NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Gallaudet University made a valiant comeback in the second half of Saturday's Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) game against Norwich University but the Cadets held onto a 31-23 homecoming victory before 4,100 at Sabine Field.
Norwich (5-1, 2-1 ECFC), the defending conference champion, scored 24 unanswered points to take a 31-7 lead into halftime. The Bison (3-3, 1-2 ECFC) didn't give up as Gallaudet outscored the Cadets 16-0 in the third quarter and had several opportunities to tie the game but fumbles cost the Buff and Blue down the stretch.
GU's defense played lights out in the second half as the Bison held the Cadets scoreless, made two interceptions, recovered two fumbles and forced three punts. Sophomore cornerback Tony Tatum (Gardendale, Ala.) made both interceptions and returned his second pick 39 yards for the touchdown with 2:05 left in the third quarter. Sophomore running back Phillip Hayes (Baton Rouge, La.) ran in the two-point conversion to cut the Norwich lead to eight, 31-23.
Two minutes before, Tatum stopped a Norwich drive deep in Gallaudet territory when he intercepted Kris Sabourin's pass at the Bison 2-yard line. The next play senior quarterback Jimmy Gardner (St. Augustine, Fla.) found sophomore wide receiver Ryne Worsham (Chicago, Ill.) wide open at the 34-yard line. Worsham made the grab and a cut back at midfield to lose several Cadet defenders en route to the end zone for a 98-yard touchdown pass from Gardner, easily career highs for both. Gardner ran in the two-point conversion as the Bison trailed 31-15 with 4:29 to go in the third.
Gardner finished the game 6-for-17 passing for 128 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions while he ran the ball 14 times for 50 yards and one touchdown. Worsham caught two passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
The Bison had several chances to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
Norwich's Andrew Fulford (20 carries, 165 yards) fumbled the ball at the Gallaudet 26-yard line and freshman linebacker Steven Barber (Denver, Colo.) picked up the loose ball and rumbled 64 yards the other direction to the Cadet 10-yard line. Hayes and junior fullback Mike Gimeli (Deer Park, N.Y.) ran the ball three times for a gain of seven yards. Gardner's fourth down pass from the Cadet 3-yard line fell incomplete to sophomore Ryan Bonheyo (Frederick, Md.).
Gallaudet's defense forced a punt and got the ball back to the Bison offense with 10:30 left in the game. GU moved 41 yards down the field on seven plays but with 7:18 left Hayes had the ball stripped at the Norwich 19-yard line and lost the fumble as Cadet Joe Munno made the recovery.
Norwich took four minutes off the clock but Fulford fumbled once more to give Gallaudet new life with 3:19 left. The Cadet defense quickly forced the Bison into a fourth down situation where Gardner's pass was intercepted by Sean Stone at the Norwich 19-yard line and returned 20 yards.
The Bison got the ball back one final time after the GU defense made the Cadets punt with less than a minute left in the game.
Gallaudet started the drive from its own 35-yard line. Gardner had to pass as time was not on GU's side. Gardner hit Worsham for a 12-yard gain and after two incomplete passes he found freshman Josh Hanna (Lower Burrell, Pa.) for a 14-yard pick-up and a key first down. Gallaudet got to the Norwich 39-yard line but turned the ball over on downs. Norwich took a knee to run out the waning seconds.
The first quarter started in a hurry as Fulford took the opening hand-off from the Norwich 38 and rumbled 62 yards for the touchdown to give the Cadets a 7-0 lead 17 seconds into the game. On the ensuing kick-off Hayes returned the ball 74-yards to the Norwich 4. Gardner ran up the middle through traffic on the next play to tie the game at 7-7 just 32 seconds in.
It was all Norwich the rest of the way as Sabourin (7-for-18, 114 yards) threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Chris Denton, Fulford ran in from 26-yards out, a bad snap by Gallaudet led to a safety and Sabourin ran 57-yards for a score before the intermission. Sabourin finished with 128 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
Gallaudet allowed over 300-yards on the ground for the first time in 16 games as the Cadets finished with 361 rushing yards as a majority of those yards came in the first half. National powerhouse Wesley College had 311 rushing yards against Gallaudet back on November 15, 2008, as the Bison lost 55-7.
The Bison were held to 140 rushing yards and 268 of total offense today, both season low totals. Norwich and Gallaudet both struggled on third down as the two teams combined to go 7-for-26.
Sophomore linebacker Tom Pangia (Hammonton, N.J.) led the Bison defense with 12 tackles while Chris Roberto and Rocco DiMeco had 12 and 11 tackles, respectively for Norwich. Pangia and DiMeco are reigning first team all-conference selections on defense. DiMeco went down with an injury after the two-point conversion at the 4:29 mark in the third quarter.
Gallaudet next returns home to host Mount Ida College for an ECFC game at Hotchkiss Field on Saturday, October 16, at Noon.