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Wabash shakes off slow start in stadium-opening win

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There was a buzz on west Jennison Street on Saturday afternoon.

A typical feel for Crawfordsville on a Saturday in the fall, but Wabash College felt and looked different this week.

Wabash College alumni, fans, and supporters flooded campus for the opening of the new Little Giant Stadium — and the Little Giants didn’t disappoint.

Wabash erased a slow start offensively and turned a strong second half into a 36-28 homecoming win.

“They need an incredible job with the stadium. We have passionate alums that care about this place and I’m so proud to be here as the head coach,” Wabash coach Don Morel said. “I’m the luckiest coach in the country and I mean that. I coach the best kids, they work incredibly hard in the classroom, they play as hard as they can and it’s great to get to enjoy a homecoming win,”Heisman Skeens opened the scoring at Frank Navarro Field with a 70-yard touchdown reception from Liam Thompson midway through the second quarter, but Allegheny led 7-6 at the half.

Allegheny racked up 224 first half yards, but Gators’ (1-2, 0-2 NCAC) quarterback Jack Johnson attempted 45 passes in the first 30 minutes — giving Morel optimism heading into the half despite trailing.

“They did have 200 yards, but they threw 45 passes and if you take out the big plays, that’s only three yards a pass,” Morel said. “I know it’s painful to watch, but if you can be patient, it usually ends up the same around here.”

Both offenses started converting long drives into points in the second half, as the Gators and Little Giants traded a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. After Jacob Riddle’s 9-yard touchdown catch from Thompson made it 20-14 Little Giants with 6:38 to play in the period, Johnson found Vaun Ross from 16-yards to tie it at 20-20.

And that’s when Wabash made a game-changing play.

The Little Giants blocked Garrett Paxton’s PAT attempt and returned it 99 yards for two points. A potential one-point deficit late in the third quarter, turned into a 22-20 advantage and gave Wabash all the momentum.

“The benefits of playing with highly intelligent players that knew that ball wasn’t dead, while Allegheny trotted off,” Morel said.

Moments later Thompson ran it in on a quarterback sneak and then extended the lead to 36-20 when he found Derek Allen for a 66-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

Thompson completed 15-of-29 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, Donovan Snyder led all rushers with 158 yards on 23 carries for the Little Giants.

For the game, Wabash out-gained Allegheny 519-456 — including a 327-232 advantage in the second half. It’s the second-straight week Wabash totaled more than 500 yards of offense.

Johnson ended the game with 348 yards and two touchdowns on a 43-of-73 effort.

Wabash enters its bye week 3-0 and 2-0 in the NCAC, before a trip to Denison on Oct. 2.

“They’re (Allegheny) not a bad football team,” Morel said. “Our goal was to get to the bye week 3-0 to figure out who we are as a team, and I think we are there now. Clearly we have some stuff to clean up, no doubt about it. We need to get some guys healthy and then get going.”

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