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Ohio Wesleyan entered Saturday’s game undefeated with a defense that was ranked nationally in several categories. However, the Little Giants’ strong offensive performance in the first half resulted in the home team taking control early in the North Coast Athletic Conference game giving Wabash a 31-13 victory.
After the opening kickoff, OWU (4-1, 3-1) quickly found itself facing a fourth-and 15 from its own 20 yard line and was forced to punt. Bishops’ punter Nick Heidel’s ensuing punt was blocked by Wabash’s Artie Equithua and Wabash recovered the ball on the 13-yard line.
It took the Little Giants just three plays to score when Ike James scored from two yards out to give Wabash an early 7-0 lead just one minute and 12 seconds into the game.
Wabash head coach Don Morel said the quick start was important for his team especially after struggling offensively against OWU the last two seasons.
“It was a great start to the ball game,” Morel said. “Last year we started really slow against (OWU) and two years ago they beat us here and we didn’t score a touchdown.
The Little Giant defense continued to make life rough for the Battling Bishops and forced OWU to punt three times in the opening quarter.
Wabash (3-1, 2-0) found pay dirt again on a seven play 68 drive when freshman quarterback Liam Thompson found Nick Hannman for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
The OWU offense was stymied the entire first quarter and was forced to punt three times and only racked up 76 yards while Wabash totaled 120. The Battling Bishops were held to just a 23-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Coming into the game the Battling Bishops had only allowed 5.8 points per game and had limited opponents to just 47.3 yards per game.
But, it was the Wabash defense that shined early in the game.
Wabash senior linebacker Brock Heffron said the good start by the Little Giants was a key to the game.
“The first half was key. It was a point of emphasis all week to come out and play from the start,” Heffron said.
Wabash put 10 points on the board in the second quarter while their defense shutout the Battling Bishops. Wabash led 24-3 at intermission.
OWU did play better in the third quarter and scored their only touchdown with 3:39 in the period when quarterback Zane Ries hit Marty Sesma on a 22-yard pass and run. The score made it 24-10 heading into the final quarter.
The Battling Bishops connected on another field goal early in the fourth period to pull within 24-13. However, Wabash put the game away when Isaac Avant scored on a 21-yard dash with 2:21 left in the game.
In the game, Wabash freshman quarterback Liam Thompson continued to impress as he led the Little Giants to its’ third consecutive victory. Thompson ended the game 16-of-25 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. The Ben Davis High School standout also rushed for 26 yards.
“I think the young guys and experienced guys, especially up front, are starting to blend together more and more each week,” Thompson said. “We are getting better each week.”
Thompson also made mention of his team’s two leading running back, Ike James and Isaac Avant. Avant was injured early in the season. Thompson appreciates being able to handoff to the two seniors
Heffron said the experience gained in the first three games is helping the defense improve after the opening season against UW-Stevens Point.
“You have to capitalize on your mistakes and we talk about that you have to learn and get better from our mistakes,” Heffron said.
Wabash remains undefeated in NCAC play. The loss left OWU with a 3-1 conference record.
Wabash travels to NCAC foe College of Wooster Saturday. Morel said there are plenty of things his team needs to continue to improve in.
“We have kinks to work out and we are going to keep on working on execution,” Morel said. “We have a good football team and they play as hard as they can. I am thrilled.”
Wabash 31, Ohio Wesleyan 13
Score by quarters
OWU 0 3 7 3 13
WAB 14 10 0 7 31
WAB Ike James 2 yd. run (Jacob Handley kick), 12:18
WAB Nick Hamman 8 yd. pass from Liam Thompson (Handley kick), 1:44
OWU Anthony Sanfillipo 23 yd. FG, 12:15
WAB Anthony Martinez 3 yd. pass from Thompson, (Handley kick), 2:18
WAB Schuyler Nehrig 33 yd, FG, :10
OWU Marty Sesma 22 yd. pass from Zane Ries, (Sanfillipo kick), , 3:39
OWU Sanfillipo 24 yd. FG, 14:15
WAB Isaac Avant 21 yd. run (Handley kick), 2:21
First downs 16 24
Yards rushing 148 184
Yards passing 217 174
Total yards 365 358
Fumbles/lost 3-1 1-1
Penalties 11-100 9-88
Punts-yards 4-23.2 4-45.2