By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Thomas Wibbeler and Dartavious Stanford rejuvenated their connection that started as teammates at Zanesville High School, which jumpstarted a run of 32 unanswered points by Capital Football's offense in its 39-28 victory over Muskingum University on Saturday night. Capital's offense was complimented by a strong defensive effort in its win at Purmort Field at Bernlohr Stadium to open the Ohio Athletic Conference season.
Capital's offense tallied over 500 yards of total offense with 317 of those coming off of the arm of quarterback Thomas Wibbeler (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville). The junior completed 18-of-33 attempts for 308 yards and four touchdowns to guide the offense. His first touchdown pass came in response to Muskingum's go-ahead score when he hit Nick Iske from one-yard out on a corner route to the far side.
Muskingum (1-2, 1-0 OAC) mounted another drive that went 70 yards over seven plays to take a 14-7 lead, but the Crusaders kicked it into another gear to begin a run of 32 unanswered points with the following drive. Sophomore running back Evan Butler (Dayton, Ohio/Dayton Christian) set up the score with a 27-yard run down the near side of the field, putting Cap inside the red zone. On a third-and-nine play, Wibbeler hit his old high school teammate, junior Dartavious Stanford (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville) for a 17-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch to set up a tie game once again. The pass threaded the needle past a Muskingum defender, where Stanford wrestled it away and took it into the end zone for six.
The defense did its job over the next three Muskingum possessions, forcing two punts and stalling their final drive of the half by causing a fumble with six seconds remaining on the clock.
While the defense answered the call, Capital continued to score and took a 20-14 lead into the half. Wibbeler hit his favorite 2016 target, sophomore David Barnett (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) for a 19-yard scoring pass, but the point-after touchdown attempt was blocked.
The temperature of the Crusaders' offense continued to rise with the start of the second half. On their opening possession, Wibbeler and Stanford connected again, this time for 47 yards to get into scoring position. Three plays later, Wibbeler tossed a shovel pass to H-back Hunter Smith (Zanesville, Ohio/Philo), who wrestled his way into the end zone for another six points. The two-point conversion attempt was no good, but the Cap lead increased to 26-14.
Senior Eric Stroski (Concord, Ohio/Riverside) made sure that the defense continued getting the credit it deserved when he ended a Musky drive by making a leaping grab for his first interception of the season midway through the third quarter. The ensuing Capital drive featured another 40-plus yard completion to Dar Stanford, which set up Nateshawn Hargrove's first touchdown with Capital, a two-yard run.
After the defense forced a turnover on downs during the next Muskingum possession, senior running back Cory Heeter (Circleville, Ohio/Logan Elm) became the workhorse for the next drive. He capped it off with his lone touchdown of the day, a four-yard scamper to paydirt. Blake Middleton's PAT was good, leading to a 39-14 score with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter.
The third quarter ended on another high note for the Capital defense when junior LaShaun Sanders Jr. (Columbus, Ohio/St. Francis Desales) cashed in on a miscue between Musky quarterback Brody Hahn and his receiver. The pick was his first of the season.
Muskingum picked up a pair of scores late when the game was out of reach, including a 90-yard fumble recovery that went the other way for a touchdown.
Stanford finished the night with five catches for 125 yards and one score to lead the receiving core.
Heeter went 99 yards on 13 carries, good for a 7.6 yard per carry average, and scored once.
Junior Nateshawn Hargrove (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) ran for 59 yards on seven carries and found the end zone once.
On the defensive end, junior Jordan Duncan (Sunnyvale, Calif./The Kings Academy) led the team with nine tackles, four solo, and two of those were behind the line of scrimmage.
Stroski added eight tackles to his one pick and one pass defended.
Senior defensive lineman James Zamor (Cape Coral, Fla./Cape Coral) had another solid day with seven tackles.
Sanders and Shawn Facione Jr. both had one fumble forced, one of which turned into a change of possession.
Capital forced three turnovers on the day for a plus-two turnover margin, a vast improvement to their previous game against Mount St. Joseph two weeks ago. The defense also held Muskingum quarterback Brody Hahn to under a 50 percent completion rate, just 115 yards in the air, and two picks. Hahn did manage to rack up 82 yards on nine carries. Bernard Johnson ran the ball well for the Muskies, finishing with 131 yards on 17 touches and two scores.
Capital (1-1, 1-0 OAC) will take its show on the road for the first time this year when they head to Southeast Ohio where Wilmington College awaits after its 56-28 loss to Otterbein University tonight.