Reisert, Tiffin paving new era with win over Findlay and playoff appearance
FINDLAY — It had to be Findlay.
To get where the Tiffin University football team wanted, it had to go down State Route 224, and do something that hadn’t been done in a quarter century.
Beat the Oilers.
Yes, the Dragons had a brilliant year, even before they stepped on the field at Donnell Stadium Saturday. They were 8-1, and had won seven straight.
They had a share of the Great-Midwest Athletic Conference championship.
But this team wanted to make the Division II playoffs.
And that meant winning in Findlay.
When I talked to him earlier this week, first-year Tiffin coach Cris Reisert played down the past.
That was understandable, considering the past was so lopsided.
Prior to Saturday, Findlay had won 26 of 27 meetings with the Dragons.
The players weren’t here for most of that — they weren’t even alive. But especially over the past few seasons, I thought the Dragons were better than the Oilers.
But Findlay would always prevail.
And though the players I talked to downplayed it, you got the sense that they were very aware of the the record.
But that’s where Reisert comes in. As a quarterback at Ohio Dominican, he never had much of a problem with the Oilers.
And he seemed to transfer that confidence to his players.
“Coach talked about it all week,” said quarterback Nick Watson. “We were built different than how it was in the past. We just went out there and showed it and packed our passion into the game.”
And when the Dragons won Saturday, 52-45, there was a celebration — a level of emotion — that I’ve never quite seen after a win.
That’s understandable, too. The Dragons are going to the playoffs for the first time.
But it almost seemed like something deeper than that, especially for the veterans.
“We knew what we could do all along, even though we were looked at as the underdog,” said defensive back Carrington Contee, who played on the 2015 and 2016 teams, “but we just kept doing the same thing every week. It’s no different. It doesn’t matter who we play. It feels great to finally get the win over Findlay.”
Reisert could barely be heard over an exuberant locker room in his postgame interview.
“I’m really excited for our players. I’m really excited for our alumni. I’m excited for our university,” he said. “This is a moment our guys won’t forget. It’s a moment that will be a building block for our future.”
And it’s not like Findlay was just there to play spoiler. If it beat Tiffin Saturday, it would have clinched a share of the G-MAC.
And despite the fact that the Dragons jumped out to a 22-point fourth quarter lead, Findlay didn’t fold.
In the final minutes, the Oilers were down seven and had the ball in Dragons territory.
I was sitting next to TU radio voice Russ Snyder. I think both of us were thinking of all the TU-Findlay games we’ve covered, and how they’ve all seemed to end.
But if we were expecting something negative, the players weren’t.
“We knew what we had to do, we’d been in this situation before,” receiver Gavin Woods said. “Just go out, be calm, keep our composure and win the ballgame.”
This was different.
This team is different.
The defense made a stop, and beast Tiffin tailback JaQuan Hardy made a few big runs.
The Dragons won. They beat Findlay, they’re going to the playoffs.
And Reisert heaped praise on his players afterward.
“Nick is clutch. He”s the best quarterback in the country,” he said. “I believe Stanley (Jackson) is the best receiver in the country, and Jaquan is the best running back in the country. And that’s what’s cool about these guys; they feed off each other, and if you take away one, you can’t take away all of them.”
And now all of them are going to the postseason.
“I believe it’s a new age, man. It’s a new age, a new era,” Reisert said. “This university is growing at every fell swoop, our community is growing at every fell swoop, Tiffin and Tiffin University are on the upswing, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
And while Reisert talked of the new era, I couldn’t help but think of the old one.
I thought of Donnie Johnson, Matt Root and Parris Burt, players who helped push the Dragons to a near-perfect season in 2006.
I thought of former coach Gary Goff, who went winless in his first year as coach, but slowly built Tiffin into a playoff contender before leaving to coach the top ranked team in Division II, Valdosta State.
Then there was Antonio Pipkin, the brilliant quarterback from Indiana who did amazing things each week and landed in the CFL. And Willie Mays, a top DB who’s going to play this winter in the XFL.
Finally, I thought of the late Frank Barber, the former voice of Tiffin University sports. Frank is in the Tiffin University Hall of Fame, and he loved calling Dragons games.
He would love this.
And then there are the fans. They could be seen and heard Saturday from the visitor’s stands.
The players heard them.
“It was good to see,” Watson said. “Glad we got some faithful Tiffin fans to come out and support us. It’s always good to have those guys out there.”
And maybe that’s how it should be. With the game in Findlay, more Tiffin fans could come to a big road game, more fans could celebrate with their team.
It had to be Findlay.
But it was Tiffin’s day.