The most encouraging part of Matt Bliss’s performance against Geneva College Saturday night might not have been the gaudy passing numbers, but the way in which he used his legs to help compile those statistics.
Bliss, Washington & Jefferson’s senior quarterback, suffered a sprained knee in a Sept. 14 loss to St. John Fisher and has not been fully recovered until, well, Saturday night it appears.
Bliss slid from side to side to avoid the pressure of the Golden Tornadoes’ pass rush to keep plays alive and allow his receivers more time to get open. The result was an outstanding night: 22 completions in 35 attempts for 258 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I’m feeling good, really good,” said Bliss. “I didn’t think it would be this long to run the football like I used to.”
That’s troubling news for Waynesburg, Saturday afternoon’s opponent at Cameron Stadium (1:30 p.m. kickoff) in a critical regular-season finale. The Presidents need a win to tie Thomas More for first place in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference and earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. W&J owns the tiebreaker over Thomas More with a 45-21 victory Oct. 12.
“He’s moving around better, and that helps us,” said W&J head coach Mike Sirianni. “It’s good to get him running around.”
With the emergence of tailback Dion Wiegand, W&J’s running game has been able to make the passing game work more effectively. Bliss’ ability to scramble from pressure makes it that much harder to stop. Bliss credits a bye week before the Geneva game that gave him time to heal.
“It helped a lot,” he said. “I got a lot of treatment. I knew I could run the football if I had to.”
His 12-yard run right before halftime was vintage Bliss, sliding away from the defensive pressure and cutting back against the grain to pick up a first down that eventually led to a touchdown and 35-17 lead at halftime.
“I’m feeling more comfortable back there,” Bliss said. “It’s not just me. We’re getting better at every position, and we’re staying healthy.”
With Wiegand surpassing 1,000 yards rushing in a win over Saint Vincent two weeks ago – he has 1,128 now – and wide receiver Max Creighan having his best game of the season with four catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, the Presidents’ offense is stronger than it’s been all season.
“Bliss has always been a running threat,” said Waynesburg head coach Rick Shepas. “What he has improved on is the accuracy of his passing.”
Bliss’ favorite target is wide receiver Alex Baroffio, who became the second player in W&J history to surpass 3,000 career receiving yards with a nine-catch, 81-yard performance against Geneva. Only Ryan Silvis, who graduated in 2001, has more yards. Baroffio needs 117 yards to pass Silvis’ total of 3,156. Baroffio has 75 catches for 886 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season. Dan Lucas has 52 for 587 and five TDs.
Bliss goes into the Waynesburg game needing six yards to reach 2,000 for the season. The most impressive statistic is that he’s thrown only two interceptions in 258 attempts. His counterpart Saturday, Carter Hill, is having an MVP season for the Yellow Jackets. Hill has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards and 26 touchdowns, He also has only two interceptions, but in 361 attempts.
“This week is always great (preparing for this game),” Bliss said. “They are 30 minutes away and our rivals. We’ve got to win this game to get the PAC title and a playoff berth.”