Story and photo courtesy of Mercyhurst Athletics
EDINBORO, Pa. - Head coach Marty Schaetzle played a hunch and another hero emerged.
Sparsely-used sophomore quarterback Alec Swartz came off the bench midway in the fourth quarter and led Mercyhurst on a game-winning 76-yard drive as the Lakers rallied to defeat Edinboro 24-21 before a rain-soaked, bone-chilled crowd Saturday afternoon at Sox Harrison Stadium. The Lakers improved to 7-2 overall and to 5-1 in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Division. Edinboro (3-5, 2-4) has now lost three straight.
The visiting team has now won five successive times in the nine-game series, which Edinboro leads 5-4.
The Lakers forced an Edinboro punt with seven minutes left and Schaetzle replaced junior Anthony Vendemia with Swartz. "I just played a hunch", Schaetzle said. The Cincinnati native took only two plays to get Mercyhurst into the Edinboro endzone. Swartz found senior Paris Bruner behind the Fighting Scots' secondary. Bruner didn't need to break stride, catching the ball near the Edinboro 40 in the middle of the field and speeding down the far sideline before being downed at the home team's one-yard line. The 75-yard catch-and-run was Bruner's career best and was the longest play of Mercyhurst's season. Freshman tailback Brandon Brown-Dukes scored on the next play. The Lakers' defense held the rest of the game and Swartz ended the last Edinboro hope with a 15-yard strike on third-and-long late in the quarter to senior tight end Ryan Bartizal. With Edinboro out of time outs, the Lakers then ran out the clock.
Swartz had thrown only two passes in limited duty this season, both against Cheyney and both incomplete.
Mercyhurst used an early Edinboro fumble to take a 7-0 lead. Vendemia drove the team 33 yards in four plays, capped by a one-yard run by Brown-Dukes. Junior Steven Wakefield added the PAT. Later in the quarter, the Lakers forced an Edinboro punt and took over at their own 10-yard line. Six plays and 90 yards later, Mercyhurst hit pay dirt on a 10-yard strike from Vendemia to senior FB Leon Gallop. Wakefield's PAT made it 14-0 with less than two minutes left in the first quarter.
Edinboro got back in the game with 9:14 left in the half when senior Branden Williams picked up a blocked punt and raced the remaining nine yards into the endzone. Edinboro junior quarterback Cody Harris took the offense 74-yards in eight plays late in the half to tie the game at 14-14. Harris reached the endzone himself on a quarterback sneak with 36 seconds left before intermission. The Boro intercepted a Vendemia pass in the last few seconds of the half but freshman PK Sean Seefeldt missed a long field goal attempt on the half's last play.
Edinboro took the lead with 5:24 left in the third when Harris threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to freshman WR Kevin Sonnie, completing a 16-play, 74-yard drive which took 6:19.
Mercyhurst got its first points since the first quarter when Wakefield drilled a 32-yard field goal with 13:03 left in the game. The drive took 16 plays and covered 64 yards in 7:21. That set the stage for Swartz.
The Lakers amassed 441 yards of offense to the Fighting Scots' 246. Both teams turned over the ball twice, with three of the miscues taking place in the game's first eight minutes. There were no turnovers after intermission. Brown-Dukes led Mercyhurst with 64 yards rushing, about half his per-game average. Sophomore Chris Lyle came off the bench for 56 yards in five carries. Vendemia rushed seven times for 26 yards and completed 12 of 23 tosses with a TD and a pick. Bruner led all receivers in the game with six catches for 187 yards.
"We beat a very good, well-coached football team today," noted Schaetzle. "And, equally important, we continued to grow as a team."
Harris finished with 16 of 27 in the air for 88 yards and a touchdown. He also led Edinboro rushers with 77 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Sophomore Ben Eisel and Sonnie caught five passes apiece.
Schaetzle improved to 53-66 in this, his 11th season. He is 3-2 all-time against Edinboro with all three wins coming at Sox Harrison Stadium. The Lakers' three wins at Edinboro, as members of the PSAC, have come by a combined total of seven points. Now in its 32nd year of football, the Lakers are 157-156-4 all-time.
Mercyhurst returns home next Saturday to play #13 California (Pa.) at 12 noon.
Bruner established a career-high with 187 yards and a career-long of 75 yards. He now has 602 receiving yards this season - also a career-high.
With his two rushing touchdowns Saturday, Brown-Dukes tied the single-season record with 13 touchdowns this season. He joins Tim Ruth (1985) and Richard Stokes (2007 and 2008) who previously set the career mark. Brown-Dukes needs 70 yards over the last two games to break the record for rushing yards by a freshman (1,166 by Craig Woodard in 1992). He needs 217 yards to break the single-season record (1,313 by Gerald Anderson in 2010).
Wakefield had six points on Saturday (three PATs and a field goal) giving him sole possession of the all-time scoring record for points by a kicker in school history. Wakefield now has 171 career points, surpassing the previous record of 165 held by Phil Scanlon (2002-06).
Freshman John Matarazzo recorded the first three receptions of his career, while senior tight end Ryan Bartizal had his first catch since the opener at Notre Dame College.
Junior Dustin Galich led the Lakers on defense with 12 total tackles and two fumble recoveries. Sophomore linebacker Pat Behm had 1.5 sacks on Saturday - the first of his career.