Bucknell Football Captures Opener at Marist, 19-17
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - After enduring an extra week of preseason practice thanks to an opening-week bye, the Bucknell football team had to wait even longer for its season opener as Saturday evening's contest at Marist was delayed 68 minutes due to a thunderstorm that passed over Tenney Stadium and Leonidoff Field. The wait didn't seem to bother the Bison, who posted a 19-17 win over the Red Foxes behind junior quarterback Brandon Wesley's 20 of 27 passing for 190 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Wesley engineered the game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter that concluded with a 36-yard field goal from Sean Cobelli, who earlier in the contest made a 22-yard kick. The fourth-quarter drive spanned 7 minutes, 23 seconds, and featured 14 plays. Bucknell converted a pair of third downs on the drive and third-year head coach Joe Susan contemplated going for it on fourth-and-inches at the Marist 20, but instead called on Cobelli to give the visitors a 19-10 lead. Jeremiah Young ran seven times for 35 yards on the drive.
Bucknell (1-0), which won its season opener for the fifth time in the last seven years, forced Marist to turn the ball over on downs with 2:48 to play on the ensuing drive. However, the Bison could not capitalize on the turnover and held the ball for just 22 seconds as they went three-and-out before punting.
Marist (1-1) quarterback Chuckie Looney then led the Red Foxes on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that took just 1:55 off the clock and ended with a Looney-to-Matt Tralli touchdown that was highlighted by an acrobatic grab in the back left corner of the end zone.
Marist then attempted an onside kick with 31 seconds showing on the clock. The kick bounced up the middle of the Bison defense and the officials had to uncover the pile to see who had possession. Bucknell had covered up the ball, clinching the victory.
Both teams missed kicks which could have had an impact on the game. Cobelli had a second-quarter extra point blocked after a low snap, while Marist's Jason Myers was wide left on a 35-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
The Bison, who are now 87-39-1 all-time in season openers and 7-1 against Marist, registered 332 yards of total offense. Bucknell's offense was balanced as it had 142 yard on the ground, including a team-high 71 by Young, and 190 through the air. Marist's offense totaled 366 yards as Chuckie Looney completed 25 of 39 passes for 309 yards.
Most of the points in the contest were scored in the first half as Bucknell took a 16-10 lead into intermission. Wesley and Looney were especially effective in the first 15 minutes of play as they combined to complete 14 of 15 passes for 130 yards in the first quarter.
The Bison took an early 7-0 lead as Wesley found two-time All-Patriot League fullback Travis Friend on a six-yard touchdown pass. Wesley eluded a couple of tacklers before finding Friend in the left side of the end zone. The score was set up by Ryan Morgan, who ripped the ball away from Marist running back Louis Cotrone and returned it 55 yards.
Marist tied the score at 7-7 later in the first quarter, but a 22-yard field goal by Cobelli put the Bison back on top at 10-7. Bucknell had a third-and-four inside the 10-yard line, but Wesley was forced to sit out a play after losing his helmet, and backup quarterback Trey Lauletta was stopped short of a first down on a scramble to force the field goal.
Bucknell extended its lead to 16-7 on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Wesley to Jake Flaherty late in the second quarter. The touchdown capped an eight-play, 43-yard drive that featured 16 yards on three rushes by Young and a 13-yard pass from Wesley to Josh Brake.
Perhaps the story of the game was Bucknell's offensive line, which featured four new starters. Marist did not record a sack and the Bison were able to average nearly four yards per rush despite the team's leading rusher from 2011, Tyler Smith, missing most of the game with an ankle injury.
Junior wide receiver Victor Walker had a strong game. He caught six passes for 81 yards and intercepted a pass at the end of the first half and returned it 64 yards. Walker will enter next weekend's Delaware game with 997 career receiving yards.
Bucknell finished the game 7 of 13 on third downs and scored on all four of its chances inside the red zone. The Bison also had a nearly six-minute edge in time of possession (32:49-27:11). Marist was 6-for-15 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
Both teams committed two turnovers. The Bison, in 2011, led the nation in turnover margin.
Close games have become familiar in the Bucknell-Marist series. The last five meetings have been decided by a total of 32 points.
Bucknell will continue its two-game season-opening road trip next Saturday at Delaware, Susan's alma mater. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m.