By ANDY WOLF
Rob Keys couldn’t say enough about his defense.
The 16 points allowed hardly paint the picture of how well the defense played in the eyes of the University of Findlay football coach.
While the offense coughed up five fumbles on an otherwise productive night, the defense held Walsh to three second-half points and got the stops it needed to produce a 24-16 victory on Saturday night at Donnell Stadium in Great Midwest Athletic Conference play.
“Very rarely do you turn the ball over five times and get a win,” UF coach Rob Keys said. “That’s back-to-back weeks we’ve turned the ball over five times and somehow come away with getting a win.”
“The defense was absolutely phenomenal. The gameplan that the coaches put together was excellent but our players went out and executed it to a T.”
Findlay (6-3, 4-2 GMAC), often sporting four freshmen on defense at a time, limited Walsh to just 223 total yards.
The Cavaliers (2-6, 2-4) didn’t convert on any of their 12 third-down or two fourth-down attempts.
Walsh got the ball one last time at its own 9 with 2:12 remaining.
Findlay’s Maliq Carr sacked Nick Gassman on third down for a short loss before Chewy Chukwuneke stepped in front of DeVon Harris to break up Gassman’s fourth-down pass.
Carr had two of UF’s four sacks on the night while Chukwuneke made a team-high 10 tackles.
“You talk about money downs, they did not convert a third down,” Keys said. “That’s great defense. We did it different ways: we blitzed them sometimes, we played some coverage — either way the defense was very successful in stopping them in critical situations.”
Offensively, the Oilers still topped 500 yards for the second straight game at 501, including 308 on the ground behind a career night from sophomore Brian Benson.
Benson racked up a career-high 223 yards on 40 carries, 144 by halftime, and scored all three of UF’s touchdowns (2, 29, 24).
“They kept calling my name and I just didn’t ask any questions,” Benson said. “I went out there and did what the coaches asked me to do.”
His rushing total was the most for any UF back since Daiquone Ford set the school record at 317 against Lake Erie in 2013.
Benson’s previous high of carries was only 12, done three times prior with two 100-yard games.
“I feel like I touched the ball a lot but I don’t feel bad at all,” he said. “I feel normal. I feel like I do in practice, kind of.”
Benson said the only difference in the big work load was needing to drink more fluids.
His first two scores came in the first quarter to put UF in front 14-7.
His last, a burst through the middle and out the left side on third-and-four, accounted for the last points in the game with 3:36 left in the third quarter.
“I saw one guy ahead of me, I just knew I had to make him miss or do something to get in the end zone,” Benson said. “My eyes were just gazing on the end zone. I ended up running into him, he ended up not being able to touch me, and after that, I was off to the races.”
A slight rain on a cold night made for slippery conditions, but Findlay’s case of fumbleitis was still quite perplexing to Keys.
The six team fumbles were the most in a game since doing so seven times, five lost, in 1990 vs Tennessee Wesleyan.
Five different players lost a fumble for UF on Saturday, with three occurring in the first quarter.
Koby Adu-Poku scored both Walsh touchdowns (16, 2 yards) to cap 34- and 31-yard drives following UF fumbles.
“I don’t know if there’s an explanation 100 percent,” Keys said, noting their dedication to ball security in practice.
Keys said the weather was the first contributing factor, with the need to run the ball instead of risking the ball in the air.
Another thing was Benson’s improvement in practice over the past many weeks to emerge as the lead back.
“The thing that Brian can do that some of the other backs can’t is that he can hit the home run,” Keys said.
Chauncey Bridges added 56 yards on seven carries.
Adam Bertke threw for 193 yards on 17 of 27 attempts. Andrew Ogletree led with 81 yards on five catches.