By BRANDON SHRIDER
COLUMBUS — They were sporadic, but tears were gliding down the cheeks of a handful of University of Findlay players as they walked off the Panther Stadium turf Saturday at Ohio Dominican University.
Much like Ohio Dominican’s potent offense. It was sporadic, but Cory Contini glided behind the Oilers’ defense for two long touchdowns and Grant Russell made enough plays in tying the school record of six touchdown passes to lead the Panthers over the Oilers 49-24 in a game that decided the Great Midwest Athletic Conference title.
“All in all, the better team won today. They were a better football team. They outplayed us, they outcoached us and they won the championship,” UF coach Rob Keys said.
“You look at their track record over the last four or five years, they’re one of the best teams in Division II and they’ve proven that.”
ODU opened its season with three straight losses and then rattled off seven straight conference victories to sweep the GMAC and finish the regular season 7-3, 7-0.
The Oilers, who had not lost since Sept. 9 against nationally-ranked Ferris State, fell to 9-2, 6-1. Despite the loss, Findlay on Sunday learned it will make the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time with a seventh seed in Super Region One. The Oilers will play Saturday at Shepherd (W.Va.). Shepherd is 10-0 and the No. 2 seed in the region.
Findlay’s issues started on the Panthers’ first drive of the second quarter. Following an injury to starting cornerback Tyler Lee, ODU attacked the left side of the field and 5-9 freshman Marlin Richardson.
Contini, who torched UF in last season’s meeting with 95 yards and two scores, grabbed his second touchdown of the day by getting behind the defense on a go-route and taking it 72 yards for a 14-10 lead. The TD was an answer 30 seconds after Daouda Sylla’s 3-yard score by UF.
“The thing with him (Contini), he’s an exceptional player and they got us on the first one. Richardson goes in and they saw it, we saw it and sure enough they took a shot over the top and they hit it,” Keys said,
“We talked about having a fast start, especially against a good offense like that, and we didn’t. We didn’t score on the first drive and that really put us behind. When it got to 21-10, you knew when we came out (of halftime) we had to stop them and we didn’t.”
“I think once we jump out in front of you, it makes you play different,” ODU coach and former UF defensive coordinator Kelly Cummings said.
On the ensuing ODU drive, Russell connected with freshman Devanaire Concliffe for 20 yards and Contini for 12 on back-to-back passes before hitting a third straight completion, a short shovel-pass to David Turner for a 29-yard score with 4:01 left in the first half.
Findlay moved the ball 37 yards in 11 plays before the half, but a fourth-and-13 pass was nearly picked off and batted down as Gus Dimmerling dived in front of Jason Moore on a deep post.
The Oilers needed a lot of good things to happen after a mediocre first half.
Enter Chiebuka Chukwuneke. Following a miscommunication from the booth, where the assistant coaches were with a microphone connected to the players, Chukwuneke was beaten along the left sideline. But a rare, poor throw by Russell was intercepted by a diving Chukwuneke. The interception was just Russell’s third of the season and first since Oct. 21.
But after UF drove to the ODU 36, Sylla, who is within 87 rushing yards of becoming the fifth-most productive runner in program history, was held for no gain on a fourth-and-short.
“Any time you stop guys on third and a yard, fourth and a yard, it just takes the life out of you. And that’s the thing, Findlay’s been in that situation a lot this year and they get that third-and 1, fourth-and-1,” Cummings said.
Three plays later, it was the Russell-Contini connection for a third time, this one for 60 yards down the left sideline.
“It ended up being 28-10 and at that point, you need a lot of things to happen. The thing about it, a lot of things did happen and we actually climbed back into it,” Keys said.
The Oilers’ next drive was nine plays, eight of which were Gervais passes. However, one play after UF was the beneficiary of a defensive pass interference call which brought the ball to the ODU 45, Gervais was intercepted by Shyoun Petteway.
EJ Colson (27 carries, 144 yards) capped ODU’s ensuing drive with a 1-yard TD to make it 35-10.
Gervais finished 21 of 38 passing for 212 yards and was held without a passing touchdown for the first time all season.
But just when UF looked to be down and out, Jacob Hill returned the kickoff 93 yards down the right sideline, cut back inside with 25 yards left, stumbled through a pack and snuck out the other side and into the end zone.
“When you get down a bunch and you have to be one-dimensional and throw the ball, you can’t move the ball effectively,” Keys said. “We were hoping for the opposite. We were hoping to get a lead on them, because I thought we could run the ball against them effectively, and we did.
“But when you’re down 25 points, you might as well throw the run game out the window.”
Sylla scored his 17th TD of the season in the second half to cut the deficit to 35-24. But the defense failed to get a much-needed stop and allowed Concliffe to catch a pair of 35-yard TDs. He broke a pair of tackles on both in back-to-back possessions.
“You leave yourself no room for error when you get yourself down 24, 25 points in a game. You climb back to 11, and yes there was a little bit of hope,” Keys said.
“I thought when we were at 11, if the defense could’ve got a stop, who knows. If you get that next score, it might’ve made them play a little tight at that point. But we couldn’t cut that lead down.”
Findlay 3 7 7 7 — 24
Ohio Dominican 7 14 14 14 — 49
UF — FG 22 Allton
ODU — Contini 4 pass from Russell (Quackenbush kick)
UF — Sylla 3 run (Allton kick)
ODU — Contini 72 pass from Russell (Quackenbush kick)
ODU — Turner 29 pass from Russell (Quackenbush kick)
ODU — Contini 60 pass from Russell (Quackenbush kick)
ODU — Colson 1 run (Quackenbush kick)
UF — Hill 93 kickoff return (Allton kick)
UF — Sylla 4 run (Allton kick)
ODU — Conliffe 35 pass from Russell (Quackenbush kick)
ODU — Conliffe 35 pass from Russell (Quackenbush kick)
First Downs 22 23
Rushes-yards 38-147 41-177
Passing Yards 212 339
Comp-Att-Int 21-38-1 16-25-1
Punts-Avg. 3-38.7 2-46.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-25 5-56
rushing — Findlay, Sylla 29-134, Campbell 5-13,Gervais 3-(minus-3). Ohio Dominican, Colson 27-141, Russell 11-27, Turner 1-9, Team 2-0.
passing — Findlay, Gervais 21-38-1-212. Ohio Dominican, Russell 16-25-1-339.
receiving — Findlay, Moore 8-110, Fields 4-43, Allton 3-25, Hill 2-10, Ogletree 1-11, Sylla 1-7, Boucher 2-6. Ohio Dominican, Contini 6-180, Conliffe 3-90, Turner 4-48, Washington 2-15, McLeod 1-6.
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