By ANDY WOLF
Tiffin University’s football team won’t be draggin’ its lengthy losing streak around any more.
For the first time in 26 years, the Dragons scored a rivalry win over the University of Findlay.
Tiffin built a 31-20 halftime edge, extended it to 22 points after the third quarter and held off the Oilers to post a 52-45 victory and clinch the outright Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship at Donnell Stadium.
“First off, congratulations to Tiffin,” UF coach Rob Keys said. “They’re a very, very good team. I said that going in. They’ve proven it all year and they’re outright GMAC champs.”
Tiffin (9-1, 7-0 GMAC) snapped a 19-game losing streak to Findlay dating back to the 1993 season.
The Oilers (7-4, 5-2) had won the last three matchups on the road, prevailing 38-16 last season to end the Dragons’ playoff hopes.
But on Saturday, Tiffin took advantage of every Findlay miscue.
Yardage was virtually even at 529-528 in favor of UF.
The Dragons forced the game’s only turnover, picking off Matt Winzeler in the second half, and benefitted from several unforced special teams errors by the Oilers.
While Tiffin led 52-30 entering the fourth quarter, Findlay whittled it down to one score with 5:00 remaining after Derek Lynch’s 1-yard scoring run.
The Oilers got deep into TU territory with two first downs in two plays, but went nowhere after that.
On fourth-and-12 at the 35, Winzeler’s pass was a bit behind Tanner Schroeder (McComb) and off his chest for the incompletion, all but sealing Findlay’s fate.
“Our kids made mistakes but the thing about this team, they’ve done everything possible I’ve asked them to do,” Keys said. “They’ve fought every single game and I told them to keep their heads up and be proud of all the accomplishments, especially the seniors, that they’ve had at this university over the past 4-5 years.”
Tiffin junior running back JaQuan Hardy torched the Oilers for 207 yards on 25 carries with one score.
The 5-11, 225-pound junior and GMAC’s leading rusher often refused to go down at first contact — whether for a bigger gain or loss. Nine of his carries went for at least a dozen yards.
Hardy emphatically put the game away with a 13-yard carry by dragging the pile the remaining 10 yards.
For all the offense the Dragons had, the game hinged on a few fortunate bounces in special teams.
Findlay went into halftime trailing behind a slew of special teams errors directly contributing to the 11-point deficit.
Chris Demler missed a PAT on UF’s second touchdown.
The Oilers did take their first lead at 20-14 with 9:24 left in the second quarter as Winzeler hit Marlin Richardson on an end zone jump ball from 17-yards out.
Everything for UF went south from there.
Facing a third-and-2 on their next drive, the Oilers sent 12 men out of a timeout and were penalized five yards.
Keys attributed the penalty to the number of personnel sets they run but took full responsibility for the error.
Findlay eventually punted and Tiffin went 55 yards in two plays, capped by Hardy’s 13-yard scoring run.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tiffin booted one in no-man’s land between the last two return lines and recovered at the UF 20.
Tiffin coach Cris Reisert noted his special teams coordinator wanted to sky the kick. Up to that point, UF’s Derek Lynch had two kick returns totaling 65 yards.
The Dragons executed the pooch kick, not once but twice as a collection of Oilers watched the ball drop between them with Tiffin recovering in a scrum.
“The first one I can see, that happens, you’re going to have those plays,” Keys said.
“The second one, we made adjustments and put different personnel in the game and still made the same mistake.”
Watson turned the first miscue into an 8-yard touchdown to a wide-open Stanley Jackson and helped set up a 21-yard field goal by A.J. Nickoli.
In the second half, Findlay’s tackling woes continued.
Devin Butler broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and went for a 44-yard score on Tiffin’s first drive of the second half.
“Probably the worst tackling game we’ve had, but it goes back to the type of skill we played against,” Keys said.
Midway through the third quarter, Tiffin’s Carrington Conte intercepted Winzeler in the red zone. Winzeler hadn’t thrown an interception since Week 3 and in 229 straight attempts.
Winzeler finished 26 of 45 for a career-high 427 yards with four touchdowns.
Richardson caught two touchdown passes of 17 and 29 yards on jump balls and turned in 100 yards on six grabs.
Senior running back Nate Slagel caught six passes for 96 yards and a 23-yard score for the Oilers. He also ran for 57 yards on 12 carries — both team highs.
Clay Colvin, UF’s starting right guard through the past 32 games, made his first career catch on a 2-yard touchdown.
“Yes we’re all disappointed,” Keys said. “There’s no words that’s going to make us feel any better than what we feel right now because we feel about as bad as it gets.”
Nick Watson threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns for the Dragons while rushing for 7- and 1-yard touchdowns.
He hit Jackson for 114 yards and two scores and Gavin Woods (Carey) seven times for 106 yards and an 8-yard score.
Tiffin 14 17 21 0 — 52
Findlay 7 13 10 15 — 45
TU — Watson 7 run (Nickoli kick)
UF — Slagel 2 run (Demler kick)
TU — Watson 1 run (Nickoli kick)
UF — Slagel 23 pass from Winzeler (kick failed)
UF — Richardson 17 pass from Winzeler (Wilcox kick)
TU — Hardy 13 run (Nickoli kick)
TU — Jackson 8 pass from Watson (Nickoli kick)
TU — FG Nickoli 21
TU — Butler 44 run (Nickoli kick)
UF — FG Wilcox 19
TU — Jackson 10 pass from Watson (Nickoli kick)
UF — Colvin 2 pass from Winzeler (Wilcox kick)
TU — Woods 9 pass from Watson (Nickoli kick)
UF — Richardson 29 pass from Winzeler (Schroeder pass from Winzeler)
UF — Lynch 1 run (Wilcox kick)
First Downs 25 29
Rushes-Yards 42-289 28-102
Passing Yards 239 427
Comp-Att-Int 17-26-0 26-45-1
Punts-Avg. 5-24.8 3-33.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-63 2-10
rushing — Tiffin, Hardy 25-207, Butler 1-44, Watson 8-29, Brunson 5-15, team 3-(minus-6). Findlay, Slagel 12-57, Lynch 6-28, Benson 6-16, Winzeler 4-1.
passing — Tiffin, Watson 17-26-0-239. Findlay, Winzeler 26-45-1-427.
receiving — Tiffin, Jackson 5-114, Woods 7-106, Butler 3-10, Robinson 1-8, Hardy 1-1. Findlay, Flowers 5-163, Richardson 6-100, Slagel 6-96, Schroeder 6-58, Benson 2-8, Colvin 1-2.