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#9 Trinity Football Blocks Overtime PAT to Beat #8 Wheaton

#9 Trinity Football Blocks Overtime PAT to Beat #8 Wheaton

SAN ANTONIO – Saturday night's football game between #9 Trinity and #8 Wheaton (IL) lived up to its billing as a top-10 matchup in NCAA III, as the Tigers held on for a 17-16 overtime victory.

Wheaton tied things up 10-10 with a 42-yard field goal as the clock expired in the fourth quarter, forcing the two teams to decide the game in overtime. Trinity got the ball first and scored in just three plays to take the 17-10 lead, then Wheaton matched that efficiency with a quick strike of its own. Instead of tying the game with an extra point, Wheaton's kick was blocked to seal the win. Senior defensive lineman Mac Douglas (Fairhope, Ala. / Bayside Academy) got a hand on the potential tying kick to end the game in dramatic fashion. In addition to the blocked kick, Douglas finished the game with seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a third-quarter fumble recovery, and a pass breakup.

Both teams put up over 300 yards of offense, but both defenses played a classic bend-but-don't-break style that kept the scoring at a minimum. BJ Stewart (Shreveport, La. / Woodlawn) produced his first career 100-yard receiving game, leading Trinity with seven receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. Caleb Harmel (Burton, Texas / Burton) led a swarming Tiger defense with 11 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of pass breakups. Michael Jewett (Houston, Texas / Strake Jesuit) finished with six tackles overall, but had a pair of sacks that included a sack-fumble to stop a third-quarter drive for Wheaton.

The Rundown

Both teams started the game with promising drives that ended with no points. Trinity drove 55 yards in eight plays – highlighted by a 40-yard pass play to Caleb Crawford (Houston, Texas / Strake Jesuit) – on the opening possession of the game, but had to settle for a 37-yard field goal attempt that missed wide right. Wheaton then marched 73 yards in 12 plays down to the Trinity seven yard line, but its field goal try from 24 yards out clanged off the left upright and the game remained scoreless.

 Trinity quarterback Tucker Horn (Graham, Texas / Graham) engineered a scoring drive after the missed field goal, covering 80 yards in nine plays. Horn was 4-for-4 through the air on the drive, hitting Legend Grigsby (Houston, Texas / Cy Creek) on a pair of passes out of the backfield for 31 total yards. Horn got off the final snap just before time ran out on the quarter, then hit Stewart for a 20-yard strike to take a 7-0 lead.

After Trinity forced Wheaton to go three-and-out to start the second quarter, Trinity's offense was back on the move with another extended drive. This time, Horn hooked up with Ryan Merrifield (Austin, Texas / Vandergrift) for three receptions that covered 56 yards and set the Tigers up with first-and-goal at the seven. The drive fell one yard short, though, as Wheaton's defense held Trinity on fourth-and-goal from the one to keep the game at 7-0.

Wheaton chewed up nearly six minutes on its next drive, but the Thunder were stopped at midfield. The visitors were able to pin Trinity back inside its own 20, though, and an 11-yard sack on first down pushed the Tigers even further back. Trinity was forced to punt from deep in its own territory and Wheaton took over with its best field position of the night. The issue was the clock, as the Thunder drive began with 43 seconds remaining in the half. Wheaton needed just two plays to tie the game, though, scoring on a 36-yard pass play just 15 seconds later.

Trinity nearly mounted one more scoring drive as Horn found Stewart for 27 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, but Wheaton picked off a pass inside its own five to end the threat. The teams hit the locker room in a 7-7 deadlock.

The opening drive of the second half saw Wheaton gain just one yard in three plays, and Trinity answered with its second scoring drive of the night. The Tigers went 58 yards in nine plays, but stalled inside the 10 yard line. Blake Lin (Tyler, Texas / All Saints) converted his first field goal of the young season from 20 yards out to give Trinity a 10-7 lead with just under nine minutes left in the quarter.

