High-Flying Crusaders Battle to the Bitter End in Close Loss to Heidelberg

Pictured: Thomas Wibbeler (photo credit: Joe Maiorana, Impact Action Sports Photography)
Pictured: Thomas Wibbeler (photo credit: Joe Maiorana, Impact Action Sports Photography)

By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Crusaders' aerial assault led by Thomas Wibbeler was alive and well on Saturday night and was a big reason the Capital University football team had a chance to win in its home opener against Heidelberg University. With under one minute to go, Capital mounted one last attack but was unable to convert on a fourth and long opportunity to complete its comeback against the Student Princes. Cap suffered its first defeat under the lights at Bernlohr Stadium and fell to 0-3 on the season after Saturday's 44-40 loss to The Berg.

Capital (0-3, 0-2 OAC) was down 17 points as they entered the latter stages of the third quarter but between Thomas Wibbeler's (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville) arm, and legs, and four Heidelberg turnovers, the game was far from over. After converting a third and 10 by completing a pass to senior Dartavious Stanford (Zanesville, Ohio/Zanesville) that just barely earned enough yardage to move the chains. Three plays later, Wibbeler broke off a 24-yard touchdown run to turn it into a 10-point contest, 37-27.

The following Heidelberg drive seemed like it was gaining steam but then for the fourth time in the game the Crusaders caused a fumble to gain control of the ball and go back on the offensive. Sophomore Dominic Alberini (Warren, Ohio/Howland) stripped the ball loose just before the ball carrier fell to the ground and sophomore linebacker Blayde McCully scooped it up to turn the possession over the Cap.

Now in Heidelberg territory, Wibbeler made quick work of the Heidelberg defense. He hit junior Wyatt Pertuset (Richwood, Ohio/North Union) for a 24-yard pass to set up a four-yard touchdown scamper made by Wibbeler. Blake Middleton's successful point-after touchdown made it a three-point game, 37-34, at the top of the fourth quarter.

The Capital defense then rode that momentum and forced a three-and-out to put the ball back into the hands of Wibbeler and the Capital offense. It only took six plays and three minutes for the Crusaders to find paydirt once again and this time take the lead back for the first time since the top of the second quarter. Wibbeler hit Stanford in the back of the end zone for a second time to push the score to 40-37, but Heidelberg was not quite finished.

The Berg (2-0, 1-0 OAC) returned fire with a six-play, 52-yard drive that spanned just 1:09 to retake the lead with 4:28 remaining in the game. Heidelberg quarterback Trace Reynolds continued to lead the offense and top the 300-yard mark with his 22-yard touchdown pass to Keivon Belcher.

Now down four points, 44-40, Capital had all the time it needed to make one last push toward the end zone. At first, it seemed that Wibbeler would find the end zone easily and leave time on the clock to spare. Following runs by Wibbeler of 15, 12, and 22 yards, Heidelberg ramped up the pressure and made two of its four sacks on the night to set up a fourth and 19 with 29 seconds left on the clock.

After both teams took a timeout to assess the situation, Wibbeler finally got to run the play that would make or break the Crusaders. With the pocket breaking down, Wibbeler found Stanford over the middle, but the senior was nearly five yards short of the first down. Stanford then attempted to lateral the ball back to junior David Barnett (Springfield, Ohio/Shawnee) but was toss was offline and batted away by a Student Prince defender. Heidelberg jumped on the ball and exhausted the final 10 seconds left on the clock to preserve the win.

Heidelberg's four turnovers led to two of Capital's six touchdowns in the game. All four were fumbles, each by a different player. One of those was a muff on a punt return that led directly to a Capital touchdown in the second quarter.

The Berg was also guilty of several personal foul penalties that helped extend multiple Capital drives. The Student Princes were penalized a total of 11 times for 111 yards.

Wibbeler finished the day having set new career-highs with 56 passes and 35 completions, good for 349 yards. He found the end zone through the air twice and did not throw an interception. He has yet to throw a pick this season. Wibbeler also was Capital's leading rusher for the third week in a row, matching last week's total of 85 yards on 18 carries. His three rushing touchdowns gave him five total for the night.

Stanford served as his favorite target after the senior hauled in 11 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 10 games with 100 or more receiving yards in his 13 games as a Crusader.

Senior running back Cory Heeter (Circleville, Ohio/Circleville) made 10 catches out of the backfield for 72 yards.

On the defensive side, sophomore Michael Lauofo (Miamisburg, Ohio/Miamisburg) was the team's leading tackler for the second week in a row. He ended with nine stops, five of those solo. He also forced and recovered one fumble.

Sophomore Jake Elsayed, junior Kole Carter and sophomore Dominic Alberini accounted for the three remaining forced fumbles. Elsayed also recovered one. Sophomore Blayde McCully (Ostrander, Ohio/Buckeye Valley) recovered two fumbles.

Of Heidelberg's 460 total yards, 314 came through the air off of the arm of Trace Reynolds. Reynolds accounted for 425 total yards after he ran for 111 yards and found the end zone once on the ground. Keivon Belcher made eight catches for 116 yards and one touchdown to lead the Student Prince wide receivers.

The loss marks the second straight week in which Capital came from behind to take a lead but was unable to convert the game-winning score on the final drive. They are now 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the Ohio Athletic Conference heading into its bye week.

Capital will take the field next against Baldwin Wallace University (2-1, 1-1 OAC) on Homecoming Weekend. The game will begin at 1:30 p.m. from Bernlohr Stadium.