By Brian Willwerth
WALTHAM, MA – This was a terrific season opener between two good teams, in which special teams played a major role in the outcome.
Bentley University defeated Mercyhurst University on Saturday afternoon, 17-16. The game featured a blocked field goal, a perfectly executed fake field goal attempt, and a difference making missed extra point.
“We knew coming in that we were going to be in a very tough dogfight,” said Bentley Head Coach Thom Boerman. “We said special teams were probably going to be a huge factor, and they were.”
The Lakers, out of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC,) drew first blood on their opening possession. They marched it 52 yards in seven plays, and Anthony Vendemia capped it off with a six-yard TD pass to Jeff Groene. After Bentley kicker Michael Baron had a 39-yard FG attempt partially blocked, he redeemed himself with a 27-yarder in the second quarter to make it 7-3.
The Falcons took a 10-7 lead when Danny Guadagnoli threw an 18-yard TD pass to Jet Kollie on 4th and 5. But Mercyhurst would re-take the lead just before the intermission. After the Lakers executed a fake field goal to set up a first-and-goal, Brandon Brown-Dukes ran it in from three yards out. But Jordan Spangler’s extra point attempt was no good, so the margin at halftime was just three. That missed PAT would turn out to be huge.
In the third quarter, Spangler nailed one from 31 yards out to give his team a six-point lead, but Bentley answered later in the quarter with an eight-play, 72-yard drive. Kollie’s second TD of the game – this time on the ground – gave the Falcons a one-point advantage.
The Bentley defense took over from there. After allowing the field goal at the start of the third quarter, the Falcons did not allow any more points the rest of the way. The Lakers got one final possession with 1:22 remaining, but were unable to cross midfield and were stopped on 4th and 2.
“We were banged up, so I wasn’t certain what was going to happen,” said Boerman. “You don’t know who’s going to step up, but they did, the entire unit. Coach (Rusty) McKinney did a great job. (They) dominated the second half.”
Guadagnoli finished 20-of-28 for 162 yards with one TD and one INT. Vendemia threw for 207 yards. Mercyhurst also held the advantage in rushing yards (163-137). But at the end of the day, it was the special teams that made the difference.
“We’ve been playing out of conference opponents for a number of years now,” said Boerman. “But you’ve got to start beating those teams We’re getting a win against a quality opponent that I think, again, can just validate the Northeast-10 as much as Bentley University.”
Bentley will host Assumption on Friday night.