For the Lions, they played their biggest football game of their careers yesterday, hosting Wisconsin-Whitewater, the No. 1 ranked team in Division III football.
The Warhawks, the reigning Stagg Bowl champions who have won five championships since 2007, made their first-ever trip to the College’s campus. Throughout the game, they showed the Lions why they are the top-ranked team as they rolled to a 48-0 win.
“This was the biggest game of my life,” junior strong safety Martin Flately said. “They are the best team I’ll ever play in my football career. I have a lot of respect for them.”
This was the first game played between Wisconsin-Whitewater (3-0) and the College. In turn, the 2016 football team will travel to Wisconsin to return the favor.
The Lions (1-2) have now completed their non-conference part of their schedule. After their bye next week, the team will go into the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) to play a road game against Morrisville State on Saturday, Oct. 4.
“We completed against the No. 1 team in the nation,” Lions head coach Wayne Dickens said. “They didn’t hang 95 points on us. We didn’t come out of the game looking like a mash unit. We played football – and at times, we played very credible football. Now, we’ll use this bye week as we hope to get some guys healed before going into conference play.”
On Saturday, Sept. 20, the Lions averaged 1.5 yards per play against the Warhawks defense. While the offense struggled, Flately made the biggest play of the game.
With a 4th and 7 from the Lions 15-yard line, Wisconsin-Whitewater kicker Lake Bacher had his 32-yard field goal blocked. Flately recovered the ball from the Lions 36-yard line and returned it 54 yards to the 10-yard line.
Following the turnover, the Lions went four plays and negative 10 yards to close out the second quarter.
“It was exciting,” Flately said. “I was just trying to do my best and make it down the field. Once I had the ball, I knew it was going to be a big play. I was running down the sideline, then I completely ran out of gas. It would have been nice if we scored after my big play.”
The Warhawks had 535 total offense yards with 340 yards through the air. They averaged 7.4 yards per play in 72 offensive plays.
“I thought we all played well,” Flately said. “We kept a solid effort throughout the game. Obviously, there are things we need to work on. We need to continue to play the game as hard as we possibly can.”
The Lions defense played against an NFL prospect on Sunday, Sept. 21, as senior Warhawks receiver Jake Kumerow had nine receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown. According to NFL.com, he is ranked as the fourth best prospect from a small school for the 2015 NFL Draft.
“If I was still working for one of those teams on Sunday, he would be on my board – and he wouldn’t be near the bottom,” Dickens said. “He’s a very good player who is skilled and works well in their scheme. They don’t do a lot with him, but what they do, they do it well. When the ball’s in his area, he’s going to come up with the catch. That’s what the big time receivers do.”
On the first drive of the game, the College drove 13 plays and 74 yards down to the Warhawks one-yard line. On third and goal, sophomore quarterback Michael Marchesano handed the ball off to running back Matthew Popek. The sophomore rushed for no gain, and Wisconsin-Whitewater senior safety Zach Nellis caused a fumble that was recovered by senior cornerback Marcus McLin.
“The drive was great,” Flately said. “The defense was watching in awe. It was wonderful watching the drive against the No. 1 team in the country. If we had scored there, it would have been the first time they were down all season. It would have been amazing. That’s just the way things go.”