Catching Up with PAC’s Postseason Football Games

By Justin Zackal

The Division III football postseason concludes Saturday, and even though weeks have passed since PAC teams played a down, two of the league’s four postseason teams are still catching their breaths.

PAC champion Thomas More overcame a 17-0 deficit at home to Wittenberg in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 19. However, the Saints wound up losing in four overtimes, 33-30, in the longest game in Division III playoff history.

Three PAC teams played in ECAC bowl games in Philadelphia, including Washington & Jefferson coming back after trailing Brockport, 31-16 in the fourth quarter, for an exhilarating 38-31 win in the aptly named Presidents Bowl on Nov. 18.

Westminster won its second straight James Lynah Bowl with a 33-6 win over Utica Nov. 19, and Carnegie Mellon lost, 52-20, to Salisbury in the Legacy Bowl Nov. 20.


Thomas More celebrates the 2016 PAC title.

The sting from Thomas More’s loss is still felt.

“Eh, it’s one we could’ve, should’ve,” said Saints head coach Regis Scafe. “One play here, one play there makes a huge difference. You look back at everything and just kinda shake your head. Wittenberg, you give them credit; they were tough. They have a solid program. It’s one of those games that no one should’ve lost; it was so closely played.”

The Saints scored 24 straight points to take a 24-17 lead, but Wittenberg sent the game to overtime with a touchdown with 1:39 left in regulation. Then the game turned into a field-goal kicking contest in overtime: matching made field goals in the first OT, blocked fields goals in the second, Saints freshman Cole Mathias hitting a 47-yard equalizer in the third but missing a 40-yarder in the fourth.

“It was a crazy situation,” said Scafe, who compared it to a tied soccer game decided on penalty kicks. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Both kickers were really good under pressure.”

Scafe seemed to have mixed emotions looking back on the game.

“We had chances,” Scafe said. “Looking at it, we could’ve folded because we were way down and we didn’t. Then we fought back and played really well, and then we could’ve iced it, but we didn’t.”

Thomas More instead heads into an offseason in which all five of its first-team, all-PAC players graduate. However, next year the Saints will welcome back starting quarterback Brenan Kuntz, two of their top three running backs (Hjavier Pitts and Luke Zajac) and their top two receivers (Daylin Garland and Logan Winkler).


W&J senior quarterback Pete Coughlin.

W&J’s quarterback will not return, but what a way for senior Pete Coughlin to end his career. Coughlin earned Presidents Bowl MVP honors after passing for 473 yards including a 35-yard touchdown to Anthony Keriotis with 13 seconds to complete the comeback.

The game marked the first time W&J played at University of Pennsylvania’s historic Franklin Field since 1897 when the Presidents lost 18-4 to an undefeated Penn team that won the national championship.

In a postgame interview with ECAC Sports, W&J head coach Mike Sirianni raved about his team’s resiliency as well as the ECAC bowl experience at Franklin Field.

“To come back here and play where they’ve played before with all the great games that have been played on this field,” Sirianni said, “you get chills.”

Westminster’s quarterback, junior Paul Columbo, was also named MVP of his team’s bowl win, as he rushed 17 times for a game-high 121 yards and two touchdowns. The Titans successfully defended their James Lynah Bowl title.

Last year was the first time PAC teams won two of the six ECAC bowl games with Westminster and Carnegie Mellon winning (click here). The league matched the feat again this season.

Even though Thomas More is not part of the ECAC, Scafe sees the bowl games as an opportunity to advance the conference.

“We had some really good teams in our league this season,” Scafe added. “For them to get another game and succeed on a regional scene, it shows the strength of the conference.”

For a coach looking to catch his breath from a wild playoff game, seeing how challenging it will be to defend conference championship will not making him breathe easier.