By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It is hard to forget that little Wagner College turned into one of the feel-good stories of the 2012.
The Seahawks nearly stunned the college football world in the opening weekend last season, coming within a play of beating a former Football Championship Subdivision team Florida Atlantic in a 7-3 heartbreaker.
Wagner survived the evacuation of campus for Hurricane Sandy and somehow managed to beat heavily-favored and Northeast Conference favorite Albany 30-0 the following weekend, despite a lack of preparation and practice time.
The Seahawks went on to win their first NEC championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championships, securing a home game against heavily-favored Patriot League champion Colgate.
In between all of that, Wagner players and coaches reached out to their community, which had been ravaged by the winds and the rain. They did everything they could to help people who had literally lost everything they had.
A bond was formed as never before between college and community and on the day that Wagner played Colgate, an overflow crowd was on hand to help inspire the Seahawks.
It wasn’t surprising when Wagner dominated the Raiders 31-20 behind the running of junior Dominique Williams (21 carries, 106 yards, one TD), the multi-faceted quarterback play of senior Nick Doscher (186 yards of total offense, with two touchdown passes and one rushing score) and a defense that forced five Colgate turnovers.
A week later, the Seahawks went on the road and gave 2010 national champ and eventual 2012 semifinalist Eastern Washington all it could handle on the Tabasco-red turf of Roos Field before losing 29-19.
Longtime coach Walt Hamline was named the FCS coach of the year by College Sports Journal and other media outlets and Williams was named to the CSJ All-America team.
A year after the near-miss at Florida Atlantic, Wagner doesn’t consider itself an underdog. Having experienced a new level of success at the FCS level, the Seahawks view themselves as serious contenders in the postseason chase.
Another tough Patriot League team, Georgetown, was on hand last Saturday for Wagner’s 2013 season opener and the Seahawks needed all of their grit and determination to pull out a win.
In 2011, Georgetown quarterback Isaiah Kempt had led the Hoyas to within a game of the Patriot League championship and auto bid, but the senior passer’s 2012 season came crashing down after just six plays when he injured his knee at Davidson in last season’s opener.
Kempt showed no rust on Saturday when he completed 19-of-27 passes for 194 yards as the Hoyas built a 21-7 lead.
“We knew we ha to slow him down in the second half, if we were going to have any chance to win,” said Hameline, now in his 33rd year at Wagner. “They had 50 plays on offense in the first half. If they do another 50 plays in the second half, we’re in trouble.”
The Seahawks made one dramatic defensive adjustment, going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense in the second half and suddenly, Kempt found himself running for his life as defensive tackle Daevonte Barnett (four tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack) and others began to pressure the redshirt senior passer.
Outside of one drive, with new quarterback Matt Misley hitting Duke transfer Tyree Watkins for a six-yard scoring strike, the Seahawk offense had lacked rhythm in first half and failed to get the ball in the hands of Williams (12 carries, 77 yards) often enough.
But things began to change for the Wagner attack midway through the third period when Misley hit Watkins for another pass along the Seahawk sideline. Watkins gained nine yards on the play before lateraling to Wiliams, who was trailing the play.
Williams jukes a defender at the five and dashed into the end zone to make it 21-14 on the combined 19-yard pass play.
It was more pressure on Kempt and excellent preparation from a newcomer at cornerback that brought a flood of momentum Wagner’s way at the 12-minute mark of the fourth period.
Kempt was forced from the pocket on a third and 15 play from the Hoya 10 and floated a pass that the Seahawks’ Deangelo James anticipated. James jumped the route, intercepted the ball and raced 24 yards into the end zone.
Not bad for a wide receiver who Hamline said was switched from offense to defense this spring, because of his difficulties catching the ball.
Suddenly, Georgetown’s 14-point lead had evaporated with 11 minutes to play.
James said his grandmother had told him five years ago, before her death, that his best chance for college football success was as a defensive back. Grandma obviously knew something about football and James said he felt her cheering him on as he ran into the end zone.
After another three and out for the Hoya offense, Wagner kept the ball for nearly seven and a half minutes, grinding things out for 15 plays.
Williams accented the possession with a fourth-and-one blast for seven yards and a first down from the Georgetown 24 and then read a run blitz and bounced a zone-read play to the outside for a touchdown on third and goal from the six with 2:49 remaining for Wagner’s first and only lead.
“We played our game,” said Williams, who finished the game with 32 carries and 165 yards rushing. “We stuck to our assignments.”
The Wagner defense, which limited Georgetown to 33 yards and two first downs in the second half held the Hoyas on four downs to seal the victory.
Williams and Hamline said that the success of last season has been put in its proper place and that this team is thinking about building more tradition in 2013.
“I gave my (championship) ring to my mom,” Williams explained. “I want another one.”
The Seahawks will be back in action on Friday night when they play Merrimack at home at 6 p.m.
Georgetown, meanwhile, will try to regroup when it hosts Davidson on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We played a good first half, not so well in the second half,” said Kevin Kelly. “Wagner is a good football and No. 25 (Williams) is a pain in the butt. Every game we play against Walt is a barnburner.”