MANCHESTER, N.H. – Sophomore QB Yianni Gavalas (Manhasset, N.Y.) completed 37 of 49 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns, while running for two more scores, as the Saint Anselm College football team rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to foil Bentley University, 38-34, in its home opener Saturday at Grappone Stadium.
The Hawks improve to 3-0 (2-0 NE-10) for just the second time ever and first time since 2004 by beating Bentley for the first time in 15 tries. The Falcons drop to 1-2, 0-2 NE-10.
"Playing a team that's historically one of the better teams in the league year-in and year-out, coming off two back-to-back wins prior that were nail-biters and coming back from being down 10 in the fourth quarter against a quality team just continues to build confidence," head coach Patrick Murphy said.
Gavalas spread the ball around to five different receivers, including senior WRs Justin Bernard (Cambridge, Mass.) and Brandon Gomes (Providence, R.I.), who both had big games. Bernard caught 12 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, while Gomes made seven catches for 112 yards and a score. Junior RB Elad Covaliu (Rockville, Md.), who pulled in four passes for 12 yards, turned in his best game in a Saint Anselm uniform thus far as he ran 20 times for 95 yards (4.8 avg) and a touchdown.
"We have a long way to go – we have eight games left, minimum," Murphy said. "There's a lot of football to be played. We're 1-0 this week and that's the thing we're preaching to the guys – it doesn't matter what the record is; none of the points carry over. We just have to play hard, smart, fast and physical football each week."
Trailing 34-24 with under 10 minutes to go in the game, the Hawks responded by marching 86 yards in 11 plays to pull within a field goal as Gavalas ran it in from three yards out before junior K/P Shane Grayson (Ormond Beach, Fla.) tacked on the extra point that made it 34-31 with 7:06 remaining.
The defense of Saint Anselm, which had stymied the Bentley offense through its first six possessions, but had since given up points on six straight drives, still needed to come up with a stop to get the ball back for its own offense. And it did just that as it came through with a huge three-and-out, highlighted by a big sack from sophomore LB Kyrell Jaundoo (Cohasset, Mass.) that backed the Falcons up into a third-and-11.
Following the punt, the Hawks took over at their own 48-yard line with 4:46 to go and picked up one first down until the drive seemed to fizzle out as the offense faced a third-and-10 from the Bentley 40. As they have numerous times through the first three weeks of the season, however, the Hawks came through as Gavalas heaved the ball down the left sideline for Gomes, who snatched the ball out of the air for a 33-yard gain that set up a first-and-goal from the 7. Covaliu ran three times, including for three yards on the final rush that put the Hawks in the end zone for the fourth time in five possessions to take a 38-34 lead after the Grayson PAT with 2:33 on the clock.
Bentley marched down to the Saint Anselm 26-yard line, but a big 5-yard penalty stalled the drive as QB Dan Guadagnoli's next three passes fell incomplete and the Hawks were able to take a knee to run out the final 39 seconds.
Junior DB Carroll Bailey (Clinton, Mass.) came up big down the stretch as he tallied 10 tackles (9 solo) and three pass break-ups. Senior LB Zach Hayes (Chelmsford, Mass.) also registered 10 tackles for the Hawks, including 0.5 for a loss.
The Saint Anselm defense set the tone early as senior DB Matt Yopp (Bristol, Conn.) picked off Guadagnoli at the Falcons' 41-yard line on Bentley's first offensive play of the game. The offense took advantage of the short field as it covered the 41 yards in six plays, highlighted by a Gavalas-to-Bernard 11-yard touchdown strike that made it 7-0 just 2:21 into the game after the Grayson kick.
The Bentley offense was held without a first down through the entire opening quarter, but found the scoreboard with 10:00 remaining in the second stanza when Guadagnoli found Alex Farkes from 12 yards out and Michael Baron added the extra point to tie the game at 7-all.
Following a grind-it-out, 18-play, 73-yard drive that ate up 5:56 of clock, Grayson booted a 20-yard field goal that lifted Saint Anselm into the lead at 10-7 with 3:57 to go before the half.
The Falcons responded, however, as a quick score on a three-yard run by George Craan catapulted Bentley into the lead at 14-10 with 1:30 left. Bentley was able to get the ball back again as Nick McCarthy grabbed Gavalas' second interception to give the Falcons a short field that they took advantage of when Baron kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired to send the visitors into the locker room with a 17-10 lead.
Gavalas came back out and was nearly perfect in the second half as he went 21 of 26 for 250 yards and a touchdown, to go along with two more rushing scores and no turnovers. He started right away by driving the Hawks 80 yards in 10 plays before keeping it himself for a 1-yard TD that knotted the game at 17 after the Grayson kick with 11:16 left in the third.
The teams then traded scores as Guadagnoli found Jeff Hill for an 8-yard score and Gavalas hooked up with Gomes from 23 yards out to keep it tied, 24-24, with 3:46 to play in the third. Bentley would make its move to go up 10, however, as Baron added a 27-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the third and Martin Bannerman finished off a 12-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard rush that brought the score to 34-24 following the Baron PAT.
Senior WR Nick Marcella (No. Bridgton, Maine) made seven catches for 78 yards, while fellow senior WR Ahkeen Williams (DeWitt, N.Y.) reeled in seven passes for 67 yards. The offense put up a season-best 499 yards of total offense, while the defense held Bentley to a season-low 346.
The Hawks will look to start 4-0 for the first time in program history when they play host to Pace University on Homecoming next Saturday, Sept. 27 (1 p.m.) at Grappone. 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.