The Mike Feleppa era at MASH is off to a rapid heart-beating start.
Resembling a classic boxing match as both Meadville and Northwestern were counter-punching one another with big plays, the resilient Bulldogs delivered the final blows. The ’Dogs forced a fumble midway through the fourth quarter and senior halfback Artrel Foster followed with a dashing 20-yard, go-ahead touchdown run to give Feleppa his first career varsity coaching win with a 38-36 victory Friday night in non-conference action at Bender Field.
When asked how his heart was feeling afterwards, the pumped-up Feleppa said, “Pretty good ... I know how it feels in that other lockerroom (on the losing end). I am really proud of my kids. It was a total team effort.”
Looking back, Feleppa will reflect on many plays in this wild back-and-forth clash — especially in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 32-29 early in the final stanza, Northwestern caught Meadville off-guard on fourth-and-13 as Grant Panko completed a 20-yard pass to Kyle McKeen on a fake punt, advancing the ball to the Bulldogs’ 26.
“I was screaming to the kids to watch the fake punt, but they (Northwestern) still completed the play,” said Feleppa.
Two plays later, Panko hooked up with Justin Miczon on a 22-yard touchdown hook-up to give the Wildcats a 36-32 lead with 9:28 remaining in the game.
On Meadville’s ensuing possession, Bullldogs’ halfback Tim Bolden lost the pigskin on the first play from scrimmage, giving Northwestern the ball at MASH’s 47.
Feleppa’s first varsity gig slipping away?
Nope. The Wildcats returned the favor as Miczo coughed up the ball and Meadville’s Josh Trimble recovered it at Northwestern’s 42.
Foster — who missed the entire third quarter due to cramping — then took over.
After getting a 22-yard touchdown run called back due to a penalty, the speedy Foster went around the left end on the next play and scored on a 20-yard run with 6:11 left in the game, giving the ’Dogs a 38-36 lead.
On Northwestern’s ensuing possession, the Wildcats were stuffed by the Bulldogs. On fourth-and-10 at its own 35, Panko’s intended pass to split end Sam Yochim over the middle was knocked down by MASH defensive back Ryan Harkness.
Meadville sealed the win when quarterback Tyler Minnis completed a 19-yard pass to Foster on fourth-and-seven at Northwestern’s 32.
Big plays ... big plays ... big plays ...
Meadville opened the game with a bang as Minnis tossed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Foster on the fifth play from scrimmage. A play earlier, Feleppa showed his aggressiveness by going for it on fourth-and-one at Northwestern’s 37. Bolden picked up the first down on a four-yard run.
After McKeen’s 12-yard touchdown reception tied Meadville at 7-7, the Bulldogs’ Trevor Martin returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.
On Northwestern’s first series in the second half, McKeen struck again — hauling in a 49-yard touchdown reception to give the Wildcats a 29-22 lead.
Northwestern’s lead was short-lived. On Meadville’s first play from scrimmage on its next series, Bolden scampered 69 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.
Foster (13 carries) and Bolden (six carries) provided a solid 1-2 punch by rushing for 101 and 94 yards, respectively. Foster also caught three passes for 81 yards.