NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Senior WR Ahkeen Williams (DeWitt, N.Y.) caught eight passes for 161 yards and a touchdown and junior RB Elad Covaliu (Rockville, Md.) scored the game-winning touchdown to lead the Saint Anselm College football team to a 23-20 overtime victory against Southern Connecticut State University on Saturday in both teams' Northeast-10 opener at Jess Dow Field.
The Hawks (1-0 NE-10) begin the season 2-0 for the first time since 2004 and win back-to-back games for the first time since Sept. 11-18 of that year. The Owls drop to 0-2, 0-1 NE-10.
"The guys we have here care," head coach Patrick Murphy said. "They have heart and they're playing for each other – and any time you have a team playing for each other, anything is possible."
After Southern Connecticut forced overtime with 4:15 left in the contest, the Hawks won the toss and chose to play defense first. On third-and-6, sophomore LB Kyrell Jaundoo (Cohasset, Mass.) strip-sacked Owls' quarterback Ray Catapano, but the officials called roughing the passer to give Southern a first down that set up an eventual 19-yard field goal by Jeff Groth that made it 20-17 and put the Hawks in the position of needing a field goal of their own to force a second overtime session or a touchdown to win it.
Saint Anselm did nothing through the first three plays and needed to convert a fourth-and-15 from the 30-yard line to keep their hopes alive. It did just that when sophomore QB Yianni Gavalas (Manhasset, N.Y.) found Williams on the right sideline for a 21-yard completion to the 9-yard line that made it a whole new ballgame. The Hawks wasted no time as Covaliu plowed in from nine yards out to lift Saint Anselm to victory in their first overtime game since Sept. 5, 2009 when they defeated Plymouth State, 41-35, in five overtimes.
Gavalas completed 23 of 31 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing three interceptions. Gavalas, who had only thrown four career picks in 235 career attempts entering the day, bounced back in the second half as he went 16-for-20 for 138 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. Covaliu rushed 16 times for 61 yards and a touchdown, in addition to catching three balls for 21 yards. Senior WR Justin Bernard (Cambridge, Mass.) made a team-best nine catches for 50 yards and a score and also threw for 76 yards and a touchdown on a second-quarter trick play.
Southern put up 419 yards of total offense, compared to 343 for Saint Anselm, but also ran 35 more plays.
After the Saint Anselm defense forced a punt and back-to-back turnover on downs in its first three possessions to start the game, Southern Connecticut crafted a 12-play, 66-yard drive that lasted 5:21 and ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Julian Hayes. Groth added the extra point to give the Owls a 7-0 lead with 22 seconds on the clock in the first quarter.
In similar fashion, the Hawks had gone interception-interception-punt on their first three drives, but answered Southern Connecticut on the third play of their fourth drive when Gavalas swung the ball out to the right for Bernard, who hit a wide open Williams down the right hash for a 76-yard touchdown that knotted the game following an extra point from junior K/P Shane Grayson (Ormond Beach, Fla.) just seven seconds into the second quarter.
The Owls went ahead 10-7 with 3:04 remaining in the half when Groth's 23-yard field goal capped a 14-play, 82-yard drive that spanned 7:40.
The game stayed that way into the third quarter when the Hawks had a chance to tie it, but Grayson's 29-yard field goal attempt went wide left with 12:07 left in the third. After the defense forced another punt, the offense went 68 yards in 11 plays to finally take the lead. Williams came up with a huge 23-yard reception on fourth-and-six that kept the drive alive and set up Bernard's six-yard catch-and-run from Gavalas that made it 14-10 following Grayson's point-after with 4:49 on the clock in the third.
After forcing another punt, Saint Anselm took over at its own 44-yard line and added to its lead when Grayson drilled a 33-yard field goal to widen the gap to 17-10 with 45 seconds to go in the third.
"The defense kept us in it," Murphy said. "Offensively, we were playing bad at the start. Guys were overthinking and trying to do too much. Our defense kept us in it and helped us win at the end."
The teams then traded defensive stops until the Owls used a 14-play, 85-yard drive that lasted 6:00 to knot the game at 17-all with 4:15 left. Catapano ran it in from three yards out before Groth added the extra point, despite it being blocked at the line of scrimmage by senior DL Justin Waltzer (Danbury, Conn.), then ricocheting off the helmet of junior LB Joel Jorgensen (Eldersburg, Md.) and squeaking over the goal post.
The Hawks return to action Saturday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. when they play host to Bentley University in their home opener 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.