BOWIE, Md. – Junior Shane Grayson (Ormond Beach, Fla.) drilled a 38-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining to cap a monster comeback and lift the Saint Anselm College football team to Saturday's season-opening 23-22 victory against Bowie State University at Bulldog Stadium.
The Hawks open up the season 1-0 for the first time since 2005, while the Bulldogs begin 0-1.
"That was completely a team win," head coach Patrick Murphy said. "The defense made some key stops in the fourth quarter – really just bottled them up – and the offense did what we do. Special teams did an excellent job of covering kicks and obviously the field goal won it for us. It was an absolute team win."
Trailing 22-7 with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Hawks responded by driving 77 yards on eight plays in just 2:15. Pass completions from sophomore QB Yianni Gavalas (Manhasset, N.Y.) to classmate WR Zach Bartak (Greenfield, Mass.) of 37 and 12 yards highlighted the drive before junior RB Elad Covaliu (Rockville, Md.) – one of 11 Hawks from the Mid-Atlantic area to be playing in their back yard in this game – capped it with a three-yard touchdown scamper. Grayson's extra-point try was blocked, but Saint Anselm was within 22-13 with 1:37 remaining in the third.
The Saint Anselm defense held strong on the ensuing drive, however, stopping Bowie just over midfield to force a punt. The Bulldog punt was downed at the 1-yard line, but that did nothing to deter the Hawks' high-powered offense, which raced 99 yards on just eight plays over a span of 3:29. A 48-yard run from Gavalas, immediately followed by a 24-yard jaunt from sophomore RB Joe Hayman (Brandywine, Md.), gave the Hawks great field position. They delivered as Gavalas hit senior WR Ahkeen Williams (DeWitt, N.Y.) from 19 yards out for a touchdown that sliced the deficit to 22-20 following the Grayson PAT.
The defense came up big again, forcing a three-and-out and another punt that senior WR Justin Bernard (Cambridge, Mass.) returned 32 yards to just shy of midfield. Gavalas connected with Bartak on a 23-yard catch-and-run on the third play of the drive that pushed the Hawks into Bowie territory. After picking up another first down following a 12-yard reception by Bernard, a false start penalty helped sputter the drive. Saint Anselm would eventually face a fourth-and-15 and that's when Murphy called upon Grayson for the field goal try, which paid off in a big way.
"I was comfortable where we were that Shane could make the kick and he did it," Murphy said.
Faced with the task of holding on to a one-point lead, the Saint Anselm defense stood strong again, forcing another punt. After the Hawks traded the punt back, Bowie had one more chance, but could not get anything going as time ran out.
"We were very good defensively," Murphy said. "Bowie is a good, solid team; they are physical, athletic and have athletes at every position. We did a good job of containing them and making plays, especially in the fourth quarter. We really outplayed them in the second half, which is what we should be doing."
Bowie jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Mario Diaz-Aviles with 4:43 on the clock in the first stanza. The Hawks followed with a nine-play, 67-yard drive that took just 2:06, but Grayson's 23-yard field attempt went wide left and Saint Anselm still trailed by three. Bowie came up with a huge play on just the third snap of the drive as Matthew Goggans connected on a 73-yard catch-and-run with Nyme Manns. The two-point conversion failed and the Bulldogs led it 9-0.
Saint Anselm finally jumped on the board with 3:05 to go in the first half when Gavalas hooked up with Bartak for an eight-yard score that was followed by a Grayson point-after, which trimmed the deficit to 9-7. The Bulldogs followed with a 10-play, 54-yard drive that ate some clock and ended with an absolute back-breaker of a nine-yard touchdown catch by Garry Cropper just four seconds before halftime. Diaz-Aviles' PAT made it 16-7 at the break.
BSU was not done, however, as Goggans found Manns for a 14-yard score that capped a nine-play, 79-yard drive to open the lead to 22-7 with 3:56 on the clock in the third quarter. Diaz-Aviles' kick was no good and the Hawks were staring at a 15-point deficit with just under 19 minutes to play.
The Hawks' offense racked up 395 yards of total offense and struck a pretty good balance with 263 yards coming through the air and 132 on the ground. The defense limited the Bulldogs to 370 total yards of offense, including just 181 via the aerial attack.
Gavalas finished 20 of 38 for 263 yards and two touchdowns, while Covaliu was impressive in his Saint Anselm debut as he ran 16 times for 68 yards (4.2 avg) and a score. Hayman picked up 44 yards on 12 carries and made a pair of catches for 11 yards. Bartak caught four balls for 80 yards and the TD, while Williams snagged five balls for 69 yards and a touchdown. Senior WR Nick Marcella (No. Bridgton, Maine) tallied five receptions for 71 yards, with Bernard chipping in four catches for 32 yards.
Defensively, junior LB Elijah Thomas (Gaithersburg, Md.) and junior DB Carroll Bailey (Clinton, Mass.) both led the way with seven tackles apiece. Senior DL Josh Cheever (Lynn, Mass.) recorded a sack and forced a fumble that was recovered by junior LB Joel Jorgensen (Eldersburg, Md.).
The game-winning field goal wasn't all Grayson provided. He also booted a 70-yard punt that stands as the longest in Saint Anselm program history.
The Hawks return to action Saturday, Sept. 13 at noon when they travel to take on Southern Connecticut State University. The Hawks kick off their home slate, Saturday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. when they play host to Bentley University at Grappone Stadium. Stay up-to-date with the latest news, including game previews and recaps, directly from the Saint Anselm College athletic department by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter @STAHawks.