Courtesy of Bryant Athletics
SMITHFIELD, R.I. - Trailing 17-0 and 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Bryant University football team rallied back to stun visiting Sacred Heart as Jordan Brown (Glastonbury, Conn.) rushed for 130 yards and ran back the game-winning punt return 73 yards for a touchdown to lead the Bulldogs to a 25-24 win before 3,303 fans Saturday on Homecoming & Reunion Weekend at Bulldog Stadium.
Brown's electrifying 73-yard punt return for a touchdown with 5:06 capped an amazing rally by the Bulldogs who scored 18 unanswered points in the final quarter to pick up their first conference victory of the year.
Sacred Heart did have one last opportunity to pull out the victory, but a 39-yard field goal attempt with 2:34 left sailed right and the Bulldogs were able to run out the clock.
Bryant (4-2, 1-2 NEC) fell behind 10-0 at the half and trailed 17-0 early in the third quarter when Sacred Heart quarterback Dale Fink completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Rich Rossi.
The Bulldogs would answer with a 16-play drive to finally get on the board as quarterback Mike Croce (Waterbury, Conn.) would hit tight end Matt Tracey (Littleton, Colo.) in the back of the end zone to make it 17-7.
Sacred Heart (1-5, 0-4) would appear to put the game away in the early moments of the fourth quarter when Marcel Archer ran in for a 2-yard score to make it 24-7 with 12:22 left to play.
But the Bulldogs didn’t panic as Croce engineered another solid scoring drive that was helped by two Sacred Heart personal foul penalties. With the ball on the Sacred Heart 4-yard line, Croce hit tight end Doug Emerzian (Rowley, Mass.) in the back of the end zone to make it 24-13 after the extra point attempt was blocked.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Bryant place kicker Nolan Gelman (Dix Hills, N.Y.) caught the Pioneers off-guard with a short kick that was recovered by Bryant’s Mike Abany (Mansfield, Mass.) on the SHU 36 yard line.
A 12-yard completion from Croce to Tracey followed by a pass interference call on the Pioneers moved the ball down to the Sacred Heart goal line where Brown ran it in for his ninth rushing touchdown of the season.
The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Bulldogs had new life and found themselves trailing 24-19 with just under seven minutes remaining.
Needing a big defensive stop, Bryant got exactly what they wanted as freshman defensive lineman Maduka Nwanekezi (Milton, Mass.) sacked Fink for a loss of eight yards and following a false start penalty, the Pioneers failed to pick up a first down and were forced to punt the ball away to the dangerous Brown.
Brown, who had a punt return for a touchdown against Fordham in the season-opener, fielded the punt cleanly and burst through the middle, racing 73 yards for the touchdown. It was the second-longest punt return for a touchdown in school history, but more importantly, it put the Bulldogs in front 25-24.
On the return, a personal foul penalty was called against the Bulldogs, but was enforced on the kickoff. Sacred Heart would take advantage, taking over near midfield following a six-yard Archer return.
Sacred Heart would march all the way down to the Bryant 17-yard line where the Pioneers would attempt a go-ahead 39-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide and the Bulldogs were able to hold for the victory.
Fink finished the day completing 20 of 37 passes for 229 yards with Tony Patterson (95 yards) and Mark Uyeno each catching seven passes in the game.
Croce completed 17 of 30 passes for 185 yards. Senior Jim Mullane (Hudson, Mass.) had six catches for 58 yards while Tracey finished the day with four receptions for 35 yards.
Brown, who had a career-high 36 carries, has now gone over 100 yards in all six games this season. Jason Riffe (Newton, Mass.) had 10 tackles defensively including an 8-yard sack and two tackles for a loss. Addison Lynch (Braintree, Mass.) had eight stops for the Bulldogs who return to action next week at Monmouth University for a 1 p.m. game.