Bridgewater beats Rowan to advance to Stagg Bowl

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Bridgewater rallied from a 24-23 deficit and scored on the last play of the game to upend Rowan 29-24.

After failing on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line trailing 24-21, Bridgewater held Rowan without a first down, and Profs punter Nick Frade took an intentional safety with 42 seconds left. Bridgewater (12-0) returned the ensuing free kick to its own 48-yard line. 

After an incomplete pass and a short gain, senior quarterback Jason Lutz hit Nicholas Lehto with a 49-yard pass to the Rowan 1-yard line, where he was downed with one second remaining in regulation. Out of timeouts, the Eagles snapped the ball immediately after the chains were set, and Lutz found Brian Ratliff in the end zone for the touchdown.

The Jopson Field fans tore down the goalposts.

It was Ratliff's only catch of the game, and his 11th on the season, sending the Eagles, who were winless three years ago, a hundred miles down the road to Stagg Bowl XXIX.

"You'll sit here until Christmas until you get me to apologize for winning this game," said Bridgewater head coach Mike Clark. 

Although he was congratulatory towards Bridgewater, Rowan head coach K.C. Keeler added, "we got screwed. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. This was home cookin'."

The officiating crew was from the North Coast Athletic Conference, made up of schools in Ohio and western Pennsylvania. There is no vehicle for a protest once the participants leave the field, according to an NCAA rep on site, Carey Harveycutter.

"I met with the officiating crew, and they stopped the clock with one second left (when Lehto was downed) on contact," Harveycutter said. "As soon as they put the ball in play, the center snapped the ball immediately. There will be no protest."

"This is an NCAA-sanctioned event and we will use every protest we can," said Keeler.

"It's never over till the clock hits zero," Bridgewater running back Davon Cruz said. "That's the way it went today."

Lutz finished 15-for-24 for 207 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 33 yards on 17 carries. Cruz led all ballcarriers with 32 carries for 174 yards and a touchdown. "Cruz was better than we ever thought," said Keeler, "and we thought he was pretty good to begin with."

After Rowan jumped out to a 21-7 lead on three drives that each took less than a minute off the clock, Cruz ran in from 36 yards out to cut the lead to 21-14, followed by a Lutz 7-yard pass to tight end Devin Thornton with 5:246 left in the first half. Frade his a 23-yard field goal to give Rowan its last points of the half, and the game.

"We stopped playing man," commented Clark regarding his defense, which held Rowan to 38 total yards in the second half. "The field was too slippery to make cuts so we went to zone."

Tony Raccioppi completed 15 of 25 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Rowan was dominated in time of possession, as Bridgewater held the ball for 38:34 to Rowan's 21:26. Bridgewater was whistled for 54 yards on seven penalties compared to Rowan's two penalties for 15 yards.

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