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Trinity nudges past football in fourth quarter, 28-17

Ryan Curit plunges for his first of two touchdowns from the 1-yard line during Bates' 28-17 loss to Trinity on Sept. 21, 2013. Curit ran for 104 yards. Photo by Mike Bradley/Bates College.

LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates College football team led 17-14 at the start of the fourth quarter in its bid to upset NESCAC champion Trinity College on Saturday, but the Bantams took advantage of three Bates turnovers in the final quarter to win their 10th straight contest, and 20th in a row over the Bobcats, by a 28-17 score at Garcelon Field in the teams' season opener.

NESCAC 2012 rushing champion Evan Bunker ran for 134 yards and three touchdowns for Trinity, while Ben Crick added 48 yards on 13 carries. A.J. Jones caught five passes for 46 yards.

Senior running back Ryan Curit (South Portland, Maine) ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 30 totes for Bates, which piled up 290 yards on the ground on 68 attempts against the conference's leading defense in five categories a year ago. Senior slotback Shawn Doherty (Mansfield, Mass.) gained 91 yards on 10 carries, and sophomore quarterback Patrick Dugan (Westford, Mass.), who had never taken a varsity snap before the game, had 20 keepers for 79 yards.

Bates rushed the ball 68 times out of 76 offensive plays, while Trinity carried the ball 49 times to go with 23 pass attempts. Both teams tallied an identical 354 yards of total offense. Henry Foye completed 9 of 13 passes for 95 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown to Chris Ragone that put the Bantams up by two scores in the final quarter.

Turnovers were not as friendly to Bates as they were for most of the 2012 campaign, when the Bobcats led the nation in average turnover differential (at +2.25 per game). The Bobcats did come up with two interceptions in the game, but committed four giveaways on offense.

The first quarter was scoreless for both teams, but Bates put together the only lengthy drive of the period, moving the ball from its own 19 to the Trinity 15 before Curit lost the ball when crashing into the line of scrimmage and the Bantams' Brian Dones recovered at the 11.

Bates got the ball back shortly thereafter, when junior defensive end Sam Hundley (Cheshire, Conn.) tipped a Sonny Puzzo pass and junior Gilbert Brown (Gloucester, Mass.) made a spectacular diving grab of the fluttering ball at the Bantam 28. The period concluded with three straight Curit carries, taking Bates to the Trinity 1-yard line. On 4th and goal at the 1 two plays into the second quarter, Curit plunged into the end zone for a 7-0 Bates lead following senior Charlie Donahue's (Plymouth, N.H.) point-after kick.

Trinity responded with a 69-yard touchdown drive, relying on Bunker for 44 yards on six carries, including a 2-yard score that knotted the game at 7-7 on Ben Rosenblatt's extra point.

Bates regained the lead later in the quarter on a drive led by junior quarterback Matt Cannone (Windham, N.H.). The Bobcats started the drive on their own 26, reached the 31 on two straight keepers by Cannone, then struck for a 62-yard passing play, Bates' first pass attempt of the day, as Cannone lofted the ball over the top of Trinity's defense on a play-action into the waiting hands of junior wide receiver Mike Tomaino (Gloucester, Mass.), who scampered 40 yard upfield until he was dragged down by Mike Mancini at Trinity's 7-yard line. Four plays later, Cannone handed off to Curit to convert another 4th-and-goal play from the 1, putting Bates ahead 14-7.

Again, Trinity matched Bates with a touchdown of its own, ripping off a 6-play, 68-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD run by Bunker. The drive featured a 19-yard run by Bunker, a 22-yard scamper by Crick, and a Puzzo completion to Darrien Myers for 17 yards and a first-and-goal at the Bates 9. With 2:22 remaining in the half, neither team threatened to score again before the period expired.

Bunker had 95 yards and two scores on 15 carries at intermission, while Curit had 78 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

The Bobcats assumed their third lead of the game, at 17-14, on the opening drive of the second half, using the running legs of Dugan, Doherty and Curit to advance the ball to the Bantams' 6-yard line before settling for a 23-yard field goal by Donahue. The three-pointer is the All-NESCAC kicker's 11th made in a row, a streak that dates back to the 2011 season. Bates controlled the third quarter to the tune of a 9:23 to 5:37 difference in time of possession and a 141 to 30 difference in yardage.

But Trinity assumed the lead for good with an 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that began at the end of the third quarter and ended on Bunker's third score of the day, a 5-yard run to the left-side pylon. Foye completed passes of 8, 9 and 7 yards, two to Jones and one to Bunker, and the Bantams mixed in runs of 11, 10, 5 and 5 yards by Jones, Bunker, Crick and Jones again to keep Bates' defense back-pedaling.

Bates took the ball over at its 37, but the drive didn't last long. Dugan saw senior Kevin Davis (North Andover, Mass.) open down the left seam, but Dones read the play perfectly and picked off Dugan's pass, setting the Bantams up at Bates' 48. The play turned out to be of little consequence, as Trinity gave the ball back on its next play, with junior linebacker Pat Gilligan (Acton, Mass.) making a diving grab of a Foye pass. But that play, too, meant little after a Curit fumble recovered by Mancini led off Bates' possession. Trinity was able to capitalize on that Bates turnover, taking the ball over at the Bates 39 and scoring seven plays later when Foye found Ragone open on the left side of the end zone, raising the deficit to 28-17 with 9:05 left in the game.

Doherty's 28-yard kickoff return set up the Bobcats well at their own 38, but three plays later, a botched handoff hit the ground, and the ball was recovered by Mancini at Bates' 42. Trinity drove as far as Bates' 10-yard line before settling for a 32-yard field goal attempt by Rosenblatt that missed wide right.

With 5:34 to go, Trinity's defense quickly forced Bates into a 4th-and-14 situation and a David Kurey (West Chester, Pa.) punt. The Bobcats got the ball back one more time, with 2:54 to go, but the drive stalled out with incompletions on third and fourth downs, icing the win for Trinity.

Bates junior linebacker Adam Cuomo (Plymouth, Mass.) had a career- and game-high 15 tackles, including 12 solo stops, while senior safety Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.) chipped in 14 tackles (12 solo) and a pass breakup. Tom Haverty and Mancini totaled 14 tackles apiece for the Bantams.

Bates stays at home to host Tufts next Saturday, as part of Parents & Family Weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30pm.