Wheaton answered the Trinity score with a positive drive of its own, marching inside the Tiger 10 yard line to set up what could have been the go-ahead touchdown. Instead Jewett got a strip-sack that was recovered by Douglas at the 15 yard line.

After Wheaton was stopped after minimal yardage on its next drive, Trinity took over with just over 10 minutes left in the game. The Tigers marched 31 yards and chewed up just over three minutes off the clock, but Wheaton got another red zone interception to keep it a one-possession game. The Thunder were stopped after just four plays, though, and Trinity's offense took the field with just over six minutes left on the clock.

Trinity moved methodically down the field with a time-killing drive that looked like it could seal the win. A sack near midfield interrupted the drive, though, and Wheaton used up its timeouts to get the ball back with 1:22 remaining. The first play of the drive went for a 27-yard gain, but Trinity's defense stiffened near midfield to bring up fourth-and-short.

The Thunder converted and moved into Trinity territory as the clock approached 30 seconds to play. Another quick first down stopped the clock at 23 seconds, then the Tigers nearly ended the game with a huge play. Carson Byrd (Waco, Texas / Midway) broke into the backfield and was finishing off the sack, but the Thunder quarterback was able to fling the ball out of bounds just before being pulled down with nine seconds on the clock.

Wheaton picked up a few more yards to the Trinity 25 on the next play, but with just three seconds left, the visitors were forced to attempt a long field goal to tie the game. The Thunder converted from 42 yards out and sent the game into overtime.

Trinity was on offense first to start overtime, with a toe-tapping 19-yard reception from Stewart setting up a six-yard rushing TD from Grigsby to put the Tigers in front. Wheaton got a similar long strike on its second play, covering 20 yards to set up first-and-goal from the five. A pass interference penalty in the end zone against Trinity pushed the ball down to the two and Wheaton walked in to match the Tiger score. That's when Douglas got his hand on the extra-point attempt and finished off the Trinity victory.

Numbers to Note

Tonight marked Trinity's first overtime game since a 40-34 win over Rhodes in 2017, and the Tigers have won their last three overtime contests. Trinity also defeated Chapman 41-35 in overtime in 2017, returning a fumble 63 yards for the winning score. Trinity's last overtime loss came in the 2003 NCAA Playoffs at East Texas Baptist University.

Trinity's defense held Wheaton to just 59 yards rushing in the game, which is the eighth time in the last two seasons that the Tigers have held an opponent under 100 yards on the ground.

Horn piled up 279 yards through the air on 19-of-27 passing and a touchdown.

Merrifield caught five passes for 80 yards to back up Stewart's 100-yard receiving night, while Crawford's only catch was the 40-yard pass on the opening drive.

Coach Speak

"What a tremendous team victory tonight in front of an incredible home crowd," exclaimed Head Coach Jerheme Urban. "We knew this was going to be a playoff level game and experience, and it definitely lived up to that billing. Wheaton is a very established program, very well coached, and very much a senior-led football team, and they gave us everything we thought they would. We missed some opportunities early in the game when we stalled on the first drive, the missed field goal, me going for it on 4th down in the 2nd rather than taking the points, and not finishing some plays on defense in the first half. I thought our guys re-focused in the second half and did what we needed to to win. Tremendous effort tonight by a lot of people, especially the experience we were able to give some younger guys when a couple of our captains were not able to play tonight. Michael Jewett had the huge sack-fumble, Caleb and James continued to play great at the second level, and Mac Douglas is doing incredible at playing on both sides of the defensive box. Offensively we had another great performance from Ryan Merrifield, and BJ Stewart continues to make electric play after electric play, Tucker hung in and made some really tough throws, and the OLs and our running backs proved we can run the football against a very good defense. Really proud of our special teams as well for the way we covered in the kicking game, and the extra point operation in overtime between Starcke, Gehman and Lin was perfection. My hat goes off to everyone, and this will be a great experience that we can draw on down the road when we play some playoff level teams in conference play."

Up Next

Trinity will remain home for its final non-conference game of the 2022 season next week, taking on Texas Lutheran University on Saturday, September 17, at 6:00 p.m.