DOVER — When they took the field, 82 yards standing between them and their football lives, they all still believed.
But with just 44 seconds on the clock, Wesley College’s players also knew they had to attack.
“Before we even went out there, Coach (Chip) Knapp was like, ‘We’re in a tough spot,’” remembered quarterback Joe Callahan. “‘There’s no timeouts. You’ve got to take some shots out there — take a couple risks.’”
So that’s what Callahan did, firing five passes, three that were complete to receiver Steve Koudossou, as the Wolverines stunned Johns Hopkins, 29-24, in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs last Saturday.
The three completions to Koudossou covered all 82 yards, including a 33-yarder for the winning touchdown with just 13 seconds on the clock.
Koudossou and Callahan’s final-minute magic was a reminder of what the two are capable of after what’s been an up-and-down season at times for both players.
Wesley (9-2) hopes to see some more big plays from the duo when they host Ithaca (9-2) on Saturday at noon in the second round of the playoffs.
Koudossou finished with 11 catches for 132 yards and three TDs against Hopkins. It was easily the junior’s best performance since the season opener when he put up a monsterous 17 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over Widener.
The trouble was, Koudossou caught just four TD passes in the next eight games combined with a so-so 36 receptions for 410 yards in that stretch.
But appearances can be deceiving. While the speedster has played in every contest this season, he’s been dealing with a high ankle sprain he suffered in the second game of the year against Salisbury.
In some games, Koudossou barely played at all.
It’s only in the last few games that’s he’s gotten back near full speed.
“Credit to him, he didn’t miss a game,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “He played right through it. ... Here’s a kid that people probably thought was going to lead the nation in receiving after game one. And it’s not an injury that prevents him from playing. He’s in the boxscore every game.
“We could have sat him but he wanted to play. That’s a testament to him being a real tough kid.”
“He wasn’t 100 percent but he was still out there making plays,” said Callahan. “He didn’t want to use the injury as an excuse. He just wanted to go out there and compete every game. He’s a gamer.”
With 35 touchdowns in 35 career games, Koudossou is clearly a valuable player for the Wolverines. The 5-foot-9, 173-pounder is just happy to be able to make some big contributions again.
“I just fought through it,” Koudossou said about the injury. “Other people stepped up and made big plays.”
As for Callahan, there were times he played like the first-year starting QB he is.
He also had a big opener, completing 37-of-52 passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns against Widener in his first collegiate start.
But the 6-1, 215-pound sophomore hit a low point in a 24-17 loss at Rowan on Oct. 19. Callahan threw four interceptions in that contest, including one that was returned for a TD and another that ended a potential game-tying drive in the closing seconds.
“I think that was my worst performance this season,” he said. “You go over the whole game in your head. There’s just so many things that you wish you could take back, especially that last one.”
Drass, though, said he never lost confidence in Callahan. Indeed, the veteran coach said the QB helped steady the offense when it went through its share of growing pains and injuries.
Now, in the last three games, Callahan has thrown for eight touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Overall, he’s thrown for or scored the winning TD himself in the final 2:14 of three games this season.
“Every time a quarterback steps under center, he’s going to get a little better,” said Drass. “The one thing about him, he has stayed even-keeled. He has been a rock for that offense — and we have needed that.”
“Callahan, he’s a very good quarterback,” said Koudossou. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for the things he does. He’s smart, he’s athletic. He plays with confidence. He knows how to put people in the right spot — just be in control of the offense.
“He’s real calm. That’s the main I like about him — he doesn’t show emotion.”
That coolness under pressure came in pretty handy in the final minute against Johns Hopkins. Koudossou wasn’t surprised when Callahan dropped in that nice 33-yard, game-winning TD pass after the receiver got behind the Blue Jays’ secondary.
“When the ball was in the air, I was calm,” said Koudossou. “I just let it come to me. It was a perfect throw.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached
at 741-8227 or email@example.com.