Wesley upset by Delaware Valley, 24-14

 

PHOTOS: Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — For a decade now, the Wesley College football team has played with a bullseye on its back.

With only a few teams ahead of the Wolverines in the small-college football upper echelon, everybody else wanted to make a name for themselves by knocking off Wesley.

Most of the time, the Wolverines have been up to the challenge.

But No. 25 Delaware Valley refused to squander its chance at seventh-ranked Wesley on Friday night, holding on for a 21-14 upset over the Wolverines at Miller Stadium in the season opener for both squads.

In a contest in which all the points were scored in the first half, the Rams took the lead with a touchdown just before halftime and then kept mistake-prone Wesley off the scoreboard.

The Wolverines turned the ball over five times and committed 14 penalties, looking like a squad that has some rebuilding to do. It was just the second loss for Wesley in its last 25 home games.

“We don’t like losing,” said senior running back Jamar Baynard. “And we don’t lose on our home field so it’s tough.”

“Obviously the difference is penalties and five turnovers,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “If you lose the turnover battle 5-0, you’re going to lose the game.

“I’d say this, we earned a loss tonight. They’re a top-25 team. But we earned a loss and that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

The Wolverines had one last chance to pull out a win when Delaware Valley missed an 18-yard field goal after reaching the Wesley one with 2:06 remaining. Cornerback DaJahn Lowery was credited with getting a piece of the kick,

On a third-and-long, new starting quarterback Nick Faulkenberg hit Bryce Shade with a 23-yard strike at midfield. The senior receiver then spun out of a tackle and was going to gain some more yards.

But, just as Shade turned, a Ram defender knocked the ball loose. Delaware Valley’s Christian Snowden fell on the ball at the Wolverines’ 49 and, with only 1:05 remaining, the Rams ran out the clock from there.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Wesley had a promising drive going with a first down at the Rams’ 25. But Delaware Valley safety Sean Miller — a Laurel High grad — stepped in front of a Faulkenburg pass for an interception in the front of the end zone.

It was one of three interceptions along with a game-high 14 tackles for Miller, one of a dozen Delaware high school grads playing for the Rams.

Faulkenberg, a junior making his first career start, completed 12-of-22 passes for 116 yards but with three interceptions. He shared snaps with Dan Kesack, who was 15-of-24 for 135 yards with a touchdown and one interception.

Both quarterbacks made their share of mistakes but both were hurt by some dropped passes and penalties.

“They did some good things tonight,” said Drass. “But we need someone to grab the bull by the horns and get the job done.

“It’s not one person,” Drass said about the offense’s issues. “We earned this loss completely.”

Wesley did outgain Delaware Valley, 405 yards to 350. The Wolverines, though, only led once in the contest, when Baynard’s two-yard touchdown run capped an 11-play, 55-yard drive and gave Wesley a 7-0 advantage.

Then, trailing 14-7, the Wolverines tied the game with a 16-play, 75-yard march in the second quarter. Kesack scrambled and lobbed a six-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Shade to make it 14-14 with 3:04 left before intermission.

But that was just enough time for the Rams to put together one more scoring drive.

Delaware Valley marched 86 yards in nine plays, with Tyler Bing sweeping in for a two-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds remaining in the half.

“We just did not do a good job,” said Drass. “We talked about this before the game — the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win.”

If there is a silver lining for the Wolverines it’s that, as second-year members of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, their clearest path back to the NCAA Division III playoffs is still by winning the league’s automatic berth.

The last time Wesley lost a season opener, in 2008, was also to Delaware Valley. The Wolverines then won nine games in a row to reach the NCAA quarterfinals.

“In 2008 I told the team the same thing — everything we want still lays right ahead of us,” said Drass. “I think there’s a lot of talent on our team.

“The other thing is, these guys have to realize, every team that comes here, comes here with their absolute best.”

“It definitely puts a big fire in the older guys,” said middle linebacker Samer Manna, who had a team-high 11 tackles. “We’re using this for big motivation for next week. We’ve got nine straight games to win to make the playoffs. We’ve got to take it week by week and just eliminate the problems and get it done.”

Extra points

Baynard ran for 78 yards on 20 carries. … Shade had a game-high 112 reciving yards on nine catches. … Wesley lost 102 yards on its 14 penalties compared to Delaware Valley’s eight penalties for 62 yards. … Kesack and Falkenberg combined to run 10 times for 46 yards. … The Wolverines host Frostburg State next Saturday at 1 p.m.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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