Story and photo courtesy of Mercyhurst Athletics
ERIE, Pa. - Redshirt freshman Brandon Brown-Dukes capped off an historical 2012 regular season with a 21-yard touchdown run with 1:17 left in regulation, lifting the Mercyhurst University football team to a 52-45 victory over East Stroudsburg on Saturday afternoon at Tullio Field. The Lakers finished the regular season with a 9-2 overall record while the Warriors finished their season with a 5-5 overall mark.
The nine Mercyhurst victories is the second-most in school history, one shy of the school record of 10 set back during the 2010 PSAC Championship season. The 52 points by the Lakers on Saturday were the most since scoring 56 in the 56-37 PSAC Championship victory over Bloomsburg on November 13, 2010.
If you wanted to see some offense, Tullio Field was certainly the place to be. The teams combined for 97 points and 1,055 yards of total offense on Saturday afternoon, with 796 of those coming through the air.
Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Vendemia established a career-high with 379 passing yards on just 24 attempts (16 completions). The yardage broke his previous high of 352 yards at Clarion last season. Redshirt freshman Devyn Woods established career bests in receptions (9), receiving yards (215), and receiving touchdowns (3). Senior Paris Bruner also ended his regular season in style, posting five catches for 144 yards and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He finished the day with a career-high 299 all-purpose yards.
Brown-Dukes, who was trying to chase down Gerald Anderson's school-record of 1,313 rushing yards in 2010, finished the afternoon with 74 yards on the ground on 17 carries. He concluded the regular season with 1,295 yards rushing and a school-record 16 touchdowns. His 16 touchdowns tied the school record for most touchdowns scored in a single season, established last year by Trevor Kennedy.
It did not take long for the fireworks to begin.
On the first play from scrimmage, East Stroudsburg's own redshirt freshman sensation, quarterback Matt Soltes connected with wide receiver Robert Bleiler on a 75-yard catch-and-run, putting the visitors ahead 6-0 just 23 seconds into the contest. The pass went for roughly 25 yards, but Bleiler did the rest, avoiding Mercyhurst tackles and sprinting down the left sideline for the score. Taylor Groff added the extra point for a 7-0 lead. Soltes finished the afternoon completing 24-of-42 passes for 394 yards and five touchdowns, but was also picked off three times.
Mercyhurst responded on its first possession when Vendemia found a hole in the Warrior defense and sprinted into the endzone from 16 yards out, and, after junior placekicker Steven Wakefield added the extra point, the game was tied at 7-7 just 2:55 into the contest.
After an interception by redshirt freshman Tevin Stewart set the Lakers up at the East Stroudsburg 13-yard line, Mercyhurst would get a 27-yard field goal from Wakefield to take a 10-7 lead with 7:36 left in the first quarter. Stewart's first career interception set up Wakefield's tenth field goal of the season - one shy of the school record held by Vinny Repucci in 2002.
The offensive display would continue into the second quarter as both teams would exchange a pair of touchdowns to close out the first half.
Thomas Tippett would give the Warriors a 14-10 lead one a one-yard leap into the endzone just 30 seconds into the second quarter. The score capped off an 11-play, 86-yard drive by East Stroudsburg.
Again, the Lakers would respond. Vendemia found Woods in stride from 44 yards out on Mercyhurst's next possession, putting the hosts back in front 17-14 with 12:17 left in the opening half. It was the first of three times that Vendemia and Woods hooked up for touchdowns on the afternoon.
On the ensuing possession, Soltes was picked off by sophomore linebacker Aaron McGee at the East Stroudsburg 34-yard line. The Lakers had the ball first-and-goal from the one-yard line, but could not score after Vendemia was picked off in the endzone on third down. The Warriors would take advantage of Mercyhurst's miscue. East Stroudsburg drove 80 yards in eight plays, capped off by a 16-yard pass from Soltes to Steven Jones, giving the visitors a 21-17 lead with 7:14 left in the first half.
