A day after his former high school team scored late to win a sectional football game, Ben VonGunten walked his college team off the turf at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium a victor.
The Indiana Wesleyan senior connected on his second 46-yard field goal of the day as time expired Saturday lifting the Wildcats past Saint Francis, 23-21.
The Leo product choked back tears as he explained the importance of making the game-winning kick in the return to the area.
“When I made the decision to come to Indiana Wesleyan, there were coaches from schools in our conference that said I would never win at IWU,” VonGunten said of the eighth-ranked Wildcats. “They said I was making the worst decision of my life. Coming back to my hometown, it feels good to knock one through and let them know that Indiana Wesleyan is here to stay.
“When I was back there getting ready to kick that, I saw my dad in my backyard. He would always be there catching kicks for me. I just pictured him up in Spencerville where I grew up standing there behind the uprights, and it went right through.”
VonGunten's kick overshadowed some late heroics by Saint Francis (2-4, 0-3 MSFA Mideast League), as Jay Segal's 24-yard touchdown reception with 44 seconds left put the hosts ahead 21-20. But during the celebration, Segal threw the ball into the stands high behind the south end zone, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was assessed on the kickoff.
“Jay's one of those players, he's one of the last players you'd think of in our program that would make a mistake like that,” assistant coach Patrick Donley said. “He just does everything right and played the game of his career. It's something you learn from, and it'll probably haunt him for the rest of his life.”
The Cougar defense limited Wesleyan's opportunities, including a goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter that featured Jackson Long and Alfred Moore teaming up to stop Wildcats running back Devodney Alford inches short of the end zone on 4th-and-goal from inside the 1.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, leading by three points, VonGunten, a second team All-American kicker a season ago, extended the Indiana Wesleyan (6-1, 3-1) lead to 20-14 with 3:38 to go in the game, connecting from 46 yards. But the Cougars continued to battle, and quarterback Heath Simmons' touchdown toss to Segal – the quarterback's third touchdown pass of the game – gave Saint Francis the lead with under a minute to go.
“(Wesleyan has) a great chance of making a deep run in the playoffs,” Donley said. “I think our compete level was as high as it's been the past couple years. We made mistakes, but there's something to build on. We still have three games left. We're going to do all we can to show the same fire we showed today.”