Players remain optimistic despite home defeat

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On a sun-drenched Blackstock Field, the stage was set for the Tiger football team to get back on the winning side against its old SCAC rival Centre College (4-0).

But home-field advantage wasn't enough to hold off the Centre College Colonels.

The DePauw Tigers (1-3) lost their first of only three home games 24-10 on Saturday. The day also marked the first collegiate starts of DePauw sophomore quarterback Jackson Kirtley and sophomore running back Bryan Coleman.

"I think it was a turning point," said junior wide receiver Taylor Wagner. "With us competing as much as we do, we did see some big improvements from this game."

The Tigers fought hard defensively throughout the game, aided by key red zone stops that prevented Centre College from gaining any significant momentum in the first half under versatile Colonels' quarterback Tyler Osterman.

Between the Osterman and the two Centre running backs, the Colonels managed only 154 yards on the ground for the entire game.

"I think 154 yards is still too many," said senior defensive lineman Michael Fultz. "But overall, we were able to shut down that running game pretty well."

Still, DePauw couldn't move the ball on offense despite multiple opportunities.

Toward the end of the second quarter, senior defensive back Steve Valdiserri intercepted a pass in the end zone to start a promising drive. Still, Centre forced DePauw to punt and went into halftime with a 10-0 advantage.

"As long as the defense keeps getting the ball back and the offense puts points on the board, that's key," Valdiserri said. "I think we had a solid performance, but it obviously wasn't enough."

Centre's Tyler Osterman tossed a 45-yard touchdown throw to senior wide receiver Rob Melillo to start the third quarter, giving the Colonels a 17-0 lead.

Sophomore kicker Eric Malm would convert for a 31-yard field goal, cutting the Centre lead to just two scores in the middle of the third quarter. The Tigers also saw promising ability in their new quarterback.

"We actually started installing a lot of option packages for Jackson (Kirtley) that we didn't really have in the offense when Schweir was the quarterback," Wagner said. "Once he gets in the open he has some breakaway speed. We want to use his athleticism."

Despite healthy kick returns from junior Nikko Sansone and Wagner, coupled with forced turnovers by the DePauw defense, the Tigers were unable to capitalize offensively.

"We are getting back more people on offense like Nikko," Wagner said. "So with people out right now it provides opportunities for younger guys to get in. The more and more people get experience, it is going to benefit us as a whole."

Centre won 24-10 after a late touchdown by Coleman, who was starting in the absence of injured senior tailback Jon Ellis. Coleman had 55 rushing yards with a touchdown in the game.

The Tigers will next play Sewanee: The University of the South in what will likely be their last matchup with the former SCAC rival, as DePauw transitions to the NCAC next season.

"They are always a tough opponent every year," Valdiserri said. "This week we are going to stick to the fundamentals and get back to our roots and then go down to the University of the South and hopefully bring back a win."