Story and photo courtesy of Washington & Jefferson Athletics
GREENVILLE, Pa. - The Washington & Jefferson College defense held Thiel College to 168 total yards, produced five sacks and picked off a pair of passes during a 17-0 Presidents' Athletic Conference shutout of the Tomcats on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
The Presidents (3-1, 2-0 PAC) pitched their first shutout since a 40-0 drubbing of Juniata in the 2011 season opener. Senior linebacker John Hunter (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland) led the defense with seven tackles and two sacks, including a key sack on a fourth-and-goal play deep in W&J territory during the fourth quarter.
W&J played the entire game without senior starters running back Tim McNerney (Butler, Pa./Knoch) and defensive tackle Gavin Donathan (Hurricane, W.Va./Hurricane), who sat out because of injuries. The Presidents also lost junior starting quarterback Matt Bliss (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) in the first half due to an injury and he did not return.
Washington & Jefferson appeared ready to claim a 7-0 lead on its second possession of the game when junior running back Dion Wiegand (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks) started a 45-yard drive with a 25-yard run. W&J eventually advanced to the one-yard line, but fumbled on a third down play and the Tomcats recovered.
The Presidents' defense forced a quick punt and junior wide receiver Alex Baroffio (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) returned it 54 yards to set W&J up at the Thiel seven-yard line. Two plays later, Wiegand scored from a yard out for a 7-0 lead at the 5:08 mark of the first quarter.
Bliss was injured during the second series of the second quarter and Baroffio took over as quarterback. He led the Presidents on a nine-play, 62-yard drive late in the quarter which culminated on a 30-yard scoring pass to senior wideout Hunter Creel (Industry, Pa./Western Beaver) 17 seconds before halftime. W&J limited Thiel to a pair of first-half first downs and forced six punts.
The Tomcats (1-3, 1-1 PAC) punted after three plays to start the third quarter and W&J strung together a long drive which took 7:12 off the clock, yet only covered 32 yards. Junior placekicker/punter Eric Eberle (Mifflintown, Pa./Juniata) nailed a 44-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead at the 6:25 mark of the third quarter. That field goal was the longest by a W&J kicker since Mike Evan '97 booted a 48-yarder during the 1995 season.
Thiel had its best chance to score early in the fourth quarter with a first-and-goal situation from the W&J 3. After two one-yard runs, senior linebacker Ian Hennessy (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland) stuffed Thiel's Josh Potter for a two-yard loss and Hunter sacked Andrew Smith on the next play for a seven-yard loss.
Smith was picked off by senior linebacker/safety Nathan Melhorn (Salineville, Ohio/Southern Local) and junior safety B.J. Monacelli (Cassadaga, N.Y./Cassadaga Valley) on TC's final two possessions.
W&J used a large time of possession advantage (36:11-23:49) and an all-around performance from Baroffio to record its second conference win of the year. Baroffio, who had never played quarterback in college before this afternoon, rushed 16 times for 62 yards, completed 6-of-11 passes for 72 yards (1 TD), caught three passes for 34 yards and returned one punt for 54 yards. He racked up 150 all-purpose yards.
Wiegand rushed 20 times for 84 yards, while Creel had three receptions for 37 yards. Hennessy had two tackles for a loss and Melhorn finished with four tackles to go along with his interception.
W&J outgained Thiel 261-168 and held the Tomcats to 19 yards rushing on 27 attempts. The Presidents also racked up 19 of the game's 30 first downs.
The Presidents look to keep their league record unblemished next Saturday when hosting Bethany at 7:00 pm. W&J is 14-0 under the lights at Cameron Stadium under Head Coach Mike Sirianni.