Vendemia and Woods would hook up again on Mercyhurst's next possession, this time on a 13-yard strike with 4:48 left in the first half. Both offenses would stall the rest of the opening thirty minutes and Mercyhurst went to the locker room with a 24-21 lead at halftime.
The quarterback-wide receiver tandem would pick up where they left off to start the second half. Both teams would stall on their opening possessions of the half, but, after a 28-yard punt by ESU's Jordan Bair was downed at the Warrior 40-yard line, Vendemia and Woods wasted no time. On the first play, they hooked up on a 40-yard touchdown strike - their third scoring completion of the game - giving Mercyhurst a 30-21 lead. Wakefield's point after was blocked and was seemingly run into the endzone by Darius Jackson. But, the try was nullified after an illegal block against the Warriors.
Groff put three points on the East Stroudsburg side of the scoreboard on the visitors' next possession. Groff, who missed earlier from 37 yards out, converted a 33-yard attempt, capping off an 11-play drive with 7:15 left in the third quarter, and cutting the Laker lead to 30-24.
But, Bruner received the ensuing kickoff at his own three-yard line and returned it 97 yards for a Mercyhurst touchdown. Bruner made a couple of dekes inside is own half of the field and then avoided a touchdown-saving attempt by Groff along the right sideline, and got into the endzone for the second-longest kickoff return in school history. Brian Haberstock still holds the longest return - a 100-yarder against Brockport State back in 1988. Mercyhurst decided to go for two and Vendemia found Woods in the endzone for the two-point conversion, giving Mercyhurst a 38-24 lead with 6:58 left in the third quarter.
The Lakers were not done. Junior running back Allen Jones II bounced outside to the left sideline, broke free from a number of missed tackles, and somehow sprinted his way into the endzone from 46 yards out with 3:39 left in the third, giving Mercyhurst a 45-24 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
But, East Stoudsburg had some fireworks left of its own. The Warriors would score three touchdowns in the span of 5:17 in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 45-45. Soltes found Eric Deery from eight yards out with 8:24 left in regulation, cutting the Mercyhurst lead to 45-31. Soltes then found Jordan Hallman on a 19-yard touchdown pass with 5:51 left, and all of a sudden, the Laker lead was a single touchdown. The Warriors then tied the game on a 41-yard pass from Soltes to Kendrick Williams with 3:07 left.
Mercyhurst appeared down-and-out and was faced with a third-and-18 play from its own 17-yard line with 2:12 left in regulation. After an East Stroudsburg called a timeout, Vendemia and Woods struck again. Woods ran a perfect route and found himself wide open in front of the East Stroudsburg sidelines for a 20-yard gain, keeping the drive alive. Then, on second-and-ten, Vendemia found Bruner down the right sideline for a 42-yard gain to the East Stroudsburg 21-yard line, setting up Brown-Dukes' game-winning touchdown. Bruner was aided by a beautiful block from Woods that allowed him to pick up another 25 yards down the sideline.
East Stroudsburg had one last attempt, getting the ball back with 1:10 left. But a sack by sophomore Matt Hyland and an interception by senior Nick Jackson sealed the victory.
The Warriors outgained the Lakers 577-478 on the afternoon. Soltes, who threw for 394 yards, also ran for 69 yards to lead the Warriors. Deery had 62 yards on 12 carries. Hallman led ESU's receiving corps with seven catches, while Bleiler led the way with 137 receiving yards.
Vendemia threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns, with all but 20 of his passing yards going to either Woods or Bruner. Brown-Dukes had 74 yards on the ground while Jones chipped in with 58 yards on just seven carries.
Defensively, McGee, junior Dustin Galich, and sophomore Pat Behm had seven tackles apiece. Redshirt junior Serge Augustin had five tackles and 1.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Greg Jones led East Stroudsburg with ten total tackles. James Lancellotti had two of ESU's eight sacks on the afternoon.
Mercyhurst (9-2) entered play on Saturday ranked ninth in the region. The win still gives the Lakers some hope on an NCAA playoff berth. Mercyhurst will know its fate during the NCAA Division II Football selection show, which takes place on Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. You can view the show on NCAA.com.