BETHLEHEM, Pa. --- Moravian College continues its look back at its 2014-15 athletic campaign with the No. 8 highlight in the Top 10 Exciting Games – the football squad's 27-21 Centennial Conference win at Juniata College on November 8.
The Greyhounds, who were 5-5 last fall, trailed twice in the first half of the game before scoring the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Hounds' defense also stepped up in the game with three interceptions, two in the final five minutes of action, and a total of four takeaways.
Head Coach Jeff Puksyzn '97 saw the game as a key point in the season for Moravian. "Looking back, the Juniata game was a turning point for our program. After coming out of our bye week with two straight losses, then rebounding against Gettysburg College, we needed a big game out of our guys on the road at Juniata against the offensive player of the year at quarterback. It was a game that went to the final drive. I felt our players showed a lot of poise and maturity through sixty minutes."
The game began with the Eagles making a quick score to cap off a six-play, 62-yard drive just 2:50 into the contest.
Moravian's first drive looked to have stalled after three plays but junior defensive back/punter Jimmy McCarthy ran a fake punt 24 yards for a first down to put the ball near midfield. Sophomore quarterback Mike Hayes hit sophomore wide receiver Liam Nolan with back-to-back first down passes of 16 and 19 yards to move the Blue & Grey into the red zone. Hayes would also throw a 14-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Jalen Snyder-Scipio to put the ball at the one-yard line. Sophomore running back Chris Negron finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown as the Hounds tied the contest at 7-7 with nearly nine minutes still to play in the opening quarter.
Once again, Juniata drove down the field and would retake the lead, 14-7, on a six-yard touchdown run by conference player of the year Ward Udinski with 4:57 to play in the first quarter.
The Greyhounds would come out and run the ball 10 times in their next drive that would cover 75 yards in a total of 14 plays. Hayes rushed in from seven yards just 1:18 into the second quarter to pull Moravian within a point. Even though Moravian missed the extra point, the momentum was with the Hounds.
Moravian needed just four plays, a pass from Hayes to Snyder-Scipio and three runs by Negron, the last for a one-yard touchdown, as the Hounds moved in front for the first time in the game. Holding a five-point lead, the Greyhounds initially lined-up for a PAT but switched formations at the last minute with McCarthy taking a direct snap and running in for a two-point conversion to push the Greyhounds lead to 21-14 with 12:16 left in the opening half.
The score remained that way for the rest of the half with Juniata punting once and turning the ball over on downs at the end of the half as senior defensive back Chris McGrath knocked down a pass at the goal line on its two possessions and the Blue & Grey punting on their final possession of the first half.
Moravian opened the second half with the ball but a fumble after a 36-yard completion from Hayes to junior tight end Andrew Racobaldo gave the Eagles the ball deep in their own territory.
Each team punted once before Juniata put together a nine-play, 73-yard drive to tie the game at 21-21 with 3:04 to go in the third quarter.
The Hounds looked as if they would retake the lead on the next possession; however, Hayes was intercepted in the end zone ending the drive.
It took Moravian just three plays to get the ball back when McGrarth intercepted a Udinski pass near midfield and returned it 13 yards to set up the Greyhounds' offense with a short field.
Facing a 3rd-and-9, Hayes connected on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Snyder-Scipio in the back right corner of the end zone as Snyder-Scipio got a foot down before falling out-of-bounds. After a bad snap on the PAT, McCarthy nearly completed a two-point conversion pass but the score remained 27-21 for the Greyhounds with 9:56 remaining. Hayes completed 14-of-25 passes for 192 yards while Snyder-Scipio caught six passes for 68 yards in the game.
"Mike's pass to Jalen was a big play that was executed perfectly," stated Pukszyn. "Mike played very well and threw the ball well for a second straight week. Jalen is a big receiver who is very tough to defend, especially in the red zone."
At that point, Moravian put the contest in the hands of its defense trying to stop Udinski. The next drive saw him run or pass on all 13 plays but it would be McCarthy that made the big play, intercepting a pass for his fifth interception of the season, ending the drive at the 10-yard line.
The Greyhounds were unable to move the ball and punted again as the Eagles took over near midfield. Once again, the Eagles leaned on Udinski but it was McGrath coming up with his third big defensive play of the game when he intercepted a pass at the 15-yard line and returned it 20 yards with just over a minute on the clock.
"The coaches came up with an awesome game plan to stop Ward Udinski," McGrath said. "Every game they were winning was solely because of him, so we said we were going to make someone else on there team beat us. Our defensive line was shutting them down all game thanks to Ryan Pysher and Andrew Richmond, making him scramble for his life, and all of the defensive backs had lockdown coverage for most of the game. This really gave him nowhere to run and nowhere to throw the ball. Everyone did there 1/11th of the job that day and he ended up trying to squeeze two balls into a tight window to make something happen and the coaches put me in the right position to make a play on both interceptions."
"Getting four takeaways always helps," Pukszyn finished. "Chris's first interception set up our go ahead score. The next two takeaways by Jimmy and Chris stopped drives that changed the momentum of the game. Both Jimmy and Chris did a great job in putting themselves in positions for success."
Negron would run the ball three times, the final one for 11 yards and a first down as the Greyhounds ran out the clock for the victory. Negron had 77 yards and a pair of scores in the game as he moved into 10th in school history at 1,869 after just 19 career games.
You can check out the original game day story at http://moraviansports.com/sports/fball/2014-15/releases/201411084oxrzc.
Number seven on our Top 10 Exciting Games will be announced on Monday, July 6.