Despite starting quarterback Austin Day going down with a second-half neck injury, Marist (1-1) was able to defeat Stetson, 26-23, for their first win of the season.
It was a scary moment for the Red Foxes. With 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Stetson defensive back Reggie Gantt laid a monstrous hit on Day knocking him out of the game. Day finished the day completing 10 of 19 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown and was eventually carted off the field in a stretcher wearing a neck brace. “All indications are that things are going to be okay,” Marist head coach Jim Parady said.
After deferring the opening coin toss Marist’s defense forced an immediate three and out on the first drive of the game. On the ensuing punt, linebacker John Pierce blocked and recovered the Stetson kick, a play that would result in an early safety. Luke Paladino’s 49-yard field goal just minutes later – one that tied Jason Myers’ record for the longest made field goal in program history — gave Marist an odd but serviceable 5-0 lead.
“For us to get that early lead I think it really built a big spark on our sideline and momentum on our sideline,” Parady said of his team’s hot start. “That punt block was phenomenal. The energy on the sideline went up and we needed that. We need something good to happen early in the game and these guys created that. So credit to them for creating that opportunity early in the game and giving us that boost because coming off of last week, our pride was hurt.”
Senior safety Jack Griffith had a stellar performance in the defense’s final drive of the first half. Griffith deflected a third-down pass intended for Stetson’s Justin Jordan, then blew past the offensive line and into the backfield, sacking Stetson’s quarterback Gaven DeFilippo at the 45-yard line. Following Griffith’s personal highlight reel came one for Day; his skyscraping prayer landed right in receiver Anthony Olivencia’s pocket, closing the half with a 45-yard touchdown and a 19-10 lead.
“We were able to get there on the first pass deflection,” Griffith said. “And on the sack, we brought some pressure from the boundary and we were able… to make a play for our offense to send us in the half on a high note.”
The second half would start slow but concluded with haste and verve that might only be applicable as a response to Day’s injury. Junior running back Mekhai Johnson could be heard from the sidelines demanding that the team respond adequately to the Hatters “[knocking] out our quarterback like that.” Luke Strnad, Day’s replacement, would do his part in that response, tallying 127 yards on five completions, including one touchdown.
Stetson’s only lead in the game came with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter; Jalen Leary would pick up his second touchdown of the game ran the ball in for a six-yard touchdown following a Strnad interception.
That lead wouldn’t last long as Marist answered Stetson’s house call with one of their own. With roughly eight-minutes remaining, Strnad connected with, guess who, Anthony Olivencia for a 75-yard touchdown, giving Marist a 26-23 lead. It was Olivencia’s second touchdown of the game; the senior finished the game with 150 yards receiving on four catches.
Olivencia attributed his success to his decision to stay on campus over the summer. “In [the] past I’ve decided to go home,” he said. “I thought, if it was going to be my last year, I was going to give it my all… I made a business decision to stay here and work on myself and stay conditioned… I think it’s really paying off.”
Also having a big day for the Red Foxes was senior Jon Kanda, who finished the day with a team-high six catches and 107 yards receiving.
With under a minute remaining, Mekhai Johnson had a chance to seal the game for Marist as he ran the ball 51-yards before fumbling the ball at the one-yard line. The fumble resulted in a touchback, turning possession over to Stetson. Luckily, the defense remained true to their first-half form, forcing a turnover on downs, thus ending the game. Marist improves to an impressive 4-0 against Stetson at home.
The Red Foxes will continue their homestand as they host Cornell (0-0) next Saturday, Sept. 21, at noon in Poughkeepsie, NY at Tenney Stadium.
Edited by Will Bjarnar