Amidst a celebration of school spirit during Homecoming Weekend, Mother Nature and the Ohio Northern University football team conspired to spoil the mood at Don Shula Stadium on Saturday.
The visiting Polar Bears twice clawed back from 17-point deficits to defeat the Blue Streaks, 30-27.
The heartbreaking loss dashed hopes of an undefeated season for the John Carroll University football team, which suffered its first home regular season defeat under head coach Tom Arth.
For the first time this season, the Blue Streaks sprinted out of the starting gate. Senior quarterback Jake Schaefer fired touchdown passes to junior wide receivers Marshall Howell and Nico James and freshman Jake Vivonetto connected on a 35-yard field goal, as JCU flew out to a 17-0 lead by the midpoint of the second quarter.
Following the offense’s lead, the JCU defense dominated the Polar Bears for the majority of the first half. Junior safety Jovon Dawson intercepted quarterback Will Freed on ONU’s first offensive play of the game. Two drives later, senior defensive end Joe Nawalaniec forced a Freed fumble, which was recovered by sophomore linebacker Mason McKenrick. ONU kicker, Andrew DiMario, even missed a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter.
With two minutes left in the first half, ONU’s offense finally awakened. Freed found running back Justin Magazine on a quick screen play on 3rd and 9 at the ONU 31-yard line. Following a wall of blockers, Magazine burst through the JCU defense for a 69-yard touchdown, narrowing the deficit to 17-7 heading into halftime.
Just like the beginning of the first half, the Blue Streaks came out swinging to begin the second half. McKenrick intercepted Freed on the third play of the third quarter and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, the Blue and Gold held a 24-7 advantage.
The pick-six did not rattle Freed or the Polar Bears. On ONU’s ensuing possession, Freed orchestrated a 12-play, 76-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard Magazine touchdown run, narrowing JCU’s lead to 24-13.
Later in the third, thanks to a 40-yard Jordan D’Orazio punt return, Vivonetto added onto the lead with a 31-yard field goal. Again, the Polar Bears remained composed. Freed connected with wideout Reed Allen for a 42-yard strike, setting ONU up with 1st and Goal from the 3-yard line. Magazine finished off the drive again with a touchdown run.
Heading into the fourth quarter, JCU’s lead dwindled to 27-20.
Following a stalled JCU drive, Matt Chaney hit a 36-yard field goal after another long ONU possession. The JCU offense again failed to gain much traction on its next drive, leading to senior Kyle Rodriguez’s seventh punt of the day.
The Polar Bears finally took the lead on the ensuing drive. Freed marched ONU to the JCU 25-yard line before the JCU defense stiffened, setting up a 4th and 20 from the JCU 35. With 4:30 remaining, ONU head coach Dean Paul was forced to gamble and keep his offense on the field.
The choice paid off. Freed lofted a deep pass to Justin McCray amidst pressure in the pocket. McCray lept high into the air and snatched the ball in the end zone, quickly quieting the JCU crowd. With time dwindling, ONU held a 30-27 lead.
Granted one more chance, the JCU offense failed to pick up the first down, punting once again. ONU milked the clock, as Magazine sealed the victory with a 3-yard run on 3rd and 3 with 1:52 remaining.
The loss drops JCU to 3-1 overall, 2-1 in Ohio Athletic Conference play.