Joe Callahan, Defense Lead Wesley Wolverines into NCAA Semi-Finals
The Wolverines jumped out on top on their first possession of the game when Eric Speidel kicked a 32-yard field goal to put his team up 3-0. QB Joe Callahan had a huge 24-yard pass on the drive to Robert Wiggs, but his passes on the opening series were not as crisp as most have come to expect. He finished 3-6 on the drive, with his other two completions garnering just 11 yards.
He would continue to struggle through the first quarter, going 2-5 on the team’s next three drives, including throwing an interception on the team’s third drive. The Statesmen had a plan of attack that had the junior a little confused early on.
While the Wesley offense was struggling through the opening frame, the defense came to play. Hobart had five possessions in the first quarter, with three ending in punts after going three-n-out, and the other two with turnovers. The Statesmen had just 17 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
With Wesley holding onto a 3-0, the defense got a huge play out of Andre Connally as the first quarter was coming to an end. Conner Hartigan took the handoff, but Connally stripped the ball from him. It was recovered by Sean Hopkins, who raced 42-yards to give the Wolverines the 10-0 lead. For Connally it was his third forced fumble of the season, and Hopkins’ first touchdown return of the year.
Needing a spark, QB Patrick Conlan led the Statesmen on a 14-play drive that resulted in a touchdown when the QB hit Chris Cyr for the 4-yard score. That cut the deficit to 10-6 and seemed to invigorate their sideline.
On the Wolverines next drive Callahan began to warm up, hitting 3 of his first 4 passes, including a 26-yard pass to Bryce Shade. Wesley moved to the Hobart 24-yard line, but after Jamar Baynard was held to a 1-yard gain on first down, Callahan’s next three passes fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs.
The defense held Hobart to a three-n-out, giving the ball right back to Callahan, and he was not going to be denied this time. The junior completed two passes each to Kyle George and Bryce Shade to help move the ball to the Hobart three. From there Baynard pounded his way through for the score, extending the lead to 17-6. That would be the score heading into half.
On Hobart’s first possession of the second half, they would be forced to punt after another three-n-out. However, the punt was muffed, giving Wesley the ball at the Hobart 9-yard line. The Wolverines could only move the ball three yards, forcing a 24-yard goal attempt, which Speidel hit, extending the lead to 20-6.
It was time for the Statesmen offense to step up, and 10-plays later Conlan passed to Mike Berkowitz for the 7-yard touchdown pass, making it a one-touchdown game again. The big play of the drive was a 41-yard run by Patrick Thelander that moved the ball into Wesley territory at the 21-yard line.
It was time for the Wesley quarterback to strut his MVP form, and he delivered just before the end of the third quarter. Callahan completed a quick 17-yard pass to Shade to move the ball to their own 42. Three plays later Callahan hit his favorite target, Steve Koudossou, who had a step on his defender. Sixty yards later the Wolverines were into the end zone, and their two touchdown lead was restored.
From there Wesley went for the dagger. After forcing another three-n-out series, the team methodically moved down the field from their own 10-yard line, until 10-plays later Baynard scored from 3-yards out again to make the score 34-13.
Two possessions later Callahan found George for 19-yard touchdown pass, and the coffin was sealed shut. Baynard got the drive going with three carries for 22-yards, and Callahan finished it off with three straight completions.
The Wesley defense were absolute beasts all game long. They held Hobart to just 163 yards of total offense, only 74 through the air. They recorded three interceptions and forced a fumble. It was an absolutely incredible outing by one of the premier defensive units in Division-III football.
After struggling through the first quarter, Callahan recovered, going 23-39 for 315 yards and 2 touchdowns. Koudossou had 5 catches for 125 yards and a score. Baynard gained 78 yards on the ground and scored twice.
Next weekend will be a real heavyweight battle as the Wesley Wolverines will take on the Mount Union Purple Raiders. This will be a battle of the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country. The Minor League Sports Report will have a preview of this game on Wednesday.
By Robert Pannier