Freshman QB directs W&J to win in home opener

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After opening the season with three consecutive road games, the Washington and Jefferson Presidents finally got to play their 2013 football home opener Saturday afternoon and they couldn’t have asked for a better opponent than Thiel.


With a strong effort on both offense and defense, W&J came away with a 32-19 homecoming victory at Cameron Stadium, the Presidents’ 31st win in the last 32 matchups against the Tomcats.


“It wasn’t an ideal situation,” said W&J head coach Mike Sirianni. “You don’t want to have to open up with three games on the road and then come home and have to start a freshman quarterback for the first time in front of a large crowd. But I thought we responded well and had a solid effort.”


Freshman Pete Coughlin, an Upper St. Clair graduate, got his first start at quarterback for W&J in place of the injured Matt Bliss. Coughlin put together an efficient afternoon, completing 16 of 23 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown, and also chipping in 54 yards on the ground with a touchdown run.


More importantly, Coughlin took good care of the football, not committing a turnover.


“He managed the game very well,” said Sirianni. “We didn’t want him to have to do too much, but he had an outstanding afternoon. We hope his future isn’t now because Matt is going to play as soon as he can, but he went out and showed that the future of W&J football is very bright.”


The Presidents (2-0 in the PAC, 3-1 overall) took a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter on an 32-yard field goal from Eric Eberle and a one-yard touchdown run from Dion Wiegand, which was set up by a 29-yard interception return from Sam Comly, giving W&J a first-and-goal situation.


“I had some jitters early on,” Coughlin admitted. “It was nice to get a couple quick scores and then I started to get my feet under me.”


Thiel (0-2, 0-4) cut the lead to 10-6 in the second quarter on a fourth-down halfback pass from Josh Potter to Bill Frizzi that went 30 yards for a touchdown.


W&J added another field goal from Eberle to take a 13-6 halftime, and Coughlin made some big plays in the second half. The freshman connected with Alex Baroffio, who finished with seven receptions for 104 yards and a 28-yard touchdown pass on the Presidents’ first drive of the second half. The drive was set up by Baroffio returning the second-half kickoff 49 yards.


Coughlin then ran seven yards for a touchdown on the Presidents’ next drive to put the game out of reach for Thiel.


“Coach just told me to go out there and play my game,” Coughlin said. “When things broke down, I tried to use my legs to get to the outside. When I didn’t have anyone open, he just told me to look for Alex.”


Thiel added a touchdown in the third quarter on a 10-yard pass from Andrew Smith to Josh Wannamaker to make it 25-12, but Wiegand, who rushed for 99 yards on 21 carries, had a two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.


The Tomcats outgained W&J, 409-321, but the Presidents’ defense made three big plays. In addition to the first quarter interception from Comly, the W&J defense had an interception by B.J. Monacelli on the goal line to thwart a lengthy Thiel drive and a long fumble recovery and return by Shane Smith, which led to the final Presidents touchdown.


“They are a pretty good team and have some playmakers,” Sirianni said of Thiel. “We knew they would be able to move the football, but we made some big plays on defense, and two of them set up scores, so I was very happy with the effort. We have to tighten some things up, but overall I was pleased.”


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