RINDGE — When the Franklin Pierce football team moved up from sprint football to NCAA Division II, there was a common understanding that there would be some growing pains.
The Ravens’ season-opening 69-0 loss to Wesley reinforced this notion.
But on Saturday, the new kids on the NCAA block showed that they won’t just roll over and accept losses every week of their inaugural season.
They won their first game of the new era in thrilling fashion, defeating Division III Curry College with a goal-line stop on a late two-point attempt to seal the victory, 29-27.
Franklin Pierce Head Coach Russell Gaskamp summed up the win perfectly. “It’s historic,” he said.
The Ravens improved to 1-1, while Curry fell to 0-2.
With the game on the line, Ravens linebacker Najiere Hutchinson stopped Curry receiver Gabriel Desouza short of the goal line on the two-point attempt, preventing the Colonels’ potential game-tying score.
Curry lined up in a three-receiver set to the left and Desouza caught the screen pass but was stuffed at the 1-yard line by Hutchinson. The crowd — which totaled 869 Saturday — roared as the referees marked the receiver short and a notable moment of elation came from the team.
“Initially, from my angle it looked like Curry had converted on the two-point play but when I saw the refs wave it off, it was a great feeling,” said Gaskamp. “It was a great play schematically, but our guys played to the end, and like the saying goes, it’s a game of inches.”
The start of the game looked like a repeat of the Wesley loss, as Curry scored first. Just two minutes and 44 seconds into the game, running back Zach Levy caught a pass from quarterback Nick Juvelier and took it in for a 24-yard touchdown.
Both teams played a sloppy first quarter on this rain-soaked afternoon, but Franklin Pierce got its first touchdown in Division II program history with 11:42 to go in the second quarter. Running back Chazz Bryant did the honors, running up the middle for the 9-yard score.
Coach Gaskamp followed that up with a daring call — a fake kick on the ensuing PAT. The move paid off, and the Ravens took their first lead of the game as receiver Lo Jackson successfully ran it in around the right end for a two-point conversion.
The wet conditions led to some special teams gaffes. This included a bad snap to Franklin Pierce punter Harchdy Souffrance late in the second quarter.
Curry recovered the ball in the Ravens’ own redzone area, but a defensive stand by the Ravens was followed up by disaster for the Colonels.
A mishandled field goal attempt by Curry saw the ball fumbled all the way back to the Curry 47. The Ravens took possession with 2:50 remaining in the half and drove down to the red zone, finishing with a 10-yard strike from Drew Campanale to Nate Selby with 17 seconds to spare. A Morgan Smith PAT gave Franklin Pierce a 15-7 lead going into the break.
Campanale would go on to put up a three-touchdown performance. He completed 13-of-30 passes for 184 yards, and fellow quarterback Dylan McDermott never saw the field after splitting time against Wesley. Campanale also added a team-high 53 yards on the ground on 14 carries.
“[Drew] did some great things in the game at times and did some things that made you kind of scratch your head,” said Gaskamp.
Campanale tossed his second touchdown of the day to K.J. Lewis from 10 yards out. Lewis finished with a team-high four catches for 53 yards, while Selby had three receptions for a team-high 62 yards.
Campanale added another score midway through the fourth, taking it in himself on a one-yard quarterback keeper to extend the lead to 29-14.
“Drew is a guy that keeps things pretty even-keel and he’s a good athlete … I was proud of him,” Gaskamp said. “He never got real rattled in the game and he stayed in there and made a couple really tough throws.”
Campanale might have thrown for another score, if not for a dropped pass by Bryant. On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, they got down to the Curry 3-yard line and opted to go for it on 4th-and-goal, but the pass to Bryant fell incomplete.
The Colonels cut it down to a one-score game twice: once late in the third on a 21-yard pass from Juvelier to Desouza to cut it to 22-14, then again with 4:43 left in the fourth on a seven-yard pass from Juvelier to Nick Villanueva, making it 29-21. After a quick three-and-out by the Ravens, Curry got its last chance, starting at its own 34 with 3:16 remaining.
The Colonels drove down to the Franklin Pierce 6-yard line with 50 seconds left, Juvelier took the snap from the shotgun and found Desouza on his left. The receiver delivered a toe-tap effort for the game’s final score.
After Hutchinson’s stop on the two-point attempt, Curry’s onside kick was recovered by receiver/defensive back Tyvarius Daniels, putting the final nail in this contest.
“I’m proud of the kids and we bounced back from last week,” Gaskamp said. “Did we execute the way we need to? No. Did we do everything perfectly? Absolutely not. But I’m just very proud and happy for them.”
Smith was 3-of-3 on her extra point attempts. Hutchinson tallied six tackles — including the game-winner — while Daniels led the defense with nine tackles, including two for a loss, and Marquis Adams intercepted Juvelier midway through the third.
Juvelier completed 30-of-48 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns.
Franklin Pierce will take on their first Division II opponent in Pace University this coming Saturday night at 6 p.m., as the team celebrates Homecoming and Family Weekend.