Wesley tops Salisbury 30-20 for 3rd straight NJAC title

Wesley’s Khjaaliq Burroughs manages to get off a pass under pressure from Devon McClain of Salisbury State. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Wesley College’s defense was running out of chances.

With the New Jersey Athletic Conference title on the line, the Wolverines led rival Salisbury by three points midway through the fourth quarter.

But the Sea Gulls and their triple-option attack were driving — again — and faced a fourth-and-two at the Wesley 31.

That’s when Wolverines defensive tackle Steve Yorkman came up with one of the biggest plays of the afternoon.

The senior wrapped up Salisbury fullback Malique Pratt around his legs, bringing down the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior a yard short of the first down.

That fourth-down stop, with 8:04 remaining, turned the tide for good as the No. 13 Wolverines finally put away the No. 25 Sea Gulls, 30-20, to capture their third-straight NJAC crown at Miller Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Wesley head coach Mike Drass on the sidelines with linebackers Mike Sabino (58) and Saber Manna (3).

The title also means that Wesley (8-0 NJAC, 8-1 overall) will be going to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the 13th season in a row.

Considering that Pratt finished with a game-high 129 yards on 17 carries, the tackle by the 5-11, 255-pound Yorkman was no small feat.

“Honestly, it was just going back to what Coach (Mike) Drass said way back in the beginning of the year,” said Yorkman. “Just execute your assignment. Our job was to take out the fullback — and we knuckled down and did it. It was amazing. It was a great feeling.

Najee Wilson of Wesley closes in to stop Salisbury quarterback Brandon Lewis after a short gain.

“Realizing that we secured the NJAC championship, there’s nothing like it. … This is my last year being able to win an NJAC championship. There’s no better feeling than this. There’s no better feeling.”

Two plays after the Wolverines’ crucial stop, quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs put the icing on the cake with an unexpected big offensive play.

Starting to his right on a simple option play, it looked like Burroughs would probably pitch the ball. But he kept it, broke through the line and suddenly there was no one in front of him.

Burroughs sprinted down the sidelines untouched for a 65-yard scoring run. The touchdown, with just 7:25 remaining, gave Wesley its 30-20 advantage.
Drass joked that it was probably the first real option play that the Wolverines have run in about 20 years.

“Nobody came up to me and I saw the hole open,” said Burroughs. “I just knew no one was going to catch me. I was surprised. I thought somebody was going to be there.

E.J. Lee of Wesley gets past Salisbury’s John Steele to score a touchdown that tied the score 13-13 in the first half.

“It did turn quickly,” he said about the game. “It was a good team win. The defense came out in the second half and shut them down. Then our offensive linemen were great in the second half.”

“The one consistent thing was we played hard throughout the game,” said Drass. “I don’t know if we played great throughout the day, but we played hard.”

Salisbury, which ran for 362 yards, seemed to be a step ahead of the Wolverines in the first half. The Gulls took a one-touchdown lead three times in the first two quarters, finally taking a 20-13 advantage into halftime.

Wesley, though, started to take control with a 15-play, 70-yard drive to start the third quarter. While the seven-minute march only resulted in Nick Bruhn’s 22-yard field goal, it helped set up the Wolverines’ next possession.

This time, rather than throwing the ball short, Burroughs (14-for-23, 272 yards) found James Okike on a bomb behind the Salisbury secondary and the receiver turned into a 72-yard touchdown reception. The TD, with 5:20 left in the third quarter, put Wesley ahead for good at 23-20.

“I looked up and I knew I wasn’t under it at first,” said Okike, who finished with 164 yards and two TDs on six catches. “I put my head back down and it gave me like an eight or 10-yard burst real quick. I caught it right over the shoulder and finished the play from there.

“It was a great ball by Khaaliq.”

“We knew he (Okike) was going to beat him,” said Burroughs. “I just gave him a chance.”

Wesley quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs scrambles out of the pocket while looking for an open receiver in game Saturday against Salisbury.

While Salisbury did keep Wesley’s E.J. Lee relatively under control, the sophomore running back did finish with 112 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. He’s run for 100 yards in every game this season.

After the game, the Wolverines were presented with the NJAC championship trophy, posing for a big team picture behind the award.

But, while the Wolverines have now won a share of the league title in each of their seasons in the NJAC, the one thing Wesley hasn’t done is win the crown outright. It can accomplish that feat by beating Christopher Newport, which it hosts on Saturday at noon in its regular-season finale.

Of course, Wesley would also like to post a ninth-straight victory to boost its NCAA playoff profile.

“It’s what every team in the country strives to do,” Drass said about making the playoffs. “We’ve got to enjoy this today, settle back down and focus on beating CNU. We know that’s going to be a challenge.”

Extra points

Five players finished with double-digit tackles for Wesley, led by Capadonna Miller and Mike Sabino (Lake Forest) with 13 apiece. … Miller also had an interception in the final minute as the Gulls turned the ball over only once. … Alex Kemp had five catches for 101 yards. … Salisbury punter Tim Steindl, a Caesar Rodney grad, punted five times for an average of 41.2 yards. … Brady Curley added 94 yards on 18 carries for Salisbury. … Wesley limited Sea Gull QB Brandon Lewis to just 4-of-16 passing for 57 yards.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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