The Marietta College Pioneers bid for a season opening, come-from-behind, final quarter victory came up just short as the Case Western Reserve Spartans clipped the Pios 26-23 at Don Drumm Stadium Saturday night.
The Pioneers jumped out to a quick 10-0 first-quarter lead, only to surrender 26 unanswered Spartan points before staging their fourth-quarter rally.
With under two minutes to play and Case Western facing a third-and-12 at the Pioneer 49-yard line, running back Manny Sicre ripped off a 15-yard run that proved to be the deciding play on a night where there were no shortages of big plays.
Times file photo
Marietta College’s Kirby Harris (18) had six receptions for 109 yards and one touchdown in a 26-23 Pioneer setback to Case Western Reserve at Don Drumm Stadium Saturday night.
Marietta College struck first as senior quarterback and first-year starter Tom Fulton hooked up on a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide-out Kirby Harris just two minutes into the contest to give the Pioneers a 7-0 lead.
It would be Case Western that made the first mistake of the game as it fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Pioneers' Robert Brown came up with the recovery deep in Spartan territory.
On the very next play, Fulton and Harris connected again for what appeared to be their second touchdown in less than a minute, but the Pios were whistled for an illegal man down field penalty and the touchdown was nullified.
CASE WESTERN RESERVE 26
MARIETTA COLLEGE 23
Case Western Reserve 0 10 13 3 26
Marietta College 10 0 0 13 23
MC: Kirby Harris 47 yd. pass from Tom Fulton (Conor Durina kick) 13:03
MC: Durina 20 yd. field goal 6:19
CWR: Won Kun Park 26 yd. field goal 4:53
CWR: Manny Sicre 3 yd. run (Park kick) :51
CWR: Sean Lapcevic 8 yd. pass from Erik Olson (kick no good) 11:16
CWR: Olson 5 yd. run (Park kick) 5:47
CWR: Park 33 yd. field goal 12:15
MC: Linard Williams 7 yd. pass from Fulton (2 pt. attempt failed) 6:25
MC: Williams 8 yd. pass from Fulton (Durina kick)
Case Western Reserve: First Downs: 19, Rushes-Yards: 43-219, Passing Yards: 196, Total Yards: 415, Penalties-Yards 5-35, Punts-Avg. 3-27.7, Fumbles-Lost 3-2, Turnovers: 3.
Marietta College: First Downs: 15, Rushes-Yards: 25-(-3), Passing Yards: 333, Total Yards: 330, Penalties-Yards: 8-65, Punts-Avg. 3-35.0, Fumbles-Lost 2-0, Turnovers: 1.
Case Western Reserve: Rushing: Kenny Riordan: 19-155, Manny Sicre: 15-85 (TD), Erik Olson: 7- (-18), Passing: Olson 10-18-1, 196 yds. TD, Receiving: Sean Lapcevic: 4-81, TD, Brian Rice: 3-72, Drew Volbers: 1-32, Adam Hochman: 1-6.
Marietta College: Rushing: Chris Saunders: 9-31, Quincy Bell: 6-5, Tom Fulton: 10-(-39), Passing: Fulton: 21-37-1, 333 yds. 3TD's, Receiving: Tannon Roberts: 6-142, Kirby Harris: 6-109, TD, Josh Llaneza: 2-31, Linard Williams: 5-26, 2TD.
Pioneers Next Game: September 15 at Capital.
The Pioneers rebounded nicely from the penalty and had the ball all the way down to the five-yard line before seeing the drive come to a screeching halt when Fulton was sacked by the Spartan defense.
A short 24-yard field goal attempt by freshman kicker Conor Durina was wide left and the Pioneers had missed a golden opportunity to take control of the game against the heavily favored Spartans.
"Any time you play a quality opponent you've got to take advantage of those kind of situations," said Pioneer head coach Jeff Filkovski. "We easily could have gone up a couple of touchdowns but we just made too many mistakes."
Marietta would continue to dominate the first quarter when after the defense stopped Case Western on three plays, sophomore Charles Dixon rambled 43 yards on the punt return to once again give the navy blue and white the ball deep in Spartan territory at the 22- yard line.
Once again Marietta would end up settling for a field goal attempt, and this time Durina connected from 20 yards out to make it a 10-0 game.
The Pioneers completely dominated the first quarter as they came up with 160 total yards compared to just 12 for the Spartans.
As strong as the Pios were in the first quarter, their inability to cross the goal line once they entered the red zone would prove to be detrimental.
