EDWARDSVILLE — From the moment the Wilkes football team took the field on Saturday afternoon for its season opener, there was a vast difference from the previous four seasons.
When the team walked off the field after the final whistle, the result wasn’t much different from the last few years after a 28-24 loss to Hartwick, but the improvement is a drastic contrast.
Stepping on the field with gold helmets and gold pants as compared to the trademark blue helmets and white pants, right off the bat the Colonels showed a change.
On its first drive of the game, down 7-0, Wilkes drove 41 yards on 11 plays and took more than six minutes off the clock. Even though the team punted on the stanza, taking time off the clock was something teams in the previous four years struggled with.
“They’re tough kids. I think we fought the entire game,” first-year Colonels coach Jonathan Drach said. “I told them that. And we took a step forward. I said it from the very beginning, our process is all about getting better and taking steps forward everyday. And they were better today than they were yesterday and they’ll be better tomorrow than they were today. If we can do that, then we’ll get to where we want to go.”
After Hartwick went up 14-0 by converting on its second drive, there was no panic from Drach, his coaching staff or the players. The Colonels put together another drive of more than six minutes, this time resulting in a touchdown of their own from Jose Tabora to Jeff Steeber from 8 yards out to cut the deficit to 14-7 with 2:44 to go before the half.
The quick-strike ability remains in the arsenal and worked out near the end of the first half as Tabora and Steeber hooked up twice on the next drive, including a 51-yard TD to tie the game 14-14 on a stanza that needed just two plays and 13 seconds.
Tabora, who threw for 234 yards and three scores and ran for 61 yards, hit Steeber as his favorite target. Steeber hauled in seven catches for 103 yards on the afternoon.
“They’re both really, really tough kids, they’re gritty,” Drach said about his top touchdown tandem. “They made some plays when the ball was in their hands. … I thought they did a nice job and were on the same page and have a lot of chemistry. So that’ll continue to grow as the season goes on.”
The Hawks came out in the second half using long drives to put Wilkes away. On their first possession of the second half, they put together an 11-play, 61-yard scoring drive 21-14.
Wilkes answered with a game-tying TD when Tabora hit Justin Deihm for a 4-yard score, capping a short three-play, 20-yard drive that was set up by a huge punt return of 70 yards by Devon Fink.
Once the Hawks went a touchdown ahead on their next drive, Wilkes settled for a field goal on its next possession with the clock reading 7:53 in the fourth. Drach had hopes of his defense holding and getting another shot, but the Hartwick offense held the ball for the remainder of the game by stringing together a 14-play, 62-yard drive.
“They ate up the entire clock and used up all of our timeouts so fantastic job by them,” Drach said. “I give them a ton of credit. As a defense, we have to be able to get them off the field.”
Overall, the Colonels looked improved from last year’s winless mark, but they still made mistakes that led to the loss. Mistakes such as two holding penalties negating decent kick returns and dropped balls on offense and defense.
Those miscues Drach said, are what need to change very soon.
“I think we need to continue to clean up some of the areas that we faltered on today, some of the special teams penalties, some of the procedure (penalties) on offense. I think those things need to get cleaned up immediately,” he said. “I think as we move forward, we’re going to have to continue to improve on our overall effort as a whole.”
Hartwick 28, Wilkes 24
HAR – Mucci 19 pass from Macina (Roberts kick) 8:51
HAR – Mucci 19 pass from Macina (Roberts kick) 12:49
WIL – Steeber 8 pass from Tabora (DeSpirito kick) 2:44
WIL – Steeber 51 pass from Tabora (DeSpirito kick) :56
HAR – Ballard 2 run (Roberts kick) 7:41
WIL – Deihm 4 pass from Tabora (DeSpirito kick) 5:57
HAR – Darmetko 68 pass from Macina (Roberts kick) 14:40
WIL – DeSpirito 35 field goal 7:53
Sacks by-yards lost`1-2`2-10
PASSING – HAR, Macina 15-27-0-227. WIL, Tabora 22-38-0-234
RUSHING— HAR, Ballard 25-173, Macina 9-33, TEAM 3-(minus-26). WIL, Tabora 13-61, Gonzalez 1-6, Taragna 4-(minus-3)
RECEIVING— HAR, Ballard 5-47, Darmetko 4-103, Mucci 4-52, Virkler 1-21, Streinman 1-4. WIL, Steeber 7-103, Nelson 4-37, Gonzalez 3-19, Yanik 2-28, Salas-Negron 2-20, Jones 1-9, Taragna 1-9, Harrison 1-5, Deihm 1-4.
INTERCEPTIONS – none
MISSED FGS – none
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