By ANDY WOLF
The last two gridiron meetings between the University of Findlay and Tiffin University have come down to the final play.
Each time the Oilers got a defensive stop in the final seconds.
Junior defensive lineman Cyle Skidmore started both games and was on the field for the decisive plays.
The first came on a fourth-and-1 stuff at the UF 13 with 20 seconds to go, preserving a 48-44 win.
The next ended with senior Randy Anderson intercepting Antonio Pipkin’s end zone heave as time expired. In a lower-scoring affair, the Oilers prevailed 27-23.
“When it comes down to it, that gives me motivation to want to have a stop and especially stop Tiffin from scoring,” Skidmore said.
The close nature of both games has added to a competitive rivalry of teams roughly a half hour apart down U.S. Route 224.
The Oilers get their chance at winning No. 18 in a row against the Dragons when the 7 p.m. kickoff rolls around at Tiffin’s Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
“First of all we play Tiffin, so it’s our rival,” Skidmore said. “That always gets us pumped up to play. And we’ve been working so hard out here.
“The coaching putting all this effort and us on the field, all the hard work we’ve been putting in — we’re just so excited to play.”
SAME RIVALRY, NEW CONFERENCE: The two teams have met in each of the last nine seasons as members of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The Dragons last scored a win in the series in 1993 but the Oilers returned the favor in the playoffs with a 28-14 first-round victory.
Findlay joined the Great Midwest Athletic Conference this season. Tiffin starts GMAC play next year.
“Every game has been so close, such a close game,” Skidmore said. “It’s been very tough. I think that’s give the game more fuel to play against Tiffin.”
COACHING: Keys and Tiffin’s Gary Goff are each in their seventh seasons as head coaches.
Both have played pivotal roles in turning losing programs into winners.
The Oilers went 1-10 the year before Keys took over with the lone win against Tiffin which also ended 1-10.
Since then, both teams have turned the corner and are recently playing on the good side of .500.
The Dragons went 0-11 in Goff’s first year, won five games over the next two seasons before posting back-to-back 5-6 marks in 2014-15.
Tiffin finished 2016 at 8-3 for its first winning season since joining the GLIAC in 2008.
Meanwhile, Findlay has had a winning mark in five of six seasons with Keys.
“It’s definitely two different animals here 2017,” Keys said. “It’s not the same Tiffin and it’s not the same Findlay either.”
QB DIFFERENCE: Rob Keys is certainly not going to miss Antonio Pipkin.
“No. We’re not going to miss him at all,” Keys said. “He was one of the best players in this league for a long time and the longer he played ,the better he got.”
Pipkin, now playing in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes, is one of three Division II quarterbacks throw for 10,000 yards and rush for 2,000.
He averaged 423.6 yards in three starts against UF including 578 yards of total offense in 48-44 loss in 2015.
Filling the huge void could be one of any number of guys.
Jihard Vercher is a 6-foot-1 205-pound senior JUCO transfer from American River Junior College. He attempted seven passes as Pipkin’s backup.
He’s battling redshirt freshman Nick Watson for the job. Watson guided Cincinnati La Salle to Division II state championships in his junior and senior seasons.
“Not just the QB, you want to be able to keep their offense off balance,” Keys said. “That’s very hard to do. They’ve been very successful, very, very good at moving the ball and scoring points.”
On the flip side, third-year starter Rhys Gervais is back and has had two very different games against the Dragons.
He set a school record with 507 yards in just his third-ever game in 2015 but failed to complete 50 percent of his passes and had 176 yards the following season.
“The thing that they did to us last year was they did a really good job of taking away our wide receivers,” Keys said. “They were very aggressive and physical with our wideouts. It forced Rhys to throw into some tighter coverage and we did not complete as many balls.
GO-TO GUYS: Tiffin’s Charles Holland (1,129) and Findlay’s Jason Moore (1,115) each eclipsed 1,000 yards last season.
Holland racked up 222 yards against UF last year for the fourth-best total in school history.
“He is definitely an NFL prospect,” Keys said of Holland. “He’s got the size, the speed, the hands, the athleticism, the strength. There’s not many things he doesn’t have.”
Moore has two 100-yard receiving games against the Dragons.
DUAL BACKS: Tiffin has a sophomore tandem of Kyle Brunson (504 yards) and JaQuan Hardy (576) that scored six and five touchdowns, respectively, as true freshmen.
The Dragons’ O-line is anchored by four-year starter and center Mason Butler. The Oilers return four starters on their unit that gashed Tiffin for 202 yards last season.
A much-improved UF run defense kept the Dragons one-dimensional, throwing for 369 of their 427 yards.
“I know that last year we worked a lot on stopping the run and that was one of our main goals,” Skidmore said. “I think that’s why we held Tiffin under so many yards last year.
“The D-line, getting on your blocks and maintaining your gaps, we focused on maintaining your gaps a lot.”
Football: Oilers open up against Dragons
By ANDY WOLF