Dragons pull out 41-31 win over Panthers at Homecoming

Devin Butler had 56 yards receiving as the Dragons came from behind to beat Ohio Dominican 41-31.
Devin Butler had 56 yards receiving as the Dragons came from behind to beat Ohio Dominican 41-31.

A team is often measured by its heart, its ability to come back from adversity and never give up.

Tiffin University (3-1, 2-0 GMAC) had its will tested in a big conference matchup against Ohio Dominican in their Homecoming home opener, battling back from four deficits in the game to post an impressive 41-31 victory.

The Dragons pulled out the win with a relentless attack on myriad levels. Nick Watson passed for 326 yards, JaQuan Hardy rushed for 220 yards, Stanley Jackson Jr. piled up 155 receiving yards, and the Dragons offense totaled 591 yards of offense, while the defense kept the teams close and made a big play interception late in the fourth quarter that finally swung the momentum in TU's favor for good.

The game was expected to be close, and it did not disapoint. The Dragons drove 71 yards on their opening drive, getting to the ODU 5 yard line before settling for a 22 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Tiffin at the 11:17 mark.

Setting the tone for the game, ODU came right back in its turn with the ball, moving 74 yards and getting a one yard TD pass to take the lead back 7-3 while eating up 7:25 of clock.

Tiffin once again took the ball and drove 62 yards down to the ODU 13 yard line. This time TU could not get points, as the 30 yard field goal attempt was blocked. 

Tiffin quickly got the ball back again and put another lengthy drive together, moving 76 yards down to the Ohio Dominican 2 yard line. The Panthers defense stiffened again though, holding TU to a 19 yard field goal that made it 7-6 ODU with 5:08 left in the half.

After a strong three-and-out by the Dragons defense, Tiffin put one more drive together to end the half and this time TU hit pay dirt. Facing a 4th and 2 play from the Ohio Dominican 22 yard line, Watson rolled right and hurled it downfield where Gavin Woods made a sensational catch in the back of the end zone with just 15 seconds on the clock to give TU a 13-7 lead heading into halftime.

The halftime stats were heavily weighted in Tiffin's favor, as they outgained ODU 289-104. Yet TU trailed for most of the half and only led by 6 points heading into the third quarter.

The seesaw nature of the game ramped up significantly in the second half. The Panthers took their second possession of the half and hit a big 41 yard TD strike at the 9:10 mark of the third quarter to retake the lead 14-13.

The Dragons responded immediately, as Hardy took the first handoff of the drive and banged his way through tacklers and found an opening that allowed him to streak 66 yards for a touchdown run that put TU back on top 20-14.

ODU again used the big play to get itself back in the lead, completing a 69 yard drive with a 44 yard touchdown pass with 2:49 left in the half to go back ahead 21-20.

Heading to the fourth quarter, Ohio Dominican expanded their lead with a 32 yard field goal to start the period. Trailing 24-20 with 11:58 left, TU went back to work. TU converted two big third down plays including a 3rd-and-3 from the Panthers 31 yard line when Watson raced around left end on a 31 yard TD run that put the Dragons ahead 27-24 with 9:11 left.

ODU took its next possession and drove 70 yards, connecting on a big 30 yard pass play before a 6 yard quarterback run put the Panthers ahead 31-27 with just 5:16 remaining.

Tiffin simply refused to die, executing an 82 yard drive that featured more power running by Hardy. Hardy piled up 56 yards on the ground on this drive before Watson raced in to the end zone on a 3 yard run that made the score 34-31 TU with 2:17 left.

ODU went back to work, but Carrington Contee and the Dragons defense made it a short day at the office, as Contee picked off the first pass ODU attempted at the ODU 38 yard line and giving TU the big turnover it needed at exactly the right time.

On 4th and 6 from the ODU 29 yard line, the Dragons went for it with 1:12 remaining and it paid off, as Watson hit Marcus Whitfield on a sensational 29 yard TD strike down the left sideline that put the game away.

The two teams combined for 1039 yards of offense and 53 first downs. Tiffin had 591 of those yards and 31 first downs. 

Hardy had 220 yards rushing (7.6 yards per rush), while Watson passed for 326 yards on 24 of 39 passing with no interceptions along with 33 yards rushing. Watson also had 2 TDs passing and 2 rushing.

Jackson had 155 yards receiving on 12 receptions, while Gaving Woods and Devin Butler had 56 yards apiece. Butler also had 91 yards in kick returns.

Defensively, Justice Waller and Jacob Mertus had 9 tackles each, with Mertus having 1.5 tackles for loss. Contee had 7 tackles and a pick, while Charlie Cleveland had 7 tackles with 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. 

Latrell Robinson had 7 tackles, while Zach Goecke had 6 stops and Kevin Hyde and AJ Wright adding 5 each.