William Penn University
MOUNT PLEASANT —
The 14th-ranked William Penn football team had quite a battle on its hand midway through Saturday night’s rainy contest against Iowa Wesleyan, but an exceptional running game, paired with a nice defensive effort, helped the Statesmen claim a 39-14 season-opening win.
William Penn (1-0) picked up all of its 357 yards on the ground, but it ended up being big plays on defense and special teams that really broke the game open.
The teams were tied at 14 entering intermission with the Tigers (0-1) actually owning a 177-141 edge in yards at that juncture. That all changed early in the third quarter when the visitors came up with potentially the biggest play of the game.
It began with a Marcus Kerrigan punt sticking Iowa Wesleyan deep. A few players later, the Statesmen defense forced the home squad to punt.
The snap to punter Aaron Brown was high, making him chase the ball into his own endzone. He was met there by a pack of Statesmen and was stripped of the ball. Jonathan Swartz pounced on the pigskin to give the Statesmen the lead for good.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kerrigan executed a trick play to perfection by dribbling an onside kick 11 yards before falling on it at his team’s 46-yard line. The offense failed to pick up a first down, but Jason Johnson showed he was able to match Kerrigan in the punting game as he dropped his attempt at the two-yard line.
That is where the defense, which allowed just 81 yards in the second half, stepped in as Travis Provo caught the Tiger running back behind the goal line for the first of William Penn’s two safeties. The other came in the final minute of play when Brown kneeled down in his own endzone to pick up a snap, resulting in the final two points of the night.
Provo’s safety still only left the Statesmen with a meager 23-14 lead entering the final stanza. The offense found its groove late, though, as Taylor Parsons broke free on a 68-yard scoring scamper 10:38 remaining. Shawn Davis then hit paydirt from 24 yards out for the proverbial nail in the coffin at the 3:56 mark.
Parsons finished with 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but could not find a target in the air attack, misfiring on all six of his tries. Davis added 95 yards, but fellow fullback Evan Ressler was the real offensive star with a career-high 136 yards and a first-quarter score.
Linebackers Brock Peery and Scott Adams topped the defensive effort with nine tackles each, while Joseph Frye added eight stops and a pass breakup.
Johnson showed his versatility as a defensive end by chasing down IWC quarterback Kevin McConnell for one and a half sacks. Provo and Nick DiMarco added a sack each.
“I really liked the way our team persevered tonight,” Penn coach Todd Hafner said. “We did not play very well in the first half, but Iowa Wesleyan had a lot to do with that.”
“We came out and played much better in the second half in all three phases of the game,” Hafner added. “Evan Ressler, Taylor Parsons, and Shawn Davis all did a great job carrying the offense and the defense played lights out after halftime. Many lessons were learned tonight that will make us a better team in the long run.”
With the win, Hafner ties legendary coach Ron Randleman as the program’s all-time winningest coach. Hafner is now 53-37 in eight-plus campaigns, while Randleman was 53-16-1 from 1969-1975.
William Penn travels to North Newton, Kan., next Saturday to face Bethel in non-conference action at 11:30 a.m.