W&J gets emotional win for McNerney
It's been 15 years since Washington & Jefferson lost consecutive games in a season.
Last week, the Presidents suffered two losses — the first infinitely more devastating and significant than the second.
Senior co-captain and running back Tim McNerney was killed Oct. 4 in an off-campus beating, and Thomas More defeated Washington & Jefferson two days later.
Playing for McNerney, the Presidents avoided a second consecutive defeat, coming from behind and willing themselves to a 24-21 win against Westminster on Saturday.
“We were not going to let Tim down,” Presidents quarterback Matt Bliss said. “And by losing today, if we would have lost two in a row, we would have let him down. But we came back and fought because we're doing this for him.”
The Presidents summoned McNerney's family from the stands after the game to present them with the game ball. A Knoch graduate, McNerney was the Presidents' leading rusher.
W&J's first home game since his death was Senior Day, and McNerney was honored just like the team's other 21 seniors. His brother, Patrick, took his place alongside his parents in the ceremony. McNerney's cousin wore McNerney's No. 5 jersey on the sidelines.
“We won't forget,” W&J coach Mike Sirianni said. “Our kids are still hurting, but we want everyone to pray for his family. ... They're still hurting, and they were so strong to come today. ... I just can't imagine.
“We just want to keep them in mind,” said Dion Wiegand, McNerney's replacement, who led all players in yards from scrimmage with 158. He had 95 of those yards during the second half, when W&J (5-2, 4-1 Presidents' Athletic Conference) erased its first deficit against Westminster in 12 years and extended its winning streak against the Titans to 12.
“You can never replace Tim; he was our best player,” Wiegand said. “He was our most inspiring player, but I'm just trying to do his will.”
Westminster (2-3, 1-3) took the opening kickoff and drove 65 yards, taking a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard quarterback draw run by Dak Britt.
Britt added a 61-yard touchdown run on a similar play late the second quarter, but the W&J defense did not allow much more. Westminster punted 10 times and was limited to three plays or less during 11 of 16 possessions.
The Presidents had their own problems offensively until late in the third quarter when four plays by Wiegand over a five-snap span accounted for 48 yards, culminating with a 2-yard touchdown run that put W&J ahead for good, 17-14.
Bliss added a 2-yard run on a quarterback draw with 6:39 left. Playing without top receiver Alex Baroffio, Bliss was 25 of 44 for 312 yards and a touchdown.
“We're playing without our two best players,” Sirianni said. “Our best one is looking down on us right now; our second-best one has a bad ankle.”
In addition to a pregame moment of silence and game ball, the Presidents vowed one more honor for McNerney's family.
“We told them we're handing the PAC trophy to them four weeks from now,” Wiegand said. “The rest of the season, we're playing for Tim. He wanted a PAC championship, and this one here was step one of four on the way to it.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.