Columbus, Ohio – It had been 15 years since the Findlay Oilers last played for a conference title in football. In that game, the Orange and Black went on the road and lost to a quality opponent. On Saturday, Nov. 11 in Columbus, that story played out again. Findlay traveled to Ohio Dominican University to take on the Panthers with the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) Championship on the line and the Oilers, ranked no. 21 in the country and fourth in Super Region One, fell short by a score of 49-24. The loss gives Findlay a 9-2 record overall and a 6-1 mark in conference play, their first ever G-MAC loss, and ends the Oilers' eight-game win streak, the longest since 1997.
As the much anticipated game began, it appeared as though points would be at a premium for the league's two top-scoring offenses. The first points of the game came with four-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter when junior Jacob Allton, who had been kicking extra points for the Oilers in their previous three contests, knocked in a 22-yard field goal to put Findlay ahead 3-0.
Less than three minutes later, ODU's Grant Russell found Cory Contini in the end zone to give the home team their first lead. That duo would prove to be a difference maker as the game progressed.
Trailing 7-3 through the first quarter, Findlay took the lead back with ten minutes to play in the half on a three-yard touchdown run by senior Daouda Sylla. However, a 72-yard touchdown from Russell to Contini and later a 29-yard touchdown from Russell to David Turner would give the Panthers a daunting 21-10 lead at the half.
The Panthers picked up the pace even more in the second half of play, outscoring Findlay 28-14 after halftime.
The Oilers big highlight of the half came at the end of the third quarter when junior kickoff returner Jacob Hill cut through the Panthers' kick coverage for a 93-yard kick return touchdown, his second of the season.
A touchdown by Daouda Sylla to begin the fourth quarter gave the Oilers' sideline some life, but the Panthers would score on their next two possessions to ice the game and earn the Great Midwest crown.
Findlay came in scoring 49.9 points per game, second-highest in the country, but the Panthers found the answer with their third-down defense, holding the Oilers to just 4-of-15 while converting on 6-of-12 on third down themselves.
The newly minted G-MAC champs put up 516 yards of total offense while holding Findlay, ranked third in the country in total offense at 525 yards per game, to just 359 yards, their lowest in any league game this season.
Junior quarterback Rhys Gervais finished the game 21-of-38 for 212 yards. He threw one interception and for the first time since Sep. 17, 2016 against Ashland, 18 games ago, did not throw a touchdown pass.
Senior Daouda Sylla had his seventh 100+ yard rushing performance of the season, picking up 134 yards on 29 carries. He scored a pair of touchdowns in the loss.
Junior preseason all-American Jason Moore made eight catches for 110 yards, the 15th time in his career that he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Senior Darnell Fields made a career-high four catches for 43 yards and junior Jacob Allton made three catches for 25 yards.
The Oilers' leading tackler was junior Francis Cutchember who finished with eight stops on the day. Teammates Chiebuka Chukwuneke, Terrence Smith, Grant Kinsinger, and Kyle Gibson each finished with six tackles. Gibson, a true freshman, ended the game with a half-sack and a pass breakup to his credit while Chukwuneke tallied an interception.
Findlay's regular season has concluded and the team is now at the mercy of the region's coaches who will decide which teams are in the top-seven in Super Region One. The Oilers are looking to gain entrance into their first ever NCAA Division II Playoff. The selection show can be seen on NCAA.com on Sunday, Nov. 12 beginning at 5:00 pm.