STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Committing five turnovers in the first round of an NCAA Division I Football Championship playoff game means your season is coming to an end and that’s exactly what happened here Saturday as Wagner walked away with a 31-20 victory over Colgate.
Raiders star quarterback Gavin McCarney just completed one of the most amazing seasons in Colgate’s long and storied history, yet Saturday he fumbled five times, lost three of them and threw two interceptions during a cold and blustery afternoon on Staten Island.
And those miscues became magnified against a team like Wagner, which has committed exactly just one turnover during what is now a nine-game winning streak.
“They hit hard and were going for the ball,” Colgate head coach Dick Biddle said. “I don’t know if Gavin was having hard time carrying the ball, it’s just they were pretty good hits. We’ve been pretty good about that all year. When you turn the ball over five times, you’re not going to win many games.” Wagner (9-3) advances to play at Eastern Washington next Saturday.
Colgate’s previous season high in turnovers was three last Saturday at Fordham, where the Raiders held on for a 41-39 victory. But Saturday’s miscues halted too many scoring chances for Colgate to keep up with the Northeast Conference champions on their home field.
“Wagner did a great job,” Biddle said. “Their quarterback had a heck of a game and they kept us off-balance on defense. And their defense was very fast – we had a tough time blocking them. It’s a play here or there but congratulations to them. My hat’s off to them.”
Colgate managed just 24 minutes and 53 seconds of ball possession, and the Raiders never found the rhythm necessary to rally from a 14-point deficit like they did two weeks earlier at Lehigh.
“It’s disappointing because I don’t think we played particularly well, but sometimes that happens,” Biddle said. “We just couldn’t get it within one score. We fumbled the ball and made uncharacteristic mistakes on offense, and then our defense kind of wore out. But I was proud of our kicking game for keeping us in the game.”
Special teams provided the brightest maroon spark in the contest when, with Colgate trailing 21-7 late in the first half, the Raiders downed an Evan Goldszak punt at the 1-yard line and turned that into a scoring opportunity.
Colgate’s defense kept Wagner pinned, and then Vince Myers broke through the line for the team’s first punt-block of the season. The ball deflected high in the air and Demetrius Russell was there to catch it in the end zone, suddenly narrowing Wagner’s lead to 21-14 with 1:13 left before halftime.
But that was exactly the amount of time Wagner needed to drive for a late field goal. David Lopez was true from 46 yards out at the halftime horn and the score was 24-14.
It was exactly the same scenario and score from two weeks earlier at Lehigh, but there would be no second-half surge from the visitors this time.
The Raiders (8-4) were held to a season-low 296 total yards, or 203 yards below their average of 503.7. Wagner capitalized on Colgate miscues to score 14 points on two of the turnovers.
“I wouldn’t say I added too much to today’s game except for a bunch of turnovers,” McCarney said. “They were physical, but a lot of that was on me. I guess I was careless with the ball and it just kept popping out. I’m pretty proud for the seniors to get that ring for them, but to go out this way is not what I was looking forward to.”
Colgate’s offense was so affected by the lost possessions that neither McCarney nor backfield mate Jordan McCord reached 100 rushing yards in the game. The Raiders combo had both topped 100 yards the previous six games and seven times total this season.
McCarney carried 19 times for 97 yards, and was 13-of-22 passing for 119 yards. McCord added 13 carries for 81 yards, ending his streak of 11 straight games over the century rushing mark.
“We were doing a good job to start drives but we didn’t finish, and that’s something we’ve been able to do all year,” McCord said. “We had some turnovers and got off track with some penalties, but that’s just football. Things just didn’t go our way today and usually they do. But that’s just how it goes.”
McCord ended his Colgate career with 3,144 rushing yards, including 1,708 this season.
“It was a fun year playing with these guys,” he said. “I love these guys; I’m just sad it had to end this way with a loss.”
Senior linebacker Patrick Friel also had mixed emotions after his final appearance in a Colgate uniform. Friel posted a game-high 14 tackles and finished the season with a team-leading 98 stops.
“We didn’t stop the run like we needed to and we gave up some big plays as well,” Friel said. “That’s what beat us. But I’m glad I could go out and play one last game after coming back from my injury. I wish it was a different ending, but I love Colgate, love playing for this team and it’s been fun.”
Wagner struck first after Torian Phillips came up with the first of his two interceptions and returned this one 31 yards to the Raiders 17. On the very next play, Seahawks quarterback Nick Doscher found Anthony Carrington for the TD and it was 7-0.
“We’d have pass rush and get out of our lanes and he would find an open receiver or he would run it,” Biddle said. “That’s the mark of a good quarterback. He made plays on a four- or five-man rush when we thought we had him and got the ball to the right people. That’s what a quarterback is supposed to do and he did a great job.”
Dominique Williams and Doscher added touchdown runs of 10 and 13 yards, respectively, for to complete Wagner’s first-half scoring.
Colgate’s initial score came after a second-quarter drive covering 61 yards in nine plays culminated in McCarney’s 4-yard keeper. Andrew Burgess tacked on the PAT and it was 14-7 with 8:25 left in the half.
After the flurry before intermission, the third period was scoreless. Colgate had only five scoreless quarters the entire regular season and then posted two on Saturday.
To add a final insult, Colgate even went 0-for-2 against instant replay. Biddle challenged one of Colgate’s third-quarter fumbles and lost, and then the Raiders appeared to have recovered a fourth-quarter onside kick before replay ruled it was touched by a Colgate player before going 10 yards.
The teams had traded touchdowns in the last nine minutes to close out the scoring, with Colgate’s coming on McCord’s 4-yard burst with just 5:54 to play.
“It was a good season for us,” Biddle said. “We were 1-3 and ended up in the playoffs. But that’s the tough part about going to the playoffs – you either win a national championship or you lose your last game. That’s the tough part. I’m proud of our team for getting to the playoffs and winning the Patriot League championship.”
McCarney finished his season with 3,778 yards of total offense – 1,406 rushing and 2,372 passing. He said after the game that while 2012 was a special season in Hamilton, next year will bring new challenges.
“We bring back a lot of guys, so we should have a strong team,” he said. “But we’re the defending champs, so we will be getting hunted and will have a target on our back.”