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A Grande debut

More news about: Ferrum
Harvey Taylor kept his cool while leading the Panthers' season-opening comeback.
Photo by Atenoya Morris

Rob Grande has seen a lot of football in his lifetime. Bob Brown has seen more.

So when Brown, now in his 17th season as an assistant coach at Ferrum and 58th season overall, comments on a game, it carries significant weight.

"Bob came in my office and said, 'Coach, I've won at Michigan, I've won at Clemson and I've won at LSU in my career. None of them compare to Saturday here,'" Grande said. "It gave me some chicken skin to think of all the ball that he's coached and places he's worked and experiences he's had, to say that a day like Saturday meant that much to him. It speaks volumes for what kind of day it was for Ferrum football."

Quite often, football can be unpredictable. Less often, it can be downright impossible to explain. Ferrum's 39-38, come-from-behind season-opening victory against Emory and Henry could certainly be classified as the latter.

The Panthers trailed by 21 points in the first half, by 14 points at halftime, and by 16 points in the fourth quarter, yet still won. They successfully converted four two-point attempts, including one with seven seconds remaining in regulation. Most of the breaks seemed to fall in Ferrum's favor after the slow start in the first half, and even when they didn't, Grande's bunch kept grinding.

"There's no 24-point play in football when you're down 31-15 or 28-7," Grande said.

A 21-yard touchdown pass from fifth-year senior quarterback Harvey Taylor to sophomore wide receiver Nick Pearce helped Ferrum cut Emory and Henry's lead to 21-7 late in the first half. The lead increased to 28-7 in the third quarter, and by early in the fourth quarter, the Wasps led by 16 points.

Ferrum continued to chip away, putting together a pair of seven-play scoring drives that both culminated in touchdown runs by freshman running back Brian Mann. Mann scored the two-point conversion on the second touchdown to pull Ferrum even, 31-31, with 1:17 remaining in regulation.

Those positive vibes dissipated almost immediately, as Emory and Henry's Kendrick Kube returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

"It's definitely a kick in the gut," Grande said. "... It was certainly a deflating feeling, but it's funny, a kid on our kick return team, when we huddled up before the ensuing kickoff, he said, 'We've got to play the next play.'"

At that point, Grande said, he knew the message he'd been delivering since accepting the head coaching position at Ferrum nine months ago -- one of focusing on the tasks and plays immediately ahead of you -- had been taken to heart by his players. They hadn't just been hearing him; they had been listening.

Taylor, playing quarterback for the first time since his record-setting days at Magna Vista High School in Ridgefield, Va., calmly led the Panthers down the field in five plays, culminating with an 18-yard touchdown strike to sophomore Johnny White with seven seconds left on the clock. With increased defensive attention on leading receiver senior Chris Guy, Grande said Taylor recognized White's mismatch with a linebacker.

After going for two on their three previous touchdowns, Grande said there was no hesitation the fourth time around.

"Before the drive started, I told (offensive coordinator Luke Summers), 'When we go down and score here, we're going to go for two, so make sure you've got the right play,'" Grande said.

A penalty on Emory and Henry moved the Panthers closer to the end zone for the attempt, but Grande had already made up his mind.

"With or without that penalty, we were going for the win," Grande said.

The play call was simple and straightforward -- an option read that left the decision in Taylor's hands. The wide defensive end crashed down, and two solid perimeter blocks allowed Taylor to walk into the end zone off the left-side tackle. Perfect play, perfect read, incredible game.

Grande spent the previous 11 years at Emory and Henry, including the final six as associate head coach and the final eight as defensive coordinator, so the victory certainly carried a personal weight for him. He isn't the only new face with the Panthers, though.

Taylor, who ranks second all-time in passing touchdowns in Virginia high school league history, is finally getting a shot as a full-time college quarterback. He initially played at Old Dominion as a running back, but was sidelined by injuries. He eventually transferred to Ferrum, still as a running back, but suffered an ACL injury late in the 2014 season. Grande, who recruited Taylor at Emory and Henry, liked the skill set fit and experience level that Taylor offered as the team's starting quarterback.

Mann, who finished with 28 carries for a game-high 167 yards and two touchdowns, has stepped into an immediate role as a key player in the backfield. Guy caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, while White caught 10 passes for 105 yards and a score. The Panthers only won five games in Guy's first three seasons, yet he has worked diligently to become one of the team's most consistent and productive players. White joined Ferrum this season after spending last season in Wesley's program.

All four of those players came together on the field for the first time last weekend and helped Ferrum win the inaugural Crooked Road Classic.

"It's pretty cool putting that mix together and seeing them meld in a three-week window before you play a game," Grande said. "To have it play out like it did Saturday was pretty special."

Junior lineman Al Matthews, senior linebacker Jabbar Coward, junior lineman Montel Lee and junior cornerback Shy Smith led an encouraging defensive performance, particularly over the game's final three quarters. Ferrum's defense held Emory and Henry to just one play of more than 20 yards, an impressive feat by any measurement.

Ferrum's win snapped Emory and Henry's nine-game winning streak in the head-to-head series. It's an important win for a program that's had precious few victories in recent years. After going 7-3 in both 2011 and 2012, the Panthers went a combined 5-25 from 2013-15. Wins like Saturday's, particularly in the manner it happened, can help build momentum moving forward as Grande steers the program in a new direction.

