SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Brandon People’s scored on a three-yard run with just 44 seconds left to propel Wagner to a 23-20 victory over the Bryant University football team on Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Stadium.
With the victory, the Seahawks (7-4, 5-1 NEC) earned a share of the Northeast Conference Regular Season title. The loss ends the Bulldogs’ (8-3, 4-2) memorable season and their shot at a possible at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.
Saturday’s finale was a defensive battle for the first 30 minutes before both offenses traded scores over the final half. Peoples’s two-yard run four minutes into the game provided the only scoring in the first two quarters.
In the second half, Wagner expanded its lead five minutes in on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Chris Andrews to Ryan Owens.
Bryant was finally able to answer on its next possession. Sophomore Dalton Easton (Miami, Fla.) connected with senior fullback Tyler McIntyre (Chino, Calif.) for a 12-yard gain to start the drive and then went deep down field for classmate Keenan Thompson (Broward County, Fla.). Thompson was interfered with but was still able to make the catch and sprint down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown reception.
After both teams traded punts, the Seahawks took advantage of a short field, driving 47 yards in nine plays and capping it with a 20-yard field goal. Otis Wright carried the ball four times and Andrews ran it three times on the drive before Bryan Maley powered a field goal through the uprights to make it a nine-point game.
The Black and Gold would respond in a big way, however, in the fourth quarter. Ricardo McCray (Middletown, R.I.) returned the ensuing kick 41 yards to put Bryant at its own 40 to start the drive. Easton connected with Jose Depadua (Frederick, Md.) for 10 yards and Chad Ward (Delray Beach, Fla.) for 15 yards to put Bryant to the Wagner 33. Facing a fourth-and-2 from the Wagner 25, Paul Canevari (Warwick, N.Y.) picked up three yards to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Easton found a wide open John Lavin (Falmouth, Mass.) for a 17-yard touchdown to make it 16-13.
Bryant forced a three-and-out on the next Seahawk possession and took over at its own 29. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty pushed Bryant across midfield but a six-yard loss on second down pushed Bryant back into its own territory. Facing third-and-long, Easton fired to Taylor Barthelette (East Longmeadow, Mass.) at the Wagner 40 and he quickly pitched it back to McCray who sprinted past the Wagner defense to give Bryant the lead, 20-16, with just 7:17 left.
Wagner took its next possession to the Bryant 27 but the Bulldogs stopped the Seahawks on fourth-and-1. Bryant was forced to punt after three plays and Wagner started its game-winning drive from its own 35 with 2:40 remaining. Andrews connected with Owens for a 20-yard gain to kickstart the drive and then added a 15-yard carry on the next play to move the ball to the Bryant 30. He followed with runs of 13 and 10 to put the ball inside the five and Peoples scored on a three-yard run to give Wagner the win.
Bryant had one last chance but Easton’s hail mary pass to the endzone was knocked down as time expired.
The Bulldogs finished with 378 yards of total offense but allowed a season-high 211 yards rushing. Easton completed 19-of-20 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns but also threw a season-high four interceptions. Barthelette caught four passes for 95 yards and Thompson added three catches for 75 yards. Michael Perry (Dunmore, Pa.) rushed for 21 yards on four carries, eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau and finishing his career with 1,004 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by Marquise Watson (Hillside, N.J.) who finished with nine tackles. Bobby Rutland (Bethesda, Md.) made eight and Jeff Covitz (Reading, Mass.) wrapped up his illustrious career with seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
Bryant’s eight wins tied a program record, while their second place finish is the highest in Division I history.