Dragons win GMAC Championship with 52-45 win at Findlay

Tiffin University is the 2019 GMAC Champions with a 52-45 win at Findlay.
Tiffin University is the 2019 GMAC Champions with a 52-45 win at Findlay.

Tiffin University (9-1, 7-0 GMAC) realized one of its goals with a punishing offensive attack, capturing the Great Midwest Athletic Conference football championship with a 52-45 win at Findlay.

The win was the first time TU has defeated Findlay in 26 years, and also represented the highest point total ever scored against the Oilers. Tiffin also led for all but 3:25 of the game.

After forcing a three-and-out on Findlay's opening possession, Tiffin wasted no time getting on the board, taking their first possession 71 yards before Nick Watson ran it in from 7 yards out to givev TU a 7-0 lead at the 9:51 mark. JaQuan Hardy rushed for 41 of those yards, setting a tone that would repeat throughout the contest.

Findlay bounced back immediately with its own 71 yard drive capped off by a two yard TD run that tied the score 7-7.

The Dragons refused to give up the momentum, taking their next possession and driving 65 yards over the next 5 minutes to regain the lead. Hardy pushed forward for 33 more yards before Watson ran it in from one yard out as TU went ahead 14-7 as the quarter wrapped up.

The Oilers found their ticket to success on their next possession, as they took to the air and scored on a 23 yard TD pass. A failed PAT kept TU ahead 14-13 with 14:17 left in the second quarter.

Findlay briefly gained the lead, holding TU to a three-and-out on defense and then taking the lead on a 17 yard pass at the 9:24 mark that put them ahead 20-14.

Tiffin got the lead back with its own aerial attack, as Watson hit Stanley Jackson Jr. on a 42 yard pass completion that brought them down to the UF 13. Hardy then finished off the drive with a 13 yard run that put TU back up 21-20 with 4:11 to play in the half.

Then the game entered the realm of the bizarre.

On the ensuing kickoff, David Orlando's kick went to the Findlay 20 yard line where inexplicably no Oiler player fielded it. Tiffin recovered on the UF 22 yard line. Hardy rushed for 26 more yards on the next two plays, and Watson connected with Jackson again on an 8 yard TD toss as TU accepted the gift from the Oilers to go ahead 28-20 at the 3:06 mark.

Then it happened again.

Orlando's next kickoff resulted in the same thing, as Findlay again failed to cover the kickoff which Tiffin recovered on the UF 22 yard line. The Dragons got to the Findlay 4 yard line before the Oilers made a stand and held TU out of the end zone. Still, A.J. Nickoli converted the 21 yard field goal with 1:41 left to put TU up 31-20 just before the half.

Tiffin put Findlay in a huge hole to start the second half when it took its opening possession and continued to pound away on the ground. Hardy banged out 27 more yards on two plays before Devin Butler took a pitch, broke a tackle, and raced 44 yards for another touchdown that made it 38-20, Tiffin.

After Findlay got a 19 yard field goal that cut the lead to 38-23, the Dragons answered late in the third quarter with a return to the passing attack. Watson connected on three passes including a 39 yard catch by Gavin Woods and then a 10 yard TD catch by Jackson that put TU back up 45-23 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

Findlay continued to play catch-up throughout the third quarter. They pulled to within 45-30 with a 2 yard TD pass, but the Dragons again responded as Woods hauled in a 9 yard TD catch after Jackson's sensational 47 yard reception earlier in the 70 yard drive as TU led 52-30 entering the fourth quarter.

The Oilers refused to die, however, coming up with a 29 yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter that made the score 52-38 and brought them to within two scores with nearly the entire quarter remaining.

A long 83 yard drive that ate up 5:16 resulted in another Findlay score from 1 yard out that brought UF to within a touchdown with 5:00 remaining. A three-and-out by Tiffin's offense gave Findlay one more chance with 3:22 remaining.

The Oilers marched down to the Tiffin 33 yard line. But a four-yard tackle for loss by Latrell Robinson set up a 2nd-and-14 for the Oilers. A two-yard completion on third down put the Oilers in a 4th-and-12 situation with the game on the line. The Oilers could not convert on fourth down, as the pass fell incomplete.

Tiffin needed to get first downs to run out the clock, and it did so appropriately enough as Hardy posted consecutive runs of 12 and 13 yards to negate the UF timeouts and seal the win for the Dragons.

Overall Findlay outgained TU by one yard (529-528) while posting just four more first downs (29-25). Both teams racked up their totals with different approaches, as TU outgained Findlay on the ground 289-102 while Findlay outpassed TU 427-239.

Hardy was monstrous on offense, taking advantage of huge holes and refusing to fall when tackled for 207 yards on 25 carries (8.3 yards per rush). 

Watson connected on 17 of 26 passes with no interceptions and 3 touchdowns for 239 yards, with two receivers eclipsing 100 yards in the game. Jackson finished with 114 yards on 5 catches, while Woods had 106 yards on 7 catches.

Carrington Contee led a busy TU defense with 8 tackles and a 35 yard interception return, while Ross Moore had 7 stops. Charlie Cleveland had 6 tackles with 2 tackles for loss, while Robinson added 5 tackles (2 for loss) and Chrystian Watkins had 5 tackles.

Tiffin (seeded 8th in the latest Super Region 1 poll) will now wait to learn their NCAA postseason fate and potential opponent with the announcement of the Division II playoff field on Nov. 17 at 5 pm.