Oskaloosa, Iowa–If future historians compile a list of the best NAIA football games ever played, they will be hard-pressed not to include Saturday’s three-overtime Instant Classic as William Penn (Iowa) defeated #8 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) in a Heart of America Athletic Conference North-South Crossover game.
In the ongoing theme of the 2015 season’s rollercoaster ride, the #19 Statesmen (2-0) survived last Saturday’s ‘Viking Vortex’ only to take on the ‘Pioneer Punisher’ this week.
In a complete reversal of its opening week start, the home team fell behind 14-0 to MNU. After two lengthy drives stalled out in Pioneer territory, the navy and gold finally finished one off late in the second, going 98 yards on just four plays. The first of five huge Tyler Hafner (Sr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Communications) to Jatavius Stewart (Sr., Rock Hill, S.C., Biology) pass plays–this one for 66 yards–highlighted the drive.
Hafner eventually hooked up with former quarterback, now running back Hunter Collins (Sr., Jenks, Okla., Mechanical Engineering) for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 2:22 left until halftime.
WPU took advantage of getting the ball back to start the second half, picking up 68 yards on 12 plays. Stewart collected another TD, taking a reversal 13 yards to knot up the contest at 14 apiece.
The sides exchanged scores later in the third period with Hafner crashing across the goal line from one yard out. The senior signal-called tallied a game-high 80 yards on 22 carries.
The Statesmen then went ahead for the first time on the night early in the fourth with Stewart again scoring on another reversal (five yards away this time).
With their backs now against the wall, the Pioneers were awarded a short field off a short punt and wasted little time to tie the score at 28-28. They then shut down the home squad and marched 75 yards to go back on top 35-28 with 2:36 remaining in regulation.
Not quite set up as a quick-strike offense, William Penn was out of its element, but strung together several positive plays and overcame a near game-ending hit on Hafner to get into position to tie it up in the final minute.
After failing on its first three goal-to-go snaps, it was do-or-die on fourth-and-goal from the eight. Hafner slung a pass to the right side and Stewart reached back behind his defender for one of those circus-act catches of his and after the PAT, the game was tied.
MNU was unwilling to just play for overtime and got deep into Statesmen territory on only three plays. Fortunately, the hosts lived to see extra play as a 38-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
The Pioneers opened the first OT session with the ball and were forced into a 37-yard try. This time, it went through the uprights and MNU led 38-35.
WPU got right to it, getting near the endzone. Unfortunately, it could not convert on third-and-one and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Samson Tamijani (Houston, Texas, Communications) to push the matchup into a second overtime.
The Statesmen went nowhere on their first two plays to start the second extra session, but just like that Hafner found Desmond Douglas (Jr., Decatur, Ala., Physical Education) on a 28-yard score. After the extra point, it was 45-38.
In a game that neither team had any intention of relinquishing, MNU faced a fourth-and-10 and somehow kept the game alive with its own long passing score of 25 yards. 45-45 after 2 OTs! OH THE HUMANITY!! WPU students were on the verge of rushing the field, but had to wait just a bit longer. How much longer, and if they would even be able to do it, no one knew.
The window opened once more for the Statesmen as the defense held the Pioneers to a 42-yard field goal to make it 48-45.
Then, with one decisive strike of lightning, possibly the most thrilling Week 2 game ever came to a close with Hafner slipping a 25-yard pass to Stewart for the win. Game. Set. Match. William Penn has slain two giants–the co-defending league champions–in back-to-back weeks in its initiation to the Heart.
The Statesmen finished with a 597-455 edge in total yards (354 rushing, 243 passing). Hafner completed just 10 of his 27 passes, but picked up 243 yards through the air. Stewart hauled in five receptions for 117 yards.
Amos Johnson (So., Rock Island, Ill., Mechanical Engineering) tallied 56 rushing yards and Aaron Osborne (Sr., Houston, Texas, Physical Education) added 50 more on the ground. Kramer Patterson (Sr., Ozark, Mo., Secondary Education) also caught a pair of balls for 61 yards.
Saturday night was not entirely about the offense as Clayton Temaat (Sr., Alba, Mo., Industrial Technology) and Kevin Shrauger (Sr., Nixa, Mo., Physical Education) managed eight tackles each. Both had a sack as did Cameron Colbert (Sr., Jenks, Okla., Business Management).
Colbert also forced a fumble with Taylan Ybarra (Sr., Wellington, Kan., Education) recovering it. It was the lone turnover of the game.
“This was one of the most amazing games we have ever played,” Head Coach Todd Hafner said. “Our kids played with the mindset that every down was for the conference title. If we continue to play at this level, and more importantly, with this effort, we have a chance to win a lot of games.”
“Tonight’s game was a true testament to our team’s overall toughness,” Hafner added. “It is so fun to be a part of this team! Our biggest games are ahead of us so we need to keep our focus and get ready to win again next week.”
Next Up: William Penn travels to Baldwin City, Kan. next Saturday to face #15 Baker in another Heart crossover game. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.