Defense clutch again for Homecoming as football wins fourth straight

Receiver Jeff Mattonelli catches a 51-yard touchdown. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk.)

The stage was set for something dramatic at the end of Homecoming, a game in which quarterback Chris Spellman came alive and the football team’s defense stayed dominant for a 21-20 win over visiting Morrisville State College.

Leading by just a point in front of nearly 1,500 fans with less than two minutes remaining, the conference-best Lions (4-2, 3-0) defense needed to stop Morrisville’s conference-best offense only one more time to push the College to the top of the NJAC standings.

Morrisville drove to the College’s 37-yard line, but the Lions defense did what it needed to do in crunch time: end the game by forcing a turnover on downs, which it has done regularly this year.

“That really comes from our mentality,” senior linebacker Nick Bricker said. “Although we may not be the biggest, fastest or strongest team, we have a great team chemistry and truly believe in one another. Believing that your teammate will get the job done is pivotal to our success. As for our defense, we have a bend-but-don’t-break mentality that has helped us succeed tremendously, especially late in games.”

Bricker led the way with a game-high 19 tackles, including an assist to force fourth down on Morrisville’s final drive, while junior linebacker Ryan Lowe added 15 to limit Morrisville to season-lows of 20 points and 431 yards.

“Our main goal in every game is to shut down their offense,” Bricker said. “We were extremely excited to go up against the top-ranked offense, to truly test our defense. (Defensive coach Rocky) Hager and the other defensive assistants put together a great game plan in defending Morrisville, and our guys executed on game day. It is great to see our defense melding together and some new faces making a huge impact.”

While clutch play from the defense has been largely responsible for the Lions’ four-game win streak, its best stretch since 2010, opportunistic play from Spellman and the passing game put the College on top from the beginning.

The College never actually broke into the red zone and only entered Morrisville territory four times, but never needed anything more — getting three long TDs from Spellman, including the fourth-quarter winner.

With 10:09 remaining in the game, senior wide receiver Fred Sprengel made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch for the 30-yard TD to tie the game at 20-20, and sophomore kicker Evan Costello stayed cool in delivering the extra point for the final 21-20 score.

“Getting a win on Homecoming is always a great feeling,” Bricker said. “To show our friends, family and alumni that we are able to succeed is a great experience. It is very fortunate that this Homecoming win also concluded with us being first in the NJAC.”

Spellman ended the night 11-for-22 with 190 yards, 3 TDs and one INT, while sophomore running backs Victor Scalici and Brad Young were largely responsible for the Lions’ 121 rushing yards.

The Lions have another big game this week, though, as they travel to SUNY Cortland (2-1) on Saturday, Oct. 26 to stay in first place in the NJAC.

“Now we have to keep the momentum rolling and get ready for a great opponent as we travel up to Cortland,” Bricker said. “Take it one game at a time is our mantra from this point on.”