LEWISBURG, Pa. – Junior wide receiver Jordan Harris (Lincoln University, Pa.) caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns but the Bryant University football team fell just short in its season-finale on Saturday afternoon, falling 24-21 on the road to Bucknell at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium.
Looking for its fifth consecutive win after starting the season 0-6, the Bulldogs (4-7, 4-4 NEC) were denied by a Bison (3-8, 0-5 PL) defense that allowed just 252 yards of total offense. The Black and Gold never led in the contest and trailed by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter before rallying.
Bryant even had a chance to win the game in the final two minutes but a roughing the kicker penalty negated what appeared to be a blocked punt. The Bulldog defense forced Bucknell to punt with 2:11 remaining and five different Bulldogs broke through the line. One of the five got a hand on the ball but also ran into the kicker, causing the referee to throw the flag and give Bucknell an automatic first down.
The game itself, however, was an intense defensive battle. Neither team eclipsed the 300-yard mark of total offense, with the two teams combining for just 125 yards of rushing offense on the afternoon. In a decisive third quarter, the Bison held the Bulldogs to just 23 total yards and one first down, grabbing a three-point lead with a 32-yard field goal. Bucknell extended that lead in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard screen pass to Tyler Smith.
Bryant's offense immediately responded. Junior Mike Westerhaus (Farmingville, N.Y.) connected with senior running back Jordan Brown (Glastonbury, Conn.) for a 24-yard screen pass on second down and then Harris made a 16-yard catch over the middle on the next play to put Bryant into Bucknell territory. Five plays later, Westerhaus hit Harris again over the middle and Harris did the rest, spinning away from three tacklers before racing across the goalline for a 40-yard catch-and-run.
The Bulldog defense stood tall on the next Bucknell drive, giving Bryant the ball back on the 50 yard line with 6:45 on the clock. On the second play of the drive, Harris made a dazzling one-handed catch over the middle to put Bryant inside the 25. Three plays later, however, Bryant faced a fourth-and-nine and went for it. Harris caught the pass but was hit immediately, landing four yards shy of a first down, giving the ball back to Bucknell.
Saturday's contest started off with some fireworks. On their first possession of the game, the Bison drove 77 yards in seven plays, scoring on a Smith three-yard run. Playing in his final game for the Black and Gold, Brown had an answer. The senior caught the kickoff at his own seven, made two men miss but then fumbled the ball at the 30. The ball, luckily, bounced right back to Brown and he kept running until he hit paydirt. The return officially goes down as a 63-yard return but it covered 93 yards, which would have given Brown the record for the longest return in program history.
Bucknell grabbed its second lead of the game seven minutes into the second quarter. The Bison converted on five third-down plays, driving 80 yards in 16 plays while taking over seven minutes off the clock. The drive finally ended when Brandon Wesley hit a wide open Nick Gatto in the corner of the endzone for a 16-yard touchdown.
Two possession later, the Bulldogs were able to knot things up. On third-and-11 from their own 27, Westerhaus hit Harris for 63 yards to put the ball in Bucknell territory. Three plays later, he hit Harris in the corner of the endzone to tie the score at 14-14.
Bryant's defense was again led by Jeff Covitz (Reading, Mass.) and Connor McNamara (Sandy Hook, Conn.). Covitz finished with three tackles for a loss and two sacks, while McNamara totaled four tackles for a loss and three sacks. Sam Sammons (Cypress Creek, Texas) led the team with a career-high 11 tackles and freshman Aaron Dixon (Danbury, Conn.) registered his first-career interception.
With a full year of full Division I football under their belts, the Bulldogs head into the offseason with their sights set on a successful 2013 season.