Story and photo courtesy of East Stroudsburg Athletics
EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa.
– In a record-setting season for redshirt senior quarterback Ray Wagner and head coach Denny Douds, the last two snaps were the most memorable.
Wagner fired a 21-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Dusty Reed as time expired and sophomore Taylor Groff's extra point was true to give East Stroudsburg University a 27-26 win over Edinboro and cap the second-largest comeback in school history in the Warriors' season finale at Eiler-Martin Stadium.
Wagner, who was named a candidate for the Harlon Hill Award for the top player in Division II on Friday, led the Warriors 80 yards in nine plays over the final 1:53 after a standout effort from the defense.
Senior linebacker Mike Bergey hit Edinboro running back Brian Davis at the goal line and forced a fumble that was recovered in the red zone by redshirt senior cornerback Shawnte Carroll as Edinboro (7-4) was looking to seal the win after leading 23-6 with 5:08 left in the third quarter.
Wagner and the offense made the most of the opportunity after giving the ball away following an Edinboro three-and-out on its previous possession.
Facing third-and-six at the 24-yard line, Wagner converted with an 11-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Robert Bleiler, then hit Reed for 12 yards with another 15 yards added on for a late hit to give the Warriors the ball at the Edinboro 39.
A nine-yard pass to Reed brought up second-and-one, but Wagner's next two passes were incomplete to make it fourth down. The Warriors converted with a nine-yard pass to junior tailback Kendrick Williams, and after a timeout with seven seconds left, Wagner found Reed down the seam and across the goal line to tie the game at 26-all with 0:00 showing on the clock.
Groff, who made field goals from 44 and 27 yards in the first half, drilled the extra point after the snap from redshirt senior center Dan Caffrey, who started all 45 games of his career, out of the hold of redshirt sophomore quarterback Nate Daniels to give the Warriors the victory.
Douds coached his 397th career game in 38 seasons at ESU in the Warriors' first home game since he set the Division II record with 394 games coached in a heart-breaking, last-second 31-27 loss to Millersville on Oct. 22.
ESU (3-8) took a lead into the fourth quarter in three losses this season – twice against ranked teams at home – only to come up short at the final gun. The script turned in the season finale as the Warriors' 10 seniors, all starters, finished their careers with a 23-22 record in 45 games, including a trip to the NCAA Playoffs in 2009. The seniors combined for 256 career starts.
The Warriors were down by 17 after Edinboro safety Kenny Pettis returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown. The 17-point comeback, and 13-point comeback from a 26-13 deficit in the fourth quarter, are both the second-largest in school history.
The last time the Warriors scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of a game also came against Edinboro, when Jimmy Terwilliger found Ben Culver for a 17-yard TD on fourth-and-10 with 22 seconds left in a 36-32 win in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Playoffs.
Wagner was 20-for-39 for 215 yards to complete a record-setting senior season, and Reed had seven catches for 98 yards. Wagner was 6-for-8 for 61 yards and had a nine-yard run on the final drive, and hit Reed four times for 41 yards.
Bergey had 19 tackles (13 solo), 2.5 TFL, a sack and two forced fumbles and redshirt senior Taylor Cave had 16 tackles (10 solo) and 0.5 TFL – both career-highs – as part of a defensive effort that limited Edinboro to three offensive points in the second half.
Alex Romanias opened and closed Edinboro's scoring, hitting a 29-yard field goal for the only points of the first quarter and a 38-yard field goal for a 26-13 lead on the third play of the fourth quarter, but missed an extra point after a one-yard touchdown run by Michael Battles with just over four minutes left in the second quarter.
Groff pulled the Warriors within 16-6 at halftime with a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half after hitting a 44-yarder early in the second quarter.
Neither offense was effective to start the second half, combining for three punts and the 30-yard interception return by Pettis, before the Warriors turned to the ground game to climb back in it.
Junior tailback Eric Deery had his third career 100-yard game, gaining 106 yards on 11 carries, and ripped off consecutive runs of 35 and 21 yards before scoring from 10 yards out to make it 23-13 after Groff's extra point with 3:28 left.
Edinboro went 48 yards in nine plays on its ensuing possession, ending with Romanias' 38-yard field goal, but lost starting quarterback Cody Harris to injury after a scramble in the middle of the drive.
The Warriors came back with a 13-play, 67-yard drive – the second-most plays in a scoring drive this season – which featured 11 running plays and closed with a one-yard plunge by junior tailback Kendrick Williams (14 carries, 53 yards) to get the Warriors within one possession at 26-20 with 9:07 remaining. ESU picked up a third-and-one on a one-yard gain by redshirt sophomore fullback Thomas Tippett and a fourth-and-one on a three-yard gain by Williams, and Reed had a 21-yard carry on the second play to get the drive started.
The Fighting Scots gained just one first down on their final three possessions, including two three-and-outs, as Bergey, Cave and the Warriors defense came up big with their backs against the wall.
The offense had its own three-and-out, punting the ball away with six minutes left, and after another stop, the Warriors botched a handoff on their first play to turn the ball over at the 21-yard line with 4:24 remaining.
Edinboro was in position to put the game away, picking up a third-and-four with a 12-yard run by Davis to set up first-and-goal at the three, but two stops at the goal line followed by the fumble gave the offense the ball and just enough time to go 80 yards to finish the season.
Harris was 21-for-29 for 234 yards for Edinboro and David Bostic caught 11 passes for 91 yards, becoming the school's career leader with 159 career receptions. He broke the record of 149, set by Gary Nolen against ESU in the season finale last year, on Edinboro's first offensive play.
D'Andrea Vaughn led Edinboro on the ground with seven carries for 64 yards and a 44-yard touchdown, Brian Davis had nine carries for 38 yards, Harris had 12 for 25 yards, Bostic two for 23 yards and Michael Battles seven for 16 yards. Ty Stoldt was 1-for-4 passing for nine yards and ran four times for seven yards. All told, Edinboro ran for 173 yards on 41 carries and had 416 yards of total offense.
ESU gained 417 yards, 215 pass and 202 rushing (second-most this season) on 32 carries. Deery had 106 yards on 11 carries, Williams gained 53 yards on 14 carries and Reed had 24 yards on two carries. Wagner hit eight different receivers and Tippett was the Warriors' second-leading receiver with three catches for 34 yards.