Marauders put scare in PSAC East Champs

The Marauders were able to take the lead thanks to Tony Staffieri. Nii Kotei Nikoi only registered one catch but it was caught for a 3-yard touchdown. Courtesy of MU Athletics

Brenden Curry
Associate Sports Editor

A season ago, Millersville was shutout 52-0 against West Chester. This year, the Marauders nearly saw a different outcome.

Millersville almost pulled off the upset of the season. The Marauders lost a close game 27-24 to the Golden Rams. West Chester would go on to win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s (PSAC) East Division.

“Our team has made incredible progress, and a year ago we couldn’t even compete with that team,” Millersville quarterback Tony Staffieri said. “If you see the steps we’re taking, we just have to get over that hump.”

Head coach Greg Breitbach stated that Saturday’s contest was a great college football game played by both teams. He also said this game could have been a statement win for the program.

“It could’ve allowed us to beat the number one team in the PSAC East, get back to .500 and have a chance at a winning season which is ultimately where we are trying to go with this program,” said Breitbach, explaining what was on the line for Millersville football.

The first quarter saw both teams making a field goal each. Millersville kicker Joey Farley made a career-long 45-yard field goal attempt. Millersville built momentum after a targeting penalty call on West Chester as the first quarter ended.

Early in the second quarter, Millersville drove down the field from their own 37. The offense would generate four first downs on the drive with Staffieri finding an open Nii Kotei Nikoi in the end zone.

West Chester would tie the game at 10-10 with five minutes left in the half.

An action-packed second half began when Millersville’s Tyrone Gibson returned the opening kickoff for 71 yards to the West Chester 24. However, the Marauders were unable to capitalize on that drive as Staffieri threw an interception in the end zone.

However, on their next possession, Millersville was able to capitalize. From the Millersville 69, Staffieri found Kevin Wiggins for 61 yards. Wiggins somehow managed to escape two Golden Ram defenders to prance into the end zone.

West Chester would respond shortly after. Jarel Elder’s 31-yard kickoff return to the Millersville 41 would set him up for a touchdown run on the following play.

Instantly, Millersville regained the lead with Tony Staffieri’s rushing touchdown that ended an 83-yard drive that lasted 12 plays. Millersville would have a 24-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

As the fourth quarter began, both teams had much at stake. Millersville was looking to pull off the upset of the year while West Chester was looking to clinch the division. Fate would ultimately favor West Chester.

Andrew Chegia’s 24-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter would eventually set up the game-winning score for West Chester. With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, West Chester drove down the field efficiently. Mike Class would end the 90-yard drive with the game-winning touchdown for the Golden Rams.

Millersville would have one more drive to go for the comeback win. However, an interception thrown by Staffieri ended the chance of a PSAC upset.

“We haven’t always been in close games like this before,” Staffieri said. “Now that we’re in it, we’ve got to learn how to figure out how to finish down the stretch. I think if we could have finished down the stretch, it would have been a statement win for us.”

“Hats off to West Chester. That’s what top of the PSAC East looks like,” Breitbach said. “Ultimately, football is a game where you have to close out the fourth quarter and the championship team did. We weren’t able to stop them.”

Offensively, senior wide receiver Kevin Wiggins caught five passes from Staffieri for 117 yards. His 61-yard touchdown reception was Wiggins’ 24th career touchdown. The catch moves him into a tie with Jamal Smith for third all-time in career touchdowns at Millersville.

The Marauders led the passing yards category with 352 from Staffieri. Breitbach called his quarterback an “unbelievable competitor,” especially since he was playing with a sore thumb and pain in his quad.

“He did all he can do for his team,” Breitbach commented on Staffieri.

Another wide receiver, Evan Morrill caught a career-high six passes for 94 yards. Breitbach stated that Morrill is a dual sport athlete at Millersville. Morrill’s wrestling attributes transition well to football in regards to his passion for one-on-one challenges and matchups. He is also not afraid of contact, especially when he runs through opposing tacklers. Breitbach said he has a “tough mindset” and his presence gives the offense a new level of confidence.

Defensively, Millersville battled with West Chester all day. Sean Dugan and Jarrid Satterfield led the team in tackles with eight each.

“I thought our defense battled all day,” Staffeiri commented on the defensive performance. “Their effort was unmatched and they played their butts off all day. I’m proud of our defense.”

Staffieri mentioned that the program is going in the right direction. He also stated that the team knows that they are talented enough to compete with every team in the PSAC.

“We know who we can be, and we were very close to being truly what we want to be, which is a team that wins consistently in the PSAC East,” Breitbach said.

Breitbach said he thought the team played very disciplined on Saturday. He also noted that the team has a good culture about believing and playing for each other. He saw his coaching staff working awfully hard in preparing the players to put them in position to have a chance to win.

“I saw outstanding effort and Marauder pride,” Breitbach said. “I saw guys that were playing as hard as they could.”

Breitbach stated that the team doesn’t have much time to feel bad about this loss, even though the pain lingers. Staffieri stated that this game was a lesson in learning how to close out games.

Despite the painful, heartbreaking loss, Coach Breitbach and his Marauders are still keeping their heads up high. With senior day this coming Saturday, the Marauders are hoping to get win number five against Gannon University.

“We’ve got to get over this loss, take the positives from it, move on and try to close out the season on a high note,” Breitbach said.