WASHINGTON, D.C. – After falling behind 17-0 to start the game, the Norwich University football team scored 24-straight points, but in the end was unable to thwart a last-minute drive by Catholic University, falling 31-27 in New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) action on Saturday afternoon at Cardinal Stadium.
The Norwich (5-3, 2-3 NEWMAC) defense held strong on 4th and 1 from its own 17-yard line on Catholic's opening drive. However, on the third play of the ensuing drive, the Cardinals' Brendan Webster intercepted junior quarterback Matt Dunn's (Rockland, Mass.) pass on Norwich's 40-yard line which set up a 4-play, 40-yard drive which ended in 12-yard touchdown pass from Brady Berger to Trey Carson for a 7-0 lead for the hosts.
The Cadets' top-rated passing game failed to gain much traction in the early going resulting in several short-lasting drives. Meanwhile, the Norwich defense found itself on the field for long stretches as Catholic was able to engineer several long scoring drives. Fabrizio Reilly hit a 34-yard field goal near the end of the first quarter and then Berger found Carson again to extend the Cardinals' lead to 17-0 with 6:34 left in the opening half.
Norwich switched gears on its next drive relying on its running game to advance the ball. Sophomore quarterback Grant Williard (Jupiter, Fla.) extended the drive on 4th and 2 from Norwich's own 43-yard line when he faked a punt and hit Adrian Floyd (St. Petersburg, Fla.) for a 10-yard gain. After nine rushes gained the visitors 50 yards, junior kicker Clyde Tamburro (Elizabethtown, Pa.) kicked a 27-yard field goal to put the Cadets on the scoreboard.
The Cadets took advantage of a Catholic turnover deep in its own end on the next series as senior linebacker Chris Ryan (New Milford, Conn.) recovered a fumble by Berger. Dunn cashed in on a four-yard keeper as time expired in the second quarter to bring Norwich within seven at 17-10.
The Cadet passing game got a kick start in the third quarter as Dunn went 3-for-3 on the second offensive series culminating in a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Manni Romero (Phillipsburg, N.J.) to knot the game at 17-17. The visitors would take the lead on the next series as Romero got the Cadets to the Cardinals' one-yard line after hauling in a 35-yard reception. Senior running back Aaron Conner (Daytona Beach, Fla.) punched the ball across the goal line on the next play to give Norwich its first lead of the game, 24-17.
The lead was short-lasting, however, as Chance Legrand scored on a one-yard goal-line plunge to square the game at 24-24. Legrand had a big hand in the scoring drive exploding for a 44-yard gain during the series.
The Cardinals looked primed to restore its early lead after sacking Dunn and forcing a short punt that gave them the ball at the Norwich 27. The hosts advanced the ball to the 3-yard line, but Norwich made three goal-line stands to thwart the Cardinals forcing them to settle for a field goal attempt. On the ensuing try, however, senior Brasean Stewart (Bronx, N.Y.) blocked the 21-yard attempt giving Norwich the ball on their own 20.
The Cadets, fueled by the big defensive stop methodically marched the ball down the field on a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended after the Cardinals returned the favor by stopping them near the goal line. Tamburro nailed the 22-yard chip shot through the uprights, giving the Cadets a 27-24 lead with 6:03 remaining in the game.
On the ensuing final drive of the game, the Cadets twice stopped the Cardinals on fourth down only to have the drive extended by penalty calls on their stops. The result was Catholic's back up quarterback Evan O'Donnell, who had to replace an injured Berger, finding Carson for his third TD grab of the game for the game-winning score with just six clicks left on the clock.
The Cadets emphasized the run more in this game than they had all year gaining 132 yards on the ground and 174 through the air. Conner led the backs with 86 yards on 18 carries, while Dunn gained 46 yards on 13 attempts. Romero was the prime receiving threat for the visitors with six receptions for 125 yards, his seventh game with over 100 receiving yards on the season.
Sophomore linebacker Isaiah Williams (Apopka, Fla.) registered a team-high nine tackles, seven of the solo variety, including a sack for the Cadets. Senior linebacker Cahan Quinn (Putnam, Conn.) recorded seven solo tackles and broke up a pair of passes.
Norwich will remain on the road next Saturday as it travels to face NEWMAC rival MIT in a game scheduled for noon.