NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University football team kicked a 26-yard field goal with no time remaining on the clock to emerge from the "Little Army-Navy Game" with a hard-fought 17-14 victory in both teams New England Men's and Women's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) opener on Sabine Field at Haynes Family Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Cadets secured the "Mug" once again for the first time since 2004 in the long-standing rivalry which dates back to 1929. Norwich narrowed the Bears' all-time series edge to 40-33-1 with the win and open the season at 3-0 for the first time since 2012.
After last year's high-scoring affair and the Norwich offense entering the game averaging more than 350 passing yards and 778 total yards per game, anticipation was that a similar outcome would prevail. That was certainly not the case as both team's defense suffocated each other's offense for the majority of the game, especially in the opening half. In fact, the game's opening 10 drives all resulted in a punt or a turnover with six of those ending in three-and-outs.
Norwich (3-0) failed to benefit from excellent starting field position to open the game as the Cadets begun with possession in the Coast Guard half in four of their first five drives.
Coast Guard (2-1) managed their longest drive of the first quarter with a five-play, 25-yard drive starting from their own 10-yard line.
Norwich looked poised to open the scoring with its last drive of the opening stanza, but after advancing the ball to the Coast Guard four-yard line, it couldn't capitalize as the Bears' goal line defense prevailed and the Cadets' 22-yard field goal attempt was sent wide right.
The visitors accounted for all the first half scoring on their next drive. Faced with 3rd-and-6 on their own 24-yard line, senior quarterback Ryan Jones (Punxsutawney, Pa.) connected with sophomore wide receiver Damaso Jaime (Lake Como, N.J.) on a 76-yard touchdown pass to give the Bears the lead, 7-0.
Both defenses remained stout throughout the rest of the half and the 7-0 score stood up entering halftime.
On back-to-back Norwich drives to start the second half, senior defensive back Patrick Crowley (San Marino, Calif.) intercepted deep passes to give the Bears an opportunity to extend their lead. However, the Cadet defense came up strong in support of its offense.
Norwich climbed back into the contest on their third possession following the halftime break as junior wide receiver Manni Romero (Phillipsburg, Pa.) switched his course on a punt return and broke away for 38-yard return to the Coast Guard 20-yard line. Junior quarterback Matt Dunn (Rockland, Mass.) then thread the needle with a pass that found senior running back Connor Bourque (Goffstown, N.H.) down the middle for a 19-yard touchdown to knot the score at 7-7.
Momentum seemed to swing in favor of the Cadets as the hosts' senior linebacker Cahan Quinn (Putnam, Conn.) found himself in the right place at the right time when a pass attempt by the Bears was tipped up in the air and Cahan made a diving interception to give the Cadets the ball at the Bears' 31-yard line. However, the Coast Guard defense stood tall forcing the hosts back and opportunistically recovered a fumble on the Norwich 44-yard line. Jones then scored on a 25-yard quarterback keeper, swinging the momentum back to the Bears and giving them a 14-7 lead heading into the final quarter.
The final quarter began with Norwich's fourth interception of the game and the Bears seemed content to rush the ball to bleed time off the clock. Junior running back Jon Wagner (Huntingdon, Pa.) rushed for 28 yards to the Bears 44-yard line, then classmate Chris Gardner (Fairfax, Va.) added seven more yards on the ground chewing away precious time. On 3rd-and-3 the Bears were flagged for a five-yard penalty and when Jones failed to connect on his subsequent pass, it gave Norwich an opportunity to get back in the game.
The hosts did just that as they pounded the ball up the middle, rushing for 49 yards, including Connor's game-tying 13-yard touchdown run to make it a 14-14 game with 7:01 remaining in the contest.
Coast Guard was stymied on its next drive, unable to convert on 3rd-and-2 and was forced to punt the ball away. Romero gave the Cadets great field position with a 15-yard punt return which allowed the hosts to initiate their final drive in Bears' territory with 4:55 left in the game.
Norwich ran nine plays on the ground against just one in the air which sustained the 10-play, 42-yard drive setting up junior kicker Clyde Tamburro's (Elizabethtown, Pa.) heroic field goal and giving the Cadets their first glimpse of the "Mug" in 15 years.
With two incredible finishes in the last two games of this classic rivalry, next year's game will be highly anticipated.
Dunn led Norwich through the air with 171 yards on 18-of-37 passing. Aaron Conner (Daytona Beach, Fla.) posted 80 rushing yards on 17 carries averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Romero led the receivers with six catches for 57 yards and added 125 more return yards. Sophomore linebacker Isaiah Williams (Apopka, Fla.) and senior linebacker Owen McKenna (Attleboro, Mass.) each posted a team-high eight total tackles.
Jones posted 143 passing yards on 13-of-25 attempts for Coast Guard. Wagner led the rushing game with 31 yards while Jaime's two receptions for 87 yards led the receiving corps. Junior wideout Justin Moffatt (Odessa, Fla.) led the Bears in receptions with five for 23 yards. Junior linebacker Eugene Bizer (The Woodlands, Texas) posted a game-high 13 total tackles, including five solo tackles. Coast Guard had posted 12 sacks over their first two games and added four more as a team with junior defensive lineman Philip Orlando (Brooksville, Fla) leading the way with 1.5 sacks.
Norwich will look to make it four-straight victories to begin the season for the first time since 2004 when it travels down the road to visit intrastate rival Castleton University next Saturday at 3 p.m. The Spartans will host the Cadets in the 11th annual Maple Sap Bucket game where the Cadets will attempt to retain the prestigious trophy after winning it back in 2018.