Clarion University Football: Esposito’s Kick Delivers 23-21 Golden Eagle Win Over Mercyhurst
ERIE, Pa. – Jarrett Esposito hit a game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, giving the Golden Eagle football team a 23-21 road victory over Mercyhurst on Saturday night.
(Pictured above: Jarrett Esposito from a game earlier this year. Credit Kirkland Photography.)
Clarion (3-4, 2-2 PSAC West) complemented a persistent defensive effort with an opportunistic offense, winning late thanks to key stops.
The Lakers scored the lone points of the third quarter with 5:23 remaining in the period, breaking through with a nine-yard touchdown run by David Alize to take a 21-20 lead. The Golden Eagle offense struggled to gain much traction in the second half but the defense was solid, consistently winning the field position battle and forcing the Lakers to work hard for every yard.
Two key sequences in the fourth quarter played a part in the Golden Eagles’ comeback win. The first came on Mercyhurst’s long drive that started in the third, with the Lakers marching the ball from their own 18-yard line deep into Golden Eagle territory. A false start pushed the Lakers back to the Clarion 30-yard line and eventually led to a 42-yard field goal attempt by Brian Alsobrooks. Alsobrooks missed the kick, keeping the Mercyhurst lead at 21-20.
The second sequence came on what turned out to be the Lakers’ final offensive possession of the game. Mercyhurst matriculated the ball down the field, starting at their own 11-yard line and eating up clock. A long third down completion to Cameron Barmore that would have sealed the result was negated by an offensive pass interference call, and the Lakers were forced to punt from their own 36-yard line with 2:38 to play.
On the ensuing drive, quarterback Zach Benedek hit Khalil Owens on a 34-yard pass play to enter Mercyhurst territory, with Owens running out of bounds at the Laker 29-yard line. The junior running back converted a huge third down later on the drive, taking a pass in the flat on 3rd-and-9 for 18 yards and a first down at the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Esposito booted through his third field goal of the game, handing Clarion the come-from-behind win.
Owens was a force, carrying 14 times for 96 yards – including a 56-yard dash in the first quarter that set up Clarion’s first score of the game – while also catching six passes for 77 yards. Benedek finished 13-of-20 passing for 112 yards but crucially was able to protect the football. He rushed 10 times for 65 yards and a touchdown.
The story of the night, though, was the Golden Eagle defense. They harassed the Lakers all throughout the first half, forcing quarterback Joe Carter into four interceptions in the opening 30 minutes of action. The first of those turnovers proved to be a major momentum swing in favor of Clarion, coming not long after the Lakers took a 7-3 lead. On a 2nd-and-10 from the Mercyhurst 26-yard line, Drew Blon pressured Carter into a bad throw that was intercepted by Kareem Hamdan at the line of scrimmage. Hamdan found daylight on the left-hand side of the field, taking the ball to the house to stun the Lakers and put Clarion ahead 10-7.
Mercyhurst went ahead 14-10 after Carter threw his second touchdown of the quarter to Barmore, but from there the Golden Eagle defense put on the clamps and got to work. After a nine-play, 53-yard Clarion drive ended in Esposito’s second field goal of the half, the Golden Eagles got the ball back when Robert Lachmann pressured Carter into tossing his second pick of the day to Hamdan. On the ensuing drive, Benedek broke off a 55-yard run to push the ball into the red zone, and the quarterback ultimately punched it in from one yard out to make it 17-14.
Jordan Villafane halted the next Mercyhurst drive with a pick, winning a jump ball situation to intercept Carter at the Clarion 14-yard line. Shane Kemper made a diving interception with 54 seconds left in the half, cutting in front of Dustin Shoaf to send his team to the locker room with the advantage.
Blon finished with a team-high 10 tackles and a tackle for loss, while Connor Lyczek and Elroe Yohnnes finished with eight stops apiece. DJ Rawley forced a fumble and got the recovery to represent the fifth turnover of the day, while Villafane also partially blocked a Mercyhurst punt in the second half.
Copyright © 2023 EYT Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of the contents of this service without the express written consent of EYT Media Group, Inc. is expressly prohibited.