yards of total offense against St. Josephs. Sam Scott, Lateef Ferguson, and Rashad Grimsley led West Chester tacklers with six apiece. Scott also had the only two sacks on the day for the Golden Rams.
Next week, the Golden Rams host PSAC Western Division Champion and undefeated California University of Pennsylvania at John A. Farrell Stadium for a 1 PM kickoff. This game has major implications when it comes to playoff seeding and the Northeast Regional Rankings in which Cal ranks #1 and WCU ranks #2.
“It’s going to be a good one. They’re a good team, we’re a good team, and we’ll find out next week,” Scott said about next week’s game against Cal (Pa.).
LJ Harrell is a second year student majoring in business. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.