James Holley-Grisham returned a punt 35 yards for a touchdown with just 1:56 left in the fourth quarter to propel the St. Lawrence University football team to a 28-21 victory over Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in a Liberty League game and the final game of the regular season Saturday at Alumni Stadium in Worcester.
St. Lawrence (9-1 Overall, 6-1 Liberty League) finishes in a tie for the Liberty League championship with Hobart who finished the season with a 56-27 victory over Rochester wins the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with its win over the Saints last weekend. St. Lawrence will wait for the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday evening to find out if it received one of the six at large selections to the tournament field.
WPI finished the season at 6-4 overall and 3-4 in Liberty League games.
Holley-Grisham finished the day with 87 yards on six punt returns and a touchdown while fellow special team player Austen Lauricella used five punts inside the 20-yard line to help the Saints win the battle for field position all day. Lauricella finished with nine punts for 304 yards averaging 33.8 per kick and landed five kicks deep in WPI territory.
After a scoreless first half, the Saints held leads of 7-0 and 14-7 but WPI responded to tie the game each time and took a 21-14 lead after an interception return for a touchdown. A Sean Richardson 19-yard touchdown pass to Vincenzo Ferraro tied the game at 21-21 with 7:31 left to play.
After a three-and-out drive for the Saints later in the fourth quarter, Lauricella punted to near the goal line pinning the Engineers on the four yard line with 2:38 left on the clock.
Chyron Brown-Wallace recorded his third sack of the day on the first play for a loss of two yards and Jayson Leigh followed with a key tackle on the next play to set up a third and six for WPI. After an incomplete pass, the Engineers were forced to punt from deep in their own end zone. Holley-Grisham fielded the punt at the 35-yard line and took off toward the right sideline and aimed for the corner of the end zone. He used a couple key blocks and hurdled over the final two defenders into the end zone for the touchdown giving the Saints the lead.
WPI threatened to tie the game late completing five of six passes marching down the field to the 29-yard line of the Saints. The St. Lawrence defensive line forced quarterback Blake Rice out of the pocket and Tyler Mirabile completed the sack two yards deep in the backfield and stripped the ball free for a fumble. Skyler Williamson recovered the loose ball and the Saints ran out the clock in the victory formation with the final snap of the game going to Evan Lapice.
In the third quarter, Richardson capped a short four-play drive to start the third quarter with a three-yard scoring run for the first score of the game. WPI had taken the opening kickoff in the second half by Williamson forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage and recovered the loose ball to give the Saints great field position.
On the first St. Lawrence play, Richardson connected with Ferraro for a 28-yard gain to the four yard line and two plays later, Richardson scrambled from the pocket and headed to the corner of the end zone scoring from three yards out for the lead.
The lead did not last long as WPI took the ensuing drive from midfield and scored with a 50-yard pass reception and run on the first play of the drive to tie the score.
On the next WPI drive, the St. Lawrence defense forced a three-and-out after Ryan Byrne recorded a sack on second down setting up a punt from deep in WPI territory. Holley-Grisham returned the kick 13 yards setting up a SLU drive starting at the 30 yard line.
Richardson started the scoring drive with a 23-yard run down the right side of the field and Nick Frenger came in to throw a perfect pass to the back corner of the end zone to Mitch Gallagher as the Saints regained the lead at 14-7.
WPI answered on the ensuing drive again with a 10-play 73-yard drive capped by a 10-yard scoring pass.
Five minutes into the final quarter, WPI took the lead on its interception return for a touchdown and Ferraro recorded his game-tying touchdown on the ensuing drive for the Saints.
Richardson finished the day 16-for-38 passing for 193 yards giving him 2,421 passing yards for the season passing Mike Lefflbine's school record 2,387 passing yards set last year. He added 21 yards rushing to nearly eclipse the 500-yard mark with a school record 497 rushing yards by a quarterback. The previous high was set by Chris Phelps.
Rodrick Payne led the rushing attack with 54 yards while Ferraro finished with 85 receiving yards on six catches and Gallagher added 81 yards on seven catches.
Defensively, Williamson had 11 tackles (all unassisted), one for loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries. Brown-Wallace finished with eight tackles, five for loss and two sacks while Holley-Grisham had six stops and a pass breakup. Alec Dietsch also had six tackles and a pair of interceptions and Dan Jeffrey added six tackles and a pass breakup.
The Saints will hope for an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament with games starting next Saturday at the site of the higher seed. The selection show is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday.