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Bridgewater halts Thiel's dream season

| Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005

Thiel coach Jack Leipheimer announced a coaching change following Thiel's 24-13 loss to Bridgewater (Va.) College in an NCAA Division III second-round playoff game Saturday.

"I'll go on record as saying that I am firing the special teams coach, and that's me," Leipheimer said. "It was just a total breakdown. We had a punt blocked earlier in the year and I thought we had everything corrected."

Thiel punter Matt McKinney's punt was blocked by Drew McQueen late in the third quarter. The loose ball was picked up by Bridgewater's Rico Haynes at the 17 and returned for a touchdown to give Bridgewater (11-1) a 17-7 lead.

"I noticed in the first half that they had two bad snaps," Bridgewater coach Michael Clark said. "We kind of made up our mind to go after a block after that. We put speed people in speed positions. We practiced all week with deflated footballs, so they didn't get the sting when they blocked them."

The blocked punt highlighted other problems for Thiel (11-1). McKinney punted six times and averaged just 23.8 yards per kick -- a net average of just 11 yards per punt.

Thiel's offense also struggled, managing just 46 yards in the third quarter.

Bridgewater sealed its win midway through the fourth quarter, when Brian Awkard returned a punt to the Thiel 12. Three plays later, quarterback Jeff Highfill scored on a 5-yard run.

Highfill completed 9-of-14 passes for 115 yards and one interception. He also rushed for 53 yards on 11 carries. Marcus Washington led the Eagles with 54 yards rushing and one touchdown.

"That was certainly designed," Highfill said of his rushing yards. "We've been doing for a couple of weeks. I think with threats at running back in the backfield, we have to have a quarterback that can run."

Bridgewater rushed for 179 yards, well below its average of 272 per game. Thiel managed just 95 yards on the ground.

"The game plan was to come out and run the football and to stop them from running the football," Leipheimer said.

Thiel ran well early behind the running of freshman Dan Hess, who started again in place of Steve Minton. Hess carried for 73 yards on 15 attempts. Minton rushed for 35 yards on 13 carries.

Hess, who rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown in last week's first-round playoff win, rushed six times for 28 yards on the Tomcats first possession yesterday. The drive, however, ended when quarterback Darrell Satterfield's pass intended for Tom McEntire was intercepted in the end zone by safety Adrian Herndon.

Bridgewater responded with six-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. Brandon Copeland's 47-yard reception highlighted the drive and was followed a 12-yard touchdown run by Washington.

Thiel tied the score with 12-play, 89-yard drive that culiminated with a Minton 2-yard touchdown run.

"I don't think I could be prouder than I am," Leipheimer said. "These guys have more heart than any other team I have been associated with. I am disappointed that it ended but that does not diminish what we accomplished."

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