Story and photo courtesy of Trinity Athletics
HARTFORD, Conn. - The visiting Trinity College Bantam football team completed its 10th perfect season and clinched sole possession of the program's sixth New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship title in the last 11 years with a 30-24 overtime victory over the Wesleyan University Cardinals this afternoon on Andrus Field. The 8-0 Bantams clinched at least a share of the league crown with its 32-20 win against Amherst last weekend, but took the title outright today as the conference's only undefeated team. The NESCAC Champion has had to post an undefeated record in 11 of of the 13 years that the conference has kept official standings and in each of the last five years. Trinity accomplishied the feat in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2012, and shared the league crown with Williams in 2002 with identical 7-2 marks.
Trailing, 24-17, with 1:54 left in the fourth quarter, Trinity marched 78 yards on 12 plays and scored the game-tying touchdown on a 14-yard quarterback draw up the middle by senior Ryan Burgess (Dracut, Mass.) with 17 seconds on the clock. The extra-point by senior K Tim Costello (Solana Beach, Calif.) forced the overtime, and Wesleyan had the first try to score from the Bantam 25-yard line. Wesleyan sophomore RB LaDarius Drew (Mesquite, Texas) rushed twice to the clear half the distance to the goal line, but was stripped of the ball by Trinity junior CB Akeem Labitue (Dorchester, Mass.) at the five-yard line on his third rush. Bantam junior LB Steve Goniprow (Barrington, R.I.) came up with the ball, giving Trinity the opportunity the chance to win on its first possession of the extra period. Junior RB Evan Bunker (Topsfield, Mass.), who had become the all-time leading rusher in Trinity football history earlier in the game, burst through a hole on the right side and sprinted to paydirt for the game-winning score on the first Bantam play of overtime.
Trinity got off to a good start, forcing a punt on the game's first series, and scoring a touchdown on its first play from scrimmage on an 86-yard bomb down the right sideline from Burgess to junior WR A.J. Jones (Freetown, Sierra Leone). After punts by each team, Wesleyan tied the game on a 33-yard scoring strike from sophomore QB Jesse Warren (Chicopee, Mass.) to junior TE Ted Baker (Logmeadow, Mass.) with 4:59 left in the first quarter. A 35-yard field goal by Cardinal junior Sebastian Aguirre (Denville, N.J.) capped off a 12-play, 65-yard drive that gave the Cardinals a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, but Trinity answered three plays later on a 49-yard scoring toss from Burgess to senior WR Drew Grombala (Cincinnati, Ohio) with 11:23 on the clock. Wesleyan used another long drive, advancing 67 yards on 13 plays including a six-yard touchdown run by sophomore RB Kyle Gibson (Ridgewood, N.J.), to take a 17-14 lead at the break. Burgess took a shot down the right sideline to sophomore WR Adrian Johnson (Philadelphia, Pa.) for his third long touchdown of the half, but was picked off at the goal line by Cardinal senior DB Jon Kim (Paramus, N.J.) inside the two-minute mark.
A scoreless third quarter consisted of five straight punts and a Trinity interception by senior CB Nick Campbell (New Albany, Ohio), but a Trinity pick by senior tri-captain S Rae Haynes (Hartford, Conn.) early in the fourth frame set up Costello for a game-tying field goal from 38 yards out with 11:02 on the clock that also tied Costello with Kevin Swiniarski as the College's all-time field goal leaders with 23 each. Wesleyan ralled with a 13-play, 50-yard drive that ended on a one-yard dive into the end zone by Drew with 4:13 left on the clock, and Cardinal senior DE Andy McKeon (Pearl River, N.Y.)) forced a fumble by Bunker four plays later to give Wesleyan an opportunity to run out the clock. An eight yard tackle-for-loss by senior S Julian Brown (Philadelphia, Pa.) highlighted a key defensive stop for the Bantams that forced a punt. On the final drive of regulation, Burgess found Grombala on three first-down passes, including a 13-yard completion on 4th-and-10. Trinity's quarterback draw play on 2nd-and-1 took the Cardinal defense by surprise, and Burgess darted into the end zone untouched.
Burgess finished 11-for-25 passing for 249 yards, while Bunker ran 22 times for 139 yards, and Grombala caught seven passes for 143 yards. In the first half, Bunker passed David Kiarsis' record as Trinity's all-time leading rusher. Kiarsis' record of 2,949 career rushing yards had stood for 40 years. Bunker has 3,066 yards on the ground in his three years as a Bantam. Warren, who left the game in the second half with an injury, and sophomre Peter George (Concord, Mass.) combined for nine completions in 18 attempts for 109 yards through the air, while Drew had 103 rushing yards on 30 carries and Gibson added 21 rushes for 69 yards. Goniprow and senior NT Donald McDonald (Avon, Conn.)) led the Bantams defense with 13 tackles apiece, while junior LB Brett Cde Baca (Millbrae, Calif.) had 12 hits and 3.5 tackles for loss. Haynes made nine tackles and Brown totaled eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and two pass breakups. Wesleyan senior LB Prince Emenalo (Austell, Ga.) recorded nine tackles and two sacks.