November 22, 2014

Widener Football - Field Goal lifts No. 10 Aggies to 36-36 NCAA Tournament win over Muhlenberg

Image: John Green
Chester, PA – In about as heart palpitating and nerve-wracking of a game as one could expect in the NCAA Tournament, junior Ryan O’Hara (Royersford, PA/Spring-Ford) kicked a 32-yard field goal with 10.2 seconds left to lift No. 10 Widener to a 36-35 victory over 22nd-ranked Muhlenberg at Leslie C. Quick Jr. Stadium.

Widener (11-0) advances to the “Sweet 16” for the seventh time in school history, is now 6-0 in NCAA Tournament games at Quick Stadium, is 4-1 in the “Round of 32” and moves to 11-0 for the fifth time in school annals.

Widener’s next opponent is Christopher Newport, which scored a 29-26 upset of Delaware Valley. The contest next Saturday will be played at a site to be determined.

The contest was level, 21-21, at halftime when the Pride scored the game’s first big break as senior Ameer Sorrell (Port Norris, NJ) intercepted Nick Palladino and returned it 12 yards to the Mules one yard line. Four plays later, sophomoreSeth Klein (Wernersville, PA) found junior Haydn Warren (East Brunswick, NJ) on a one-yard scoring pass with 10:32 to go in the third for a 28-21 contest.

Senior Michael Bennett (Maple Glen, PA) continued his standout year with a punt downed inside the 20 yard line, giving him a league-leading 21 this season. But Muhlenberg drove 96 yards for the tie as Palladino found Michael Long on a 34-yard scoring pass with 39 seconds left in the period.

Things were just getting interesting, especially when Klein found sophomore Montrell Hicks-Taylor (Newark, DE) on a 57-yard pass to the four yard line. Four plays later, O’Hara capped it on a 20-yard field goal for a 31-28 contest early in the fourth quarter.

Muhlenberg later in the quarter started on the 12 yard line thanks to Bennett’s latest impressive punt, but Palladino calmly guided his troops down the field. A drive that featured a fake when punter Matt Aspinwall hit John Feaster on a 22-yard pass, Palladino ended it on a one-yard sneak with 5:23 remaining for a 35-51 Mules lead.

Widener on its next drive marched into Muhlenberg territory, but was thwarted when Klein was intercepted by Chris Flynn at the three yard line.

The Pride then thought they had the break they needed when Palladino’s deflected pass was picked by sophomore Travon Barnes (Randallstown, MD) and brought back to the five yard line. Needing a touchdown and facing fourth and goal at the one, Klein rushed to the right but was forced out of bounds to end the drive with 1:54 left.

That’s when Widener’s defense, which is number one in the country in fewest rushing yards allowed per contest, again came through. On third down at the one, running back Max Cepada was trampled in the end zone by a swarm of players on Widener’s front seven for a safety with 92 seconds to go and a 35-33 game.

The Pride’s front seven saw six players named All-Middle Atlantic Conference.

After sophomore Rashon Sorrell (Port Norris, NJ) returned the free kick 16 yards to the Mules 39 yard line, the Pride once again were in business. Klein had 29 yards of total offense on the drive that included a big 14-yard pass to sophomoreBlaine Price (Jefferson, MD) at the 39 yard line.

The Pride were camped in the middle of the field at the 15 and called upon O’Hara, who drilled his sixth field goal of the season for the game’s third lead change.

Klein completed 28-of-47 passes for two touchdowns and 364 yards, just 14 yards off his season high. He now is fifth in school history with 48 career touchdown passes.

Senior Anthony Davis (Upland, PA) had seven catches for 114 yards and now is fifth alone in MAC history with 248 career receptions. All of this helped the Pride gain 422 yards of offense and convert 6-of-18 third-down chances.

Barnes had a career game with a personal-best 16 tackles to go with his interception and senior Kevin Burns (Collingdale, PA) had 14 tackles along with 2 1/2 for a loss and two recovered fumbles for the Pride, who forced four turnovers and continued what has been an impressive year for the unit.

Palladino completed 35-of-47 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns for the Mules, who gained 510 yards of offense and amassed 30 first downs. Long had 11 catches for 159 yards and Jeremey Thomas recorded 15 tackles for Muhlenberg (9-2), which was appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time as an at-large team.