Sacred Heart Football Wins 28-25 Thriller at Central Connecticut
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – The Sacred Heart University football team took over sole possession of first place in the Northeast Conference with a thrilling 28-25 victory at Central Connecticut on Saturday afternoon. A game-tying 44-yard field goal attempt by CCSU (4-4, 2-1 NEC) sailed wide left in the closing seconds, sealing the victory for SHU, who scored 21 points in the second half. Sacred Heart (4-3, 2-0 NEC) is the lone unbeaten team remaining in NEC play.
Fifth-year quarterback Kevin Duke was 21-of-28 passing for 374 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to 39 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown. Much of Duke's damage came in the second half, when he went 14-for-15 for 242 yards, leading SHU to a season-high 542 yards to total offense.
Fifth-year receiver Andrew O'Neill caught 10 passes for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Kezio Snelling had three catches for a career-best 103 yards and Ed Cuddahy had three catches for 23 yards and one TD. Senior tailback Jordan Meachumwent over the century mark for the third time this season, rushing for 107 yards and adding 73 yards receiving.
Defensively, junior Mike Wilen led SHU with 10 tackles, senior Kevin Sears had a season-high nine tackles and senior Pat Ferraro had four tackles including 1.5 for a loss. Senior Noah Provenzano had a huge play on special teams, blocking a 23-yard field goal attempt late in the first half.
Central went 48 yards on nine plays on their opening drive, capping it off with a 43-yard field goal by Francis Cole to take the early 3-0 lead.
After taking over at midfield following an 18-yard punt, Duke and Meachum turned in consecutive first down rushes, before Duke rolled out his left and found Meachum for 14 yards to set up first down at the eight-yard line. Duke then rolled to his left and found O'Neill open, who broke a tackle and dove into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:51 to play.
CCSU re-took the lead at 10-7 in the opening moments of the second quarter on a 20-yard burst by Drew Jean-Gillaume.
Two plays after a SHU punt, Guillaume broke a 70-yard run up the middle to paydirt to make it 17-7 with 10:30 remaining until halftime.
After another SHU punt, CCSU followed with a lengthy drive before Omar Fraser made a tackle on third down and short, forcing a 23-yard field goal attempt, where Provenzano broke through the right side of the line and blocked the kick, keeping the deficit at 10 points with 2:51 on the clock.
SHU faced a 2nd-and-20 from the their own 22 when Duke launched one deep down the middle of the field for O'Neill, who went up over the defender and hauled in a magnificent catch, tipping it to himself and hanging on for a 43-yard reception to the CCSU 35 with 1:07 to go. The Blue Devils' defense buckled down and stopped the Pios on three straight plays and forced a punt in the final seconds.
The Pioneers had seven penalties for 75 yards in the opening 30 minutes.
SHU opened the second half with an eight play, 75-yard drive, capped by a seven-yard TD pass to Cuddahy to make it 17-14 at the 11:55 mark. It was Cuddahy's second TD reception of the year. The scoring drive was highlighted by a 53-yard catch and run by Snelling that took SHU to the CCSU 26.
SHU's defense then forced a three-and-out, completed by Ferraro who hauled down the quarterback for a three-yard loss on a rush attempt.
SHU took the ball and drove inside the red zone, highlighted by a 20-yard pass to Snelling, a 17-yarder to O'Neil, and a 10-yard run by Duke. But the Pios came up empty as Dane Borges' 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
On its third drive of the half, SHU once again moved the ball efficiently. Duke hit O'Neill down the middle for 22 yards, then found Meachum for 24 yards on the next play to move the ball inside the 25.
Duke capped off the drive with a three-yard run, going untouched around the left side to put Sacred Heart up 21-17 with 56 seconds remaining in the third. The seven play, 78-yard drive took up just 2:43.
CCSU moved the ball on the ensuing drive, converting a pair of third downs on passes of 17 yards (to midfield) and 18 yards to the SHU 30. The Blue Devils kept their offense on the field for a 4th-and-3 from the SHU 23, but Fraser and Robert Steffe came up with a huge stop for no gain to get the ball back with 11:11 to go.
On the fourth play, Duke hit Snelling for a 30-yard pass to move the ball to the CCSU 27. Duke then connected with O'Neill on consecutive plays, the second of which went for a 21-yard catch and run for a touchdown over the middle, padding the Pioneer lead to 28-17 with exactly nine minutes remaining.
CCSU converted two fourth downs, the second of which on a pass interference call on the SHU 29. On the next play, Jacob Dolegala found Gilmore for a 15-yard TD reception. The same duo connected on the two-point conversion to make it 28-25 with 5:26 remaining.
After an Aaron Donalson tackle for a loss on third down, a six-yard completion on fourth down gave CCSU a first down to their down 27. Central then drove 56 yards on 14 plays to the SHU 13-yard line, but was unable to tie the game as Cole's kick from 44 yards out sailed wide left with five seconds remaining.
QUOTABLE: Head Coach Mark Nofri
"You're talking about two fifth-year leaders (Duke and O'Neill) having unbelievable years. They're playmakers and positive guys that bring energy, excitement and they make plays when it counts. It counted today and we've missed that connection the last few weeks."
"Provenzano's block was huge. To win games, you have to make plays and we made plays at the end in our favor."
"We gathered them up at halftime and tried to stay positive and let them know we needed to get positive yardage, cut out the mistakes and finish when we got in the red zone."