Unfortunately for Marietta that would be the case again early in the second quarter when a 12-play Pio drive fizzled at the Case 12-yard line and when Durina's 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked, it remained only a 10-point lead.
Case Western, coming off of a 9-1 season a year ago, finally put together a scoring drive against the stingy MC defense as an eight-play, 28-yard drive resulted in a Won Kun Park 26-yard field goal to cut the lead to seven at 10-3.
The Pioneer offense, so dominant in the first quarter, struggled in the second quarter as CWR forced it into consecutive possessions of three-and-out.
The Spartans drove straight down the field, relying on the power running of Kenny Riordan, who gained 21 yards on four carries, and a 30-yard screen pass from Olson to Sean Lapcevic to move the ball inside the Pioneers 10-yard line.
One play later Sicre trotted in with a four-yard touchdown run just before the end of the first half and Case Western Reserve had pulled even in a game that was dominated by the Pioneers for the better part of the half.
With the momentum shifting clearly in their favor, the Spartans came out in the third quarter and picked up right where they left off in the second as they put together an 85-yard, eight-play drive that resulted in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Olson to Lapcevic to give CWR its first lead of the game at 16-10.
After the Pios' first drive of the second half ended in another punt by Marietta High School graduate Sean Munfield, the Spartans were at it once again.
Sparked by a 15-yard run by Riordan and another 30-yard pass from Olson to Lapcevic, Case scored again on a five-yard keeper by Olson and appeared well on its way to taking control of the game.
An early fourth-quarter 33-yard field goal by Park made it 26-10 and when a Fulton pass was intercepted by Case Western defensive back Jordan Banky, things appeared quite bleak for the Pioneers.
With their backs planted firmly against the wall, the Pioneers began to come back, largely thanks to the right arm of Fulton and the speed of receiver Tannon Roberts.
Facing a third-and-17 at their own 20-yard line, Fulton hit Roberts on a crossing pattern that netted 41-yards and seemed to breathe some new life into both the Pioneers and their faithful.
Six plays later Fulton hit senior receiver Linard Williams with a 4-yard touchdown pass and when the two-point play attempt failed it was 26-16 with 6:25 left to play.
Filkovski felt that Fulton, who spent his prior three years at MC as a backup to Andrew Keller, showed a great deal of poise in directing the Pioneer comeback attempt.
"He battled and he found the opportunities to get the balls to our playmakers," said Filkovski, in his fifth season as Pioneer head coach.
The Pioneer defense came up huge on the next Spartan series when it stripped Olson of the ball and recovered it at the Case Western 29-yard line.
With the Case Western defense double- and triple teaming Harris, it would once again be the combo of Fulton and Roberts connecting on a 21-yard pass to advance the ball inside the 10-yard line.
Two plays later Fulton fired a strike inside the five to Williams who lunged across the goal line for his second touchdown of the game and after Durina's extra point was good the Pios trailed by just three at 26-23 with just under five minutes to play.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, that would be the last time their offense would touch the ball as Case Western worked the clock down the stretch, using the power running of Riardon and Sicre to secure the victory.
Riardon finished the night game with 156 yards on 19 carries, while Sicre added 87 yards on 15 touches.
"Our defense came out and was stingy there in the first half," said Filkovski. "I think our guys may have got winded in the second half and lost their focus a little bit."
Fulton completed 21-of-37 passes in the game for Marietta College for 333 yards and three touchdowns, while both Roberts (6-142) and Harris (6-109) eclipsed the 100-yard mark in receiving yards.
"That's the beauty of who we are on offense," said Filkovski of the tandem of Roberts and Harris. "They are the best two receivers in the league in my eyes and we've got to find a way to get them the football and Tom (Fulton) certainly did that tonight."
As strong as the Pioneer passing attack was in the season opener, the running game was just as weak, as Marietta carried the ball 25 times for just -3 net yards in the contest.
"We've got to be able to run the football," said Filkovski. "We have to figure out a way to run the ball into the end zone when we are right on the cusp like we were in the first quarter."
Filkovski was pleased with the grit and determination displayed by his team in the final quarter when it could have called it a night.
"They could have put up the white flag and just said hey we're done," said Filkovski. "But they didn't and that's the growth in this team that I am encouraged by."
As pleased as he was with his team's effort on the field, the Pioneer head coach was disappointed at the missed opportunity to capture an upset victory in the season opener.
"There are no moral victories because we played somebody tough to a three-point game," said Filkovski. "It's all about wins and losses and our guys have to start understanding that and find a way to get over the hump."
The Pios will have a week off before opening Ohio Athletic Conference play at Capital on Sept. 15.