Football Suffers Last-Second Loss in Epic NCAA Game

Saturday, November 22, 2014
 

Men’s soccer Cross country Basketball

The Muhlenberg football team made big stops, recorded game-breaking offensive plays and converted two fake punts with the game in the balance in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. But when the final seconds fell off the clock, the Mules were one point short, losing 36-35.

The final blow was a 32-yard field goal made by the Pride (11-0), ranked 10th by the American Football Coaches Association and 11th by D3football.com, with less than 11 seconds left in the game.

Ian Gimbar Muhlenberg (9-2), ranked 22nd by the AFCA, looked like it had the win in hand after a making a tremendous goal-line stand barely a half yard from the end zone with less than two minutes left and leading 35-31. The Mules took over at about the one, but were unable to give themselves any room on first and second down, and eventually were tackled in the end zone on the third play for a safety. The Pride took the ensuing kick and marched to the 15-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal.

Sophomore quarterback Nick Palladino put forth a tremendous effort to end his historic sophomore season. Palladino set the school record for completions in a game with 35 and a career-high in passing yards with 388 on 47 attempts. The signal caller also tied a school record with five touchdowns responsible for (two passing and three rushing) and finished the season with a school-record completion percentage of .690.

The game was heart-wrenching drama from kickoff to finish. The Mules jumped out to a 21-7 lead through the first 17:25 of the game, scoring on their first three possessions. The first was a 19-yard pass and catch to senior Michael Long. Next, freshman Max Cepeda caught a pass and sprinted 55 yards to set up the first of two consecutive Palladino scores.

Cody Geyer Widener answered the bell by tying the game after back-to-back scoring drives to end the first half, and continued its momentum by forcing three turnovers on the Mules first three drives of the half. The Pride scored off just one of them for a 28-21 lead.

The Mules forced a punt after the third turnover and were pinned at the four. Unfazed, they went 96 yards to knot the game again at 28-28, ending with a 34-yard touchdown reception by Long with under a minute left in the third.

The tie, the final one in the game, only lasted 66 seconds, as Widener converted a field goal to take the 31-28 lead. Muhlenberg had the ball on the Pride’s side of the field with less than half the final quarter remaining, but looked to be forced to punt on a fourth-and-9. The Mules had a different idea, and converted their second fake punt of the game, this one a 22-yard pass by junior punter Matt Aspinwall to sophomore cornerback John Feaster. A few plays later Palladino churned his legs for a one-yard touchdown to put the Mules up 35-31.

The game’s dramatic ending would follow, and the Mules tremendous season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It also ended the careers of an outstanding group of seniors, many of whom had big performances in their final game.

Captain Jeremey Thomas led the team with 15 tackles and two sacks. Ian Gimbar (left) collected 10 tackles, while Chris Flynn picked off what looked like it could be the game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter, his third pick in two games. Long finished with 11 catches, tied for his career high, for 159 yards and two scores, and Cody Geyer (right) added seven receptions and 168 all-purpose yards.
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