Making a Splash: Wright State outlasts Michigan-Flint for third-straight win
In the never-ending football rivalry of Ohio versus Michigan, chalk another one up for the Buckeye State.
Two-way players Nick Blower and Brian Sledge each scored rushing touchdowns, wide receiver/tight end Zach Barlage added another through the air and No. 5 Wright State knocked off conference rival No. 23 Michigan-Flint 18-6 Saturday afternoon in Fairborn.
The win earned the Raiders their third Great Lakes Conference Founder’s Classic trophy in the four years of the rivalry game and helped WSU avenge a 57-14 loss to UM-Flint last year.
To take back the trophy from the Kodiaks, the Raiders endured cold temperatures and a driving rain storm that made ball security a dilemma for both teams for the majority of the game. WSU leaned on its reliable ground game early, and then broke the scoring open through the air.
Barlage out-battled Kodiaks WR/DB Jordan Garcia in midair on a pass from QB Nate Bollheimer, eluded additional defenders and raced into the end zone for game’s first touchdown.
“We just continued to pound the ball and it opened up the door for a couple of the big passes,” coach Anthony Van Horn said.
With just over eight minutes before halftime, and the Raiders clinging to a 6-0 lead, Blower broke free from beyond midfield on a long touchdown run to give WSU a 12-0 halftime lead.
In a game where points were as hard to come by as it was to find shelter from the elements, WSU’s ability to break big plays on the ground proved to be vital. The slick field, and seemingly slicker ball, stymied both teams early and often, but offensive tackle Devonte Jordan said the rain that drenched Mulhollan Field Saturday didn’t faze the Raiders.
“We saw the weather when we first came out, but it didn’t matter to us because we knew our offensive line and running backs could force the ball up the middle and outside, and we knew we could gain yards,” Jordan said.
WSU stayed in control in the second half until a UM-Flint punt return brought the ball down to the WSU one yard-line. The Kodiaks scored on the ensuing play, cutting the Raiders lead to 12-6.
Eventually, the Raiders (2-0, 4-3) proved too much for the Kodiaks. Nursing a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, Sledge put the game out of reach with a rushing touchdown with just over three minutes to play.
Defensively, WSU set the tone early and never relented. The Raiders trademark physical style of play forced multiple turnovers and severely limited the Kodiaks offense all afternoon. Linebacker Brian Seger was named the NCFA Defensive Player of the Week on Monday for his efforts against UM-Flint. Seger recorded 11 tackles,two of them for loses and forced a fumble.
“We just love to play physical. We encouraged the rain and said, ‘bring it on,’” said free safety Brian Skipper, who, along with defensive back Roy Ray recorded interceptions in the win. “Nothing is going to stop us. No matter who our opponent is, we are going to hit them in the mouth and keep going.”
WSU outscored its opponents 79-33 during its three-game win streak.
“Whatever they see, they adapt to,” Van Horn said speaking about his defense. “You never know what [your opponent] will actually throw at you, but you just need to be on your toes and be ready. This is a great defensive squad and I couldn’t ask for a better defense to come out there.”
Next up for WSU: The Ohio State Buckeyes, Sunday at 1 p.m in Columbus.
“We’re excited and we’re ready for the Buckeyes,” Skipper said. “We’ll put them down, keep going in the division and the conference. [We plan to] keep the ball rolling.”
Correction: In the print version of this story, the writer was named as “John Hamilton, Contributing Writer”. This story was written by Andrew Smith, Sports Editor.