WEST HAVEN, Conn. – Sophomore QB Yianni Gavalas (Manhasset, N.Y.) accounted for four touchdowns, including a 48-yard pass to senior WR Brandon Gomes (Providence, R.I.) as time expired to lift the Saint Anselm College football team to Saturday afternoon's improbable 37-34 victory against the University of New Haven at DellaCamera Stadium.
The win snaps a four-game skid for the Hawks, as they improve to 6-4 on the season and 5-4 in Northeast-10 play. Saint Anselm matches the program record for wins in a season, which was set back in 2000. That 2000 campaign was also the last time the Hawks produced a winning record, which they are now assured of this season. It was the Hawks' first win against New Haven since a similar shocking road victory Nov. 6, 2010 (35-26). The Chargers, who lose to Saint Anselm for just the second time in six lifetime meetings, see their six-game winning streak snapped as they drop to 6-4, 6-3 NE-10.
The win, coupled with Assumption College's triumph over Stonehill College, earns Saint Anselm the No. 5 seed for Northeast-10 Championship Weekend and a home game against Stonehill on Nov. 15 (12 p.m.).
"It's huge to have a home game [next weekend]," head coach Patrick Murphy said, "especially since we only had four home games all year. We can play in front of our fans again and have a chance to finish with a winning record at home. Good teams have winning records at home. We have the winning record on the road and now we need to go get it at home."
Gavalas finished 42 of 56 for 439 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 40 yards and another score on 13 carries. The 439 yards are the third most in a single game in school history, while the 479 yards of total offense are the fourth most. In the game, Gavalas moved past Michael Pierce (2009) for the single-season record in both passing yards (2,629) and total offense (2,933).
Senior WR Justin Bernard (Cambridge, Mass.) made 12 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown, as he became the first Hawk ever to reach 4,000 receiving yards in a career. Fellow senior WR Ahkeen Williams (DeWitt, N.Y.) caught 11 passes for 102 yards and a score to leapfrog former teammate Marc Wilson and move into second place all-time in program history with 2,231 receiving yards. Gomes hauled in nine passes, including the game winner, for 125 yards and the clinching score.
Saint Anselm trailed, 21-7, at halftime, and used a 30-13 margin in the second half to pull off the stunning triumph. The Hawks racked up the ninth highest mark in program history with 549 yards of total offense – the most in over a month since they put up 601 at Merrimack on Oct. 4. In addition to the 439 passing yards, the Hawks ran for 110, marking the 11th time in the last 14 games they have cracked the century mark.
"Our kids kept grinding and fighting and batting through adversity and kept believing," Murphy said. "We are always going to fight and compete and get after it. When we show up and play with emotion and don't let emotion play with us, we're one of the best teams in the league. We did that today."
Trailing by two scores at the half, Saint Anselm received the opening kick in the third quarter and charged 74 yards in 11 plays, with sophomore RB Joe Hayman (Brandywine, Md.) polishing off the drive with a 5-yard run that cut the deficit to 21-14 after the extra point by junior K/P Shane Grayson (Ormond Beach, Fla.) just 3:23 in.
The Hawks pulled within 21-16 later in the period when sophomore WR Zach Bartak (Greenfield, Mass.) blocked Anthony Greenfield's punt, which was then recovered in the end zone for a safety with 4:22 remaining in the third.
As if getting to that point wasn't a battle enough for Saint Anselm, it overcame more adversity when Gomes caught a pass that looked to be the go-ahead score on the first play of the fourth quarter, but he fumbled and New Haven recovered at its own 6-yard line.
The defense forced a punt, however, and the offense needed just three plays to take the lead for the first time as Gavalas hooked up with Bernard on a 53-yard touchdown that made it 24-21 following the Grayson PAT with 10:23 remaining.
After the teams traded fumbles, the Chargers took advantage of a short field as Lamar Thomas ran in from five yards out to regain the lead at 28-24 after Brian Roberts' kick with 6:14 left to play.
Gavalas remained cool, calm and collected as he drove the Hawks 63 yards in 12 plays and found Williams on a fourth-and-8 from the New Haven 12-yard line for a score that put Saint Anselm in front, 31-28, with 2:05 to go after the Grayson point-after.
New Haven did not go away, however, and set itself up nicely on the first play of the ensuing drive as QB Joey Bradley hit Courtney Moshood for 54 yards down the right sideline. Facing a fourth-and-three from the Saint Anselm 5-yard line, New Haven opted to go for the win instead of the tie and made the gamble look good as Bradley found Thomas, who dove just inside the right pylon for a 5-yard touchdown that put the Chargers back on top, 34-31 with 20 seconds on the clock. Roberts' kick was blocked by junior DB Carroll Bailey (Clinton, Mass.), meaning the Hawks only needed a field goal to tie it.
New Haven picked up a personal foul penalty on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Hawks the ball at the Chargers' 48-yard line. Following an incomplete pass, New Haven called timeout with five seconds remaining. Saint Anselm came out with three receivers lined up to the right and Gavalas aired one out down the sideline for Gomes, who reeled in the pass just inside the 20-yard line and shed one tackler before sprinting into the end zone with zeroes on the clock to lift the Hawks to victory.
The Hawks were led on defense by senior LB Zach Hayes (Chelmsford, Mass.), who registered 13 tackles, including 2.0 for a loss.
New Haven jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter as Bradley tossed touchdown passes of 35 yards and nine yards to Rishawn Harris and Jonathan Badyna, respectively. Saint Anselm answered 1:37 after the second score on a 15-yard Gavalas run that trimmed the deficit to 14-7 with 10:18 to go in the second. The Chargers hit back just 39 seconds later, however, as Bradley capped a two-play, 65-yard drive with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Henry Adegunle to make it 21-7.
Saint Anselm was driving inside the final minute of the first half when Gavalas threw a short pass to the New Haven 25, but his receiver was hauled down and the defender intercepted the ball. No call was made and the Chargers went into the break with a 14-point lead.
The No. 5 Hawks wrap up their season Saturday, Nov. 15 at noon when they play host to No. 6 Stonehill in a rematch of their Nov. 1 meeting 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.