Western Courier

Necks fall in first round

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Necks fall in first round

Jaelon Acklin smiles after a record setting year in purple and gold.

Jaelon Acklin smiles after a record setting year in purple and gold.

Angel Strack / photo editor

Jaelon Acklin smiles after a record setting year in purple and gold.

Angel Strack / photo editor

Angel Strack / photo editor

Jaelon Acklin smiles after a record setting year in purple and gold.

Devon Greene, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Western Illinois University Leatherneck football team lost in the first round of the playoffs after a hard-fought game with the Weber State University Wildcats.

The Purple and Gold started the game off with the ball and saw a penalty flag fly on their first snap. A delay of the game left the Leathernecks in a hole from the very start, but after short gains on first and second down, senior receiver Jaelon Acklin preformed a spectacular one-handed catch for a 39-yard gain that put Western at the Wildcats 38-yard line. Another false start penalty put the Leathernecks out of field goal range, and they were forced to punt.

Western Illinois’ defense held strong on their first possession on the field forcing a three-and-out. But Weber State’s senior punter Jacob DeMaio sent a booming punt that pinned Western within their own 20-yard line.

Junior quarterback Sean McGuire led his offense to their first scoring drive of the day with two consecutives first downs on passes to Acklin and junior tight end Adam Conrady. Junior running back Steve McShane also started to get going on the drive with two solid runs for first downs. The offense stalled at the Weber State 27-yard line and sophomore kicker Nathan Erickson nailed his longest field goal of the season at 44 yards.

The Wildcats finally found their first touchdown on their third drive of the day. Senior quarterback Stefan Cantwell started to show off his athleticism, scrambling 3 times for a total of 24 yards. It was a trick play that broke the ice for Weber State. Cantwell threw a dart to receiver Drew Batchelor off a flea flicker that gave the Wildcats a 7-3 advantage.

Western’s next drive ended in misfortune after McGuire attempted to throw the ball away. He was unable to get the ball far enough outside, and senior cornerback Xequille Harry snagged the errant ball. The Purple and Gold defense caught a lucky break after a failed fake punt pass was dropped and Weber State turned over on downs.

Western’s offense continued to struggle, only gaining 4 yards off the turnover, and Sam Crosa came onto the field to score the 45-yard field goal.

Weber State found a huge play on their next drive from their senior tight end Andrew Vollert. Cantwell found the streaking Vollert in the middle of the field and hit the 6-foot-5 tight end in stride for a one-handed catch that resulted in a 50-yard gain. Cantwell went on to pass to Batchelor on the next play for a 3-yard touchdown.

Western went into halftime down 14-6, but Head coach Charlie Fisher never lost confidence in his team, considering how many times they’ve been down at half and come back this season.

“We’ve been such a good second half team and we’ve come back against so many good teams in Illinois State and Northern Iowa.” Fisher said. “You know, I trust our football team and I told them at halftime, ‘I’m not sure what’s wrong with us, but we’re not playing well right now but we have a half of football left and we have to stay poised and play better.’”

The Leathernecks found the first touchdown from either team at the end of the third quarter. McGuire found redshirt freshman running back Clint Ratkovich on a 7-yard touchdown that put Western down 14-12 after a failed two-point conversion.

The Wildcats answered immediately with a touchdown drive that was fueled by two huge penalties on a roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct that gave Weber State 30 yards and placed them at the Leathernecks 21-yard line. Cantwell found Vollert with a perfect pass for the 21-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 21-12.

The Weber State coaching staff confused every fan in the stadium by faking a punt on their own 38-yard line. The attempt failed, but they caught a lucky break after McGuire stumbled on a scramble and fumbled the ball.

Senior linebacker Brett Taylor and the defense held strong and forced a three-and-out and gave McGuire and the offense some time to strike. Acklin came up big once again with a huge catch on 4th and 3 that kept the drive alive. Junior tight end Tyler Slamans caught an 18-yard touchdown pass that shrunk the lead to 21-19 with 4:55 left.

The Weber State run game proved to be too much in the end for the Leatherneck defense, as they were able to run the clock out and secure the first-round victory.

The Leathernecks scored well below their season average of 34 points per game and Acklin knew that was their downfall.

“We really hurt ourselves a lot at the beginning of the game with a lot of mistakes,” Acklin said. “But that’s football, we’re going to make mistakes but we have to bounce back. I feel like we bounced back sometimes, but other times we didn’t. We ended up with 19 points, that’s unacceptable, we have to score more and we’re more talented on offense than that but we just came up short.”

The Leathernecks are saying goodbye to 22 seniors including Acklin and Taylor after the first-round loss.

Twitter: @devondeadlysins

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Necks fall in first round