After hanging close for much of the first half, the Kentucky Wesleyan College football team couldn’t keep up with Findlay University in a 69-19 loss Saturday at Steele Stadium.
In the season opener against the No. 25 Oilers, a fellow Great Midwest Athletic Conference member, a flurry of scoring by Findlay at the end of the first half put the Panthers (0-1) in a hole they weren’t able to climb out of.
First-year head coach Taurean Smith said he was still proud of his team, though he does see room for improvement.
“They controlled the controllable like we’ve been preaching since day one,” Smith said of the Panthers, who are playing on a freshly renovated field and under a new coaching staff. “They did an outstanding job. On the field, we’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of things to do. We’re going to get there.”
Despite the lopsided score, Smith said there were bright spots that don’t necessarily show in the numbers.
“There’s a lot of positivity overall,” he said. “Defensively, we battled our butt off. I think we did a great job, but the score doesn’t show it. Offensively, I think we still did some great things.”
The Panthers were able to stick around early thanks to a pair of interceptions by Alijah McGhee. His second pick set up the first scoring drive for KWC, who got a touchdown off a 21-yard pass from Mike McGee to De’Ondre Boggs.
In the third quarter, Shedrick Kirk returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown, though the Panthers still trailed 35-13 after a missed extra point. The final score came from a 1-yard run by Dylan Byrd to cap an 8-play drive.
Smith said playing a quality team will help the inexperienced players understand what it takes to be successful.
“We’ve been preaching since day one that this game was going to be fast, that you’ve got to be able to go,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to process things within 3 seconds, and you’ve got to understand what you’re doing. I think guys understand now. We take this film and learn from it and continue to improve.”
The Panthers held their own until the final couple minutes of the first half. Findlay scored with 1:04 left in the second quarter to go up 18-7, but they recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and added a field goal as time expired to quickly boost the lead to 28-7. They scored three touchdowns in each of the final two quarters.
Smith said it’s good to finally have the first game under his belt, and now the Panthers can focus on working to get better before the next game. The Panthers hit the road next week for non-conference opponent in Quincy University (Quincy, Ill.).
“We’ve got to continue to fight,” Smith said. “I think guys see that there’s a lot of potential. We’ve just got to stay a unit, stay a team and continue to trust and believe in each other.”