Visiting St. John Fisher College created six turnovers and battled back from a 13-0 deficit to earn a 26-15 win over ninth-ranked John Carroll University on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship.
With the win, Fisher (9-2), now 5-0 all-time in first-round NCAA Championship games, advances to the Sweet 16 and will face Hobart College at 12 p.m. next Saturday. John Carroll, who entered the game No. 1 in the nation in points allowed per game, finishes the year at 9-2.
"To go on the road and get down 13-0 to a high, explosive offense like that, they just persevered and came back," said head coach Paul Vosburgh, speaking about his team after the game. "They kept chipping and chipping away and they won the game."
The Cardinals, ranked 25th nationally, trailed early on. After going three-and-out on its opening drive, the Blue Streaks scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead just four minutes into the game. The Fisher defense wouldn't allow a touchdown, however, after that. The Blue Streaks made it 10-0 late in the first quarter. They penetrated inside the Fisher 10, but were forced to kick a 27-yard field goal.
On their very next possession, going against a 25-mile-an-hour wind, John Carroll drove 94 yards to inside the Fisher 5, but had to settle for three points yet again.
Trailing 13-0 with just under four minutes left, Fisher got on the board. The Cardinals marched 76 yards on 11 plays with quarterback Tyler Fenti scoring on a five-yard run to make it 13-7 at the half.
Fisher took a 14-13 lead midway through the third quarter. After John Carroll fumbled on its opening drive of the second half, the Cardinals marched 56 yards, but couldn't convert on a fourth-and-goal play from the Blue Streaks 3. On the very next play, however, Ryan Seymour intercepted pass on the left sidelines and scored on the 13-yard return.
John Carroll took the lead back at 16-14 with 9:36 left. After a rough-the-kicker penalty kept the drive alive and two fourth down conversions, the Blue Streaks converted a 34-yard field goal into the wind.
Fisher, however, came right back. Fisher drove 66 yards on nine plays with Nathan Nigolian scoring a 15-yard pass from Fenti. The duo also hooked up on a two-point conversion to make it 22-16 with 5:56 left. Dan Rudy picked up 23 yards on a third-and-14 from the Fisher 42 to keep the drive alive.
Mike Guinta made his sixth interception of the year – and his fifth in the last six games – on the next possession – right near midfield.
After eight consecutive rushes from Cody Miller, senior kicker Brendan Carey delivered a career-long 39-yard field goal to make it 25-16 with 1:54 left.
Fisher sealed the win with Bryant Moore making his second interception of the day at Fisher 13 with less than a minute left.
Sean Preish led the Fisher defense with a career-high 21 tackles – two shy of the Fisher single-game record. He also recovered a fumble in the first quarter. Peter DiMilia forced two fumbles, including a huge a sack in Fisher territory in the first quarter. Cody Foster finished with a sack as well.
On offense, Miller racked up 102 yards on the ground and went over 1,000 for the year. Nigolian snagged eight passes for 92 yards.
"I think that (turnovers) was a big part of the reason why we did not win the game. Certainly any game you look at the turnover margin is probably the most important statistic in football and we unfortunately gave them some plays and they made them," said John Carroll head coach Tom Arth. "That's a good football team and they made the plays when they had the opportunity and unfortunately we did not."