Dragons edged out of playoffs

Tiffin’s second-half rally answered by Kutztown TD in final minute of regulation

KUTZTOWN, Pennsylvania — Tiffin did just about everything it had to do to advance in the Division II playoffs Saturday against Kutztown.

JaQuan Hardy ran for 149 yards and a touchdown. Nick Watson threw for 192 yards, ran for a touchdown and threw a pair to Devin Butler.

Tiffin’s defense struggled in the first half, but made four consecutive stops, allowing the Dragons to battle back from a two-score deficit.

But following a 33-31 loss in the final minute to the Golden Bears, Dragons coach Cris Reisert offered a perfect explanation.

“Sometimes you can put everything you want into it,” he said, “and it doesn’t go your way at the end.”

The Dragons rallied from a 20-10 halftime deficit, taking two leads in the fourth quarter.

The first came when Watson hit Devin Butler on a 17-yard touchdown with 7:37 left, putting the Dragons up 24-20.

After the Golden Bears answered with a touchdown at the 3:43 mark to go up 27-24, Tiffin was on the move again.

Watson scrambled for 22 yards, tailback JaQuan Hardy broke loose for rushes of 35 and 11 yards, and then plowed into the end zone from a yard out with 1:26 remaining.

Tiffin had the lead again, 31-27.

But Reisert knew the game wasn’t over.

“I think everybody kind of had the feeling it was gonna come down to the end,” he said.

Kutztown quarterback Collin DiGalbo went to work. Starting at his 24, he hit Diego Torres for a 16-yard completion.

Then the Golden Bears quarterback went deep.

He again found Torres — who had gotten behind TU defenders — for a 54-yard completion down to the Tiffin 6.

Reisert said the Dragons have played an aggressive defense all year.

“It’s the nature of what we do. It’s the nature of how we play defense,” Reisert said. “We play press man on the outside and we dare people to do that. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but it’s who we are.”

A play later, DiGalbo hit Jack Pilkerton for a 6-yard TD pass. The Golden Bears missed the extra point, but had the lead with only 44 seconds left.

“Unfortunately, Kutztown I think made one more play than us. Sometimes that’s how it works,” Reisert said.

Still the Dragons needed only a field goal to win, and started their ensuing possession at their 30.

On the first play, Watson completed a pass to Marcus Whitfield for seven yards.

But the play was called back on an offensive pass interference against the Dragons’ Stanley Jackson.

“Their corner actually grabbed our receiver — like, literally bearhugged him,” Reisert said, “and our receiver was basically trying to get out of the bearhug, and they called him for offensive pass interference.”

Needless to say, Reisert didn’t agree with the call.

“It was quite amazing,” he said. “You hate for it to play that kind of role in the game, (and) ultimately, that one play doesn’t decide the game, but that was a hard play to swallow. It really kind of (quashed) our drive.”

The call moved the Dragons back 15 yards, to their 15.

“It was a big deal, and it was a wild, wild call,” Reisert said. “One of the craziest I’ve seen.”

Watson completed a 6-yard pass to Jackson, but then was intercepted by Kutztown’s Nick Palmer.

It was the Dragons only turnover.

The Golden Bears kneeled out the clock.

DiGalbo finished completing 31 of 44 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once, by Ross Moore.

It was the second-consecutive week a quarterback threw for more than 400 yards against the TU defense.

Torres made four catches for 120 yards, while Pilkerton had seven catches for 105, which included two touchdowns.

Abdul-Hassan Neblett was the Golden Bears’ leading rusher, with 16 carries for 40 yards. He also had eight catches for 64 yards.

Butler led the Dragons receivers with 12 catches for 104 yards. Jackson had six catches for 59 yards, and Carey graduate Gavin Woods made four catches for 29 yards.

Reisert said the offense had some issues early, but found its way.

“They fight and they stay the course,” Reisert said. “You know, when you play really good defenses, it’s a challenge sometimes to kind of settle into the rhythm of the game. Defensively, I thought (Kutztown) did a good job. They had all kinds of crazy stuff thrown at us, and it took us a while to kind of figure it out and settle in. Once we did, you saw our standard operating procedure and what it looks like.”

The Dragons finish at 9-2. The Golden Bears will play another Ohio team, Notre Dame, next week. They are 11-1.

Tiffin’s season ended. But it was special. It won the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, and made its first Division II playoff appearance in Reisert’s first season as coach.

“The biggest takeaway is we’ve laid the foundation for what our program is,” Reisert said.