BANGOR, Maine — Tommy Ganley’s juggling pass interception in the end zone with 31.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter Saturday enabled Western New England to hold on for a 31-28 nonconference college football victory over Husson University at the Winkin Complex.
Ganley’s play, on a pass attempt from Husson quarterback Cory Brandon to Kyle Gaudet along the right sideline, provided a defensive conclusion to a wide-open second half that featured six lead changes between the budding NCAA Division III rivals.
“We practiced that almost exact two-minute situation this week and our offense scored so we learned a ton from it and I think we were really comfortable in that situation today,” said first-year WNE head coach Jason Lebeau.
“Good players make good plays and Tommy made a really good play.”
The loss was the second in three non-conference games for Husson, which is idle next week before beginning its final season of Eastern Collegiate Football Conference play.
“We haven’t been 1-2 for a long time,” lamented Husson coach Gabby Price.
WNE (2-1) scored the winning touchdown on a 19-yard pass from backup quarterback Brendan Smith to Steven Fedorchuk to cap off a 12-play, 75-yard drive with 3:12 left in the contest.
Husson then took possession at its 22-yard line and Brandon completed two third-down passes for first downs. Freshman halfback Solomon Hassen later rushed for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1 to give the Eagles another first down at the WNE 23.
Brandon then looked to the end zone and eyed Gaudet, who already had eight catches for 80 yards on the day.
But Ganley held his ground as he and Gaudet reached the goal line and was in good position as the pass arrived. The ball then bounced off each of his hands before he was able to gain control as his back hit the ground.
“I knocked the ball in the air,” said Ganley, who also had six tackles during the game and on Sunday was named Commonwealth Coast Football’s defensive player of the week, “and when it was in the air I knew I had to fight for it because it was the last drive of the game.”
The win was the third in as many years for the Golden Bears over Husson, a series that began in the 2016 NCAA tournament. It continued last fall when UNE beat Husson 21-14 at Springfield, Mass.
The two teams will continue to play annually when Husson joins WNE in the Commonwealth Coast Football league in 2019.
“It’s a really healthy rivalry right now with a ton of respect for each other,” said Lebeau. “You’ve got two really good football teams that have really battled it out for three games that all really were played all the way into the fourth quarter. I expect that to continue, so it’s exciting that it’s going to matter that much more once it’s a conference game.”
The teams combined for 56 second-half points after a first half dominated by smash-mouth defense on both sides.
Husson and WNE combined for just 35 rushing yards during the first two quarters, with the Golden Bears’ Valentin Wagner accounting for the only points before intermission with a 27-yard field goal on the second play of the second period.
WNE’s second punt block of the game, this one by sophomore linebacker Aaron Lamar, set his team up at the Husson 36 early in the third quarter. Alec Coleman scored the day’s first touchdown on an 8-yard quarterback draw to make it 10-0 with 9:22 left in the period.
The score fest was on.
A 54-yard run by Hassen on Husson’s next play from scrimmage was followed immediately by Brandon’s 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Keyshaun Robinson, who muscled his way into the end zone to pull the Eagles within 10-7 with 8:46 left in the quarter.
The recovery of a muffed WNE punt return by Husson’s Derek Bearden led to a 9-yard scoring pass from Brandon to Robinson that gave the Eagles their first lead at 14-10 before the Golden Bears drove 70 yards with A.J. Hall scoring on a 21-yard pass from Coleman to take a 17-14 advantage.
That lead lasted 14 seconds, as Ty Bassett returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and a 21-17 Husson lead with 1:59 left in the third.
A 2-yard run by Peter Hoff gave WNE back the lead at 24-21 early in the fourth quarter before Husson took its final lead on a 31-yard pass from Brandon to Lisbon’s Tyler Halls with 8:14 remaining.
Brandon finished the day completing 23 of 38 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, while Hassen rushed for 121 yards on 28 carries. Senior linebacker Elvin Suazo led the defense with 13 tackles.
Coleman and Smith combined to complete 20 of 32 passes for 210 yards and two TDs for WNE, while Hoff rushed for 64 yards on 19 carries.