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NCAA Tournament: Second Half Comeback Falls Just Short as Saxons Hold off Golden Bears, 30-24

NCAA Tournament: Second Half Comeback Falls Just Short as Saxons Hold off Golden Bears, 30-24

Service completes 29-of-38 passes for 331 yards and one touchdown, Connell rushes for 114 yards and one score

ALFRED, N.Y. (November 26, 2016) – Western New England University's valiant second half comeback effort fell just short as Alfred University held off the Golden Bears to earn a 30-24 victory this afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Division III Football Tournament at Yunevich Stadium.

Alfred (12-0) advances to the NCAA quarterfinals to take on 12-time national champion Mount Union, while Western New England's historic season comes to a close at 11-1.

Facing a 23-7 deficit early in the third quarter, the Golden Bears rallied to pull within six on two separate occasions, but they were stopped deep in Alfred territory twice late in the fourth quarter as the Saxons held on for the win.

Top Performers
• Junior quarterback Anthony Service (Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.) completed 29-of-38 pass attempts for 331 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for 17 yards and one score.
• Senior running back Nick Connell (East Marion, N.Y.) rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries (4.2 avg.) in his final collegiate game.
• Junior wide receiver Mark Dietrich (Cheshire, Conn.) caught a season-high ten passes for 143 yards and one score.
• Sophomore bear Kurtis Jolicoeur (Windham, N.H.) led the Western New England defense with a team-high eight tackles (one solo) while also forcing a key fumble late in the fourth quarter.
• Senior linebacker Blair Cook (New Brunswick, N.J.) finished with seven tackles (one for loss), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. 

• Senior quarterback Tyler Johnson (East Syracuse, N.Y.) fueled Alfred's offense, completing 17-of-25 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns to go with a team-high 63 yards on the ground.
• Senior wide receiver Emile Frigon (Syracuse, N.Y.) was Johnson's primary target, recording eight receptions for a game-high 185 yards and a pair of 30+ yard touchdown catches.
• Junior linebacker A.J. LiCata (Lake View, N.Y.) led the Saxons' defense with a game-high 18 tackles (12 solo), including 2.5 for loss, one sack, and a safety.

Game Review
• Western New England received the opening kickoff and put together an 11-play, 74-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead. Service completed 3-of-4 passes during the possession, including two to freshman tight end Josh Henry (Wilbraham, Mass.) for 35 yards, and Connell capped it with a one-yard touchdown run.
• Alfred drove all the way to the Western New England one-yard line with just under four minutes left in the first quarter, but Cook forced a fumble at the goal line and senior cornerback Isaiah Berrios Smith (Wallkill, N.Y.) recovered the ball at the two. Connell was brought down in the end zone by LiCata on the next play, however, as the Saxons got on the board with a safety.
• Alfred took its first lead of the contest (9-7) on a four-yard run by freshman running back Aaron Griffin (East Elmhurst, N.Y.) with 6:55 remaining in the first half. The Saxons extended their advantage to nine (16-7) heading into halftime on a five-yard pass from Johnson to senior wide receiver Brendan Buisch (Hornell, N.Y.) with nine seconds on the clock.
• Alfred's opening possession of the second half resulted in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Frigon as the Saxons opened up a 23-7 lead.
• The Golden Bears came away with ten points over their next two drives to pull back to within six (23-17) early in the fourth quarter. Senior kicker Kevin Patterson (Houston, Tex.) connected on a 28-yard field goal with 4:24 left in the third, and after the Western New England defense stopped Alfred on downs, Service engineered a critical nine-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dietrich.
• The Saxons responded with a four-play, 66-yard scoring drive, as Johnson found Frigon again for a 34-yard touchdown as Alfred pushed its lead back to 13 (30-17).
• Western New England's offense kept rolling on its next possession, moving the ball 63 yards over five plays and scoring on a three-yard rush by Service to make the score 30-24. One play earlier, Service hit Dietrich on a 43-yard flea flicker to get the ball inside the five-yard line.
• Johnson scrambled for a big first down on Alfred's ensuing possession, but Jolicoeur stripped the ball away at the Western New England 36-yard line and Cook pounced on it as the Golden Bear offense took over with 8:05 left in the contest.
• Western New England drove deep into Alfred territory with a 12-play, 63-yard drive, but Service was stopped at the one-yard line on fourth-and-goal as the Saxons regained possession with 4:43 on the clock.  
• Following a big defensive stop, the Western New England offense got the ball back for the final time with 2:19 remaining. Service completed 5-of-7 passes as the Golden Bears moved the ball all the way to the Alfred 12-yard line, but a fumble on third down sealed the win for the Saxons.

Notes
• Western New England outgained Alfred 471-408, with 331 yards coming through the air and 140 on the ground.
• The Golden Bears, who entered today's contest ranked fourth in NCAA DIII in turnover margin (+22), won the turnover battle 2-1.
• Alfred was ranked No. 15 in the final AFCA DIII Coaches' Poll of the regular season, while Western New England made its debut at No. 23.
• Service completed his first full season as a starter with 25 passing touchdowns and just three interceptions.
• Connell finishes his Western New England career as the program's fourth all-time leading rusher with 2778 yards and 28 touchdowns.