Within a 30-hour period, when Wayne State coaches and players once felt dejection they now feel elation. The Warriors learned late Nov. 13 that they are heading to the playoffs for the first time in its 94-year history. News came one day after WSU lost its final game to the Findlay Oilers 43-42 in overtime.
Findlay opted to go for the 2-pt conversion in OT as quarterback Clay Belton completed a pass to tight end Jaryd Brown. The Oilers played spoilers.
But now that play is a bad memory for Wayne State, who earned a sixth seed in Super Region Three. WSU will play No. 3 seed St. Cloud State (9-2) in Minnesota Nov. 19 at noon central time.
Wayne State enters the post-season losing three of its last five games, including the heartbreaker to Findlay (6-5).
“We were outplayed,” head coach Paul Winters said. “They came in with a great plan, great enthusiasm. They had nothing to lose, and played like it.”
It was a back-and-forth game the whole way as no side took control at any point of the game. Junior Quarterback Mickey Mohner completed 17 of 22 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns and senior receiver Troy Burrell had 5 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
“Ultimately, the difference in the game was the difference in focus,” Winters added. “We focused on all that had been achieved, and what it meant to win this game. They just focused on winning the game and they did that.”
On the last play in the first half, Mohner heaved a 49-yard touchdown pass to Burrell to give the Warriors a 21-14 halftime lead. Burrell was able to make an adjustment on the pass and hauled it in.
WSU’s seniors could have played in their last game of their careers. They certainly played like it down the stretch of the game.
Down 35-28, with a little more than two minutes to go and their season on the line, Mohner dropped one step and flung a screen to Burrell. He blazed down for a 59-yard touchdown.
But Findlay marched back down the field and appeared to be close to or inside field goal range with 22 seconds remaining. Then senior star defensive back Jeremy Jones took the Oilers back out of field goal range. He sacked Belton for a 10-yard loss on second down, and hit Belton again on the ensuing play causing an incompletion as regulation ended.
In OT, senior running back Josh Renel ran for a touchdown as WSU drew first blood. But then the Oilers responded with a 1-yard touchdown run and then the 2-pt conversion to win the game.
“This program has meant so much to me the last four years,” an emotional Renel, who had 57 yards and one touchdown, said after the game. “If that was my last game, then I can honestly say this program is in a better place than when I first got here. We’re a family over here – everyone always says that, but we really are.”
Winters said: “It’s the greatest class in history, in terms of winning (31-13). I just told them how proud I was of them and how hard they fought. I could go on and on about how great they were. We were blessed to have a senior class like that.”
Findlay outgained the Warriors on offense with 490 yards compared to WSU’s 387 yards. As a result, they had 12 more first downs than Wayne State (29-17). The Oilers also dominated the time of possession in the pivotal fourth quarter, owning the football for nearly 12 minutes (out of 15 minutes).
The Warriors three losses this year have been by a combined 12 points.
Winters tried to keep things in perspective.
“When you lose a football game, you have a tendency to think the world is coming to an end,” he said. “It’s not. The program isn’t coming to an end and the world isn’t coming to an end. We will overcome this, we’ll learn from it – it will make us stronger and we will be a championship football team.”
The season isn’t over, yet, and the Warriors just may prove to be a championship team after all.