Editors’ note: Maryville College senior Kevin Wheatley has chosen a novel approach for his senior thesis. A player in high school, Wheatley decided to go out for the football team at Maryville his last year at the school and record his experiences of “an average college student trying to make the team.” Blount Today will publish excerpts from Wheatley’s notes throughout the season.
“I had two speeches prepared,” Maryville College coach Tony Ierulli said in front of the Fighting Scots football team during Tuesday’s team meeting before practice.
“Speech A was a heckuva speech,” he said with a grin. “I don’t have to tell you that our chances at a conference championship are very, very slim, but I’ve done a little research,” he said as he pulled on his reading glasses. “I found that if we win out, we will have the highest win total in a two-year span since the 1977-78 seasons.”
Ierulli was in a strangely jovial mood after such a heartbreaking loss to conference foe Christopher Newport. Before his speech, he hung medals around the necks of the Academic All-Conference selections like they were being awarded at the Olympics. I found it weird, especially when considering that after our loss against LaGrange, Coach I made a mandatory practice the following Sunday.
Going into the homecoming game against Christopher Newport, we watched the final scene from the film “Miracle,” where the hockey teams of the United States and the Soviet Union duked it out during the 1980 Olympic Games. The message was loud and clear. We were the underdogs coming into the game, and Christopher Newport expected to walk all over us, especially after trouncing Greensboro to the tune of 40-7, a team we squeaked by 17-16 a few weeks prior.
Saturday finally came, and the entire team was anxious. Not much needed to be said, as there was a record crowd of 5,127 fans coming out to see the Scots play arguably the best team in the USA South conference on homecoming. All the ingredients were there for a Cinderella story.
Needless to say, Christopher Newport came ready to play and won the nail-biter by a score of 38-31. Their star running back Tunde Ogun scored two of the Captains’ first three touchdowns…in the first quarter. Ogun is listed on the Christopher Newport website as 6-feet tall and 218 pounds., but he definitely looked more like Brandon Jacobs of the New York Giants, dragging defenders up field and tacking on an extra 5 yards to nearly every run. The back (or beast, whichever term you prefer) ended the game with 225 yards rushing and three touchdowns against a defense that only allowed roughly 90 yards on the ground per game.
Offensively, we played pretty good from the quarterback position. Season starter Derek Hunt was sidelined with a concussion, but Tim Conner played an incredible game, completing 64 percent of his passes for 339 yards, two touchdowns and one lone interception on the first offensive series.
“The first game I got any real playing time in (against LaGrange) my head wasn’t into it,” Conner said during a practice before the game. “I mean, I just want to go out there and prove that that game wasn’t the best I could do.”
Conner looked good throughout the game, often shifting his way through the pocket and avoiding pressure to find an open receiver downfield. He looked calm and relaxed, like he belonged to be there.
Coach Ryan Hansen also pulled two trick plays out of his hat, which would have been huge momentum changers if they were completed. One was on a double pass from Gary Hughes to Sam McCord that was wide open but overthrown, the other a fake field goal from Hughes, who is the holder, to Tyler Sauceman. It’d be very easy to place the blame on Hughes for leaving two touchdowns on the field, but, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast sweetheart.
When he received his pass from Conner, a number of Captains defenders looked to be bearing down on him, which hurried his throw just enough to where he overthrew his target. On the field goal fake, a Christopher Newport defender ran out to shadow Sauceman and made a good play on the pass from Hughes.
“I know if I had another shot to do those two plays over again, I would have made better decisions,” Hughes said at dinner. “It was just one of those games.”
I thought the game would end up better for the team considering, for the first time before a home game, I did not fumble a snap during our pregame routine.
“Way to go Wheatley,” offensive line coach Jim Elliott said to me prior to the game. “It’s been seven weeks and I think you finally learned how to take a snap.”