It was not the highest scoring game in the history of the Cuyahoga Gold Bowl series (it was close), but it may have been one of the most entertaining.
A key fourth down stand by the John Carroll defense midway through the final quarter ignited a come back that resulted in a 45-35 win for the Blue Streaks, enabling John Carroll to bring home the Cuyahoga Gold Bowl trophy a record sixth time.
The Yellow Jackets stung 35 points today on the Blue Streaks defense, the most against JCU since Heidelberg compiled 47 points against the Blue and Gold on Sept. 24, 2017.
"That was a great football team that we just beat. They were 8-1 coming into today's game and they made us fight hard,Things did not always go our way quite frankly, and we just found a way to get it done. That fourth quarter was a signature. The two fourth down stops. The defense had a fourth down stop. Offense converted on fourth down. We took advantage of all of our opportunities," said head coach Rick Finotti.
Trailing 35-34 with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation, John Carroll was faced with stopping Baldwin Wallace on a fourth-and-one play at the Yellow Jacket 46-yard line. JCU had held Baldwin Wallace to no gain on the previous two plays, but the visitors decided to give it a third try. BW quarterback Jake Hudson completed the pass, but receiver Deion Greer had to get on the ground to catch the pass and was inches short of the first down.
The Blue Streaks seized upon the momentum shift and drove 46 yards in six plays, capped by an Anthony Moeglin 12 -yard run. The two point conversion was successful as Moeglin while being tackled lofted a pass to Evan Nugent at the goal line to give the Blue Streaks a 42-35 lead.
JCU forced a three-and-out on the next possession, and put together another scoring drive. Taking over four minutes off the clock, the Blue Streaks covered 49 yards in eight plays, and built the advantage to ten points when Matt Danko connected on a 28-yard field goal for a 45-35 lead.
The Blue Streaks ended all the drama with a fourth down sack, their seventh of the game, to seal the win.
John Carroll had held the lead for most of the contest. After the two teams traded touchdowns early on (John Carroll a four-yard touchdown run for JCU, Greer a five-yard touchdown pass from Hudson for BW), John Carroll threatened to run away with matters. In the second quarter, touchdown runs by Moeglin and Canganelli upped the Blue Streaks lead to 21-7 with 1:17 to play in the half. Then, Michael Connick forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to set up John Carroll at the Baldwin Wallace 34 with 1:09 remaining.
"All 11 of the guys on defense were doing their job at all times. It helps one guy get the glory but all 11 guys did their job on that play. Our defensive line, our linebackers, our secondary -- they all contribute to a stellar defense," said Connick.
But in a key swing of the game, Moeglin was jarred loose from the football by Brenton Miller on a running play, and the Yellow Jackets made John Carroll pay for that miscue. Taking over at their own 37, Hudson went 4-5 as he marched his team down field, covering 63 yards in just 39 seconds. The capper was a six yard touchdown pass from Hudson to Chad Steinwachs. That made the score 21-14 at the half.
The Yellow Jackets continued their upswing and tied the game at 21-21 on their first possession of the second half. After the BW defense forced their only three-and-out of the game, the offense rewarded that effort by trekking 68 yards in 11 plays. Hudson found Greer for a 19-yard scoring play to force the deadlock with 8:46 showing on the third quarter clock.
John Carroll's answer was a four-play 50 yard drive set up by a tremendous kick return by Sam Kukura. Canganelli burst around the corner for 26 yards and a touchdown. Their response was punctuated on the first play of the following Baldwin Wallace possession, as Adam Thompson forced a fumble from Hudson and Chad Stalnaker returned the fumble 18 yards for a touchdown.
At that point, with 6:52 left in the third quarter, John Carroll led 34-21 (Danko missed the extra point after the Canganelli touchdown).
Baldwin Wallace got off the mat and powered its way to touchdowns on its next two drives. Hudson found Steinwachs from two yards out in the third quarter and then Jordan Leverette from 30 yards out on a fourth-and-14 play in the fourth quarter to give the visitors their first lead with 12:12 to play.
John Carroll (9-1, 8-1 OAC) finished the afternoon with 476 yards of total offense, 384 of which were gained on the ground. Canganelli had a career-high 270 yards rushing on 35 carries with just one negative play among his touches. His 270 yards rushing were the most by a Blue Streak since Steve Prelock set the school record with 276 yards against Bethany on October 19, 1988.
"I have to thank my offensive line (Blake Herideen, Andrew Clemente, Chris Clemens, Drew Turner, Brian Dytko). The guys up front helped me all game. The blocking on the perimeter by the wide receivers was also a huge factor," said Canganelli.
Canganelli had 369 all-purpose yards for the day.
Moeglin also finished the day with 101 yards rushing.
Connor Robinson and Adam Thompson each had 13 tackles. Robinson had a fumble recovery while Thompson had 4.5 tackles for losses for 23 yards, including 2.5 sacks for 15 yards.
Baldwin Wallace (8-2, 7-2 OAC) got a career day from Hudson, who was 32-45 for 350 yards and a career best five touchdowns.
Miller had a game-high 18 tackles for the Yellow Jackets.
The Blue Streaks will wait on Sunday to see if they will receive one of the at-large bids into the 2018 NCAA Division III Football Championship tournament.
Finotti is looking forward to his first postseason as the leader of the Blue and Gold.
"We are a good football team," said Finotti. "We work hard. I am proud of our guys."