W&J, California have no room for error

October 5, 2017

Thomas More is out of the way.

The chaos surrounded with scheduling the Thiel game was solved.

Now, Washington & Jefferson College’s football team must face the next hurdle: Carnegie Mellon.

CMU and Case Western Reserve are tied for the Presidents’ Athletic Conference lead at 3-0 and W&J is one-half game back at 2-0. The Tartans are 5-0, their best start since 2006, and Case and W&J are each 4-0.

“They are a terrific team, well coached,” said W&J head coach Mike Sirianni about CMU. “They might be the best-coached offense we’ve seen in a while.”

The Presidents knocked off preseason favorite Thomas More in Week 3 and handled a two-day delay to defeat Thiel because of some sort of virus that made its way through the student population in Greenville.

Carnegie Mellon running back Sam Benger, the PAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016, is only seventh in the conference in rushing with an average of 84 yards per game. He was held to a combined 120 yards – 51 against Thomas More two weeks ago and 69 against Bethany last week – both victories for the Tartans.

“They have a really good running back, a really good receiver and a terrific quarterback,” said Sirianni. “They are really hard to prepare for. Their defense has improved. It’s a big challenge.”

W&J will be without tailback Jordan West, who is recovering from a knee bruise suffered three weeks ago. Running back Justin Vickless, a starter last year, is coming off a huge game against Thiel. Vickless is coming off a career-high 130 yards rushing.

“I was just waiting for my chance and taking advantage of it when I could,” said Vickless. “We ran pretty good against (CMU) last year. Hopefully, we can do the same thing.”

Cal at Indiana

Kickoff: Saturday, 1 p.m.

After a gut-punch overtime loss to Slippery Rock last week, No. 16 California University is facing a must-win situation against No. 4 Indiana, the preseason pick to win the PSAC West Division Conference, in the ninth annual Coal Bowl.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3 as part of the NCAA Division II Football Showcase.

Slippery Rock kicked a field goal in overtime to hand Cal head coach Gary Dunn his first regular season loss since being hired last season. He’s 15-2. Cal is 4-1, 1-1 in the conference, and Indiana is 5-0, 2-0 in the conference.

“We try to control what we can control,” Dunn said. “We control how we prepare and how we play this week.”

Cal will be missing two key parts to the offense with tailback Nick Grissom and wide receiver Jordan Dandridge out.

Indiana has the top offense and second-best defense in the league. Running back Samir Bullock is second in the conference in rushing (680 yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Lenny Williams has 1,274 total yards.

“They have a really explosive offense,” said Dunn. “They are running the ball really well, so we have to commit more people. But they can throw the ball too. … It’s going to be an extremely tough game for us.”

With Grissom out, Jimmy Wheeler will get the start and Jalen Bell will get the second-series carries. Last week, Wheeler had a season-best 77 yards and the two combined for 106 yards and three touchdowns.

Waynesburg at Geneva

Kickoff: Saturday, 3 p.m.

If Waynesburg is to break into the win column, the Yellow Jackets must stop Geneva running back Trevon Marshall.

Marshall leads the Presidents’ Athletic Conference and ranks third in the nation with 842 rushing yards. His 210.5 yards per game average is second in Division III and his nine rushing touchdowns has him tied for eighth place.

Waynesburg (0-3, 0-5) is struggling to run the football. The Yellow Jackets have rushed for 680 fewer yards than their opponents.

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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