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by Mike Nutter
BUCKHANNON -- For nearly three quarters Saturday, West Virginia Wesleyan coach Bill Struble watched as his team went toe to toe with NCAA Division II No. 12 Slippery Rock.
After The Rock scored on a 49-yard pass play from quarterback Randy McKavish to David Flick on its very first offensive play, the Bobcats held Slippery Rock's offense in check for the remainder of the first half and much of the third quarter before finally falling 28-14.
Leading 14-7, The Rock used its special teams to keep Wesleyan at bay.
Slippery Rock blocked a Scott Gasper punt from the Bearcats' 24-yard line late in the third quarter, and used a seven-play drive, culminated in Rick Magulick's 4-yard touchdown run, to open up a 21-7 lead.
"That was definitely the turning point of the game," said Struble. "Our defense was playing well and that's what makes it more discouraging. You give them good field position like that, and there's really nothing you can do."
The Bobcats (0-1) did get back into the game with a 13-play drive that covered 80 yards and ended when former Bridgeport standout Jason Nicewarner hauled in his second TD reception of the afternoon to cut Wesleyan's deficit to 21-14.
But after forcing a three and out, Slippery Rock's Brian Polk intercepted a Gasper pass and returned it 32 yards for the game-clinching score.
"I was extremely upset at the way we played in the first half," said Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik. "I think the bottom line was our offensive and defensive line wore them down a little bit in the second half.
"I think this was a team today a little unsure of itself after last week," Mihalik said. "Wesleyan is a team that's never going to give up, and this is a place you don't want to play when you're struggling."
The Rock's defense then secured the win by sacking Gasper on three consecutive plays before running out the clock.
Gasper finished the game with 171 yards passing, while Nicewarner hauled in eight receptions for 81 yards, including TDs of 7 and 3 yards.
Wesleyan's Mike Grippo led all rushers with 111 yards on 15 carries.
"I think we played pretty well for our first game," Nicewarner said. "They made a couple of big plays that really made the difference.
"We were treating this like a playoff game so we're definitely a little disappointed, but it's a long season and the more experience we get, the better off we'll be."