DOVER — They’ve become like a fearsome heavyweight boxer who comes storming out of his corner at the opening bell, fists flying.
All it takes is for him to land a few of those big swings and the bout is over.
On Saturday, the Wesley College football team piled up 35 first-quarter points against MIT and that was that as the fourth-ranked Wolverines cruised to a 59-0 victory over the underdog Engineers in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs at Miller Stadium.
It’s the ninth time in the last 10 years that Wesley (11-1) has reached at least the national quarterfinals. The Wolverines, who have won their first two playoff games by a combined 111-7, will host No. 9 Hobart (12-0) next Saturday at noon.
After erupting for 42 points in last week’s playoff opener against Hampden-Sydney, Wesley led 35-0 against MIT (11-1) as it got touchdowns from its special teams and defense along with its offense.
“If you can knock the wind out of someone’s sails early in the game, you put yourself in really good position,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “We wanted to come after them.”
“They are a phenomenal team,” said MIT coach Chad Martinovich, whose program was playing only its second playoff game. “They’re definitely the most athletic team we’ve seen this year. They lived up to what we thought they were.
“We would have had to play a lot better in the first quarter to make it a game and to have a chance and we didn’t. We didn’t take care of the football, gave up some big plays and the rest is history.”
The Wolverines scored their first four touchdowns in a span of just two minutes and 10 seconds midway through the opening quarter.
Bryce Shade had just scored the first of his three TDs on a 16-yard run when, on MIT’s first play from scrimmage, cornerback Zane Campbell tipped a pass and safety Leroy Cheatham stepped in front of it and raced 42 yards for a touchdown with the interception.
The Wolverines had four interceptions on Saturday, giving them 10 in their first two playoff games
“I always try to make big plays for my team,” said Cheatham, a first-year transfer from Defiance. “It helps out my confidence every time I make a big play.”
As for the interceptions, “That’s just us playing within our defense,” said Cheatham. “If we play the right defense, that’s what happens — we get turnovers, interceptions, fumble recoveries, whatever it is.”
But Wesley was just getting started.
After the Wolverines forced the Engineers to punt, defensive lineman Roderick Caine broke through and blocked the kick. Wesley had noticed that MIT took a little extra time getting its punts off to allow its defenders to get downfield.
Defensive back Andre Connally scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 35 yards for a touchdown that stretched the Wolverines’ lead to 21-0.
On MIT’s next possession, it was linebacker Julian Jones who pulled in an interception at the Engineers’ 41. It took just one play for quarterback Joe Callahan to find receiver Steve Koudossou alone behind the MIT secondary for a 41-yard scoring pass and a 28-0 Wesley lead with 7:48 still left in the first quarter.
Callahan was near-perfect again, completing 21-of-26 passes for 266 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Shade had six catches for 104 yards and two TDs while carrying it twice for 30 yards and another touchdown.
Shade said watching the Wolverines get points from its other groups only makes the offense want to score more.
“We can’t let the special teams score more than the offense,” he said with a smile. “Our job is to score. If they score, it’s not like we get upset but it’s like, ‘Oh, why did you have to score? Let us get it.’”
With a 49-0 halftime advantage, Wesley started playing its backups in the second half. Ben Martin (9 carries-106 yards) turned in a highlight-reel 69-yard TD run in the third quarter when he appeared to be stopped in the backfield, broke free and outran MIT’s secondary to the end zone.
The Wolverines outgained the Engineers 547-206 in total yards.
Defensively, besides the four interceptions, Wesley collected eight sacks for losses of 71 yards. Caine had 3.5 of the sacks.
“I really do believe the pressure made the quarterback throw the ball when he wasn’t ready,” said Caine. “We knew that so we just decided that we had to get after it.”
“We thought we were going to be a little bit better in protection,” said Martinovich. “Their speed off the edge with their defensive ends was tough.”
Saturday’s victory marked the 10th game this season that Wesley has won by at least 30 points. The Wolverines also broke the school record for points in a season.
But there’s every reason to think things will be much tougher for Wesley next week. The only other time the Wolverines faced Hobart, in the 2011 playoffs, they had to battle for a 35-28 win.
“Hobart came in here and really challenged us,” said Drass. “Since that game, they’ve kind of become a Top 10 team and is seriously recognized as a team that can go deep in the playoffs. We’re proud of our last two weeks of football but we know we have to shift gears and bring a level of focus to the playing field — and to practice and film — that’s going to get us a win.
“And we know that has to be a high level.”
MIT linebacker Cameron Wagar had a game-high 24 tackles. … Linebacker Sosthene Kapepula had a team-high eight tackles for Wesley. … Kicker Eric Speidel is now 60-of-60 on PAT kicks and 8-of-9 on field goals this season after hitting a 24-yard field goal on Saturday. … Senior cornerback Derrick Bender sprained his ankle and did not return. … MIT running back Justin Wallace, who was fourth in the country in rushing, saw only limited action after injuring his ankle last week. He had seven carries for 23 yards.
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