Story and photo courtesy of West Chester Athletics
WEST CHESTER, Pa. - Erick Brundidge caught a 29-yard TD pass from Mike Mattei with 5:10 left in the fourth quarter to lift host West Chester to a 21-17 come-from-behind victory over visiting Gannon Saturday afternoon at John A. Farrell Stadium.
West Chester (1-1) pulled even on the season with the heart-stopping win, defeating PSAC West rival Gannon (1-1) in the first meeting between the two schools. The Golden Rams forced five turnovers in the game, but still needed Brundidge’s heroics at the end to solidify the win. All three West Chester scores in the game were set up by turnovers from its defense.
John O’Donnell’s second interception of the day came off a pass from Gannon QB Liam Nadler, whose aerial went off the hands of his receiver and into the diving arms of O’Donnell at the Golden Rams’ 30-yard line. That fifth and final turnover of the game for the Golden Knights gave the Rams possession of the ball with 8:47 remaining.
Mattei then engineered a 7-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in a falling catch in the end zone by Brundidge on a 2nd-and-8 play with 5:10 left. Gannon’s cornerback slipped and fell on the play, leaving Brundidge wide open at the goal line.
Senior safety Carl Barnes intercepted a Nadler pass at the Golden Rams’ 12-yard line on Gannon’s previous possession, which thwarted another scoring opportunity for the Knights. Those two fourth-quarter miscues proved to be too costly to overcome for Gannon.
Gannon tried to catch West Chester’s special teams knapping on a 4th-and-3 play from its own 35-yard line following Brundidge’s TD. Golden Knights punter Cody Crosby completed a shovel pass to Alex Papson. However, Al-Hajj Shabazz and Barnes were having none of the trickeration and stopped Papson for just a 1-yard gain as Gannon turned the ball over on downs.
West Chester took over and drove down to Gannon’s 10-yard line where it was faced with a 4th-and-1. Head coach Bill Zwaan, Sr., gambled for the second time in the game and tried to get the first down to run out the clock, instead of kicking a field goal. Freshman RB Eddie Elliott, in the game due to minor injuries to both Rondell White and Brandon Monk, was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Fortunately, Gannon went nowhere after an 8-yard completion on first down. WCU defensive back Shawn Krautzel batted down a pass from Nadler on second down, and then Gannon wide receivers dropped consecutive passes on third and fourth down to end any hope of a comeback in the second straight week for the Golden Knights.
Mattei, making his first start under center since November 2010, finished 15-for-31 for 184 yards and two TDs. More importantly, he did not throw an interception. Brundidge finished with three catches for 66 yards, including his game-winning TD. Rondell White, coming off his record-setting season-opening performance at Delaware, was bottled up all afternoon by Gannon’s front seven. He managed just 45 yards on 18 carries, which included a 23-yard run in the third quarter.
The story of the afternoon for the Golden Rams was its defense. A run-stopping unit that has been much maligned over the past two years held Gannon to just 83 yards on the ground. Inside Linebackers Ronell Williams and Mike Labor combined for 23 tackles and a forced fumble.
O’Donnell returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown on Gannon’s opening possession to put the hosts on top, 7-0. It was his second career interception returned for a TD. He also returned one 55 yards for a score at East Stroudsburg in 2010.
Williams finished with a game-high 12 tackles and a forced fumble. Labor contributed 11 stops. Barnes registered seven tackles, intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and was credited with another pass breakup. True freshman defensive lineman, Andrew Cohen, posted six tackles, including three of them for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
Following O’Donnell’s INT return for a touchdown, West Chester doubled the lead on a 23-yard pass from Mattei to LaRonn Lee (2 catches, 36 yards). With that reception, Lee went over 1,000 yards receiving in his career.
Gannon answered back with a field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter and a 31-yard TD reception by Abraham Ocasio with 24 ticks remaining before halftime. That drew the Golden Knights to within 14-10 at the break. In the third quarter, Justin Caliste caught a 66-yard TD strike from Nadler down the near sideline. Caliste ran close to 50 yards himself after the pitch-and-catch.
For Gannon, Ocasio hauled in seven passes for 123 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, Justin Caliste caught five balls for 116 yards and a score.
West Chester is home again next Saturday night on Family Night when it opens PSAC East competition against Millersville at Farrell Stadium at 6 p.m.