Wesley tops Christopher Newport 31-14, awaits playoff berth

Wesley coach Mike Drass celebrates with his players. (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — It wasn’t the flashiest performance that E.J. Lee has played this season.

But in the end the sophomore runner did what he has done in every other Wesley game this season, topped the 100-yard mark.

With a workman-like 101 yards on 27 carries, Lee helped the Wolverines (now 9-1) close out their regular season with a 31-14 victory over Christopher Newport (5-5, 4-5 NJAC)and finish their New Jersey Athletic Conference at 9-0.

“We knew they were going to be a hard defense,” Lee said. “We knew that they were going to hit us. The offensive line just did what they had to do and they were grinding and pounding. Hats off to them.”

Wesley secured an automatic bid last week with their victory over Salisbury, but with this win may have secured at least one home game during the NCAA Division III playoffs, which begin next Saturday.

“We take a lot of pride in that,” said senior offensive lineman Matt Gono of Lee’s 100-yard streak. “We take it very seriously. E.J. is a phenomenal running back. He’s a special player.”

Like the past couple of weeks, the Wolverines fell behind early, when the CNU corner Justus Drakeford picked off a Khaaliq Burroughs pass and raced 51 yards for a touchdown. It was one of three first quarter turnover for Wesley.

Each time though, the Wesley defense clamped down, and didn’t allow a score until late in the fourth quarter, while their offense chipped away a stout Captains defense.

Wesley seniors gather following Saturday’s victory that ended the regular season. (Wesley sports information)

“We knew it was going to be hard, Wesley Coach Mike Drass said. “Watching them on film, they are a very good football team. We knew we’d have to work hard to get this win and we did.”

In all the Wolverine defense, forced three turnovers of its own, while allowing just 32 rushing yards with three sacks.

“We can always count on the defense to get stops,” Lee said. “They fly around get big hits and get us the football back.”

Lee pulled the Wolverines even late in the first quarter on a three-yard run to cap and 85-yard drive and then four-yard run by Burroughs just before the half gave them a 14-7 lead at the half.

Wesley widened its lead in the third quarter with a Nick Bruhn 26-yard field goal and 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by Corterris Simpson.

Burroughs capped the Wolverines scoring with a 34-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter. The quarterback rushed 11 times for 61 yards, despite completing just 10-of-24 passes for 169 yards.

With 31-7 lead, Wesley removed Lee from the game late in the third quarter.

“He could have more a lot more (yards,)” Drass said. “We just decided in the third quarter, the game was in hand, let’s not tempt fate here.

“I think he’s got some serious accolades coming up. We just didn’t want to put him in a situation where he could get injured.”

It was also the final regular season home game for 18 Wesley seniors.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Dajahn Lowery, a senior cornerback whose interception thwarted the Captain opening drive of the game. “

Hopefully, we get another home game. It would be good to play here one more time.”

It is the thirteenth straight year the Wolverines have advanced to the NCAA playoffs. This group of seniors has one their first round game each season and advanced to the semifinals in 2014. The group is 41-8 over the past four seasons.

“I am very proud of our seniors,” Drass said “Going undefeated in your conference, that is not easy at all. It’s a hard thing to do. We are really proud of our guys for accomplishing that.”

With a string of 12 straight first round playoff victories on the line, the Wolverines know that the stakes get higher next week.

“It feels good to win the conference,” Gono said. “It’s a good cap to the season. We are looking forward to the playoffs and keeping it going as long as we can.

“When we go into this game if have to bring a different level of focus. It’s one (loss) and done now. We have to be ready to play our best.”

EXTRA POINTS: Linebacker Sammer Manna had a game-best 13 tackles with a sack and two forced fumbles …The Wolverines blocked a field goal in early in the fourth quarter. It was their tenth block of the season good for second in D-III this season . Running back Elijah Minter carried the ball 16 times for 53 yards, mostly in the fourth quarter as Wesley took time off the clock….Wesley has advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament six times in the past 12 seasons … Lee’s touchdown run was his 20th of the season and tied Brandon Steinheim for the school’s single season record. He also time Steinheim with his 10th 100-yard game in a season set in 1995. They NCAA D-III Playoff Selection show can be viewed tomorrow online at NCAA.com starting at 5:30.

Jason Bowen is a freelance writer from Dover. He writes the weekly Around the East column for d3football.com.

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