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Football - Mon, Oct. 9, 2017

Box Score

             Leavenworth, KS-
The University of Saint Mary Spires were able to capitalize on their opportunities, play spirited football, and make timely plays when necessary to hold on for a 33-29 victory over the Bethany Swedes on Homecoming at Charles J. Berkel Memorial Stadium.  The Spires raced out to a 21-0 lead over the previously undefeated Swedes, before Bethany tied the game at 21 going into halftime.  The Spires regained their composure behind stellar offensive play, and timely defensive plays in the second half.  Drew Cortez threw for 493 yards on the day, including two touchdown passes to Tae Turner, who totaled 212 receiving yards on 8 receptions.  Chandler Cocklin and Dwain Taylor led the defense with 8 tackles apiece, and Elijah Creighton had two interceptions to help the Spires onto victory. 

               In front of a large crowd, on a beautiful 74-degree day, the Spires proved they were up for the challenge of the previously unbeaten Swedes.  After the Spires kicked off to start the game, Saint Mary forced a punt on the opening drive when Peter Sagapolutele sacked Bethany quarterback Isaiah Salazarr on 3rd and 10 to force a punt.  Saint Mary wasted little time asserting themselves offensively.  Cortez completed passes of 20, 12, and 6 yards to start the game to Maximilian Richert, Anthony Piscitelli, and Rhyler Estenbaum respectively to open the game.  Estenbaum took the hand off on the next play, a 2nd and 4, 56-yards for a touchdown to put Saint Mary up 7-0 after the Kevin Garcia extra point.  The drive was 4-plays, 94-yards to open the game for Saint Mary.  Following the Saint Mary kickoff, Elijah Creighton made his first career interception to give Saint Mary the ball on the Swede 33 following a 17-0yard return by Creighton.  Turner's first reception of the day was a 43-yarder on 3rd and 3 from Cortez that put Saint Mary in position at the Bethany 2.  Senior running back Zach Hilliard punched in from the 2-yard line to put Saint Mary up 14-0.  Following back and forth exchanges of the ball, Saint Mary held a 14-0 lead entering the second quarter, but were threatening to break the game open.

              After a Swede punt went for a touchback, Cortez went back to work, finding Isai Fernandez for a 17-yard gain on 3rd and 14 to jumpstart the drive.  Richert had a 12-yard reception on 3rd and 3, and Kyle Dougherty corralled a 26-yard reception to drive into Bethany territory before Cortez connected with Turner on a 21-yard touchdown reception to put the Spires up 21-0 with 11:49 remaining in the second quarter.  The Swedes were resilient, and some miscues by Saint Mary were capitalized on by a talented Bethany squad, as they were not going down without a fight.  With Saint Mary driving again, Cortez was intercepted by the Swedes at the Bethany 30.  The Swedes drove down the field aided by a 13-yard Jafar Thomas run, and passes to Michael Wimberly, to threaten Saint Mary for the first time on the day.  Salazarr found Wimberly on a 1st and 10 from the Spire 29 for a touchdown to cut the Saint Mary lead to 21-7.  Again, Saint Mary drove the ball deep into Swede territory, before another interception by the Bethany defense put the Swedes in position.  Salazarr again connected with Wimberly for a 19-yard touchdown to cut the Saint Mary lead to 21-14 with 2:44 remaining in the half.  On Saint Mary's first play from scrimmage, the turnover bug struck again, and the Swedes recovered a fumble on the Spire 37.  On 4th and Goal from the 5, Salazarr found Wimberly again in the corner of the end zone for his third touchdown of the half, and the game was tied 21-21 going into the half. 

              Following a hectic end to the half, both teams returned to the field motivated to assert their dominance.  The Spires could not regain their rhythm, going three and out to start the half, before Bethany drove into Saint Mary territory threatening to take the lead.  On 4th and 2 from the Spire 25, Josh Green broke up a Salazarr pass to avert the threat.  After Saint Mary again turned it over deep in Swede territory, Saint Mary forced a safety on a Bethany punt attempt to go up 23-21.  Cortez worked more magic, this time with his foot, as his punt on 4th and 20 pinned Bethany on it's own 1-yard line.  While being pressured, Salazarr threw the ball up the left side, before Creighton made a juggling interception to put Saint Mary back in Swede territory.  Kevin Garcia's 39-yard field goal attempt was good and Saint Mary led 26-21.  The Spires would carry that lead into the 4th quarter. 

               Bethany nearly turned the tide early in the 4th quarter after converting a 3rd and 20, but Frank Romano recovered a Swede fumble on the next play to end the threat.  Just 5 plays later, Cortez hit Turner over the middle, and Turner did the rest in running for a 55-yard touchdown to give Saint Mary a 33-21 lead.  Bethany answered immediately, when Salazarr found Rodney Molette just 3 plays later for a 57-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 33-29 following a successful two-point conversion from Salazarr to Wimberly.  Though neither team would score for the remainder of the contest, it was not without drama.  Jordan Longoria recovered the Swedes onside attempt to intermittently ease the threat, but a Spire fumble gave Bethany the ball back on the next play.  Saint Mary's defense came up with a big three and out to regain momentum.  Yaw Osei-Baffour and Cash Barden had tackles on 1st and 2nd down, before Saint Mary forced an incompletion on 3rd down.  After Saint Mary's field goal attempt on the ensuing drive was blocked, Osei-Baffour and Jay O'Bryan sacked Salazarr on 4th and 10 to give Saint Mary the ball with 2:01 remaining.  After Saint Mary was unable to convert a first down, the Swedes had one last chance to drive for the winning score.  Facing a daunting 93-yards to win the game, and needing a touchdown, Salazarr scrambled for 23 yards on the first play before the Spires forced 2 incompletions and Cash Barden had a tackle for loss.  On 4th and 11 from the Swede 29, Barden forced an incompletion to give Saint Mary their first KCAC victory of the season.  

             The Homecoming game was another installment of a tight series between the two schools.  In 2015, Saint Mary was unable to hold on to a 16-0 2nd half lead, and last year, the Spires rallied from a 17-point deficit to win on a last minute field goal by Aiden Pirrin.  The last three games between the two schools have been won by a combined 7 points. 

               Turner, a freshman, and Cortez had performances for the history books.  Turner's 212 receiving yards and Cortez's 493 passing yards are the most since Ronnie Cooper had 221 yards receiving and Josh Ervin threw for 529 yards against Bethel in 2012.  Estenbaum rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown and Hilliard accounted for 36 yards rushing in addition to his touchdown run.  Maximilian Richert came up big with 5 receptions, a career high, and 55 yards, while Andrew Long had 67 receiving yards on 2 receptions.  Michael Brown, AJ Barnett, and Kyle Dougherty accounted for 31, 26, and 26 receiving yards respectively. 

               Defensively, Saint Mary had 7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks, in addition to the 2 interceptions.  Cocklin and Taylor paced the Spires with 8 tackles, while Taylor also had a pass broken up as well as 1.5 tackles for loss.  Nick Holmes had 6 tackles, as did Joseph Rodriguez.  Osei-Baffour had 5 tackles, including half a sack.  Creighton's two interceptions were the first interceptions of his career.  Sagapolutele's sack in the first quarter was the first of his career.  Romano had two tackles, in addition to his tackle for loss and fumble recovery. 

               Saint Mary travels to North Newton, Kansas on Saturday to take on the Bethel Threshers.  Kickoff is at 7 PM.