COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The last two weeks, the Ursinus College football team saw a late comeback effort come up just short.
Back at home for the first time this month, the Bears flipped the script.
Stacey Gardner rushed for two touchdowns, Heath Hidlay had two interceptions (including one for a score), and Ursinus survived a second-half push by visiting McDaniel for a 28-21 Centennial Conference victory on Saturday. The Bears (6-2, 5-2) snapped a two-game losing streak and vaulted into third place in the league standings following losses by Muhlenberg and Susquehanna.
After being held below 56 yards in each of his last three games, and four of the previous five, Gardner exploded for 118 yards on 22 carries on the day, scoring on touchdowns of 11 and 48 yards just over three minutes apart to hand the Bears a commanding 28-7 second-quarter lead. Gardner formed a potent two-headed monster with freshman Samuel Ragland, who had 87 yards on 12 totes and got Ursinus on the board with a 15-yard scamper late in the first.
McDaniel (3-5, 2-5) came out strong, sacking Garlick on fourth down to thwart the Bears' opening drive before marching 72 yards in 12 plays for the opening score. Will Koester's three-yard fade to Bamasa Bailor capped the possession and made it 7-0 Green Terror with 5:26 to play in the first frame.
Ursinus came right back with a dedicated ground attack. Gardner's first carry went for 16 yards, Ragland followed with a 13-yarder on an option pitch to the right, and Ragland tied the game at 7 with a 15-yard touchdown run.
After freshman Alex DeSpirito flipped the field with a booming 73-yard punt, backing McDaniel up to its own 9-yard line, Hidlay stepped in front of Koester's errant pass and returned it 19 yards to the house for his first career pick-six and a 14-7 Bears lead with 13:58 to play in the second quarter.
The Green Terror went three and out on its next possession, and the Bears began to impose their will. Backed up to 1st-and-25 after consecutive penalties, Ragland took a pass from sophomore quarterback Thomas Garlick in the flat and picked up 19 yards before rumbling for 18 yards down to the McDaniel 11. Gardner took it himself on the next play to hand the Bears a 21-7 advantage with 8:52 showing.
After senior James Gilette and sophomore Matthew Trainor combined to stack up Koester on a fourth-down keeper at the Ursinus 46, Gardner took a third-down carry 48 yards to the house to make it 28-7 at the 5:32 mark.
That was all the scoring for the Bears on the day, but it proved to be just enough. The Green Terror cut into the lead on Koester's 17-yard pass to Matt Schleifer late in the second stanza, trimming Ursinus' margin to 28-14 at the break.
Ursinus missed several chances to extend its lead in the third quarter. A 25-yard field goal sailed wide left, and trouble with the snap led to a four-yard loss on a 4th-and-4 from the McDaniel 29. Still, the Bears' opportunistic defense saved the day.
The Green Terror were driving at the Ursinus 24 before Hidlay came over from his safety spot to intercept a pass at his own 2-yard line, sealing his first career two-interception game. The Bears were forced to punt on the ensuing trip, and McDaniel drove down to the 6-yard line before the home secondary held up on two straight passes to force a turnover on downs.
McDaniel forced a punt and proceeded to convert a 4th-and-10 from the 12 to cut the Ursinus lead to 28-21 with 7:44 to play.
Looking to bleed the clock, Ragland had the ball poked out of his hands for a Green Terror recovery with 2:24 left. McDaniel picked up a first down at the Bears' 49, but went no further. Sophomore Nick Vandevere sacked Koester on third down, and Koester's fourth-down heave fell incomplete.
Senior linebacker Brandon Dowd led the defense with seven tackles and two pass breakups for Ursinus, which limited McDaniel to just 292 yards of offense and a 1-for-15 success rate on third down. The Green Terror managed just 71 yards rushing on 30 attempts.
Freshman Chris Whack produced his first career sack, a critical stop with McDaniel at its own 43 with around four minutes to go.
Garlick finished 12-of-21 for 158 yards on the afternoon, with neither a touchdown nor an interception. In the process, he became the 12th quarterback in program history to pass for 3,000 yards in a career. Senior Shawn Hackett was Garlick's top target, catching five passes for 66 yards.
The Bears racked up 217 yards on the ground and picked up 14 of their 22 first downs with rushes.
The football team is back on Patterson Field for a huge showdown with Franklin & Marshall on Saturday, November 4. A victory over the Diplomats (6-1 CC) would move the Bears into second place in the conference with one game remaining.