Wesley routs Wm. Paterson 59-14 for NJAC title, D-3 tourney berth

DOVER — Samer Manna is the lucky one who ended up with the trophy in his hands.

The junior linebacker got hoisted up his teammates with the trophy held high above his head at midfield.

Really, of course, the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship belonged to all the Wolverines.

And No. 20 Wesley did it the hard way on Saturday afternoon, spotting underdog William Paterson a 14-point lead before running away with a 59-14 victory in their regular-season finale at Miller Stadium.

Perhaps the game was fitting, though, in a year in which the Wolverines (8-1 NJAC, 8-2 overall) started 1-2 only to reel off seven wins in a row.

Wesley’s Samer Manna is hoisted high by his teammates with the NJAC championship trophy after the Wolverines beat William Paterson Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Wesley’s Samer Manna is hoisted high by his teammates with the NJAC championship trophy after the Wolverines beat William Paterson Saturday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

It’s the second time in its two years as an associate member of the NJAC that Wesley finishes as co-champion of the league. But, unlike last year, the Wolverines earn the conference’s automatic NCAA Division III playoff by virtue of its 43-7 win over Frostburg State, the other co-champion this season.

“They counted us out,” said senior running back Jamar Baynard, who scored a pair of touchdowns on Saturday. “We just worked together after starting off 1-2. That’s all you can ask for. The young guys bought in and everybody came together.

Wesley’s Jamar Baynard is cut down by William Paterson defender Darrius Flowers but he still managed to get into the end zone for a 3rd quarter touchdown. The play capped Wesley’s first possession in the second half. . (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Wesley’s Jamar Baynard is cut down by William Paterson defender Darrius Flowers but he still managed to get into the end zone for a 3rd quarter touchdown. The play capped Wesley’s first possession in the second half. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“It’s exciting. That’s hard to come back from 1-2 and be able to win out. This conference is tough.”

“From the beginning of the season, I think people just doubted us,” said Manna. “We came to the realization that we needed to buckle down and start winning games. So we did.”

Former Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan, now with the Cleveland Browns, made a surprise visit to Dover to watch the Wolverines beat William Paterson and clinch a berth in the Division III playoffs Saturday. He is pictured with Wesley College President Bob Clark after the game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Former Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan, now with the Cleveland Browns, made a surprise visit to Dover to watch the Wolverines beat William Paterson and clinch a berth in the Division III playoffs Saturday. He is pictured with Wesley College President Bob Clark after the game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

But the Pioneers (1-8, 2-8), who fell to the Wolverines, 63-0, last season, made them earn it this time.

William Paterson sandwiched a pair of nice scoring drives around a defensive stop to grab its 14-0 advantage with 1:16 left in the first quarter. Along with moving the ball consistently, the Pioneers also kept Wesley’s high-scoring offense off the field.

Once the Wolverines got started, however, they quickly turned things around.

Quarterback Nick Falkenberg found receiver Alex Kemp behind the defense for a 47-yard touchdown pass that gave Wesley a spark. The Wolverines then erupted for 28 second-quarter points to take control, 35-15 by halftime.

Kemp, the sophomore from Caesar Rodney High, had a big afternoon, pulling in three TD passes and finishing with eight catches for 170 yards. Falkenberg threw five scoring passes, going 19-for-24 for 285 yards with no interceptions.

“In the first quarter, we only went on the field one time really,” Kemp said about trailing early. “We were definitely anxious to come back out there and get on the field. They were controlling the game at first.”

“We’ve been there before, we’ve battled through adversity,” said Baynard, who ran for 83 yards on 15 carries. “Everybody just sticks to the script around here. Nobody gets down on each other. … There was nothing to panic about.”

If there was a crucial moment, in the second quarter, it came with Wesley leading 28-14 late in the period. William Paterson had a great chance to get back in the game when Wesley fumbled a punt at its own eight yard line.

But, two plays later, Wolverine cornerback Anthony Brinkley jumped a slant route to intercept a pass in the end zone.

Wesley’s offense then turned around and marched 80 yards in seven plays for a TD while taking only 1:18 off the clock. Falkenberg completed all five of his pass attempts on the drive while also running for 13 yards on another play.

Falkenberg hit Kemp for a 27-yard scoring pass as the receiver cut inside around the five to elude a Pioneer defensive back. The TD came with only 14 seconds left in the half to give Wesley its 35-14 cushion at intermission.

“We work on the two-minute drill all the time at practice,” said Kemp. “To go out there and capitalize off it is just a great feeling. We look at it like, any time we get a chance to put the ball in the end zone, we might as well take a shot at it.”

The Pioneers never really challenged again as Wesley added 17 points to its lead in the third quarter.

Wesley outgained William Paterson 544-260 in total yards and 30-12 in first downs. The Wolverines also forced five turnovers.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to head into the playoffs for the 12th straight year. The NCAA Division III bracket is slated to be unveiled today online at 6 p.m.

Wesley likes the way it’s playing right now.

“We’re peaking,” said Baynard. “These past couple weeks, we’ve definitely looked like a team — offense, defense. Everybody’s coming together. I feel real confident going into the playoffs.”

“We have so much momentum,” said Manna. “The chemistry’s there. We’re all just playing good football.”

Extra points

Brinkley had two of Wesley’s three interceptions. Andre Connally had the other. … Dan Kesack, who had been Wesley’s starting QB, lined up as a reserve wide receiver on Saturday. He had one catch for six yards. … Sophomore Khaaliq Burroughs was the Wolverines’ second quarterback in the game, scoring his first TD on a one-yard run. … Manna was Wesley’s leading tackler with 10 stops. … Tight end Tory Robinson made a nice, leaping 18-yard scoring catch on a pass from Falkenberg in the third quarter.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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