So many storylines led to a statement win for the John Carroll University football team last Saturday against Wilmington College. On the heels of sophomore running back DaQuan Grobsmith, John Carroll won in convincing fashion, 38-17.
The Blue Streaks (2-3, 2-2 OAC) epitomized the meaning of “smash-mouth football,” as they ran for 250 yards on the afternoon. Grobsmith led the way with 13 carries for 129 yards all while becoming the first Blue Streak to rush for over 100 yards since Matt Divis compiled 111 yards on Nov. 11, 2006.
Junior quarterback Devin O’Brien made his second collegiate start against the Quakers, and was more than serviceable in place of injured sophomore Mike Locke.
O’Brien (eight of 13 for 114 yards) directed the offense to their best offensive day all season as they racked up 364 yards of total offense as a team.
The junior quarterback accounted for 185 of those yards himself, as he finished with 11 carries for 76 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
JCU entered the game with the worst turnover ratio in Division III football, but a plus-1 turnover margin on the afternoon helped the defense gain the momentum they have been looking for all year long.
The Quakers didn’t go quietly though, as they were able to put together a solid rushing attack. The Quakers’ Marc Otte and Tyrell Richardson combined for 163 rushing yards on the game.
The Blue Streaks got the opening kickoff and marched down the field in style. After two first downs, Grobsmith took a handoff and scampered 44 yards down the left sideline for his first touchdown of the season. It was the first of two long carries on the afternoon for the sophomore running back.
“DaQuan is a very talented back and has a nose for getting to the outside,” said Blue Streaks head coach Regis Scafe after the game. “Once he gets outside, look out. He is great at accelerating down the sideline.”
Wilmington had been held scoreless for 11 consecutive quarters coming into the game, but they took their opening drive 93 yards in 12 plays and knotted the score at seven on Otte’s three-yard touchdown run. The touchdown was set up by two different long third down conversions (a 27-yard pass down the left sideline and a 23-yard halfback pass that put the ball inside the five-yard line).
“I told the defense to hang in there after that first drive,” said Scafe. “Football is a 60 minute game and there was plenty left to be played. They executed much better throughout the second half.”
The next six possessions (three for each team) resulted in punts, as both defenses made good adjustments after allowing opening drive touchdowns.
With the ball on their own 41, O’Brien found senior wide receiver Frank Ross for a 39 yard pitch and catch. It was Ross’s only reception on the afternoon, but it was the key play of the drive. A horse-collar tackle gave JCU an additional 15 yards after the play. Two plays later, O’Brien rumbled forward into the end zone for the touchdown. Sophomore kicker Brad Marchese’s extra point was no good, however, as the ball ricocheted off the left upright.
Marchese added a 30-yard field goal for John Carroll on the next possession and Quaker kicker Aaron Pohly converted on his first field goal of the season just before halftime to make it a six-point game at the break.
“I told the team that the second half would be a challenge of character,” said Scafe.
Well the Blue Streaks defense, led by another 10-tackle game from junior linebacker C.J. Seitzinger (his fifth straight), stepped up in a huge way in the second half. Wilmington only scored seven points the rest of the game.
On the opening drive of the third quarter for John Carroll, Grobsmith broke through the left side of the line and then turned on the jets for a 36-yard run that set up the lone touchdown pass of the afternoon for the Blue Streaks.
It came two plays later when O’Brien bought time with his feet and found his sophomore tight end Ben Madden in the end zone.
“It was a screen play that was covered well,” said Madden. “O’Brien checked down to me in the end zone and I was able to hang on.”
The first touchdown catch of Madden’s collegiate career put John Carroll on top 23-10.
John Carroll sophomore D.J. Debick blocked the field goal attempt on the next possession for Wilmington, but the Blue Streaks couldn’t cash in on the offensive end and were forced to punt.
After the defense held strong, the trio of O’Brien, Grobsmith and senior Terre’ Harris led the Blue Streaks down the field and into the end zone, capped off again by O’Brien. The botched snap on the PAT was picked up by Ross, who bolted for the pylon, successfully converting for two points. John Carroll led 31-10.
Seitzinger nearly housed the Blue Streaks second interception of the season on the next possession for Wilmington, as he picked off freshman quarterback Brandon Arehart’s errand pass. Seitzinger returned the ball inside the five-yard line, and O’Brien was able to finish it off from there to put JCU ahead 38-10.
Both teams went three and out, punting the ball away during the next two possessions. When Wilmington got the ball back, senior Matt Dee collected his first interception of the year to halt the Quaker drive.
JCU allowed the turnover problem to rear its ugly head as they fumbled and gave Wilmington the ball on the Wilmington 49-yard line. Three plays later, the Quakers scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Arehart to Logan McCormick.
It was too little too late for Wilmington as senior Rob Siska came in at quarterback to kneel out the rest of the clock, and John Carroll walked away with a 38-17 victory that was really never in question.
“Everything clicked today,” said O’Brien after the game. “The offensive line did their job, our wide receivers found ways to get open, our ground game opened up the pass, and we executed the option play better than we have all year.”
Coach Scafe knows that this game was crucial for his team to win.
“We knew if we could walk out of the game with a victory, we would have a chance to build on the season. We held on to the football today and we made good decisions on both sides of the ball. Today’s game is a glimpse of what this team is capable of doing.”
JCU gets a shot at revenge next Saturday when they travel to Muskingum University. Last year’s “Hail Mary” pass as time expired gave the Muskies the 34-31 victory.