What was once thought to be improbable now is within reach.
Washington & Jefferson College’s football team, thought to have been knocked out of the race for the Presidents’ Athletic Conference title after losing to Bethany in Week 5, now needs just one more win to take its second straight title and earn a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Presidents got to this point with a 49-34 victory over Geneva Saturday night at Cameron Stadium.
The win moves W&J to 6-1 in the conference and 7-2 overall. If the Presidents defeat arch-rival Waynesburg next week, they would end up tied with Thomas More for first place in the conference. W&J owns the tiebreaker over the Saints, thanks to a 45-21 victory in Week 6.
Geneva fell to 4-3 in the conference and 5-4 overall.
The victory was the 100th in Mike Sirianni’s coaching career. He has been head coach for 11 years and came to W&J in 2003. His overall record here is 100-23.
“This is the same situation we were in last year,” said Sirianni. “Our kids handled this well. We’ve been playing playoff games since Week 5. We’re excited to be in this situation.
The W&J offense was magnificent, rolling up 456 yards. Quarterback Matt Bliss completed 22 of 35 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns. He threw two apiece to Max Creighan and Dan Lucas. Tailback Dion Wiegand gained 125 yards on 23 carries and scored on runs of 9 and 51 yards. He also returned a kickoff for an 85-yard touchdown.
Lucas had eight receptions for 80 yards and Creighan four for 93. Creighan’s 26-yard TD reception late in the third quarter and Lucas’ 10-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter pushed the Presidents to a 49-20 lead.
Wide receiver Alex Baroffio caught nine passes for 81 yards and became only the second player in W&J history to surpass 3,000 yards receiving in a career. He has 3,039. Ryan Silvis, who graduated in 2001, was the first to do it. Silvis has 3,156 receiving yards, 117 more than Baroffio to this point.
“I knew I was close to the receiving yards record,” said Baroffio. “I just wanted to win the game.”
“He’s just had a great career, and he’s a great football player,” said Sirianni. “Max and Dan really stepped up when they covered him. We have other players who can make plays, too. The offense played well and moved the ball. Matt is healthier. The week off really helped him.”
Bliss has been recovering from a knee injury suffered early in the season. For the first time since then, he looked comfortable running the football. He rushed for 17 yards on four carries, one of which was a 25-yard run.
“We’re definitely clicking,” Bliss said. “We’re getting better at every position.”
Zack Hayward completed 25 of 38 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns for Geneva, which had 363 total yards. Hayward also led the Golden Tornadoes in rushing with 35 yards on 15 carries.
Lemuel Fuller had eight receptions for 100 yards and caught two touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown in the second quarter on a double-pass play.
Geneva and W&J combined to run 90 plays in the first half. Most of the ones run by the Presidents were more effective than those of the Golden Tornadoes.
The Presidents rolled up 322 total yards and scored five times, including four in a row, to forge a 35-17 halftime lead.
Dion Wiegand, who came into the game ranked third in Division III with 21 touchdowns, gained 110 yards on 14 carries and scored on runs of 9 and 51 yards. But his biggest play came after Geneva scored on Rocco Colavecchia’s 3-yard run to make it 28-10. Wiegand gathered the ensuing kickoff and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown to stretch the Presidents’ lead to 25 again, 35-10, with 4:33 left in the half.
Geneva got the final punch in before halftime, when Colavecchia caught a double-pass for an 11-yard touchdown with 41 seconds to go. Hayward tossed the ball to Lemuel Fuller behind the line of scrimmage and he lofted a TD pass to Colavecchia.
Both Geneva touchdowns were aided by unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on W&J.
The Golden Tornadoes held an early 3-0 lead when Mike Gardner hit a 41-yard field goal six minutes into the quarter.
The two teams combined for 27 penalties for 250 yards. W&J had 14 for 130 and Geneva 13 for 120.