Things got a little interesting down the stretch, but a defensive stand by the Big Red in the final minutes of the game allowed Denison to hang on for a 17-12 victory over Hiram College from Piper Stadium.
Leading 17-7 with under five minutes to play, and the ball on the Terrier 1-yard line it appeared as if Denison were about to put the game away when senior fullback Jack Varanese took the handoff on 3rd and goal.
On a run up the middle, a Hiram defender managed to dislodge the football and it popped into the waiting arms of Josh Peacock who began racing down the field, seemingly destined to reach the end zone and change the course of the game. Luckily, the speedy DuShawn Brown managed to track down Peakcock at the Denison 21-yard line, saving themselves from a possible 99-yard fumble return.
On Hiram's ensuing possession they managed nine yards on their first two downs but an incomplete pass on 3rd and 1 would result in a 29-yard field goal by Hiram's Greg Klisuric with 2:55 to play.
Faced with a decision to either kickoff or onside kick, Hiram chose to kickoff and that proved to be a success. The Terriers forced DU to start its drive on its own 8-yard line and after a loss of seven yards on 1st and 10, Hiram's John Davis would tackle Denison tailback Colin Morris in the end zone for a safety, trimming the lead to 17-12 with 1:58 left on the clock.
After the free kick and a 29-yard return, Hiram took over on the 50-yard line, trailing by five needing a touchdown to win the game. Riding high on momentum, the Terriers took their shot down field on first down and nearly came up aces. Quarterback George Blake had Richard Simpson open in the far corner of the end zone, but at the last second first-year cornerback Joel Lohoua, playing for the injured Alex Willingham, broke up the would-be touchdown pass.
On second down, the Denison interior line got in the backfield and Winters Heafey was there to tackle Caleb Jones for a 4-yard loss. On 3rd and 14, this time it was defensive end Teddy Kuntz who was there for the sack on Blake. On fourth down from their own 45-yard line, Blake was under pressure immediately and threw the ball wildly resulting in an intentional grounding call and a sack for Heafey that also gave the ball back to Denison and sealed up the win with 45 seconds left on the clock.
The Denison defense came up big when it had to. After giving up a 38-yard pass on the Terriers' first play from scrimmage, they would allow only 172 yards the rest of the way. Not only were they stingy in the yardage category, they posted 13 tackles for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions.
The Denison offense ran 24 more plays than the Terriers and outgained them 337-210. Varanese scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Sklenar in the second quarter and Morris reached paydirt on a 22-yard scamper in the third. A 31-yard field goal by Matt Puracchio that was sandwiched in between the previously mentioned Big Red touchdowns accounted for Denison's 17 points.
Sklenar was 14-of-20 in the passing department for 238 yards and one touchdown. Morris had 20 carries for 67 yards and John Wilson added 94 yards of total offense off 12 carries and four receptions. The receiving corps was led by sophomore Hunter Winans who caught three passes for 86 yards. His biggest catch came on 54-yard reception on third and nine with the Big Red backed up on their own 16-yard line.
Hiram was led on the ground by Caleb Jones who toted the ball 21 times for 92 yards. Starting quarterback and current North Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Week, Rob Partridge, was 6-for-8 passing for 106 yards but he did not return to the game after suffering an injury after throwing an interception early in the second quarter. With Blake under center Hiram kept things on the ground. He finished the game 2-for-7 in the passing department for 36 yards. Hiram's leading receiver was Brendon James. He caught four passes for 97 yards and one score.
Denison improves to 2-0 overall and moves to 14-0 all-time against Hiram. The Terriers drop to 1-1 on the year. The Big Red will hit the road for the first time next Saturday (Sept. 21) for a 2 p.m. kickoff against No. 20 Wabash.