For three consecutive years, Waynesburg University football has lost the first two games of its season. This year, the schedule only gets harder for the Yellow Jackets, as they face Carnegie Mellon University, a school that has started the season undefeated.
The Yellow Jackets come into Week Three still looking for their first win of the season after losing to Westminster 28-7. Following a shut out by Muskingum the week prior, the Jackets offense looked to get on the scoreboard for the first time this season against a Westminster defense which led the conference last year in total defense, allowing on average just 16.6 points per game.
After the Titan’s drove the ball 72 yards on 15 plays, capped off with a three yard quarterback keeper by senior Kimu Kim, Westminster got on the board first in the opening quarter of the game. However, after nearly a game and a half of scoreless offense, sophomore quarterback Tyler Perone broke the dry spell with a 12-yard pass to senior tight end Alec Watts.
That would be the only scoring drive for Waynesburg University though. Westminster added another score before the half to put the Titans up 14-7. The defense kept the Jackets within reach for three quarters, but then, in the fourth quarter, Westminster put the final touches on a 28-7 victory with a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Carnegie Mellon University enters the matchup against the Jackets coming off a dominating 42-14 victory over Rochester in its home opener. After an uncharacteristically weak performance in Week One for senior running back Sam Benger, who last year was titled ECAC South Offensive Player of the Year, he put together a dominating performance recording his fifth career four touchdown game.
Benger paced the offense, totaling up 208 yards on just eight carries — an average of 26 yards per carry. In the Tartans first play of the game, Benger got Carnegie Mellon on the board with a 92-yard touchdown. Also getting in on the scoring for the Tartans was senior wide receiver John Prather, who came up with an 18-yard pass in the end zone during the second quarter. Sophomore running back Willie Richter also got involved, returning a punt for an 86-yard touchdown.
Last season visiting Carnegie Mellon, the Yellow Jackets kept it competitive, but eventually were defeated by the Tartans 35-23.
For the Yellow Jackets, the biggest flaw this season has been a lackluster offense, which has only found the end zone a single time across two games. To keep pace with the Tartans, who averaged over 34 points a game last year, the Yellow Jacket offense will have to find the end zone multiple times, something interim head coach Chris Smithley said is possible through the game plan.
“I feel like we are going to have a really good game plan,” said Smithley. “We spent a lot of time on [the game plan]…just coming out and executing and doing our job and being sharper and being disciplined to do the right thing – that’s what we really need to look for on an offensive side.”
Pieces are coming together offensively for the Yellow Jackets. Last week, sophomore running back Jarves Crews played in his first collegiate game of his career for the Yellow Jackets, filling in for an injured junior Austin Wilson, and led all rushing for Waynesburg with 80 total yards.
Another running back on the verge of returning for the team is junior Ben Ciero, who had to miss the first two games of the season. Last year, Ciero combined for three touchdowns off 239 yards and ended the season second on the team in rushing.
With Ciero set to return soon, as well as a newfound threat in Crews, the running backs are set in a pivotal role for leading the offense according to Smithley.
Smithley also feels the offensive matchups presented in the game against CMU could be favorable for the Yellow Jackets.
“I think some of our matchups are better from an offensive standpoint than we were against Westminster, but maybe on the other hand from our defense to our offense it could be a little bit different,” Smithley said.
Stop CMU’s Run Game
As much as the Yellow Jackets must construct a threat in the running scheme, they are also tasked with shutting down CMU’s greatest offensive threat: Benger and the run game.
Already, just two completed games into the season, Benger leads the Presidents’ Athletic Conference in multiple statistical categories. Most notably, Benger leads in yards per rush, with 8.1 per carry and 130 yards per game. Benger also leads the PAC in touchdowns with five in just two games.
Smithley said the defense would have to be operating on all levels against CMU to find a way to damper the running game, which additionally requires help from special teams.
“This might be a team that just got the running game that makes it difficult,” Smithley said. “It might be a more difficult game defensively and then from special teams. We have to win that phase too.”
In the opening two games of the season, the Yellow Jackets have been stronger on the defensive side of the ball. In Week One, the Yellow Jackets kept Muskingum scoreless for nearly the entirety of the first half of the game. Then, with 10 seconds remaining in the half, and aided by a face mask penalty, Muskingum was able to get on the scoreboard. Then in Week Two, against Westminster, the defense kept the game to a single possession difference until the fourth quarter.
Currently on defense, senior linebacker Brent Blacharczyk leads the team with 13 solo tackles as well as 11 assisted tackles for a total of 24. Junior linebacker John-Glen Davis is second on Yellow Jacket defense with 23 total tackles, eight of which being solo takedowns.
If the Jackets can continue to improve offensively, defensively and also in the special teams, Smithley said its only time until the dividends start to pay off.
“We got to do a better job in all three phases of the game,” Smithley said. “We’ll keep improving and we’ll keep sawing logs here and we’ll get there.”