By Jimmy Cassidy
With less than a minute to play in the game, a radio play-by-play commentator in the Cardinal Stadium press box conceded “I’ll be honest here, the Washington & Lee Generals do not deserve to win this game, but they’re about to.”
That was the unfortunate story for the Catholic University football team in its game against Washington & Lee University on Saturday, October 8th. On a day that very much dealt with the effects of Hurricane Matthew, the Cardinals almost pulled the upset on the team picked to win the ODAC Conference this year, a team they have beaten just four times in the past 35 years. Catholic put up quite an effort, held a lead for almost the entire contest, but were eventually edged, 23-22.
CUA drops to 3-2 on the year and 0-2 in ODAC Conference action, while Washington & Lee also moves to 3-2, but 2-0 in the conference.
The home team got off to an impressive to start to take an early lead. After the defense forced the Generals to turn the ball over on downs, freshman quarterback Alejandro Ros and the offense drove the ball 58 yards on 7 plays for a touchdown. The drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Nick Esposito. After another stop, the offensive unit moved the ball down the field on an 85 yard drive to the 1 yard line, where they were held to a field goal. The defense made another stand in the following Washington & Lee drive, and senior cornerback Justin Paige recovered a fumble on 4th and goal for the Generals. The score at the end of the first quarter was 10-0; it was all Catholic.
The steady rain throughout the game did indeed make its presence felt on both teams, and ball security became a significant issue. If the forecast had to give an advantage to one team, it would definitely be Washington & Lee. The visiting Generals came into the contest having thrown 25 passes total in four games. In comparison, Ros threw the ball 47 times in this one game. The trend did continue, as quarterback Charlie Nelson went a modest 1-5 passing on the day, while the other 76 offensive plays were all runs. Keeping it on the ground helped with not having to worry about throwing in the rain, but both teams managed to fumble the ball three times each anyway.
Washington & Lee found the endzone with just a minute left to play in the first half, but could not convert on the extra point. Catholic led 10-6 at halftime. The Cardinals started with the ball and drove down the field once again. Senior wideout Joe Taylor had three catches of 15 or more yards on three consecutive plays, but the drive ended at the 5 yard line where the home team again settled for a short field goal from the kicker Rosa. Taylor had a career day, catching 7 balls for 126 yards. In his first career start, Ros threw for 334 yards and a touchdown.
The Generals started their next drive at their own 4 yard line after falling on their fumble on the kickoff. On the next play, junior defensive end Patrick Vidal sacked the quarterback in the endzone for a safety to put Catholic up 15-6. Washington & Lee scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in their next possession, but Catholic answered with a touchdown of their own to put the score at 22-14 to begin the 4th quarter.
The Cardinals had the first chance to score in the final quarter, but Rosa missed a 30-yard field goal wide right, and the one score margin remained. The Generals marched the ball down the field for an 80 yard touchdown drive with less than five minutes to play. All 11 plays were rushes, and the CUA defense had no answer. It did stand its ground however as the two-point conversion was again thwarted by the Cardinals’ defensive unit.
Catholic then had a 22-20 lead with four minutes to play. Their efforts to kill the clock were unsuccessful however, and after three quick plays, the punting unit came out to kick the ball back to Washington & Lee. Andrew DiNardo, the punter who had been stellar all day, could not hold on to a low snap, and the Generals recovered the fumble on Catholic’s 15 yard line. A few plays later, the visitors kicked a field goal to give them their first lead of the rainy afternoon, 23-22. CUA could not answer with the short amount of time left in the game, and the contest ended with Washington & Lee pulling out the victory.
Although ultimately frustrating, the performance against a strong opponent was an encouraging one for the Cardinals, and one to build off of. They will be back in action for Catholic’s 2016 Homecoming Weekend. The team is set to take on ODAC Conference foe Hampden-Sydney College at Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, October 15th, at 1 PM.