One thousand one hundred and sixty-four — that’s how many days it has been since the Colonels have had the Mayor’s Cup in their possession.
That’s four years and three days, 209 weeks and one day and 35,146 hours to be exact that the Colonels have been waiting to hoist the Mayor’s Cup into the air following a victory against King’s — and that’s what they did.
Now, the cup returns to Wilkes after the Colonels dramatic 24-14 win over the Monarchs on Saturday, where junior linebacker Cole Jesmer proved to be Wilkes’ hero, finishing the game in cinematic action with an interception and a 95-yard touchdown as the clock ran down.
“It’s the first one (Mayor’s Cup) that any of the players on the team have won, so it’s a really cool experience for them,” said head coach Jonathan Drach. “I know they’ve put the work in, and they’ve earned this. I think that’s one thing that we talk about as a team all the time — that you have to earn it — and they earned it today.”
From the moment the game started, the Colonels were up to the challenge against their rivals, forcing a three-and-out on the game’s first possession. Following a short punt, Wilkes’ offense started their first drive in Monarch territory.
The group, led by senior quarterback Jose Tabora, drove the field and used their heightened momentum to get within reach of the endzone.
Inside the King’s 10-yard line, Drach called for a reverse handoff to freshman wide receiver Nate Whitaker, one of his fastest players. Whitaker turned the corner and extended his reach to capacity, ultimately fumbling the ball before the goal line.
The fumble proved to be a controversial call, with Drach stepping onto the field to question officials. However, the Colonels could not let the first drive be the determining factor of the game.
“We couldn’t let penalties or missed plays, such as that fumble on our first drive, get in the way of us completing the next play,” reflected Tabora. “Not worrying about what happened or what’s going to happen was what we had to do.”
Following the fumble, the Monarchs had a brief reign on offense, being stifled by the Colonel defense and failing to pick up a first down.
Tabora and company got the ball back with impeccable field position, once again. This time, Tabora scampered across the goal line to put Wilkes on the board first with a 7-0 lead.
With seven points to their name, the Colonel defense remained impenetrable — not allowing a first down by King’s until the middle of the second quarter.
“I thought the defense did a great job most of the day — they were pretty steadfast,” said Drach. “I’m really proud of those guys. A lot of the upperclassmen really stepped up and made some big plays for us, and they really gritted it out.”
King’s finally broke through with under five minutes to go in the second quarter when Jordan Downes ran in for a 9-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven, reminding the Colonels that the game was far from over.
But Wilkes had an answer. None other than their leading man: Tabora.
After exchanging turnovers on the ensuing drives, Tabora used another instance of sound field position to his benefit, running into the endzone for his second touchdown of the day and leaving multiple Monarch defenders to collide behind him.
“Our running backs and our quarterback ran the ball hard every time they got the chance,” said senior wide receiver Derek Nelson on Wilkes’ success in the run game.
Wilkes used this strategy to their advantage and carried a 14-7 lead into halftime.
The Colonels continued to move the ball on their second drive of the half, getting inside the 10-yard line before settling for a freshman Justin Pollack field goal.
King’s failed to get anything going against the Wilkes defense, until halfway through the fourth quarter, when Downes rushed for his second touchdown of the game to put the game in close contention.
With a score of 17-14, the Colonels’ offense failed to pick up a first down, giving King’s a chance to tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown.
As time wound down, the Monarchs charged down the field inside the red zone.
With the game on the line — and under one minute left — Jesmer made the biggest play of his career to date.
The junior defender jumped in front of a King’s pass and intercepted it. He quickly sprinted down the field for a 95-yard touchdown, sealing the win for the Colonels and the fate of the game.
“We were in man coverage, and the back stayed in,” said Jesmer on his game-winning play. “I got the communication of the underroute, so I just latched on and took the ball.”
Jesmer was not the only one running to the endzone, as the Colonel sideline followed him down the field in a frenzy.
“That whole drive, I was praying for a field goal,” said Nelson. “I saw the time running out, and then it was in Cole’s hands. I was freaking out seeing him run down the field — I was running with him on our sideline. That was probably the best feeling I’ve had playing football in a while.”
Drach described Jesmer’s play as ‘huge’.
“That game was in the balance right there, and he stuck with his training and trusted the guys around him.”
The game brought the cup back to Wilkes, giving every member of the Colonel roster a Mayor’s Cup victory.
“It’s super emotional,” said Tabora. “As seniors, we all talked about it, and it was something we wanted to check off our checklist. It just feels good.”
As a senior, Nelson echoed Tabora’s sentiments.
“I know it’s just a cup, but if we didn’t get that throughout our four years here, a lot of what we did would feel like a waste,” shared Nelson. “That’s the biggest thing we play for — no matter what our record is, our goal is to always beat King’s. It’s a huge step for our program as well — they’re not going to give the cup back to King’s now. We’re on a roll.”
The 24-14 Mayor’s Cup victory concludes Wilkes’ regular season with an 8-2 overall record, giving them the opportunity to play in a bowl game against Susquehanna on Saturday, Nov. 23.
“I’m just fortunate I get one more game to end my career,” said Nelson. “I think all the seniors think that. We have a good bond with our underclassmen, and I think they’re going to leave it all out there next week as well.”