Nov. 22, 2008

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Washington & Jefferson built an 18-point, first-half lead and survived a late Christopher Newport rally to earn a 35-29 victory in the opening round of the 2008 NCAA Division III Football playoffs on Saturday at Cameron Stadium.

The Presidents (10-1) notched their first NCAA playoff win since 2006 and advance to the second round where they travel to Jackson, Miss., to play the South bracket’s top seed Millsaps next Saturday.  The Majors (11-0) are ranked third in the latest Top 25 poll.

CNU (8-2) dropped its fourth consecutive playoff game to Washington & Jefferson, but opened the scoring at the 8:44 mark of the first quarter on senior Jay Graham’s (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) 22-yard field goal.  The field goal was aided by a CNU fake punt which resulted in a 14-yard gain.

W&J grabbed its first lead on its first possession as senior running back Curt Jones (Falconer, N.Y./Falconer) {above}  capped an eight-play, 63-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run.

The Captains strung together another long drive and made it a 10-7 game on the second play of the second quarter when junior running back Tunde Ogun (Richmond, Va./Douglas Freeman) dove in from the one-yard line.  Ogun ran nine times on the scoring drive.

The Presidents only needed three plays to reclaim the lead, one which it would not relinquish. Senior quarterback Bobby Swallow (Salem, Ohio/West Branch) fired a 39-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Craig Besong (Baden, Pa./Ambridge) for the score.

CNU punted on its next series and the quick-strike W&J offense worked again as a 17-yard Swallow to Besong scoring connection capped a six-play drive, giving the Presidents a 21-10 lead with 9:43 remaining in the first half.

Sophomore Nathan Harmotto (Aliquippa, Pa./Hopewell) intercepted a Matt Long (Virginia Beach, Va./Kellam) three plays later, but the Captains recovered a Jones fumble on the ensuing play.  CNU was forced the punt and W&J quickly upped its lead to 28-10 on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Swallow to senior wideout David Ravida (Solon, Ohio/Solon).

W&J appeared to be heading for an 18-point halftime lead, but CNU freshman defensive back Lashae McMillan (Hampton, Va./Kecoughtan) picked off an errant Swallow pass and raced 19 yards for a touchdown with just over a minute left in the second quarter.

Washington & Jefferson wasted little time scoring after receiving the second-half kickoff, driving 62 yards in 10 plays for a 35-17 lead.  Jones rumbled in from eight yards for his 21st touchdown of the season, the third-highest single-season total in school history.

CNU answered with a 12-play touchdown drive and Ogun scored from 10 yards on a fourth-down play to bring the CNU deficit to 35-23.  The two-point conversion pass was knocked down by W&J senior linebacker John Fahey (Boardman, Ohio/Boardman).

Christopher Newport’s first two drives of the fourth quarter ended on fourth-down plays, but the Captains finally narrowed their deficit to 35-29 with 1:59 remaining on Ogun’s one-yard run.  Ogun set up the score with a 51-yard run.  The Captains attempted an on-side kick, but W&J sophomore Bryant Cappelletti (St. Clairsville, Ohio/St. Clairsville) fell on the loose ball and W&J ran out the clock to secure its 20th all-time NCAA playoff win.

Swallow completed 17-of-26 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns to up his career touchdown pass total to 103.  Jones rushed for 23 times for 141 yards and two scores, while Besong (6-115) and Ravida (6-108) both collected 100-yard receiving days.  Ravida passed Aaron Krepps ’06 for second place on the school’s career reception list with 184 catches.  He is three away from breaking Todd Fry’s all-time record.

The Presidents’ defense was led by senior linebacker David Gitlitz (Columbus, Ohio/Bexley), who racked up a game-high 14 tackles, including three for a loss.  Sophomore safety Craig Sedunov (Herminie, Pa./Yough) added 11 stops.

W&J outgained CNU by a 396-291 margin, including a 301-88 edge in the first half.  Both teams had 18 first downs.  Ogun rushed for a game-high 160 yards on 29 attempts and scored three times.  Long was limited to 9-of-21 passing for 94 yards.

W&J and Millsaps will meet for the first time in any sport.  Mary Hardin-Baylor will host Wesley in the other side of the bracket.