George Washington ran 12 more offensive plays in the first half than Paul Blazer and took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 71 yards in nine more plays to take a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter.
At that point, one would figure, if either defense was on the brink of wearing down, it would be that of the Tomcats from Ashland, Kentucky.
But while GW was airing it out with quarterback Grant Wells, Blazer was making the commitment to mix in the running game, and those between-the-tackle rushes paid off big time down the stretch.
The Tomcats answered GW’s opening punch of the second half with an immediate score of its own and Blazer never looked back, scoring on its final five possessions in running off with a 50-28 win on the Hill on Friday night.
The matchup was billed as a quarterback battle between prolific quarterbacks, and neither disappointed. Blazer’s Braxton Ratliff threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 166 yards and two more scores. GW’s Wells, meanwhile, put the ball in the air 62 times, completing 34 of them for 379 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for an additional 112 yards and a score. The teams combined for 1,099 yards of offense with the Tomcats holding a slight edge (563-536).
“We came out at halftime and told the guys we’re going to have to go out there and muscle up and establish the run game,” Blazer coach Tony Love said. “The past two weeks we’ve been lacking in that and it’s been a point of challenge this week in practice. The offensive line took a lot of pride in it and so did the running backs.”
The Tomcats were far more balanced, rushing the ball 36 times, while GW recorded just 19 rushing attempts, with nine of those coming from Wells and several on scrambles. George Washington running back Dakota Cosby was sidelined on Friday after sustaining a knee injury in the season-opening win over South Charleston a week ago.
While Wells found plenty of success through the air, the sledding got tougher as Blazer was free to rush the passer and play coverage, especially once the Tomcats had the lead and extended it in the second half.
“A lot of people will look at our defense and say we didn’t play well, but to hold them to 28 points, a high-powered offense like that? It was a heck of a job,” Love said.
GW controlled the majority of the first half after Ratliff found Andy Layne on a short slant that Layne turned into a 60-yard touchdown on the game’s second offensive play, giving the Tomcats some early momentum.
The Patriots led 14-7 after an 80-yard touchdown throw from Wells to Logan Leeber, the pair’s second scoring connection of the half. But the last 10 points of the half belonged to Blazer, including a 48-yard scoring run with just 21 seconds left by Ratliff to give the Tomcats a 17-14 lead at the half. Ratliff broke multiple arm tackles on the momentum-stealing play and it would be a sign of things to come for GW.
“That was huge,” Love said. “They’d just taken momentum back and we were trying to work the ball back down the field. I was kind of wanting him to get out of bounds and he turned the corner and kept going. I was his biggest cheerleader at that point.”
Wells hit Preston Taylor on a 16-yard touchdown pass to give GW the lead again to start the third quarter, but after that Blazer scored 21 unanswered points to seize control for good as the missed tackles and rushing yards piled up.
Ratliff hit Steele Workman on the ensuing drive to give the Tomcats (3-0) the lead back for good. After turning GW over on downs at the Blazer 37-yard line, Keontae Pittman took the ensuing carry 63 yards through the gut of the Patriots defense to put Blazer up 31-21. By the time Blake Hester capped Blazer’s next possession with a 1-yard scoring dive, the Tomcats had built up a 17-point lead in the third quarter.
“A lot of missed tackles and we’re outmanned up there a little bit and it caught up with us a tad,” GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. said. “We made a bunch of mistakes tonight. We ran the wrong routes … but they had a lot to do with it. They got us in a catch-up mode, a panic mode, and it’s a pretty young bunch we have. We have a lot of inexperience, but I thought our kids played hard and there was no quit in them. We just didn’t have enough tonight and made too many mistakes.”
GW (1-1) cut the deficit to 10 one more time on an 11-yard scoring run from Wells with 7:38 remaining but would get no closer as Blazer pulled away on touchdown runs from Ratliff (22 yards) and Blake Hester (2 yards).
Pittman finished with 147 rushing yards on 12 carries for Blazer and Hester added 56 yards on 10 carries. Layne finished with 92 yards on two catches.
Leeber hauled in 10 passes for 133 yards to lead GW with Alex Mazelon adding nine receptions for 96 yards.