By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
MARIETTA, Ohio – Saturday afternoon proved that football is also a game of mere inches. Following an incredible offensive display, despite extremely rainy conditions at Don Drumm Stadium in Marietta, the Capital University football team made a giant leap of faith to go for the win on its final play of the game. Thomas Wibbeler's roll out run on a two-point conversion attempt was met by a trio of Marietta Pioneer defenders and kept the Capital quarterback out of the end zone to seal a 51-50 come-from-behind victory to open Ohio Athletic Conference play.
Capital's final drive of the game continued a regular pattern of offensive dominance. Marietta (2-0) had just witnessed running back Tanner Clark rush for his fifth touchdown of the day and the ensuing two-point conversion was successful, giving the hosts a seven-point lead, 51-44. Capital then responded in a big way.
The Crusaders' drive nearly stalled before it got started, but senior quarterback Thomas Wibbeler (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville) founds sophomore running back Dylan Schoonover (Grove City, Ohio/Grove City) for a nine-yard pass out of the backfield to convert their fourth-and-four opportunity and keep the drive alive. Wibbeler then connected with one of his favorite targets, senior Dartavious Stanford (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville), for a 32-yard completion.
After entering the red zone, Capital had to overcome another obstacle when third-and-four turned into third-and-nine following a call for having 12 men on the field. However, the Pioneers were guilty of a personal foul for an illegal hit on Wibbeler, granting the Crusaders a fresh set of downs at the Pio 11-yard line. Wibbeler then connected with junior David Barnett (Springfield, Ohio/Shawnee) for nine yards and then hit Schoonover one again just short of the goal line, but good for a first down to stop the clock. Wibbeler then called his own number while initiating the hurry-up offense and crossed the line for six points thus setting up a crucial decision.
Head Coach Chad Rogosheske made the call to go for two points and the win on the upcoming point-after try. Wibbeler sought Stanford over the middle, but as the ball dropped incomplete a flag fell to the ground citing a defensive pass interference call. After lining up for a second attempt, Wibbeler called his own number on a quarterback keeper. The senior rolled out to his right and for a moment had a hole to run toward victory lane. Three Marietta defensive players converged and met Wibbeler at the goal line. Despite an aggressive head-first dive forward, Wibbeler was kept out of the end zone by mere inches resulting in a failed two-point conversion and the Pioneers holding on for the win.
The end-of-the-game theatrics were part of a 60-minute roller coaster ride featuring the Crusaders and Pioneers offenses. Combined, the two teams totaled 1,199 yards of offense and 14 touchdowns.
Wibbeler had the game of his career and set a new Capital single-game passing yards record. He finished the contest with 511 passing yards, surpassing Dan Batholomew's 476 yards that was set in 2001. He becomes the first 400-yard passer for Capital since 2008 when Marty Assman did so against Wilmington. Wibbeler went 33-for-53 through the air with five touchdowns. On the ground, he ran 19 times for 85 yards and one touchdown.
His favorite target over the course of the day turned out to be David Barnett, who for a second week in a row set a new career high for catches in a single game. He made 12 grabs for 225 yards. With his three touchdown catches, he tied a record he and teammate Dar Stanford already share for most touchdown catches in a single game. Barnett became Capital's first 200-yard receiver since Ryan Gunnarson's 2010 game against Heidelberg when he recorded 232 yards.
Capital held the lead for nearly 90 percent of the game. The Crusaders jumped out to a 14-0 lead by taking advantage of a flat Marietta defense.
The CU defense made the first wave by forcing Marietta into a three-and-out on its first possession to open the game. After Wibbeler hit Stanford and Barnett for touchdowns in the team's first two possessions, the defense made another stop to force a Marietta punt.
Marietta running back Tanner Clark single-handedly kept the Pioneers in the game after totaling 311 rushing yards against Cap. The junior had four runs of over 30 yards and both of his runs over 60 yards were for touchdowns. His 62-yard scoring scamper brought Marietta to within two points, 23-21, in the second quarter. Marietta never trailed by more than three points for the duration of the game.
The Pioneers took their first lead when Clark finished off a seven-play, 57-yard drive at the top of the fourth quarter, but Capital responded with a lengthy scoring drive of its own. Junior running Evin Butler (Dayton, Ohio/Dayton Christian) served as the bookend of the following drive when he rammed in his first career touchdown from one yard out to put the Crusaders back on top, 44-43, with 10:45 to go.
The Pioneers' Tanner Clark then rattled off his fifth touchdown of the day to set up the game's dramatic ending.
Pioneer quarterback Darrien Fields had a serviceable day with 214 yards passing on 14-of-22 attempts. He threw for two touchdowns but also had one of his passes intercepted by junior Kole Carter (Gallipolis, Ohio/Gallia Academy), thwarting a drive in the second quarter.
Sophomore linebacker Michael Lauofo (Miamisburg, Ohio/Miamisburg) led both sides with 15 total tackles, including eight solo stops. He nearly intercepted two Darrien Fields pass attempts, leading to two pass breakups. Carter finished with nine tackles in addition to his interception.
The loss drops Capital to 0-2 on the season. The Crusaders will prepare for the first home game of the season, which will be held Saturday, September 15 versus Heidelberg University. The Student Princes and Crusaders will square off under the lights at Bernlohr Stadium at 7 p.m.