It was a situation Tyler Smith had prepared for.
With a little more than two minutes left in Saturday’s Homecoming game, Thiel’s Trou Johnson had just ran a Chad Walker fumble 86-yards for a touchdown to make it 14-13. All the Tomcats needed was an extra point to tie the score.
Earlier, assistant coach Brent Blacharczyk told the senior linebacker he’d have a good chance at blocking a kick later on. On Thiel’s first touchdown, Smith almost accomplished that feat.
“I knew I was there, I just missed it by a hair,” Smith said. “I just knew that I had to go in there and just give it my all and try to block it to get the win.”
Smith did what he had to do. He blocked the kick. Waynesburg subsequently recovered an onside kick attempt from the suddenly desperate Tomcats and held on, 14-13.
A date with Thiel, who came in at 0-4, seemed like a perfect time for Waynesburg [1-4, 1-3] to break its six-game losing streak dating back to last season. For most of the game, it looked like the Jackets would have no issue getting that done.
Waynesburg led 14-0 at halftime, holding the ball for 20:36 of the first half, and outgaining the Tomcats 157-96 in total yardage. The Yellow Jackets kept a two-touchdown advantage well into the fourth quarter, but almost allowed it to slip away in part to two defensive touchdowns by Thiel.
“What I’m going to say is that we wanted to make it exciting for the Homecoming crowd, but obviously that’s not the case,” head coach Chris Smithley said.
Waynesburg took just its second lead of the season with 1:58 left in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Mason Schrenker.
With less than nine minutes left in the second quarter, Thiel forced a punt, but Johnson fumbled the return, which senior Bobby Grishaber recovered at the Tomcats’ 38.
Nine plays later, Schrenker’s second touchdown run of the day, this one from 2-yards out, put Waynesburg ahead by two scores. In only his second collegiate start, Schrenker went 11-27 for 104 yards, no touchdown passes and two interceptions.
It looked like Waynesburg had the game well in hand. Then, with more than seven minutes left in the game, Thiel’s Elijah Flynn intercepted a Schrenker pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. The PAT make it 14-7.
Smithley decided to switch quarterbacks on the ensuing possession, going with graduate student Tyler Perone, a choice which he said came down to Perone’s experience in big game situations.
After five uneventful minutes, Thiel’s defense struck again on the fumble return. All the Tomcats needed was an extra point to tie the game, but Smith blocked the kick and kept the lead intact.
The block capped off a banner afternoon for the Waynesburg defense.The unit allowed no points and just 35 passing yards.
Smith and Brennan Sefick each had interceptions, and the defense also had five sacks. Smithley was pleased with how the defense performed.
“I loved how they played today,” he said. “They were aggressive, they tackled well. They got the quarterback on the ground… I think that we fed off of their energy, and that helped us to really get things rolling.”
Although the win wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, Smithley was glad his team successfully battled through adversity.
“Every minute of the day it seemed like we got it rolling, and then we had more adversity, and we overcame it,” he said.
Waynesburg’s next assignment will be much more difficult, as the Jackets take on Carnegie Mellon [4-1, 3-1] on the road for a 7 p.m. kick. For Smithley, win No. 1 could be a springboard for brighter days ahead.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Smithley said. “One win changes everything, and that’s a huge movement for us, moving into a tough opponent in Carnegie Mellon.”