When the 17th ranked Dragons took on the 25th ranked Panthers, most people expected a close game.
But few imagined just how close it would be, as the game was decided by a blocked extra point by Tiffin and a strong defensive stand over the final 60 seconds as Tiffin improved to 8-0 (5-0 G-MAC) with a slim 24-23 victory.
Most of the drama came in the final quarter. Leading 24-10, Tiffin allowed a 66 yard drive to culminate in a 8 yard TD toss from Evan Ernst to Devanaire Conli to pull ODU to within 24-17 with 13:33 to play.
Tiffin's defense played strong, holding ODU on their next two possessions. But a subsequent punt by ODU pinned TU back on their 1 yard line. A fumble in the end zone resulted in a dramatic recovery by the Panthers for a sudden touchdown with 3:38 to play that threatened to tie the score at 24-24.
But the Dragons would not be denied, as Jacob Williams burst through the line and got a hand on the extra point attempt, preserviaaaaang the one point TU lead.
ODU got the ball back with 1:04 to play and the ball on their own 43 yard line. A field goal would give the Panthers the win. After allowing a first down that moved ODU to the TU 45 yard line, the Dragons made their final stand, allowing a 7 yard completion down to the TU 38 yard line but forcing two incompletions to kill ODU's final drive.
The first quarter saw two field goals, a 23 yard kick by ODU and a 25 yard field goal from Joe Harakal that put the score at 3-3 heading into the second quarter.
TU took the lead for good at the 10:35 mark of the second quarter, as Kyle Brunson capped off a 67 yard drive with a 1 yard run to make it 10-3 at halftime.
TU tried to take control coming out of the halftime locker room, as Nick Watson busted up the middle for a 30 yard TD run to finish off a 81 yard drive at the 10:34 mark of the third quarter to put TU up 17-3.
ODU used good starting field position at their own 48 yard line to begin a 3 play, 52 yard drive that ended in a 3 yard TD pass to narrow the gap to 17-10, Tiffin. But the Dragons responded immediately, putting together a 9 play, 75 yard drive to close out the third quarter with another 1 yard run by Kyle Brunson to put TU back up 24-10 heading to the final quarter.
The stats reflected just how close the two teams were, as TU held a narrow 19-16 edge in first downs while outgaining ODU in total offense 391 to 379. Tiffin had a strong ground game, totaling 178 yards while holding ODU to just 119. TU's biggest advantage was in their ball control offense, which accounted for a nearly 10 minute advantage in time of possession.
Brunson led the way with a bruising 109 yards rushing with 2 TDs while Watson also rushed for 43 yards and a score. Watson also completed 19 of 26 passes for 213 yards with no sacks and no interceptions.
TU's defense had numerous standouts. Zach Goecke logged 11 tackles, while Jacob Williams had 10 stops (9 solo) with a tackle for loss, 3 deflections, and the critical blocked PAT to preserve the lead.