A few tough plays spoil Waynesburg’s upset bid at Carnegie Mellon

If somebody would have known that the Saturday matchup between the Waynesburg University Yellow Jackets and Carnegie Mellon Tartans would be tied at the half, it would have been unexpected. That was the case, however,  as Waynesburg and Carnegie Mellon were tied, 3-3 at halftime.

But a few unfortunate plays in the second half kept the upset from occurring, and the Jackets [1-5, 1-4] surrendered three touchdowns in the second half to lose, 24-3. Head coach Chris Smithley was proud of his team after the game, and was especially proud of his defense.

“They played great,” Smithley said. “They played with fire and the intensity was phenomenal. We have a lot of young guys out there. They’re kind of just swimming in it, and we’re really proud of those guys for how they’re playing.”

The teams traded field goals in the first half. This included a 32-yard field goal from Waynesburg’s Mike Ryhal, which produced it’s only points of the night.

The Tartans [5-1, 4-1] started the second half with an 11-play drive, which lasted more than five minutes. Two things happened during the drive that hurt the Jackets.

The first was a targeting call against Jackets’ linebacker Dan Verhovsek. He was ejected for the hit, and the play gave the Tartans an automatic first down.

“Losing Danny to that targeting penalty obviously affected us a little bit defensively,” Smithley said. “We have to continue to press on in those tough times.”

The second unfortunate play occurred on a fourth down and three. Carnegie Mellon punter Casey Jaeb collected four yards on a fake, getting a first down. Five plays later, Luke Bikulege scored on a six-yard touchdown run to give the Tartans the lead. 

 “It’s just one of those things where you get in the heat of the moment and it happens,”  Smithley said. “We have to continue to get better at not letting those things happen to us in key situations. That was a key situation.”

Later in the quarter, the Jackets started a drive at their own 13-yard line. The drive lasted only one play. Carnegie Mellon safety Thomas Polutchko intercepted Waynesburg quarterback Mason Schrenker, and returned the ball 17 yards for a touchdown.  

“As soon as I saw him pull it back [to pass] I just started dropping back to get to a receiver,” Polutchko said. “It went right to me. It was awesome.”

Tartans head coach Rich Lackner saw the play as a turning point.

“I think that swung the momentum our way,” Lackner said. “We kept the momentum from that point on.”

Lackner was also proud of the way his defense closed the deal in the second half.

“We knew we had a very good defense this year,” he said. “I thought they rose to the occasion.”

Another Luke Bikulege touchdown run came in the fourth quarter. The scamper from 15 yards away put the game on ice. Despite the 1-4 record at the season’s halfway mark, Smithley remains optimistic. He was proud of his team’s efforts as it moves down the stretch.

“They pour it out here,” Smithley said. “They play hard for each other, and that’s something you can’t take away from these guys. They keep trucking along. We’ll continue to do that and we’ll continue to get better.”