OUT OF BOUNDS: Chandler saves day, season

Kyle Hightower

Keep on keeping on.?Hold tight. Everything’s going to be all right. The time will come. Keep your head up.

In a string of clich?s, that is basically what Jeremy Chandler said he told himself throughout the first half and most of the second half of Western’s 13-7 nerve-itching win over 11th-ranked Youngstown State Saturday.

He told himself this within the quiet sanctuary inside his head, of course.

He kind of had to.

Because during most of the first half it was Western’s secondary, and more times than not the junior defensive back himself, that was a step short or a second behind the Youngstown receivers.

I’m talking burned, baby. Burned like a candle when there are no lights in the house.

And during the defense’s breaks on the sideline, Chandler didn’t talk much with too many people. He tried to figure out how to prove he was the defensive back some fans were beginning to question if he could be.

“Hey! Twenty, can you knock a few of those balls away one time?” a fan in the upper deck yelled during the first half.

But he didn’t let misfortunes or disdain from fans tackle him.

“All night I felt like I was in good position to cover people, but I wasn’t able to make plays,” Chandler said. “I just knew I had to keep playing ball and keep competing and something would happen.”

And, as in all good stories, this one had a happy ending that even Hans Christian Andersen would be pleased with.

With Youngstown driving late in the fourth quarter and Western clinging to its six-point lead, Chandler made the interception that saved the day and perhaps the Hilltoppers’ season.

Don’t get it twisted here. There were other key defensive plays that helped secure the Toppers’ victory, like the interception by Antonio Thomas in the end zone eight minutes before.

Thomas, playing in place of Antonio Veals (who injured his knee during the first quarter), also had a fumble recovery in the first half to stunt a Penguins’ drive.

And there was Erik Dandy, who on the very play that Chandler made his pick, hammered Youngstown quarterback Justin Green as he threw.

Dandy said later that his favorite play, “Wham,” was called and that he knew the rushing lane would be open.

But there was just something a little more special about the last big play of the day coming from Jeremy Chandler.

As the only guy outside the quartet of Bobby Sippio, Mel Mitchell, Joe Jefferson and Kyle Moffatt to get any real action last season, Chandler was expected to be the pseudo-elder in a secondary that got most of its action on special teams in 2001.

“I’m not as athletic as Joe, Mel, Bobby or Kyle, but what I think I bring is a new element, and that is always trying to be in position to do great things,” Chandler said. “As a unit, we enjoy the pressure of having to play the year after they all left. It brings out the intensity, and I know I love to compete.”

And though success has a way of bringing on expectations by the gallon, the heart of the Jeremy Chandlers of this team make Western’s cup runneth over with anticipation for the coming weeks.

The Toppers may still be in deep waters with a leaky boat, but the kind of determination they showed last Saturday suggests they at least have a few strong oars to help them navigate the rough waters ahead.

Kyle Hightower’s column appears on Tuesdays