LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell football team kicked off its 2017 campaign with a commanding 45-6 victory over Marist on a rainy Saturday night at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium in front of 3,024 fans.
The Bison broke open the game early, scoring four touchdowns in the first quarter, including three in the final two minutes of the frame. Their performance on the field set the stage for a rousing post-game fireworks show.
With 8:58 on the clock in the first quarter, Colin Jonov opened the scoring, picking off a Mike White pass and racing 64 yards down the Marist sideline for the score. After a bad snap on the extra point attempt, Jack Horan corralled the ball and found Andrew Podbielski in the right corner of the end zone to give Bucknell an 8-0 lead.
The Bison scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the opening stanza to build a 28-0 advantage. First, after a 4:11 drive during which Bucknell went 3-for-3 in third-down conversions, Matt Muh connected with Kyle Kinner for an 11-yard score.
Steven Walier put an exclamation mark on the quarter by hauling in a 45-yard touchdown pass with no time left on the clock.
Bucknell carried the momentum from its explosive opening stanza into the second quarter. After the Bison defense forced the Red Foxes to go three and out on their first drive, a penalty on the punt gave the offense the ball on the Marist 28. Bucknell took advantage, and Chad Freshnock capped the abbreviated drive with a three-yard touchdown rush.
The Red Foxes thwarted the Bison’s shutout bid 29 seconds before halftime after one of the longest drives of the game. Marcelleus Calhoun finished off the drive, which accounted for 97 of Marist’s 119 first-half yards, with a four-yard score.
As the rain picked up, both team’s defenses took center stage. The teams combined for just 156 yards of total offense in the second half, 121 of which belonged to Bucknell.
The third quarter’s lone score, a 31-yard John Burdick field goal, came with just 51 seconds left on the clock. Freshnock completed the game’s scoring at the 3:29 mark of the finale frame with his second touchdown rush of the game. Leading up to that play, Muh found a wide-open Podbielski for a 31-yard gain on a 3rd and 7 to set the Bison up on the Marist 15.
Muh completed 16 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with seven different receivers. Podbielski led the Bison with a career-best 60 receiving yards while Joey DeFloria had the most catches with four.
The Bison defense limited Marist to just 154 yards of total offense, including 24 on the ground. Mark Pyles led the way with eight tackles (five solo) while Ben Richard was close behind with seven (six solo). Eight different Bison had a tackle for a loss, with Abdullah Anderson, Fletcher and Pyles each recording two. Four Bison—Fletcher, Simeon Page, Richard and Zarkoski—had a sack.
Alex Pechin helped tilt the field in Bucknell’s favor, averaging 47.0 yards per punt. He dropped three inside the 20 and had two touchbacks.
The Bison, who play four of their first five games at home, return to action on Saturday, Sept. 9 when they welcome Holy Cross to Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium for their Patriot League opener.
Bucknell improve to 92-39-1 in season openers and 97-33-1 in home openers.
The Bison won their seven-straight season opener and moved to 7-1 in their first game under head coach Joe Susan.
Bucknell has now defeated Marist seven times in a row dating back to 2011. The Bison moved to 12-1 all-time against the Red Foxes.
Bucknell last scored 45 points in a game on Oct. 11, 2014, a 45-24 victory at Lehigh. The Bison’s margin of victory was their largest since Oct. 6, 2001, a 51-10 win over Towson.
Kinner and Walier each caught his first touchdown pass. Walier’s 45-yard touchdown score was also his first career reception.
Fletcher, Page and Zarkoski’s sacks were their first of their careers.
Jonov, who missed 2016 due to injury, now has five career interceptions. His previous career long interception return was 51 yards against Lehigh on Oct. 10, 2015.
The Bison have now returned an interception for a touchdown in two-straight games. During the 2016 finale against Fordham, Bret Berg returned an interception 12 yards for the score.
Bucknell last passed for a two-point conversion on Oct. 17, 2015 at Army West Point (R.J. Nitti to Andrew Owers). Horan, Bucknell’s holder who completed the pass, converted from quarterback to wide receiver in 2016.
Before this game, the Bison last returned a fumble for a touchdown on Nov. 23, 2013. In that game, a 35-23 victory at VMI, Matt Johnson returned a fumble 30 yards for the game-icing score with 1:35 left to play.
In their last four meetings with Marist, Bucknell has only allowed 16 points. Bucknell blanked Marist in their 2014 (22-0) and 2015 (17-0) contests and won the 2016 meeting by a 26-10 margin.