Big Rapids – The University of Findlay football team faced a tall test in their season opener as they traveled north on Thursday, September 5 to Big Rapids, Michigan, home of the no. 2 team in the country and the 2018 national runner-up. Findlay outgained and outplayed the nation's second-ranked team, but the Oilers would fail on a two-point conversion with less than a minute on the clock to end the game one point shy of the Bulldogs at 24-23. With the loss, the Oilers begin the season 0-1 while Ferris State begins their 2019 with a 1-0 mark.
Trailing 24-17 in the fourth quarter, the Oilers' defense forced a punt with 3:57 on the clock, giving Findlay the ball on their own five yard line. Like they had done all game, the Orange and Black muscled their way down the field with no concern that they were matched against a defense that returned ten of 11 starters from a season ago.
A 19 yard reception by junior Ruben Flowers on third down and a 17-yard rush by senior Nate Slagel put the Oilers into Bulldog territory with still more than a minute-and-a-half on the clock. Findlay then took to the air and benefited from three Ferris State pass interference calls, putting the ball on the Bulldogs two yard line. Junior quarterback Matt Winzeler, playing in his first game with the Orange and Black, took off on a designed run and dove for the goal line to score a touchdown that pulled the Oilers within one.
Head Coach Rob Keys immediately held up two fingers from the sideline signaling his will to go for the win rather than play for overtime. On the two-point attempt, Winzeler rolled out to his right and threw a pass that was knocked down to the turf, essentially ending the game.
From the start, Findlay showed that they weren't just there to play it close. They were there to win.
The Oilers received the opening kickoff and, in just 2:56 seconds, scored on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Winzeler to Flowers to take a 7-0 lead, stunning the home crowd.
Ferris State scored on their first play from scrimmage to tie the game and on their next drive, knocked in a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
On the first play of the second quarter, Findlay capped a 69-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Winzeler to senior tight end Luke Stuffel to give the road team the lead at 14-10.
The Bulldogs would take the lead going into the half but through three quarters, a field goal by Findlay had the game tied at 17.
Ferris State regained the lead with a touchdown with 11:57 on the clock and the two teams then traded possessions that ended in punts, leading to Findlay's 95-yard touchdown drive and failed two-point conversion.
Coming into the game, Findlay knew one of their biggest strengths would be their experience offensive line and one Thursday night, the Oilers leaned on that group, rushing for 235 yards. Most of those yards were picked up by junior all-American running back Brian Benson who rushed the ball 23 times for a game-high 180 yards. Slagel also had a good game on the ground as he picked up 49 tough yards on nine carries.
Through the air, first-year starter Matt Winzeler, who transferred to Findlay from ASA Miami Junior College, complete 18-of-39 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed the ball twice for 15 yards and a score in his debut.
His favorite target was Independence Community College transfer Ruben Flowers who snagged ten balls for 156 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Jack Trombetti had his best game for Findlay as he had a career-high 11 tackles for an Oilers defense that held the Bulldogs offense to 405 yards of total offense. Shippensburg transfer Richard Sheler had nine tackles in his debut while Tennessee Tech transfer Eriq Fadahunsi finished with seven. A host of Oilers including all-conference returners Isaac Miles and Kyle Gibson finished with five tackles. Sophomore Christopher Jefferson had five tackles and an interception.
Findlay is back on the gridiron next Saturday, September 14 when they open up their home slate with Northwood University. That game will kickoff at 7:00 pm.