COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Dominican's football team made two late pushes but it wasn't enough as the Panthers fell 34-27 in an NCAA Regional Semifinal game against No. 19 West Texas A&M Saturday afternoon at Panther Field.
With the setback, the Panthers – who entered the game ranked No. 7 in the nation and won the outright GLIAC title – closed their most successful season in Division II with a 10-1 mark. The loss snapped ODU's 15-game win streak, which was the longest in Division II.
The Buffaloes (11-2) scored 20 unanswered points to grab a 27-13 lead with 9:24 to play in the fourth quarter and looked to have all of the momentum after forcing a Panther punt with 7:21 to play.
But senior Justin Bell (Columbus, Ohio) intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards to the WT 33-yard line, with a 15-yard personal foul tacked on. Two plays later, junior quarterback Mark Miller (Cincinnati, Ohio) rolled right and found classmate Abe Johnson (Cincinnati, Ohio) in the back corner of the end zone for a score.
WT responded on its next drive, though, moving 65 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 31-yard pass play to open up a 34-20 advantage with just 2:07 left.
ODU didn't go quietly, though. Miller and Johnson connected on pass plays of 15 and 29 yards, and following two more WT penalties, senior Ronnel Spates (Cleveland, Ohio) burst into the end zone on a six-yard run to cut the deficit to 34-27 with 1:26 to play.
But ODU couldn't pull off the onside kick, and the Buffaloes picked up the one first down they needed to seal the victory.
WT finished with 530 yards of total offense, including 416 in the air, after totaling just 190 total yards in the first half. The Panthers finished with 392 yards of total offense.
Miller completed 20-of-33 passes for 249 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Senior Nate Weeks (Marysville, Ohio) had a career-day in his final game as a Panther, hauling in six passes for 103 yards, while Johnson also had six receptions for 93 yards.
Bell tallied 14 tackles, while sophomore Cody Culbertson (Galloway, Ohio) had 12 with a sack, classmate Warren Shields (Richwood, Ohio) had 11 tackles (2.0 for loss) and a sack. Senior Dominic Clegg (Powell, Ohio) closed his career with 10 tackles as well.
The Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead, forcing WT to punt on its first drive and marching down the field on an eight-play, 65-yard drive. Senior Mark Nichols (Pataskala, Ohio) had an 18-yard run and Weeks a 24-yard catch to set up Miller's first touchdown toss of the day, this from three yards out to sophomore Jerad Butler (Nevada, Ohio). It was the first career touchdown for Butler.
Neither team could gain much traction for the remainder of the quarter or most of the second quarter, but WT finally put together its first scoring drive with a 14-play, 86-yard series. A three-yard pass by Harlon Hill candidate Dustin Vaughan to Geremy Alridge knotted the score at seven with 2:14 left in the half, and that would be the score at intermission.
ODU took the opening kickoff of the second half and rode the legs of sophomore Brandon Schoen (Olentangy, Ohio) to a touchdown. Schoen had 32 yards on four carries on the drive to get the Panthers inside the red zone, and Miller found junior Nick McKnight (Middletown, Ohio) for an eight-yard touchdown to give ODU a 13-7 advantage.
After a WT field goal, the offense marched downfield again, but an interception at the goal line thwarted ODU's drive. The Buffaloes moved down to ODU's eight, but settled for a field goal to tie the score at 13 with 2:30 left in the quarter.
The Panther offense again found success on its next drive, reaching the WT 30-yard line, but a fumble on the end of a long reception again halted ODU's momentum.
West Texas A&M then scored touchdowns on each of its first two drives of the fourth quarter to take the 27-13 lead.
Contact: Scott Miles