For the Tiffin University seniors, their time wearing the green and gold has been trying at times. However, their final memory of Frost-Kalnow Stadium will be a pleasant one. The Dragons closed out their season, and the career of their seniors, with a 34-14 victory over Lake Erie College.
"This senior group has really stuck through some hard times," TU coach Gary Goff said, while still trying to dry off after hitting the water bucket dumped over his head. "My hats off to the seniors for staying here and really fighting through. It's a great emotional win for those guys."
"We just came out and wanted to win for our seniors," freshman defensive back Stefan Willis said. "We've been on a bad streak. I don't ever want to send our seniors out like that; I wouldn't want to end my four years like that. So we just came out, wanted to play hard and get this victory for our seniors, and we did."
As much as the underclassmen wanted to send the seniors out right, the seniors wanted the win to give the team a boost going into next season.
"You wanted to go out, and just do it for the rest of the seniors, not just for myself. I wanted to do it for everybody else," senior quarterback Dan Pitts said. "I think as a whole together, we wanted to do it for the team. Get a victory, get them on the right path for next year too as well."
Pitts was the catalyst that helped the Dragons to a 31-7 halftime lead, throwing for 277 of his 364 yards in the opening half with three touchdowns. He opened the game by marching the Dragons down the field before hitting Marcus Beaurem on a 7-yard strike for the game's first points.
"I really wish I had Dan coming back, because he grew so much the last five weeks. I'm very proud of that young man," Goff said.
Lake Erie evened things up on an Anthony Bilal 1-yard run, but TU jumped back ahead when Seth Pekoe knocked through a 25-yard field goal.
Then Pitts went back to work.
He hit Pedro Correa for a 24-yard touchdown, then threw a second TD to Beaurem, this one from 69-yards out.
Pitts was able to move the ball around to a host of receivers. Eight Dragons caught passes on the day. Jeremy Armstrong was the top target, catching 11 passes for 88 yards. Beaurem caught eight for a team-high 150 yards and the two scores.
"They're unbelievable," Pitts said of his receivers. "They're all on the same page as me. It's gotten better as I kept moving the ball with them throughout practices. Marcus has unbelievable speed. You know everybody's attributes, so you just work with them."
Lake Erie was looking to cut into the TU lead before halftime, but the Dragon defensive front pressured Lake Erie quarterback Brendan Gallagher into under throwing a pass which landed in Willis' arms. Eighty-four yards later it was another Tiffin touchdown and a 31-7 halftime lead.
"Just in the right place at the right time I guess," Willis said. "I read it. As soon as he threw it up, I just broke on the ball, made a good play. Then my team just led by down the field."
"We had some big plays on both sides of the football," Goff added. "Dan's throw to Marcus Beaurem really set the tone going into half, and then Stephan Willis. Wow. What an interception and return. That's a sophomore and freshman right there making plays for us."
Lake Erie found the end zone on its first drive of the second half to get within 31-14, but would get no closer. The Dragon defense stiffened up and came up three second half interceptions, including a second by Willis and others by Brandon Person and Mike Virgin.
"We just calmed down and played football," Willis said of defensive adjustments. "We all know how to play football, we just think too much. If we overthink it, we don't make plays. But we were in our right minds after a while, just calmed down and made plays."
TU closes out the year with a 3-8 record, 2-8 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, good enough to tie for fifth in the GLIAC South.
Goff said the turnaround from 2011's winless season shows the progress the program is making.
"Been a long season, but I'll tell you what, y'all heard me say it before, 'Rome's not built in a day,'" Goff said. "This season we did take steps. Now, it's not the huge steps we might want, but were very encouraged and very excited. They fought all year. We played 20-something freshmen through the course of this season. We're excited about this program. We're committed to doing the right thing. What a great way to end the season."
Perhaps fittingly, the win was punctuated by a TU senior closing out the game and his career in style. Virgin jumped in front of a Matt Krumpak pass in the final seconds before getting mobbed on the sideline by teammates in recognition of his effort.
"Great player, what a great way to end," Goff said.