Courtesy of Bentley Athletics
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Junior kicker Paul Branco broke a 26-all tie with a 21-yard field goal with 3:08 left and less than a minute later, following a Falcon fumble recovery, senior quarterback Bryant Johnson capped an outstanding day with a 17-yard run for a score as Bentley University spoiled Southern Connecticut State’s Homecoming, 36-26, Saturday afternoon at Jess Dow Field.
Johnson completed 29 of 38 passes for 277 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and also ran for 25 net yards and the clinching score.
The Northeast-10 Conference victory over the conference’s preseason favorite lifted Bentley to 3-4 overall and 3-2 in the NE-10. Southern Connecticut State dropped its second straight and left the field with identical records as the Falcons. It was the second straight game that coach Thom Boerman’s club has beaten the team it shared the 2009 conference title with.
Bentley, down 19-14 with 11 minutes left after the second of three touchdown passes by Owl junior Kevin Lynch (Medfield, Mass.), outscored the home team 22-7 the rest of the way, including 17-0 in the fourth. That strong finish began with junior safety Don Hopkins (Waltham, Mass./Waltham HS) picking off a pass on an attempted two-point conversion and returning it 100 yards for the first two-point defensive point-after in Falcon history.
Bentley followed Hopkins’ two-pointer with a 12-play drive that culminated with a game-tying 18-yard field goal by Branco. The Owls wasted no time regaining the lead, with a three-yard scoring pass from Lynch to junior Andre Privott (Middletown, Conn.) finishing a quick five-play, 56-yard drive.
Bentley, down 26-19 entering the final quarter, got the equalizer with 11:39 left when junior Bobby Tarr (Byfield, Mass./Bishop Fenwick HS) took it in from the two, the final play of an 11-play march, and Branco added the game-tying point-after.
After the Falcon D forced a three-and-out, the offense embarked on its fourth drive of 10 or more plays, taking more than six minutes off the clock. A 12-yard run by junior Jack Pizzotti (Melrose, Mass./Melrose HS), followed by an Owl personal foul, took the ball down to the three. After the drive stalled, Branco delivered what proved to be the winning points with his second three-pointer of the afternoon.
The ensuing Southern possession ended on the third play when the snap from center sailed past Lynch and was recovered by Bentley junior defensive end Matt Welch (Woburn, Mass./Woburn HS) at the 17. On the following play, Johnson faked the handoff, kept the ball himself on the bootleg and scored the insurance TD when he dove for the left pylon.
Bentley led 14-13 at the half, despite Southern scoring on a 52-yard TD pass from Lynch to Willie Epps (Norwalk, Conn.) on its first play from scrimmage and the Falcons having terrible field position on its first three possessions. Johnson twice gave his team the lead in the half, a 13-yard scoring pass to sophomore Mike Sumrell (Dorchester/Belmont HS) that made it 7-6 and a 33-yarder to senior Wade Critides (Wayland, Mass./Wayland HS) after the Owls had gone up 13-7.
Johnson, after starting the game 1 for 4, was 29 of 34 over the final 48 minutes with completions to eight different receivers. Senior Kyle Tuthill (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas HS) had 10 for 86 yards and senior tight end Mike Slattery (Natick, Mass./Natick HS) finished with six catches for 45 yards. Tarr led the ground game with 49 yards on 10 carries.
Two of the most impressive numbers from the game were first downs and time of possession. Bentley moved the chains an amazing 32 times, while giving up only 12, and controlled the ball for just five seconds less than 42 minutes.
Bentley finished with 396 net yards on 79 plays while Southern had 278 yards of total offense and only 48 plays from scrimmage. Lynch finished 11 of 22 for 189 yards. Senior John Weichman (Buxton, Maine) rushed for 75 yards on 14 carries, and the Falcon D held junior Rashaad Slowley (Mount Vernon, N.Y.), the second leading rusher in the conference, to only 27 yards on eight carries.
Junior safety Steve Hopkins (Waltham/Waltham HS) led the Falcon defense with seven tackles and an interception to end Southern’s final possession. His brother Don followed with six stops, and senior defensive end Sal Ruffino (Allentown, Pa./Allentown Central Catholic HS) had one-and-a-half sacks.
Bentley will look to win on a Homecoming day for the third time this season next Saturday when it celebrates its own against Pace University. In addition spoiling Southern’s, the Falcons won at Saint Anselm’s Homecoming last month.