ALFRED, NY – The Alfred University football team, clinging to a six-point lead with under a minute left in the Saxons' second-round NCAA matchup against Western New England, withstood a late drive by the visiting Golden Bears, forcing a turnover deep in AU territory and walking away with a hard-fought 30-24 win Saturday afternoon at Yunevich Stadium.
With Western New England facing a third-and-6 at the AU 13 and driving toward a potential game-winning touchdown, senior end Charles Branwell (Brooklyn, NY/Abraham Lincoln) stripped the ball from WNE quarterback Anthony Service, and freshman end Josh Rivers (Medford, NY/Longwood) recovered at the Saxon 11 with just 29 seconds remaining.
The 14th-ranked Saxons (12-0) ran out the clock to secure the win and move on the third round, where they will meet defending national champion Mount Union (a 28-21 winner over Johns Hopkins) next Saturday (Dec. 3) at a time and location to be announced.
Western New England (11-1) took an early 7-0 lead, taking the opening kickoff and driving 74 yards in 11 plays, with Nick Connell scoring on a one-yard run 3:55 into the game. AU responded by scoring the next 23 points to take a commanding lead late in the third quarter before the Golden Bears mounted a comeback.
After Connell's TD run, AU punted the ball back to Western New England, and the visitors drove to the AU 37 before junior linebacker A.J. LiCata (Lake View, NY/Frontier) tackled Service for a seven-yard loss on fourth-and-one. The Saxons marched down the field and were poised to go head, but fumbled the ball away at the WNE 2-yard line. The Saxons got on the board on the very next play, as LiCata burst through the line and tackled Connell in the endzone for a safety, making it 7-2 with 3:50 left in the opening frame.
Alfred took the lead on the Saxons' first possession of the second quarter. LiCata sacked Service for a seven-yard loss on fourth-and-seven at the Alfred 37. The Saxons went 56 yards on 10 plays, with freshman tailback Aaron Griffin (East Elmhurst, NY/Holy Cross) capping the drive with a two-yard TD run to make it 9-7 with 6:55 left in the half. WNE punted on its ensuing drive and AU went 68 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a five-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Tyler Johnson (East Syracuse, NY/East Syracuse-Minoa) to senior wide receiver Brendan Buisch (Hornell, NY/Hornell) with nine seconds left in the half, putting Alfred up 16-7 at intermission.
The Saxons took a 16-point lead early in the third quarter, taking the second-half kickoff and using just seven plays to go 81 yards. Johnson's 40-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Emile Frigon (Utica, NY/East Syracuse-Minoa) 3:44 into the third ended the drive and put the Saxons on top, 23-7.
A 28-yard Kevin Patterson field goal on Western New England's next possession brought the Golden Bears to within 13 points, at 23-10, with 4:24 left in the third. After AU turned the ball over on downs at the Golden Bear 34 with just under two minutes remaining in the third, WNE drove 66 yards in nine plays, with Serviced tossing a 14-yard TD pass to wide receiver Mark Dietrich 35 seconds into the fourth to make it 23-17.
Alfred answered right back on the Saxons' next possession, starting at their own 34 and driving 66 yards in four plays. Frigon's second TD catch of the game, a 34-yarder with 12:06 left in the game, gave AU the 30-17 lead.
WNE responded, going 63 yards in five plays, with Service running in from three yards out to make it 30-24 with 10:20 left.
Alfred started its next drive at the AU 32-yard line and drove into WNE territory before fumbling at the Golden Bear 36. Western New England marched down the field and was poised to go ahead after gaining a first down at the Saxon 7-yard line. Two runs gained four yards before a false start penalty pushed the ball back to the Alfred 8-yard line. A seven yard Service-to-Dietrich pass put the ball at the AU 1-yard line before Service came up just short on a fourth-down rush attempt.
WNE got one more chance, forcing an AU punt and taking over at its own 22 with 2:19 remaining. Four Service passes netted 55 yards and put the ball at the Alfred 29 with about a minute to go. After an AU timeout with 51 seconds left, Mohamed Camara caught a four-yard pass to put the ball at the Alfred 13. On the next play, Service dropped back to pass, narrowly avoiding a Branwell sack before moving upfield. Branwell pursued, tackling Service from behind and forcing the fumble that preserved the Saxon victory.
The teams combined for nearly 900 yards of offense (471 for WNE; 408 for Alfred). WNE and AU came into the game ranked 19th and 20th in the nation, respectively, in rushing, but struggled to run the ball. Alfred (244 rush yards per game coming in) ran for 121, while Western New England (248 rush yard per game coming in), ran for 140.
Johnson completed 17 of 25 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Frigon had a career day for the Saxons catching eight passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns (all career highs). Buisch added five receptions for 70 yards and a score.
Johnson added 63 yards rushing on 13 carries and senior tailback Casey Bright (Pulaski, NY/Pulaski) had 55 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
Service was 29-of-38 for 331 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 17 yards and a score. Dietrich caught a game-high 10 passes for 143 yards and a TD and wideout Terrence N'Dabian caught six passes for 74 yards. Connell finished with a game-high 114 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
LiCata had a game-high 18 tackles (12 solo, 2 ½ for loss, one sack) to pace the Saxon defense. Freshman middle linebacker Isaiah Moak (Averill Park, NY/Averill Park) added 17 (one for loss) and sophomore cornerback Lewis Ortega (Bronx, NY/Herbert H. Lehman) had 10 tackles. Junior linebacker Shaquille Muscadin (Monsey, NY/Ramapo) and senior strong safety Liam Hobbins (Saco, ME/Cheverus) had eight and seven tackles, respectively.
Linebacker Kurtis Jolicoeur had nine tackles and a forced fumble and linebacker Blair Cook had seven stops (one for loss), a forced fumble and a recovery for Western New England. Cornerback Isaiah Berrios-Smith had four tackles and a fumble recovery and cornerback Obi Etuka added three tackles while breaking up three passes.
Next weekend's game will be a rematch of the 2010 NCAA regional final, when host Mount Union defeated the Saxons 37-7.