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Muhlenberg College

Saturday, November 24, 2007

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football run ends at wesley

The Muhlenberg football team has thrived all year on forcing its opponents to make mistakes and then taking advantage. The Mules were successful on the first part of the formula early in their NCAA second-round game at Wesley, but could not cash in on their opportunities to build a big lead.

The Wolverines scored 31 second-half points to break away from Muhlenberg, 38-21, and advance to the regional final for the third year in a row against Mary Hardin-Baylor, a 64-0 victor over North Carolina Wesleyan. The Mules had their 12-game winning streak snapped and saw their remarkable season come to an end.

"Any time you lose a game with a season on the line, it’s disappointing,"
John Holenda, Matt Rathbun
Rathbun (right) and senior John Holenda combine on a tackle in the third quarter. Rathbun led the Mules with 72 tackles in 2007.
said senior linebacker Tom Tarsitano, who made seven tackles, including the Mules’ lone sack, and forced a fumble. "But it doesn’t diminish what we’ve accomplished."

Muhlenberg controlled play for most of the first half, running up a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession, recovering two fumbles and blocking a punt. The game was tied at halftime, however, as the Mules could not translate the miscues into points.

Muhlenberg struck quickly after junior John DeLuca, returning a kickoff for the first time in his collegiate career, brought the opening kickoff back 51 yards to the Wesley 31. Seven plays later, junior Eric Santagato hit a leaping Phil Cresta in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Mules got the ball back near midfield three plays after the kickoff when senior Dustin Good forced a fumble that was recovered by Chris Musselman, but DeLuca was stuffed on fourth-and-1 from the 26.

Early in the second quarter, Cresta blocked a punt, and a 24-yard run by DeLuca put Muhlenberg inside the Wolverine 30. An intentional grounding penalty set the Mules back, and they eventually had to punt.

Muhlenberg got the ball back near midfield when, for the second time in the game, a Wesley receiver fumbled after a reception. This time the fumble was caused by sophomore Cameron Ahouse and recovered by junior Matt Rathbun, who tied the school record of four fumble recoveries in a season for the second year in a row.

The ensuing drive reached the Wesley 9-yard line, but a sack on
Eric Santagato
Santagato, here diving across the goal line for his first touchdown, set a school record with a .630 completion percentage in 2007.
third down was followed by a missed field goal, and the score remained 7-0.

"They have great athletes who are going to make great plays," said Santagato. "We knew that, and we just didn’t buckle down when we had to."

The Wolverines began to turn the tide when they inserted shifty 5-9 Aaron Jackson at tailback in place of their starter. A 44-yard run on his first carry set up the tying touchdown, scored on an 11-yard pass with 1:19 left in the half.

Wesley took command of the game by scoring on two of their first four plays from scrimmage in the second half. Jackson finished both times, first on a 41-yard run and then on an 89-yard sprint, giving the Wolverines a 21-7 lead less than two minutes into the second half.

In catch-up mode, the Mules put together three nice drives, two of which ended with 1-yard scoring runs by Santagato and one with a blocked field goal, but they could not stop the Wesley offense, which scored on its last three possessions to maintain a comfortable margin.

DeLuca finished with a tough 80 yards on 29 carries against a big, fast Wolverine defensive line. Santagato threw for 258 yards to go over 4,000 for his career, although he had his streak of not throwing an interception snapped at 144 passes in the third quarter.

Senior Matt Johnson, playing the final game of his career, set a school record for tight ends with 128 receiving yards on seven catches. He ended the season with 54 receptions, the fourth-most in team history.

"I thought we had a couple more [games] in us," concluded Tarsitano. "It had to end sometime, I guess."
Click here for box score.

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