"My job when I got here, I've always felt," Grande said, "is to put a product on the field to make people proud, whether you win or lose."

Blue Jays run past Generals

Ryan Cary rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns, all three of which came in the first half, as Johns Hopkins defeated Washington and Lee 45-29 in a matchup of two of the top 20 teams in the D3football.com preseason poll. Cary also added a receiving touchdown in the first half, which tied the school record for most touchdowns in a single game.

The matchup featured plenty of action on the ground, which comes as little surprise considering Washington and Lee was college football's top rushing team in 2015. The Generals piled up yardage on the ground against the Blue Jays, finishing with 358 yards on 71 carries. But after Johns Hopkins went up 14-0 on Cary's second touchdown in the first quarter, Washington and Lee could never pull closer than seven points.

Both teams finished the regular season with identical 10-0 records last season, and the meeting between them was the only one in D-III pitting two undefeated teams from 2015 against each other. Both teams have postseason expectations again in 2016, but Johns Hopkins was just a bit better in this matchup.

Bridgewater loses its voice

Bill Phipps, the longtime play-by-play announcer for the Bridgewater football and basketball teams, died last Tuesday after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was 65 years old.

Phipps, affectionately known as "Coach Bill" throughout the Bridgewater community, was a staple at Eagles games for the last 20 years or so.

I did not know Phipps personally, but I have it on good authority that he meant quite a bit to the Bridgewater sports community. As someone that loves D-III sports and has lost loved ones to cancer, I wanted to at least mention Phipps.

Quick hits

Nick Palladino passed for 284 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Ryan Delaney, in Muhlenberg's 29-22 road win against Wilkes. John Feaster led the defensive effort with nine tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. ... Luke Bailey passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns (two to Otis Porter) and John Iwaniec rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown as Huntingdon topped Louisiana College in a 52-49 shootout. ... Kelly Hall passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns, and Sean Bowman rushed for 199 yards and a score as Averett toppled Hampden-Sydney 38-28. Owen Costello caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the loss for the Tigers. ... De'Eric Bell rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns, and Gibson Ziah tallied three sacks as Guilford routed Greensboro 69-0. ... Connor Blair piled up 384 passing yards and four touchdowns, including a pair to Lavelle Meeks, in LaGrange's 47-27 victory over Birmingham-Southern. ... Mike Haynes passed for 354 yards and three touchdowns, and Chuka Onukwugha returned a fumble 77 yards for a score in Moravian's 50-35 win against King's. ... Hayden Bauserman tossed four touchdowns to four different players and Cedrick Delaney rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries in Shenandoah's 43-6 win against Gallaudet. ... Nick Myers threw for 459 yards and three touchdowns, and Ethan Williams returned an interception 70 yards for a TD, but Maryville came up short against Berry, 34-33. ... Tre Frederick rushed for 177 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown, and J.J. Hill scored on a 90-yard pick-six as Randolph-Macon rolled past Dickinson 51-0. ... David Vidovic rushed for a pair of touchdowns, Kirby Breault caught seven passes for 128 yards and a score, and Joel Reighard intercepted a pair of passes in Juniata's 31-26 win over Grove City. ... Brendon Maturey passed for 193 yards and three touchdowns (135 yards and two TDs to Keith Jennings) and also rushed for 101 yards in Bridgewater's 38-22 win over Gettysburg. ... Xavier Adams rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown, and also threw the game-winning 38-yard touchdown to Tyree Stidem as Methodist rallied for a 24-20 win over Apprentice School. ... Jorge Pola passed for 246 yards and two touchdowns, both to Lucas Morley (one late in the fourth quarter, the other in overtime), as Catholic rallied for a 28-21 win against McDaniel.

Top 25: Johns Hopkins, Huntingdon move up

Johns Hopkins' season-opening win against Washington and Lee helped the Blue Jays move up four spots to No. 11 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll.

Huntingdon, which out-lasted Louisiana College, climbed three spots to No. 21.

Washington and Lee fell out of the top 25, but still received votes in this week's poll. Guilford also received votes.

Looking ahead

No. 1 Mount Union (0-0, 0-0) at N.C. Wesleyan (0-1, 0-0), 12:30 p.m., Saturday: It was a tough debut for sophomore quarterback Nathan Gardner, who finished with six interceptions in the Battling Bishops' 42-28 loss. It doesn't get any easier this weekend against the defending national champions, but USA South fans can get a closer look at the elite Purple Raiders.

Franklin and Marshall (1-0, 0-0) at Muhlenberg (1-0, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Both teams opened the season with non-conference victories, but the trick will be keeping pace with Johns Hopkins in the CC standings. Recent meetings between these two teams have been close, so expect another competitive game.

Christopher Newport (1-0, 1-0) at Hampden-Sydney (0-1, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Hampden-Sydney will be looking to right the ship after opening the season with a disappointing loss to Averett. Christopher Newport will provide a stern test, however, as the Captains opened with a solid win against Kean.

Other games of note: No. 11 Johns Hopkins (1-0, 0-0) at Susquehanna (0-1, 0-0), 1 p.m., Saturday; Birmingham-Southern at No. 21 Huntingdon, 7 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email atandrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
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2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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