Marshall, Mo.–Senior quarterback Tyler Hafner (Sr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Communications) scored on a fourth down play in the final minute to cap off a great comeback in an incredible rollercoaster of a game as the William Penn football team rallied to knock off #9 Missouri Valley in its Heart of America Athletic Conference debut Saturday.
The 19th-ranked Statesmen (1-0) were looking forward to the excitement that would come from a new conference, but there was no way they were ready for what their debut would bring.
The visitors could not have asked for a better start, though, as the defense forced the Vikings (0-1) to punt after just three plays. A bad snap then gave WPU a short field at the MVC 4-yard-line.
Hafner got the navy and gold on the board immediately with a four-yard scamper just 1:11 into action.
William Penn came up with another quick defensive stop, but this time the offense was backed up–all the way to its own 1. Without missing a beat, the unit went right to work, going 99 yards on 11 plays. Tyler Goble (Sr., Des Moines, Iowa, Secondary Education) capped it off with a two-yard scoring run. The senior fullback finished with 68 yards.
The rollercoaster ride–let’s call it The Heart Attack– was going great–smooth, enjoyable, BUT terror was right around the corner. Missouri Valley was just about to give the ball back on another three-and-out series before the home squad hooked up for a 51-yard passing score.
WPU tried to get back on ‘track’, converting several third-down plays in its next drive, but a fumble (its first of three on the night) gave the ball back in Viking territory. MVC was knocking on the Statesmen’s door ready to take the lead, but a throw was picked off by Isaac Samek (Sr., Bolivar, Mo., Industrial Technology) in the endzone–one of five interceptions for the visitors.
The Vikings did eventually take the lead on their next drive and then built their advantage all the way to 15 at 28-13 early in the third period. Two of MVC’s four touchdowns came off of WPU fumbles. This is what they call the ‘stomach-in-your-throat’ part of the ride.
With their backs against the wall, the Statesmen fought through and converted two third downs and a fourth down on their way to a ride-leveling touchdown. A four-yard scoring run by fullback Amos Johnson (So., Rock Island, Ill., Mechanical Engineering) cut the deficit to 28-20 midway through the third.
The Vikings appeared primed to take those points right back, but another endzone INT–this time by Keegan Murphy (Sr., Ark City, Kan., Physical Education)–squelched the attempt.
Neither side could do much on their ensuing possessions and Johnson went back to work. The sophomore, who finished with 91 yards, found paydirt for the second time early in the fourth to get WPU within two at 28-26 (two-point conversion was unsuccessful).
Another Murphy interception (this one in MVC territory) was for naught as the Statesmen gave it right back on a fumble on the next play. More twists and turns, but the amusement was far from over.
Missouri Valley began to march again, but lo and behold, Statesmen linebacker Kevin Shrauger (Sr., Nixa, Mo., Physical Education) found the ball in his hands after a pass was tipped. Pick #4.
Nothing transpired offensively, but WPU’s punt stuck the Vikings back at their own 3-yard line. Two plays down the bend, the defense came up big yet again as MVC’s ball carrier was unable to get out of his own endzone and William Penn knotted the contest at 28-28 on a safety of all things. Loopty-loops, corkscrews, free-falls brought it all to this.
Big-play receiver Jatavius Stewart (Sr., Rock Hill, S.C., Biology) was shut down in the air attack (one catch for zero yards), but he almost single-handedly provided the game-winner on the next play. The senior ripped through the Viking coverage team and took the kickoff the entire way, but a penalty brought the ball back to midfield.
The penalty was possibly heaven-sent as it allowed the offense to milk nearly all of the remaining time off the clock. After picking up a third down to get inside MVC’s 10, William Penn was stuffed on third-and-goal at the MVC 1, presenting a dilemma for the coaching staff–field goal or touchdown?
Head Coach Todd Hafner and his crew opted for the bigger number and the gamble was successful with Tyler Hafner breaking across the goal line with just 36 ticks left. Hafner rushed for 92 yards and two scores and also completed seven of his 10 passes for 76 yards.
The Vikings pressed one final time, but Walter Eastwood (Jr., Garden City, Mo., Computer Science) played a solid center field and iced the win with his first–and his team’s fifth–interception of the competition.
The thrills and chills were over. Kids begged to get back in line and the adults made a promise to themselves that they would never do THAT again. Six Flags, Cedar Point, and Universal Studios combined have nothing on this game.
“What a great team win!” Coach Hafner said. “It seemed like when the defense needed to make a play and when the offense needed to do something good, they did. Our kids showed great heart and mental toughness tonight!”
“I thought the second half showed the true character of our football team,” Hafner added. “We never wavered and continued to support each other all the way to the very end!”
The Statesmen finished with a 421-413 edge in total yards, highlighted by 345 on the ground. Nate Tvedt (Sr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Business Management) assisted in the rushing total with 47 yards. Desmond Douglas (Jr., Decatur, Ala., Physical Education) led the receiving group with three grabs for 47 yards.
Jake Baptiste (So., Salt Lake City, Utah, Psychology) recorded a team-high 10 tackles (6 solos), while Jaylen Malbrough (Fr., Fort Worth, Texas, Communications) had six stops (all solos).
Next Up: William Penn returns to Oskaloosa next Saturday to host #8 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) at 6 p.m. in Heart action.
Story By Wade Steinlage