Marietta Upends Thiel, 21-18
Written by: William Albright on Saturday, September 6th, 2008
By Bill Albright
Western PA Writer
GREENVILLE — Many times in a close football game, the team that has the ball inside the final three minutes wins the game.
That was pretty much the case Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium as the Marietta College Pioneers came from behind in the waning moments of the game to upend the Thiel Tomcats, 21-18, in the season opener for both teams.
“They came up with the big play at the end of the game when they needed, but overall, I really feel that we beat ourselves,” said a disappointed Thiel coach Jack Leipheimer. “We gave up two big plays in the pass game and you just can’t do that. But I give their kids a lot of credit because they played hard for four quarters and they earned the win. Our kids played hard also and they never gave up. We just didn’t make the play when we needed it.”
With Marietta holding onto a 14-12 lead, the Tomcats put together a drive that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown.
Two of the final three plays were passes by Willie Bova to wideout Tim Van Horn, the first a 15-yard hookup to the Pioneer 11 and the second, a 7-yard TD strike with 3:03 left on the clock. Bova finished with 19 completions on 33 attempts for 197 yards and the pair of scores.
“He (Bova) is a heckuva competitor,” praised Leipheimer. “We are going to win a lot of ball games with him.”
With the score, the Tomcats had once again regained the lead at 18-14 following the third straight “botched” point after, but little did they know the worst was yet to come their way.
“I wasn’t really thinking about how much time was left. I was concerned how we might be able to get a two-point conversion to get it (the lead) up by five and see what happens,” said Leipheimer. “But I also knew there was a lot of time left on the clock.”
With less than three minutes (2:54) left, Bova’s counterpart, Dexter Hughes, took over the controls of the Marietta offense. Despite an incomplete pass and a sack for a loss of 10 yards, Hughes engineered the winning drive, hitting Jake Long for 18 yards, Chad Walker for another seven and finally a 43-yard effort to Marty Mueller that Mueller coughed up at the 1-yard stripe.
However, as fate would have it for the Tomcats, Mueller’s fumble went into the end zone, and Jake Long proved to be “Johnny on the spot” for the Pioneers as he recovered the fumble for the winning score.
The inability of the Tomcats to get off the field on third down hurt their cause as the Pioneers converted on 7-of-15 third-down snaps, many in crucial situation.
“We were horrible,” said Leipheimer about the inability of his squad to stop the Pioneers on third down. “We were absolutely horrible on third-down defense today and there is no doubt about it. We could not get ourselves off the field and you cannot do that and be successful. We just have to re-focus and get better at what we are doing.”
Defensively, Tom Butera led the way for the Tomcats with 10 tackles and a pair of pass breakups, while Clint Walker registered eight tackles, including one for loss.
Now 0-1, the Tomcats have to iron out their mistakes next week before making their way to Albion for a non-conference game Saturday afternoon.
Back at the controls: Willie Bova missed a lot of last season with injuries. However, the junior signal-caller from Port Allegany, said what happened during his sophomore season hasn’t affected him thus far this year.
“I just have to make decisions quicker,” said Bova. “It was a tough situation, but it just didn’t work out for me today. I simply have to make better decisions and throw the ball better.”
As for getting belted while throwing his big pass to Van Horn to keep the Tomcat drive alive, Bova said that is just a part of the game.
“If you are going to get hit anyway, you might as well do what you can to throw a good ball and make your reads,” he said. “Like coach (Kurt) Reiser says, you are going to get hit so you might as well stand in there, take it like a man and just deliver a good ball.”
As for the touchdown throw, Bova said it was a result of something the coaches picked up.
“We noticed they were biting pretty hard on the run fake,” he said. “Their backers came up pretty hard, Timmy (Van Horn) ran an excellent route to get into the hole (in the defense) and I was able to find him.”
He would rather be in there: For the greater part of three seasons, tailback Mark Hess had to wait his turn and pay his dues while playing behind All-Conference performer Steve Minton. However, after patiently waiting his turn, Hess can now be found on the Tomcat sideline wearing a knee brace after suffering the injury in a intrasquad scrimmage.
“I have an injured right knee and the future of me playing either this year or possibly next year is very uncertain at this time,” said Hess. “I feel strong and hopefully, I will be able to get back on the field as soon as possible. That is all I can say except it is killing me to be on the sidelines.”
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