Big Red plays role of spoiler in Gambier
Denison's dominance in the recent series with Kenyon College continued on Saturday and it couldn't have come at a worse time for the Lords. Needing a victory over the Big Red to secure at least a share of the conference championship and a possible NCAA playoff bid, Denison would play spoiler and topple the Lords, 22-13 from McBride Field.
The Big Red entered the game having won 13 of the last 15 meetings in the all-time series and today's victory sends DU's winning streak versus Kenyon to seven games.
DU set the tone early when senior Max Paulus put the finishing touches on a 10-play 46-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to fellow senior, Nick Keller. Paulus entered the game needing just 45 passing yards to become Denison's career leader in passing yards. The senior broke the record in style, with a 42-yard pass down the right sideline to junior John Wilson who climbed the ladder and made a leaping catch for the big gain. That pass moved Paulus past Greg Neuendorf and into first place on the all-time passing list.
The pass also gave DU a first and goal from the Kenyon five yard line. On the ensuing play, tailback Sam Fioroni went up the middle for the touchdown. The Lords would block the extra-point, giving Denison a 13-7 lead in the first quarter.
The Big Red defense would respond with consecutive three and out's and Matt Puracchio would mix in a 24-yard field goal, giving the Big Red a 16-7 advantage. With 5:33 left in the first half, DU took over on its own 38-yard line and went to work on a drive that would prove to be the turning point of the football game.
All season, the Big Red have specialized in long, time consuming offensive possessions and thanks to a 4th and 1 conversion by Fioroni and a 3rd and 1 run by Fioroni, Denison drove the ball into Kenyon territory. On third down, eight seconds before the end of the second quarter, Paulus would fire a 10-yard touchdown pass to Fioroni, lifting the Big Red to a 22-7 lead heading into the second half.
In the second half, Kenyon would drive into DU territory four times and would come away with just six points. Denison's Joey Lopez would block a 25-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. Late in the fourth, trailing by just eight points, Kenyon was faced with a 4th and 9 from their own 46 yard line. KC quarterback Dan Shannon would hit Brandon January on a five yard completion, but Lopez was there for the stop four yards in front of the first down marker.
With 3:32 left in the game, Denison would nearly run out the clock thanks to a 7-play drive. Kenyon took over with just 18 seconds remaining, still trailing by eight. Two passes by Shannon got the Lords across midfield to the Denison 32-yard line. A personal foul by the Lords would move the ball back 15 yards, ending the game and the 2012 season for the conference rivals.
The Denison defense turned in arguably its finest performance of the season, holding the Lords to just 217 yards of total offense. The Kenyon offense was on the field for just 25 minutes and they ran 11 fewer plays than the Big Red. Shannon was 19 for 29 for 160 yards and a touchdown. Brett Williams carried the ball 19 times for 52 yards, with 26 of those yards coming off one carry early in the first quarter.
The DU offense totaled 280 yards thanks to 133 yards on the ground by Fioroni. The senior logged 42 touches on the day (34 carries, 8 receptions) to the tune of 168 all-purpose yards. While Paulus set the career passing record, Fioroni will leave Denison as the school's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage with 4,675 yards. He is fourth in career rushing yards with 2,916 yards and seventh in career receptions (117). His season comes to an end with a career-high 1,225 yards rushing.
Denison's third prong to its offensive attack, Braden Layer, caught six passes for 48 yards on Saturday. In two and a half seasons as a wide receiver, Layer caught 122 passes for 1,613 yards. He is fifth on Denison's career list for receiving yards and receptions. He ends the 2012 season with a career-high 770 yards and six touchdowns.
On defense, senior Academic All-American Nat Kell posted six tackles and one sack against the Lords. Alex Willingham, Cale Garverick, Alex Sycher and Eric Conrad each had five tackles for Denison. On the day, the defense totaled four sacks, seven tackles for a loss and four pass break-ups. Reed Franklin and Zachary Morrow posted 11 tackles for Kenyon.
Denison's season comes to an end at 4-6 overall and 4-3 in the NCAC while Kenyon ends at 6-4 and 5-2 in the conference.