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Football begins CBB defense with 10-9 win at Colby

First-year Justin Foley turned in a career day as he punted nine times with seven punts pinning Colby inside the 20. (File Photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College) 

WATERVILLE, Maine -- The Bates football team used a dominating defensive performance and outstanding play on special teams to defeat the Colby College Mules by a final score of 10-9 Saturday afternoon.

Junior Trevor Lyons (Hamilton, Mass.) returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Bobcats (1-5) ahead for good as they beat the Mules (1-5) in Waterville for the first time since 1999. 

"In my time at Bates, that is probably one of the grittiest defensive efforts we've had," head coach Mark Harriman said. "The entire unit played so well."

Special teams swung the game though for the Bobcats. Sophomore defensive lineman Collin Richardson (Kensington, N.H.) blocked an extra point after Colby scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was a strange play, as Colby kicked an extra point through the uprights only to have it called back because the referee had not signaled "ready for play." The second attempt was blocked by Richardson.

Meanwhile first-year punter Justin Foley (Lynnfield, Mass.) turned in the performance of the year for Bates. His nine punts averaged 38.3 yards with seven of them pinning Colby inside the 20-yard line, including two punts that landed inside the 5 and one more that pinned Colby at the 3 after a penalty. His long punt of the game went 52 yards. 

"If you look at how he changed field position for us numerous times, that is just a phenomenal effort," Harriman said. "He's handled kickoffs and punts from day one for us and is doing great job."

The teams traded punts throughout a scoreless first quarter of action.

The Mules got on the board first in the second quarter. A 17-play, 73-yard drive took 8:03 off the clock as the Mules pounded the ball with running back Jabari Hurdle-Price. Early in the drive Hurdle-Price caught a screen pass and scampered 15 yards to midfield. A pass interference call put the Mules at the Bates 33. Hurdle-Price ran the ball on five out of the next six plays to set up first and goal at the Bates 4-yard line. But junior defensive lineman Andrew Segal (Glencoe, Ill.) dropped Hurdle-Price for a loss of six yards and and two plays later, the Bobcats forced a field goal. John Baron's 26-yard field goal put the Mules up 3-0 with 9:41 to go in the first half. 

The Bobcats advanced the ball past midfield behind a solid kick return from junior Ben Coulibaly (Philadelphia, Pa.) and a couple of runs by junior Ivan Reese (Savannah, Ga.). But the drive stalled and Foley pinned the Mules at their own 15. The teams continued to trade punts as neither team was able to move the ball much for the remainder of the quarter. The Bobcats had one final shot to put points on the board in the half but a pair of sacks stalled their final drive.

The teams entered the half with Colby on top 3-0.

But the third quarter was all Bobcats. Coulibaly returned the opening kick of the second half 22 yards to the Bates 36. Sophomore Sean Peterson (Maynard, Mass.) carried the ball nine yards on the first play from scrimmage. Reese followed with a 14-yard run and a personal foul gave the Bobcats 15 more yards. Senior Mike Decina (Hopkinton, Mass.) ran the ball 10 yards to the Colby 19. The drive stalled after that and sophomore Grant DeWald (Duxbury, Mass.) kicked a 27-yard field goal to even the game at three.

Junior Mark Upton (Winthrop, Mass.), who had a monster game on defense for Bates, sacked quarterback Gabe Harrington on the first play of the ensuing drive. Then on second and 18, a hurried Harrington threw the ball into traffic. Lyons jumped the route and picked off the pass. He took the ball 31 yards to the house to put the Bobcats up 9-3. The extra point was good and Bates led 10-3 with 10:47 to go in the third quarter.

It was Lyons' first career pick-six.

"We knew Colby liked the quick game. During the game it's something you sort of feel out," Lyons said. "Brandon (Williams) and I are aggressive corners. We watch film together four times a week and we like to step up and make the big plays. It feels awesome."

Colby took the ball to the Bates 40 on their next drive, but Hurdle-Price got stuffed on fourth and one by senior Sam Freeman (Newton, Mass.) and Andrew Jenkelunas (Rocky Hill, Conn.). The Bobcats appeared to be driving for more points but senior quarterback Patrick Dugan (Westford, Mass.) fumbled on first and goal and the Mules recovered.

The Bates defense didn't allow the Mules to take advantage of the turnover as Colby went three-and-out on their possession.

Bates didn't go anywhere on their next drive, though, and Colby got the ball back with good field position at their own 41.

That's when the Mules got their offense going. They marched down the field on a 10-play, 59-yard drive, taking 3:51 off the clock. They started the fourth quarter with the ball at the Bates 29-yard line thanks to a strong ground attack led by Hurdle-Price and back-up QB Christian Sparacio. Facing a 2nd and 5 at the Bates 24, Sparacio sprinted 19 yards to the Bobcats' 5. On first and goal, Hurdle-Price ran it to the 1, and Sparacio snuck it in for the touchdown.

Bates got called for a personal foul after the TD. The Colby coach and the referee were discussing whether the Mules wanted to accept the penalty on the kick-off when the first extra point attempt went through the uprights. The play didn't count and they re-kicked. Bates got great pressure off the edge and Richardson came up the middle to block the try and maintain the 10-9 lead. 

Holding on to the slim lead, the Bobcats kept the ball almost exclusively on the ground as they attempted to burn the clock. Their defense continued to dominate as Colby could not get anything going on offense down the stretch.

The teams traded punts before Colby got the ball back with 3:05 to go in the game. They advanced the ball to their own 39 before an illegal formation penalty set them back five yards. On the next play Upton picked up his second sack of the game to set up 3rd and 23. A pass fell incomplete and Colby had to go for it on fourth and long. They tried a trick play, but their double pass was unsuccessful, and Bates ran out the clock.

Upton and junior Sam Francis (Newburyport, Mass.) finished tied for the team-lead with nine tackles each. Junior Brandon Williams (Gardner, Mass.) broke up three passes on defense. Dugan completed four of 10 passes for 43 yards. He led the team in rushing with 17 carries for 38 yards while Reese added 10 carries for 37 yards. Senior Mark Riley (Needham, Mass.) caught a pair of passes for 20 yards.

Bates was outgained 262-168 in total offensive yards, as both defenses had a fine afternoon. But it was the Bobcats' ability to score on defense and their dominance on special teams that proved to be the difference.
 
With the win, the Bobcats control their own destiny in their attempt to win outright back-to-back CBB titles for the first time since 1966-67. The Bobcats welcome Bowdoin to town on Saturday, November 7 for Senior Day at Garcelon Field. Kick-off is set for 12:30 p.m.