It took 21 days, three hard-fought, taxing losses and a whole lot of resilience and fortitude, but the Kenyon College men’s football team has won its first game of the season: a nail-biting, 24-21 victory over their rival Oberlin College. This is Kenyon’s second straight win over the Yeomen (the Lords won 12-7 in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic). With the victory, the Lords knotted up their record against Oberlin at 6-6 since 2009.
In the first quarter, the Lords, who lost their last two games to the College of Wooster and DePauw University by a combined score of 93-7, looked lethargic. Led by quarterback Ryan O’Leary ’23, who was making his first start, Kenyon’s opening possession resulted in an interception at the Oberlin 1-yard line, followed by a turnover on downs on their next possession. However, thanks to inspired play by their defense, the Lords exited the quarter only down 7-0.
“It was tough. For some reason this year, we’ve been traditionally slow starters,” head coach James Rosenbury said. “So I think being able to regroup — you know, we were breaking in a new starting quarterback and just settling him down a little bit — and starting to play the football we know we’re capable of.”
The Lords’ first points of the game came at the 14:48 mark of the second quarter, off a 29-yard field goal from kicker Rocco Danese ’23.
“It’s actually really interesting,” Danese said of his approach to kicking. “On the sidelines, I’m always nervous, always kind of stressing out. But the second I step onto the field with the field goal team, everything just goes away. I feel locked in. My focus is on the target. And actually, it feels really calm out there.”
An Oberlin touchdown pass put the Yeomen up 14-3 just minutes later, but two Drake Lewis ’25 touchdown runs, the second coming after a botched punt by the Yeomen just before the end of the second half, put the Lords up 17-14 going into halftime. Lewis would finish the game with six rushes for 8 yards and three touchdowns.
According to Rosenbury, Lewis, who was coming off an injury, was meant to be eased back into game action. But once Rosenbury saw him play, he knew Lewis had to stay on the field.
“Drake is a tough, hard-nosed runner and he’s a ‘go’ kind of guy — he makes a decision and, for better or worse, that’s it. He doesn’t dance, he doesn’t juke, he just goes downhill,” Rosenbury said. “And so when we got to the goal line, I just had a sense that Drake was feeling it on Saturday and so I went with the hot hand. And luckily, I was right.”
A Drake 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, bringing the score to 24-14 for the Lords, was ultimately the deciding factor. While the Yeomen converted a touchdown pass with only three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Lords were able to come away with the win on homecoming weekend, in front of 750 fans.
Perhaps the Lords most impactful player wasn’t on the offensive side of the field: linebacker Jimmy Lane ’22, finished with 10 tackles (one of which coming on Oberlin’s last-ditch attempt to convert a fourth and sixth with less than two minutes left) and two forced fumbles, securing him the NCAC Defensive Player of the Week.
According to Rosenbury, Lane was originally recruited as wide receiver, transitioned to safety his sophomore year, and then ended up as a linebacker. Through all the adversity, Lane has maintained a stable and even-keeled presence.
“He’s never complained about [his position changes]. He always wants to do what’s best for the team,” Rosenbury said of Lane. “I’m so proud of his leadership, his stability and he really stepped up in a big way when we needed somebody to do that on defense. That’s Jimmy.”
The Lords will look to build on their momentum when they travel to Meadville, Pa. this Saturday to face their conference foe Allegheny College, currently 1-3 overall, and 0-3 in the NCAC.
“[Allegheny is] a very good football team. They were beating Wabash [College] into the third quarter, [and] they went toe to toe with an undefeated Ohio Wesleyan [University] team last week. So we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Rosenbury said. “I think we played about two-and-a-half good quarters against Oberlin, but if we can play four quarters of good football [against Allegheny], I think we’re going to be in a spot to win a football game on Saturday.”