Passing Game Powers Wabash Win
by Brent Harris
October 1, 2016
A four-touchdown effort from Wabash quarterback Connor Rice highlighted a 45-21 Wabash win at Hiram in North Coast Athletic Conference football Saturday.
The senior quarterback connected on 13-of-19 passes for 164 yards. The four TD throws are the most by Rice in a single game. Oliver Page caught three of the touchdowns from Rice, the most touchdown receptions by the sophomore receiver in a single game. Page finished with six receptions for 86 yards.
"The passing game was much better today," Wabash head coach Don Morel said. "That's something that we needed to get better at, and we did. Connor played very well.
"We had a great week of practice," Rice said. "We wanted of confidence. I felt like all I had to do was throw the ball in the air and give my receivers a chance to make play. These are the best receivers I've played with. They make me look ten times better than I really am. They did a great job of getting open. The offensive line gave me plenty of time to throw again today."
The Wabash defense forced three Hiram (1-3, 1-2 NCAC) turnovers, converting two into touchdowns. Linebacker Henry Webberhunt created the first scoring opportunity with his first interception of the season to give Wabash the football at the Hiram 14-yard line. Rice hit Sammy Adams with a touchdown pass on the next play to put the Little Giants up 7-0. Andrew Tutsie added a 31-yard field goal on the next possession to take a 10-0 lead.
The Terriers capped a five-play, 78-yard drive with one of their three touchdown passes for the game to trim the lead to 10-3. Wabash responded with its second TD pass on a 29-yard strike from Rice to Page in the end zone for a 17-7 advantage. Another touchdown pass for Hiram from quarterback Domenic Paolo made the score 17-14. The Little Giants closed out the first half with two more scores. Senior running back Shamir Johnson raced 59 yards for his first touchdown of the season. Wabash capped a 10-play, 56-yard drive with a 10-yard TD pass from Rice to Page for a 31-14 lead at the half after the final drive by Hiram ended with an interception by CJ McMann in the end zone.
Hiram scored the only points of the third quarter on a 14-yard pass from Paolo to David Perkins to bring the Terriers to with 10 points. Paolo threw for 286 yards on 26-of-46 passing with two interceptions.
The Terriers mounted a drive in the closing minutes of the third quarter in an effort to cut into the Wabash lead again when the defense picked up its third turnover of the game. The Little Giants' Ethan Buresh sacked Paolo and forced a fumble that was recovered by Klay Fullenkamp.
The turnover led to another Wabash score. Rice and Page connected on their third TD pass of the game in the early minutes of the fourth quarter on a 33-yard catch and run to push the score to 38-21 in favor of Wabash.
"We got great protection from the offensive line today," Page said. "Connor was really on point. We also got a great effort in the running game, and that provided some openings and one-on-one coverage for the receivers."
Injuries haunted the Little Giants once again. Tyler Downing left the game after his second carry with a broken ankle shortly after Delon Pettiford suffered a strained hamstring. Ryan Walters stepped in for Pettiford and finished the day with eight tackles, a tackle for a loss of four yards, and a pass breakup. Evan Hansen led the defense with 10 tackles. Wabash recorded four sacks paced by Buresh with 1-1/2 as part of his four tackles on the day.
The Little Giants rushed for 233 yards. Johnson ran 16 times for 122 yards and one score. Isaac Avant scored the final touchdown of the game as part of his 42-yard rushing effort.
Wabash (3-1, 2-1 NCAC) plays Oberlin College next Saturday as part of its annual Homecoming celebration.