Special teams fuels special win for football

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Western football capped off their season in spectacular fashion this past week, defeating the Muleriders of Southern Arkansas by a score of 30-25 to win the 2018 Agent Barry Live United Bowl.

The postseason bowl game was played in Texarkana, Arkansas, and is the Griffons’ first postseason berth since 2009.

Senior kicker Tyler Basch was named MVP of the game after going three-for-three on field goal attempts, highlighted by a Live United Bowl record 58-yarder to end the first half.

“I am just so thankful for the opportunity,” Basch said. “I could not have asked for a better team or a better group of guys to come out here and compete with.”

The Western offense was able to jump out to an early lead in this one, establishing both the ground game and passing game early and often en route to a 20-0 halftime lead.

Senior quarterback Dom Marino was stellar in the final game of his collegiate career, going 13-of-23 through the air for 211 yards and a touchdown. It was a very gritty final performance for the beleaguered quarterback, with Marino repeatedly popping back up after taking some serious shots.

“You know, sometimes we need a spark like that, but I think really if I can play like that, it just increases our identity of being tough like that,” Marino said. “That is just kind of how I was raised. I was raised to battle and play every play like it was my last. If you play fearless, things will usually work out.”

Juniors Joe Horn Jr. and Carlos Thompson each snagged three passes to pace the Western receiving corps.

“I am happy we came out here the way that we did, and we did it for the seniors,” Thompson said. “They have been our driving force this whole season, and I am happy we ended the season with a victory for them.”

Western was also able to pound out yards on the ground using their balanced rushing attack that has been the foundation of the offense all season long. Freshman James Bailey Jr. rushed for two touchdowns on 10 attempts, but it was truly a collective effort by the Griffons on the ground. Bailey, Marino, sophomore Shamar Griffith and senior Derek Gray Jr. all contributed to a total of 146 rushing yards for the Griffons.

“It just feels awesome, man,” Gray said. “Unbelievable moment, of course for the seniors, but just an unbelievable moment for the program. Taking steps in the right direction, and it started today. That was a great win.”

Special teams also played a major role in the Griffons’ victory, and it was not just Basch. Senior Kyle Dumler blocked a field goal attempt in the first half, while Griffith added a blocked punt of his own. Junior punter Luke Theis pinned Southern Arkansas inside their own 20-yard-line three times.

The Western defense also had an extremely strong showing in this one, holding the potent Muleriders’ offense to just 120 total yards in the first half. The defense was also able to come up with a massive stop late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for Western.