NEWPORT, R.I. – Junior wide receiver Manni Romero (Phillipsburg, N.J.) caught a five-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Matt Dunn (Rockland, Mass.) with 1:46 left in the game to lift the Norwich University football team to a 22-19 victory over Salve Regina in the 2019 season opener.
Romero's second touchdown of the day capped an 11-play, 64-yard drive that featured two clutch late-down conversions to keep the chains moving and set up Romero's heroics. Freshmen Tristan Johnson (Ocala, Fla.) and Trevor Chase (Eliot, Maine) had critical catches to pick up first downs on the game-winning drive.
Salve Regina (0-1) didn't go away quietly though, marching 63 yards on 14 plays, highlighted by a 39-yard catch by Ryan Lawton on fourth down to get the ball down to the Norwich 12. The NU defense dug its heels in though, persevering through an initial touchdown call on second and 10 that was eventually overturned after Michael Corinna (Milford, Mass.) defended on Pat Travers and caused him to bobble and lose possession in the corner of the end zone.
Norwich forced the Seahawks to fourth down and a 28-yard field goal attempt to try and tie the game. Angelo DiSanto's field goal attempt was blocked though by senior Jacob Burke (River Edge, N.J.) to seal the instant classic victory.
Romero finished with six catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including an 83-yard touchdown catch on Norwich's first offensive play of the game to set the tone early.
Dunn was 24-for-41 through the air for 307 yards and three touchdowns to lead the offense.
The Norwich defense forced four turnovers and had a safety in the first quarter as the Cadets (1-0) did a fantastic job of coming up with the big play when needed, despite giving up 400 yards of offense to the Seahawks.
Senior Austen Greene (Herndon, Va.) led the defense with 10 tackles and one of the Cadets' three interceptions in the game. Senior Chris Ryan (New Milford, Conn.) had nine tackles, while sophomore Isaiah Williams (Apopka, Fla.) had eight tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Tavares Ward (Sunrise, Fla.) and Burke each had seven tackles, while senior Michael Corrina (Milford, Mass.) and freshman Jordan Jackson (Ocala, Fla.) each had interceptions to round out the defensive leaders.
After a defensive stop to open the game, Dunn dropped back to pass and zipped a ball over the middle of the field to find a streaking Romero after he had beaten his man. Dunn hit him in stride to allow the speedy junior wide out to take it in for the score and give the Cadets a 6-0 lead on the first play of the new offensive coordinator Marc Kolb era.
Norwich increased the lead to 8-0 with sophomore Zev Motew (Highland Park, Ill.) forcing a safety after a botched punt by Salve Regina.
Salve Regina cut the deficit to 8-7 with Tyler McGovern hitting Danny Hoffman for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 4:58 left in the first quarter. DiSanto added the point after attempt to make it a one-point game.
Neither side scored in the second quarter and the Cadets carried the 8-7 lead into the halftime break.
On Norwich's first possession of the second half, the Cadets marched 79 yards on eight plays, capped by a 13-yard touchdown catch by Chase for his first collegiate touchdown with 11:32 left in the third quarter. Junior Clyde Tamburro (Elizabethtown, Pa.) added the point after to stretch the lead to 15-7.
Salve Regina struck with 50 seconds left in the third quarter when Joey Mauriello gashed the NU defense through the middle to scamper 37 yards into the end zone and cut the deficit to 15-13 after a two-point conversion pass attempt failed.
The Norwich defense came up with a big play with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter as rookie Jordan Jackson came up with the biggest play of his young career, picking off a deflected pass in the end zone to end the Salve Regina threat momentarily after he was forced into action.
However, the momentum abruptly shifted on the very next play as Dunn's pass attempt was picked off by Matt Sylvia and taken back to the end zone 23 yards for the touchdown to give the Seahawks their first lead of the game at 19-15.
Norwich went three and out on its next drive and punted the ball back to the Seahawks with 6:56 to play. The Cadets' defense again came up with a huge three and out stop, including a stiff by Corinna on third and three.
NU got the ball back with 4:37 to go on its own 36-yard line. Dunn methodically went to work hitting Mynter for a four-yard gain and then finding Johnson for a huge diving catch on third and six to pick up the first down.
Chase had two big catches on the next set of downs for 10 yards and then seven more on fourth and four to keep the drive alive.
Romero once again stepped up with a big catch for 31 yards on first down to get the ball down to the Salve Regina five and sent up the eventual game-winning touchdown catch on third and goal. Dunn rolled to his left and fired a strike to Romero, who planted both feet inside the goal line and secured the catch while fending off a Salve Regina defender for his ninth career touchdown catch.
The game marked Norwich's first victory in a season opener since a 26-24 win over Western New England in 2012. Salve Regina came in with a 60-24 in the last eight seasons and has been a traditional powerhouse in the CCC and NEFC for the last decade.
Norwich returns to action next Saturday, Sept. 14 when it hosts St. Lawrence in its home opener at 12 p.m. on Sabine Field at Haynes Family Stadium. The Saints have won four straight meetings, including a 40-7 win last year in Canton. Norwich will still be looking to claim the Hoffman Cup trophy for the first time since it was added to the long-standing rivalry in 2017.