WASHINGTON - The Gallaudet University football team earned its first Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) win, and second win of the season, on a picturesque Saturday fall afternoon over Castleton University, 21-17, in a hard fought game in front of 3,844 alumni, students, faculty, staff and supporters on homecoming weekend at Hotchkiss Field.
The Bison (2-6, 1-4 ECFC) regained the lead in the fourth quarter when freshman running back Elisha Spinosi (Lanham, Md.) capped off a six-play, 73-yard drive with an 11-yard sweep into the end zone to put the Bison up by three points with nine minutes left. Freshman kicker Jacob Guertler (Staunton, Va.) made his season debut for the Bison and tacked on his third extra-point in the game to give the Bison a 21-17 lead over the Spartans (3-5, 3-2 ECFC).
On the ensuing drive, Castleton proceeded to make its way down the field with ease until they reached the red zone. On first down from the Gallaudet 18-yard line, freshman linebacker Mason Gooch (Mount Sterling, Ky.) snuffed out a rush play and dropped Ryan Barry for a loss of seven yards. GU's defense locked down on the next three plays, forced the Spartans to turn the ball over on downs at the Gallaudet 15.
The Bison took time off the clock with five straight running plays and gained one first down in the process. The Spartans forced the Bison to punt from its own 32 as sophomore Tony Libit (Deerbrook, Wis.) lifted a 32-yard punt into Castleton territory.
Castleton took over at its own 36 with 2:20 left in regulation.
Sophomore quarterback Mitchell Caron (27-for-40, 274 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) went to work and hit Tyshaun Rodriguez (two receptions, 56 yards) for a big 31-yard strike down the middle of the field to the Gallaudet 30. Caron then connected with Soren Pelz-Walsh (13 catches, 121 yards, one touchdown) for a 20-yard gain as the Spartans reached the red zone and had first and goal from the Gallaudet 10 with just over a minute left.
Caron was stopped on back-to-back rushes where he only gained six total yards as Castleton was forced to take a timeout with 41 seconds left. Caron threw an incomplete pass on the next play to set-up the decisive fourth and goal play.
The Bison faithful were loud and on their feet as they cheered on the Gallaudet defense to make one more stop.
Caron took the snap and rolled right before throwing back left to offensive lineman Jordan Stone, who made the catch, and took off towards the left corner pylon in the end zone. Stone, a left tackle, bounced off one would-be tackler before GU linebacker Carter Janorschke (Lichtfield, Minn.) jumped on his back and brought him down at the 1-yard line as sophomore defensive back Louie Akuffo (Bowie, Md.) and Gooch swooped in and helped to halt Stone short of winning the game.
Gallaudet tallied 362 yards of offense and gained 265 on the ground. The Bison controlled the time of possession with over 34 minutes and converted all three of its opportunities on fourth down including a fake punt. The Bison shuffled in a slew of running backs to keep everyone's legs fresh. Spinosi scored twice including the game's first score on a five-yard run to begin the second quarter as GU led 7-0.
The Spartans quickly responded when Caron hit Pelz-Walsh for a 17-yard strike at the 12:02 mark.
Castleton had a chance to take the lead on its next possession, after a bad Bison punt, placed the Spartans in Gallaudet territory. Caron marched the Spartans into the red zone, again, but got picked off by Montray Roberts (Dallas, Texas) in the end zone.
Caron got intercepted on the next drive when Gooch dove around midfield to make an amazing interception. The Bison quickly marched down the field, converted a fake punt, and got into field goal range where Guertler missed a 20-yard field goal, wide right, as time expired and the teams went into the half knotted at 7-7.
The turnovers continued to go Gallaudet's way in the second half when Castleon fumbled the opening kickoff and the Bison took over. Then on the next Spartan drive Caron got intercepted for the third straight time as Gallaudet defensive back, Cody Paulay-Simmons (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii) intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards to the Castleton 42.
Gallaudet worked its way inside the Castleton 10 before the Bison faced fourth down and had to decide to attempt another field goal or go for it.
Head Coach Chuck Goldstein elected to go for it and things paid off as freshman quarterback Timel Benton (Columbia, S.C.) found freshman running back Adam Wemmer (Corralitos, Calif.), who came out of the backfield and caught a pass, streaking up the middle of the field and into the end zone. Guertler added an extra point to extend the lead to 14-7.
Castleton wasted little time responding as Caron and the offense marched 64 yards on seven plays in two minutes and 26 seconds to tie the game at 14.
The Spartan defense forced a three and out as Castleton and Caron went back to work. This time the Spartans used up close to six minutes and 15 plays to go 60 yards. The Bison defense kept the Spartans out of the end zone but couldn't keep them off the scoreboard as Ryan Payne booted home a 21-yard field goal to give the Spartans their first lead of the day, 17-14.
That set the scene for Spinosi's eventual game-winning touchdown at the 9:03 mark. That score was set-up on a Benton 35-yard pass to freshman Alvin Anthony III (Humble, Texas).
Castleton's Jakob Trautwein made 18 tackles (16 solo) while Darren Callan added 14 tackles (11 solo) to pace the Spartan defense.
"It was a total team effort this afternoon and I am super proud of this team and this coaching staff. I am glad that we could win in front of all the alumni who came out today and our amazing fans." - Chuck Goldstein, Gallaudet University football head coach
- Freshman fullback Canton Meadows (Yukon, Okla.) led the Bison with 19 rushes for 52 yards
- Benton went 8-for-18 for 97 yards and one touchdown
- Sophomore wide receiver Dylan Mento (Hammonton, N.J.) led the receiving corp with four catches for 38 yards
- Senior linebacker Ryan Santana (Palm Bay, Fla.) led Gallaudet's defense with 13 tackles (10 solo)
- Freshman defensive lineman Dante Townsend (Ormond Beach, Fla.) registered one sack for a loss of three yards
- Gallaudet made three interceptions in a game for the first time since Oct. 26, 2013, in a 16-13 win over Husson University on Homecoming
- Gallaudet Athletic Director Michael Weinstock presented President Roberta Cordano with the game ball after the win
- The Bison are now 4-3 in Homecoming Games during Goldstein's tenure
- This is the first time Gallaudet has beaten Castleton at Hotchkiss Field since joining the ECFC in 2009
- The Gallaudet-Castleton series is now tied at 4-4
GU will head to Paxton, Mass., to take on Anna Maria College (0-8, 0-5 ECFC) in a conference game on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m.