COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The Ursinus College football team treated its fans to a Homecoming shootout, but came up a play or two short as visiting Juniata spoiled the party with a wild 44-38 Centennial Conference victory on Saturday.
Fans and alums turned out in droves and were hardly disappointed as the Bears and Eagles went blow for blow in a see-saw battle that looked to be coming down to the final play for much of the afternoon. Juniata (1-2, 1-0) took one last lead on a touchdown with 3:34 to play, but Jacob McCain got a hand on the extra point to keep the margin at six.
Ursinus had had its way with the visitors' defense throughout the day, so McCain's block seemed destined to be a potential game-winning play. It was not to be, as Juniata picked off Thomas Garlick's third-down pass and ran out the clock with a pair of first downs.
Samuel Ragland received the Kenneth E. Walker Memorial Trophy – given to the MVP of the Homecoming game – for the second time in his career. The junior running back was a force out of the backfield, catching eight passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns and adding 51 yards and a score on the ground.
The Bears torched Juniata for 454 yards of total offense, but the vaunted defense that came in leading all of Division III with 17 sacks was unable to disrupt Austin Montgomery. The Eagles' signal-caller was 17 of 29 for 229 yards and four touchdowns through the air and also rushed 19 times for 111 yards and a score. Juniata was 8 of 12 on third down and did not allow a single sack.
Ursinus came out firing, opening the scoring in just four plays as Ragland caught a 30-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage and broke off a 10-yard run before scampering in from eight yards out for an early 7-0 lead.
The Eagles came right back with an 8-play, 71-yard drive to pull even, but Ursinus went on top again by covering six plays in 75 yards. Ardashes Dulgerian made an Odell Beckham-style catch at full extension for a 28-yard gain before Ragland took a Garlick pass 26 yards to the house to make it 14-7.
Juniata capitalized on a couple mistakes by the Bears to go in front for the first time. A Garlick interception and return down to the 8-yard line set up a short field goal, and Ursinus fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return. Montgomery hit running back Calvin Bembry for an 11-yard touchdown pass – one of three between the tandem on the day – to hand the visitors a 17-14 lead.
Montgomery hooked up with Shaheed Ross for a 25-yard scoring strike on a third-and-long as Juniata went ahead by double digits, but the Bears snatched momentum back with an 8-yard toss from Garlick to Dulgerian, whose first career TD reception brought the hosts back within 24-21 in the final minute of the first half.
Juniata moved out to another double-digit lead on its first drive of the second half, starting at the Bears' 30 after a long kick return and a 15-yard penalty. Bembry's 20-yard scoring reception made it 31-21 less than a minute into the third.
Dakota Wherrity's first career field goal sliced the margin back to seven, but the Eagles went right back to work with an 11-play, 77-yard march that took 6:37 off the clock, Montgomery taking it himself from 11 yards on third down for a 38-24 lead.
Back came the Bears, who scored touchdowns on their next two drives to pull even. Garlick's 25-yard touchdown to Ragland trimmed the deficit in half, and Stacey Gardner bulled his way in from four yards for ahis 16th career rushing touchdown to knot it at 38 with 10:50 to go. Matt Gallagher had a critical 20-yard reception on the second drive, hauling in a perfectly thrown out by Garlick on 3rd-and-12.
The Eagles' offense came up with another long drive, however, traversing 88 yards in 12 plays and taking the lead back for good with 3:34 to go.
Garlick finished 21 of 32 for 336 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 41 for his career. He now needs just three to become the all-time program leader.
Ragland scored his 28th career rushing touchdown, while the huge receiving day put him over the 1,000-yard mark.
Gallagher had five catches for a career-high 80 yards, while Octavious Carter (three catches, 54 yards) and Dulgerian (3-53) were also effective in the passing game.
McCain led the defense with 12 tackles and forced a fumble.
The Bears hit the road to take on Moravian next Saturday.