It was a Monon Bell game for the ages.
In the end, the visiting Wabash Little Giants edged out the Tigers by a final score of 22-21 in the 124th rendition of the classic held here in Greencastle. 8,000 onlookers piled into Blackstock Stadium this past Saturday and witnessed an all-time classic, filled with a roller coaster fourth quarter and a wild finish.
DePauw led off the scoring in this contest due to a fumble recovery in the end zone by senior offensive lineman Andrew Saunders, which resulted in a Tiger touchdown.
Later in the first quarter, the Tigers found themselves backed up near their own end zone, resulting in a three and out. After a punt that was mishit, the Little Giants acquired great field position to start their drive on the Tigers 35-yard line. Wabash’s running back Ike James capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to even the score at seven apiece.
At the 8:20 mark in the second quarter, the Tigers regained the lead after a ten-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jake Lasky to senior wide receiver Jake Hagan. Hagan snatched the ball out of the air on a corner route while managing to keep one foot in bounds.
“It was a real special feeling, to say the least. Playing in any Bell game is a special experience alone by itself,” Hagan said. “To be able to put one in the end zone, especially in my last game is an extra plus on top.”
During the ensuing possession, Wabash marched down the field on 17 plays leading to an eventual touchdown run from two yards out. The drive spanned 72 yards, along with taking seven minutes and twelve seconds off the scoreboard. Two successful fake field goals on fourth down kept the drive alive for the Little Giants.
The score was locked at 14-14 going into halftime.
Most of the third quarter witnessed no scoring at all. Both defenses were in full force combining for six drives resulting in punts.
However, with 1:20 left in the third quarter DePauw junior linebacker Chandler Nicholson intercepted Wabash’s Weston Murphy. Nicholson jumped the out route and took it 52 yards down the sideline untouched for a Tiger touchdown.
“I recognized the play. I knew it was going to come quick so I jumped in front of the route,” Nicholson said. “While I was running I wasn’t thinking at all, it felt as if I were dreaming. It is a play I will remember for the rest of my life.”
In the fourth quarter, turnovers made all the difference. With only 5:53 left in the fourth quarter and up a touchdown, the Tigers special teams made a crucial mistake by fumbling the punt. The Little Giants pounced on the loose ball and ended up recovering it on DPU’s five-yard line.
“Winning the turnover margin has always been one of our major goals as a team. In a huge game like the Bell game, turnovers will always have even bigger implications,” Lasky said. “Since 1980, the team in the Monon Bell game with the fewest turnovers has a record of 24-2.”
On first and goal, Wabash’s Ike James pounded the ball into the end zone for his third score on the game. Then, one of the most controversial calls in Monon Bell history occurred. The Little Giants decided to go for a two-point conversion instead of settling for the extra point. Wabash’s Murphy found receiver Kirby Cox in the front of the end zone to take the lead.
Or so we thought. In pictures taken of the play after the game, it is clear Cox’s knee was downed at the one-yard line. The ball had not yet crossed the goal line when the knee came in contact with the ground.
The drama continued when senior wide receiver Nolan Ayres came into the game at quarterback with 5:45 left in regulation, due to a lower leg injury suffered by Lasky. Ayres fired a 17-yard pass to Hagan on third down and nine to propel the Tigers into Wabash territory. Seconds later, Ayres displayed the poise and confidence worthy of a veteran quarterback in the league.
“In the moment, I didn’t really have much of a reaction going in at QB. There was obviously a lot going on and I was just trying to stay poised,” Ayres said. “I wanted to do anything I could to move the ball down the field.”
Ayres launched a 31-yard bomb to receiver junior wide receiver Andy Hunt, leading the Tiger offense to the 11-yard line of the Little Giants. On first down, Ayres took a designed QB sneak right up the middle, feet away from a touchdown before being punched out and recovered by the Little Giants in the end zone for a touchback.
The stadium fell silent. Minutes later, a sea of red stormed the field, hoisting the Bell into the air. 365 days and 29 miles will separate these two sides before we get to witness another spectacle in the Monon Bell series, arguably the greatest rivalry in all of Division III football.