By Andrew Kriz
As Charlie Sheen once said, “Winning, duh.”
The Tigers did just that Saturday night as they beat Coe College (Iowa) 16-10 in overtime after Olivet’s Ernie Esparza made an interception and ran the ball 92 yards for the winning touchdown. The win provided the Tigers’ first since Oct. 10, 2009, and gave head coach Brian Fish his first win with the Tigers.
Olivet began the game running head first into Coe College with five consecutive rushing attempts, gaining only 20 yards and being forced to punt.
Coe College had a sustained drive following the punt, marching to Olivet’s six-yard line in 15 plays, only to miss a 29-yard field goal.
Afterwards, the first half was a battle for favorable field positioning for both teams. Each had plenty of opportunities to change their standing but could not capitalize on them.
With the clock winding down and the crowd growing restless, Olivet manufactured a two-minute offensive drive, starting at Coe College’s 49-yard line, with freshman quarterback Rico Prestia conducting the flow of the game.
Prestia made two key passes, moving the Tigers down to Coe’s 25 to attempt a field goal from 42 yards out with eight seconds left.
The kick spun over the goal post and the referees signaled the completed field goal.
With that kick Andrew Muzljakovich made his longest career field goal.
Heading into half time, the Tigers and their fans had something to cheer about.
Olivet carried over the momentum from the second quarter, scoring again in the third after Prestia connected with Joshua Howells for a 23-yard touchdown reception.
Coe College then tied the score early in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
The Tigers received the ball to open overtime, but Prestia was sacked for a loss of 10 yards as the offense stalled – forcing Fish to send in the kicking unit to try a 53-yard field goal.
Muzljakovich nearly broke his career long again but his kick bounced off the right upright onto the endzone. No good.
Coe College’s overtime possession started with a completed pass for 13 yards, halfway to Olivet’s endzone.
The visitor’s drive ended the way it began.
With a pass.
Olivet’s Ernie Esparza stepped ahead of a Coe College wide receiver mid-route, forcing an interception, which he took 92 yards to the end zone as the crowd leapt to their feet.
“We’ve talked about playing every play regardless of the situation and without anticipating the outcome,” Fish told olivet.edu after the game, “We were backed into a corner after the offense failed to score in overtime. Our defense just kept playing and made the biggest play at a time when it looked very bleak.”