A game-ending interception in the end-zone helped football (1-0) to edge Bowdoin 24-21 in its season opener on Saturday in Brunswick, Maine. The Polar Bears, who had been down 24-14 after two quarters, staged a second-half comeback and drove into the Ephs’ territory in the final minute of the game; however, the Ephs came out on top with a 24-21 win.
The men controlled play in the first quarter, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives. Their first touchdown came after Chris Cleary ’12 completed a 42-yard pass on third-down from the 50 to Greg Payton ’14, putting the men at the Bowdoin eight. After sailing toward the red zone on Cleary’s arm, the rushing game took over. On third and goal, Tom Wohlwender ’13 gave the Ephs the final push they needed, rushing two yards to the end-zone. Luke Faust ’14 made good on the extra point to put the men up 7-0 with 11 minutes left in the first.
After Bowdoin failed to push past the Williams 45 in its opening drive and punted to the Williams 13, the men unleashed a blazing scoring drive in their second possession, taking just three minutes to reach the end-zone. After several short gains, Marco Hernandez ’14 broke loose for a 58-yard run from the Williams 39 to put the ball at the Bowdoin three. Wohlwender finished off the drive with a three-yard run into the end-zone. Faust missed the extra point, leaving the men up 13-0 with six minutes left in the opening quarter.
“We work extremely hard on our balance [between rushing and passing],” Kelton said, “and that was one of the keys to us being successful. Our running game really picked up, and that really helped relax Chris.”
The Polar Bears broke off a 41-yard rushing touchdown to open the second quarter, tightening the game to 13-7 with 14:29 left in the second. Darren Hartwell ’13 looked to help the Ephs respond in kind, returning the Polar Bears’ kickoff for 56 yards to the Bowdoin 30. After a series of rushes, the men managed to make it to the Bowdoin 10, but Faust missed wide right on the field goal attempt.
The men’s defense got the ball back quickly, however, pinning Bowdoin inside the 20 after sacking Polar Bear quarterback Grant White on third down and forcing a punt. Hartwell’s fair catch at the Williams 42 put the men in good field position for the ensuing drive. After a false-start penalty was called on the Ephs, Kristian Lapointe ’14 rushed for 25 yards on first down to enter Bowdoin territory, and Cleary rushed for 10 more on the following play to get to the Ephs’ 28-yard line. After Cleary and Hartwell connected for 12 yards, Wohlwender rushed the final seven yards into the end-zone for his third touchdown of the game. Cleary passed to Payton for the two-point conversion, and the men opened up a 21-7 lead.
On the next drive, White opened up a 54-yard pass to retaliate, and the Polar Bears pushed into the end-zone in five plays, tightening the game to 21-14 with one minute left in the half. Joe Mallock ’14 made good use of the minute: He split the uprights with a crucial 30-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining to send the men to the half with a 24-14 edge.
The Ephs’ offense was held quiet in the third, while the Polar Bears managed to narrow the gap with a scoring drive in the last two minutes of the quarter. White penetrated the defense, throwing for 55 of Bowdoin’s 57 yards in the drive. He capped the drive with a 14-yard pass to the right corner of the end-zone and shortened the Ephs’ lead to 24-21 with a minute left in the third.
Williams and Bowdoin then exchanged several ineffective drives before the fourth-quarter drama started with the Ephs’ 90-yard drive with eight minutes left. Cleary connected with Sam Krieg ’13 for 36 yards to enter Polar Bear territory, and Wohlwender continued his outstanding game with 28 yards in two plays. With a second-and-six at the Bowdoin 10, Cleary threw up a nine-yard pass to Hartwell just outside the endzone. Hartwell fumbled in the endzone, and Bowdoin recovered for a touchback.
The Polar Bears could not make good on the turnover, however, and the Ephs got the ball back with one minute to go.
The men had a quick three-and-out that gave Bowdoin the ball with 38 seconds remaining, down by just a field goal. White had enough time to rip off a 45-yard pass, putting the Polar Bears at the Ephs’ 30-yard line. A holding penalty pushed Bowdoin back to the 40-yard line, and with five seconds on the clock, White passed again but was intercepted by Hartwell, who came into the game on in the final seconds as a strategic defensive replacement. The interception sent Williams home with a 24-21 victory.
“We saw what they were looking to do in the first, and definitely stepped up in the second half to contain them,” co-captain Dan O’Mara ’12 said. “We gave up three big plays, but other than those three plays our defense played well.”
The men’s offense was well balanced. Cleary was 11-20 and threw for 175 yards, and the men rushed for 219 yards, led by Hernandez’s 71 yards. Wohlwender finished the game with 11 rushes and 50 yards. Dan Vaczy ’12, Noah Goldberg ’12 and co-captain Dylan Schultz ’11 each recorded a sack in the contest.
“I thought Chris managed the game really well,” Head Coach Aaron Kelton said. “He did the things we asked of him and showed a lot of confidence and patience.”
Kelton added that this week’s close call has given the men motivation. “This week opened our guys’ eyes to the way they need to play to be successful,” he said. “Our guys are energized, and we’ll be ready to play.”
The men will face Trinity on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Hartford, Conn.