EDWARDSVILLE — On a roll-the-dice gamble of a third down play, Misericordia wide receiver Sam Gillison turned a corner, pulled in a pass and dashed straight to daylight.
He hopes he took the rest of the Cougars with him.
Gillison punctuated his 223-yard receiving day with a dramatic, late-game 77-yard touchdown catch, Brady Williams threw for four touchdowns and ran for three more scores Saturday and Misericordia won back-to-back games for the first time in the program’s seven-year history by out-gunning Wilkes, 47-45 at Ralston Field.
“It’s definitely big,” Gillison said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this.
“It feels good.”
It’s a feeling of optimism the Cougars have never known before.
Forget about Misericordia’s first two-game winning streak.
It marked the first time the Cougars have ever won two games in a single season.
“It’s really been a process of about two years in the making,” said Misericordia coach Mark Ross, a Penn State grad who started the Cougars football program in 2012. “It’s just a total buy-in by the guys. There’s a different feel and toughness about them than we’ve had in the past, for sure.
The biggest play came in the closing minutes.
Wilkes quarterback Jose Tabora had just chopped Misericordia’s lead from nine points to two with a 5-yard scoring dart to Berwick grad Jeff Steeber, then held the Cougars’ offense to seven yards on two rushing plays — each followed by a quick Colonels timeout.
But on third and three, with the clock nearing the four-minute mark and just about everyone expecting a run or short dump-off, Roth dialed long distance.
“The thought process was, ‘We need to get a first down, let’s go for the win,’ ” Ross said. “We weren’t looking for a 50-yard pass. We got pressure, press coverage. Once Sam beat the coverage, it’s kind of a pitch and catch.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do.”
Williams liked it as soon as he heard it.
“That was a great play call,” Williams said. “We kind of knew there were some chances to take some shots. Sam (Gillison) had a great game today. It was good to throw to him.”
By the time Gillison made his cut on a near-perfect route, he found himself running free down the middle of the field. Williams found him with a bomb into Wilkes territory, and Gillison did the rest, zig-zagging away from two chasing defenders to complete the touchdown that gave the Cougars just enough points to win.
“We were just connecting,” Gillison said of his eight catches and three long-range touchdowns from the arm of Williams. “He saw me open, he threw the ball. I just had to run to it and get it.”
It put an end to Misericordia’s endless search to end a miserable string of 1-9 seasons that kept recurring like a bad dream, over and again.
“Last year, we played this same (Wilkes) team early in the season, we won the game, everybody thinks we can get more than one win,” Ross said. “It didn’t happen.”
It just so happened to give the Cougars, now 2-1 after last week’s 36-35 win over Widener, their first-ever winning record — with seven more chances to pick up a third victory, starting next week when they host Castleton University.
“We felt like last week, we could have done better,” Williams said. “We still feel like we didn’t play as well as we could have.”
But the Cougars played well enough to celebrate at the end of a second consecutive week, recovering three fumbles and picking off a pass to stymie 581 yards of Wilkes offense.
Williams threw touchdowns of 37, 68 and 77 yards to Gillison, hit Isaiah Williams with a 58-yard score and ran for scores of 14, 6 and 2 yards.
Meanwhile, Wilkes rode Tabora, who finished with 410 passing yards and tossed three touchdowns while scoring one as the lead changed hands five times.
“They’re both very good football players,” Wilkes coach Jonathan Drach said of the quarterback duel, “both make plays when the team needs them to. They’re both talented kids.”
It took Tabora just 71 seconds to answer Gillison’s long-range touchdown grab, as the Wilkes junior followed his 45-yard strike to Nick Yanik with a 34-yard touchdown throw to Derek Nelson to close the gap to 47-47 with 2:45 remaining.
“Nobody’s happy about losing a football game,” said Drach, whose 1-3 team lost its second game by four points or less. “We’ve been in every football game we’ve played in. You can’t tell me these kids don’t have heart and they don’t try.”
But Joe Grasso ended the Wilkes comeback hopes by cradling the ensuing onside kick, securing a victory for the Cougars some of them believe may not have been possible a few years ago.
“I feel like this year, we’re better at facing adverse situations,” Gillison said. “We put a lot of hard work in during the offseason. We’ve just been growing and we’re coming together. It’s certainly different this year. Last year, we would have put our heads down.
“This year, we’re really fighting.”
Misericordia 47, Wilkes 45
Misericordia`13`7`7`20 — 47
Wilkes`14`3`7`21 — 45
W — Jason Wiley 5 run (Alex DeSpirito kick0, 11:33
M — Sam Gillison 37 pass from Brady Williams (Kick failed), 9:01
W — Jose Tabora 1 run (DeSpirito kick), 4:-01
M — Isaiah Williams 58 pass from Brady Williams (Matt Dinnocenti kick), 3:04
M — Brady Williams 14 run (Dinnocenti kick), 6:37
W — DeSpirito 20 FG, 0:00
W — Wiley 1 run (DeSpirito kick), 9:44
M — Gillison 68 pass from Brady Williams (Dinnocenti kick), 3:07
W — Nick Yanik 16 pass from Tabora (David Kutteroff kick), 14:48
M — Brady Williams 6 run (Dinnocenti kick), 11:05
M — Brady Williams 2 run (Kick failed), 6:05
W — Jeff Steeber 5 pass from Tabora (Kutteroff kick), 4:26
M — Gillison 77 pass from Brady Williams (Dinnocenti kick), 3:56
W — Derek Nelson 34 pass from Tabora (Kutteroff kick), 2:45
RUSHING — MIS, Brady Williams 20-78, David Cromwell 18-67, Jamal Dallas 5-13, Clayton Vleck 2-4. WIL, Jason Wiley 15-100, Jose Tabora 9-24, Brandon Taragna 2-7.
PASSING — MIS, Brady Williams 15-20-0-339. WIL, Tabora 28-39-1-410, Derek Nelson 1-1-0-40.
RECEIVING — MIS, Sam Gillison 8-223, Isaiah Williams 4-75, Klayton Kelly 1-19, Vleck 1-12, Cromwell 1-10. WIL, Nelson 9-127, Jeff Steeber 9-116, Nick Yanik 7-146, Juan Sales-Negron 2-23, Wiley 1-32, Jordan Jones 1-6.
INTERCEPTIONS — MIS, Nick Yeager 1-24.
MISSED FGs — WIL, Alex DeSpirito 37-WL, 35-WL.
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski