ERIE, Pa. — The showdown between No. 19 Kutztown and No. 18 Mercyhurst lived up to the hype and then some. In the end, the Golden Bears defense proved to be the difference as they intercepted five passes to preserve a 35-28 victory against the Lakers at Tullio Field in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) contest Saturday afternoon. With the win, Kutztown begins the campaign 2-0 for the third consecutive season.
“It was a heck of a football game and it was a shame that somebody had to lose,” Kutztown head coach Raymond Monica said. “People definitely got their money’s worth this afternoon. Our defense got a bunch of interceptions and our offense converted when we needed to. It was just a great football game and that’s how it should be when you have two nationally-ranked teams going against each other.”
The Golden Bears overcame a slow start, controlled the middle quarters and held off a late Mercyhurst charge that included a potential game-tying punt return nullified in the final three minutes because of a penalty that erased an electrifying 82-yard return from Trevor Kennedy, who bobbed and weaved through KU’s special teams, and broke several tackles to get into the end zone.
All in all, it was just another day at the office for the Golden Bears, who have specialized in wild and entertaining games during the last two years where they have won 12 of their last 14 contests. We’ll get to the offensive superlatives shortly, but the KU defense stood tall when it mattered most throughout the game. Kutztown’s defense held Mercyhurst to 49 yards rushing on 15 carries to go along with five interceptions.
Freshman English Peay had a big afternoon. He picked off two passes and had a team-high 11 tackles for Kutztown. Jason Ulmer, Geoff Mock and Alex DiNolfi all picked off passes for the Golden Bears, who have nine interceptions in two games. DiNolfi’s interception with 55.9 seconds remaining iced the victory for Kutztown. The Golden Bear defense held Mercyhurst to just 49 yards rushing on 15 carries on the afternoon.
“I came with the mindset to make plays and help my team the best way possible,” Peay said. “I didn’t think I was going to do what I did today. It was nice to be able to contribute to the win. I am glad my teammates showed plenty of trust in me. It was fun to be out on the field and play in a game like this.”
Andrew Hodges added eight tackles and John Kreuer finished with seven stops. Brett Moss and Richard White combined for a sack. The Golden Bear defensive line of Colin Henny, Jason Henshaw, Moss, and Bill McMonigle applied constant pressure on Mercyhurst quarterback Trevor Rearick.
Offensively, Kutztown showcased balance for the second straight week by gaining 492 yards of total offense. Kutztown gained 228 yards on the ground and 264 yards in the air.
Robbie Frey led the way by gaining 131 yards on 20 carries while Josh Mastromatto added 97 yards on 15 carries for Kutztown. Kevin Morton tossed four touchdown passes, including a 55-yard pass to Colby Tuell in the first quarter and a 43-yarder to Erik Frazier that gave the Golden Bears a 21-14 lead with 13:50 remaining in the third quarter. Morton has 10 touchdown passes on the season and extended his streak to 19 consecutive games with at least one TD pass.
Frazier had six catches for 103 yards. Chris McCormick added seven receptions to raise his career total to 99. McCormick’s touchdown catch in the first quarter was the 18th of his career, which tied him for fourth on the all-time KU list with Don Mele for TD receptions. Overall, six players caught passes for the Golden Bears. Josh Smith, celebrating a birthday, also reeled in a touchdown pass.
“This was an exciting game especially with all the buildup leading into the game,” Frazier said. “To come out and get the win feels really good. I thought our defense played well and did a good job of making plays throughout the game.”
Also contributing to the victory for Kutztown was punter Nathan Fehr, who averaged 43.2 yards on five punts, including a 57-yarder.
Ulmer may have had the biggest play of the game when he intercepted a pass in the end zone midway through the first quarter. Already trailing, 7-0, Morton’s first pass attempt was intercepted and returned to the KU 18-yard line with 11:08 remaining in the first quarter. Three plays later Ulmer stepped in front of pass, which helped Kutztown get settled and find its groove.
The Golden Bears opened up a two-touchdown advantage in the third quarter on Frazier’s amazing catch in which he caught a deflected ball in the end zone while lying flat on his back and an 11-yard Morton run. Trailing 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers tried to rally by producing a pair of big plays: Kennedy caught touchdown passes of 58 and 61 yards to cut KU’s lead to 35-28 with 8:45 remaining. Kennedy finished with 193 yards on seven catches, including four TDs. The four touchdowns were a school record.
After Kennedy’s punt return for a touchdown was erased, the Lakers had the ball at their 30-yard line with 2:31 remaining. The Lakers crossed midfield with less than a minute remaining before DiNolfi came through with his second interception of the season to ice the game for the Golden Bears.
“This is a great win for us,” Morton said. “Anytime you’re playing a team as tough as Mercyhurst, it’s going to be a struggle, at times. We had a lot of players step up and make plays for us today. When the game is close like that, you get nervous at the end, but this team has been together for a long time and I know our defense is going to make plays when we need them.”
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