A stout defense helped the Kentucky Wesleyan football team stay within striking distance, but their offense struggled for most of the game in a 17-14 home loss to Concordia — ranked No. 6 in the NAIA coaches poll — that came down to the final drive.
Saturday’s season opener was the debut of Craig Yeast as the head coach, and his Panthers found themselves trailing 17-14 with 2:17 to play and one last chance to score.
Quarterback Wiley Cain, who replaced starter Mike McGee at the start of the fourth quarter, helped Wesleyan get to the Concordia 22-yard line before taking a 6-yard sack on third down. The Cardinals got a hand on the field goal attempt and ran out the clock for the win.
The Panthers managed only 146 yards, 96 of which came on the final two drives. Cain finished 10-for-16 with 96 yards and a touchdown, while McGee went 9-for-27 with 57 yards and an interception.
“I just felt like we needed a spark,” Yeast said of the quarterback change. “(Cain) gave us a little spark and scored a touchdown.”
Cain led the Panthers to their only offense score with less than three minutes to play. Though the pass was nearly intercepted, his toss to De’Ondre Boggs was good for a 41-yard touchdown that capped off an eight-play, 65-yard drive.
“I was telling the quarterback all game to throw it up and give me a shot,” Boggs said. “I saw it in the air and my mentality is if the ball is in the air it’s mine. I went for the ball and snatched it out of the defender’s hands.”
The other touchdown for the Panthers came at the hand of linebacker Jalen Wilson, who intercepted a pass and ran it 70 yards for a score.
“I looked back and saw the quarterback was fixing to pass it to (the receiver), so I cut underneath him, caught it and ran it back,” Wilson said. “I was trying to get my team some points on the board and trying to encourage everybody.”
Concordia held a 10-0 advantage at the half and led 17-7 after the third quarter.
The Wesleyan defense allowed 369 yards but they came up with stop after stop, including a second interception by Wilson.
“I’ve been saying for a long time since we got here that we have a great defense,” Yeast said. “On the offensive side of the ball we’re just very young. We’ve got to figure out how to play. Oftentimes defense is a little bit ahead of the offense, and that kind of showed today.”
Though he’d prefer to walk away with a win, Yeast said he was proud of the team for not giving up and giving themselves a chance at the end.
“The good thing about it is we fought tooth and nail all the way to the end of the game,” he said. “I’m encouraged by what I saw from our guys. We have a lot of stuff to work on, but we’re going in the right direction.”