By ANDY WOLF
TIFFIN — The University of Findlay’s football team wasn’t holding its breath on the final play of Thursday’s season opener against Tiffin University.
Unlike the previous two seasons, the game was all but wrapped up, 28-13 in favor of the Oilers.
The defense allowed only three points in the second half and the offense finally closed the door with a five-play, 79-yard scoring drive capped by running back Dauoda Sylla with 1:05 remaining.
The dagger sealed Findlay’s 18th straight victory over its rival since 1993.
“I’m happy with the win,” UF coach Rob Keys said. “Am I happy with the way the team played at all times? No. I don’t think any coach is ever satisfied with the game regardless of what the score is.”
Keys cited some mental and physical mistakes but said the team showed a lot of leadership after failing behind 10-0 after one quarter.
“No one blinked. We just stayed to the course and stuck to the process,” Keys said.
Tiffin’s secondary gave UF quarterback Rhys Gervais fits again, holding him to 149 passing yards on 8 of 19 attempts with a touchdown and an interception.
But it was just enough of a second-dimension to let Findlay’s two-headed tailback tandem find open space all night long.
A veteran offensive line had their way with the Dragons front-seven, totaling 337 rushing yards as Sylla and fellow senior running back Chauncey Bridges each topped 100 yards for the second straight game dating back to last season.
Sylla racked up 183 yards on 28 carries, both career highs, with three touchdowns.
Bridges chipped in a 138-yard performance that included a 52-yard scamper on the final touchdown drive.
Sylla punched it in three plays later from 8 yards. He also had touchdown runs of 6 and 8 yards in the second quarter.
“I feel like we played an outstanding game,” Sylla said. “As far as the line goes, they blocked their tails off again which made the game easier for the running backs. We stuck to the gameplan and our offensive coordinator did an amazing job of putting us in the right situations.”
His first two scores helped the offense get going.
The Oilers drove into Tiffin territory six straight times in the first half, coming up empty on the first three.
Sylla’s first two scores put UF ahead 14-10 after the Dragons raced out to a 10-0 first-quarter edge.
Tiffin only needed three plays to go 72 yards for the first points of the game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Watson went 41 yards down the middle on an option keeper for the score. The Dragons tacked on a 25-yard field goal from Joseph Metcalf on their next series.
“I’m not happy with the way we started off but I felt after the first quarter we played tremendously,” UF defensive back Tyler Lee said. “I just think it was getting a feel on it, getting a feel about first game, getting the heebie-jeebies out of us. After that we started playing our game.”
Lee finished with four tackles and had a fourth-quarter interception as Watson heaved a ball into a crowd of players on the right sideline.
“All summer we’ve been focusing on takeaways, not turnovers,” the 6-foot-1 Lee said. “With my interception, it’s just going to open it up for everybody. We’re just going to get plenty more this season.
“I was underneath. Once I saw the ball in the air I just decided, hey I’m going to jump my highest to go get it. I read it, obviously I’m taller.”
Lee played a large role in limiting the damage of Tiffin’s Charles Holland, who went for 17 catches and 222 yards a year ago.
Holland turned in eight catches for 72 yards, doing most of his damage on quick screen passes.
Watson, making his first collegiate appearance, completed 22 of 37 passes for 194 yards.
“After a while we kind of knew they weren’t going to go deep until they had to,” Lee said. “As far as doing the short game, the quick outs, that’s what we wanted. We want that. We bait them into doing that. Once they try to take a long shot, that’s us.”
Francis Cutchember and Johnny Hopkins each had six tackles for the Oilers. Hopkins, as well as Carter Blakeney, had a fumble recovery.
Collectively, Findlay sacked Watson three times.
“We’ve only scratched the surface on that side of the ball,” Keys said. “I know how great they can be.”
Jason Moore had two catches for 51 yards while Airion Kosak caught a 21-yard touchdown on a fade in the end zone from Gervais.
Findlay 0 21 0 7 — 28
Tiffin 10 0 0 3 — 13
Tif — Watson 41 run (Metcalf kick)
Tif — Metcalf 25 FG
Fin — Sylla 6 run (Loveridge kick)
Fin — Sylla 8 run (Loveridge kick)
Fin — Kosak 21 pass from Gervais (Loveridge kick)
Tif — Metcalf 41 FG
Fin — Sylla 8 run (Loveridge kick)
First Downs 26 21
Rushes-yards 48-337 31-183
Passing Yards 146 194
Comp-Att-Int 8-19-1 22-38-1
Punts-Avg. 2-41 3-25
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 3-2
Penalties-Yards 3-35 5-42
rushing — Findlay, Sylla 28-183, Bridges 19-138, Hill 1-16. Tiffin, Hardy 10-69, McNamara 2-42, Lockett 13-39, Brunson 4-17, Johnson 1-17, team 1-(-1).
passing — Findlay, Gervais 8-19-1, 146. Tiffin, Lockett 22-37-1, 194, McCollum 0-1-0, 0.
receiving — Findlay, 2-51, Allton 2-29, Hill 2-27, Kosak 1-21, Sylla 1-18. Tiffin, Holland 8-72, Shead, Jr. 4-52, Denton 3-25, McNamara 2-18, Santoro 4-15, Johnson 1-12.