PAINESVILLE, OHIO – The 2013 season opened like any of the previous five for the Lake Erie College football team as the Storm engaged in a thriller with nonconference rival Gannon University. And if this was the last meeting between the two nearby foes, they went out in exciting fashion. But for the fifth time in six meetings, the Golden Knights pulled out a last-minute victory with a 36-33 victory at Jack Britt Memorial Stadium Thursday night (Sept. 5).
Liam Nadler scored on a one-yard dive with 1:06 left and Nick Schmidt deflected the Storm's (0-1) last-second 40-yard field goal attempt to cap a wild first game and allow Gannon (1-0) to retain the Ship's Wheel Trophy for the second straight year.
The two teams combined for nearly 1,300 yards of total offense as they marched up and down the field most of the night. Storm sophomore Anthony Bilal (Painesville, Ohio/Riverside) and Gannon's Jansen Jones each rushed for over 200 yards and Nadler passed for 398 with a pair of touchdowns.
Bilal, who rushed 22 times for a career-high 210 yards and three touchdowns, the third of which – a 71-yard scamper down the near sideline – gave the Storm a 33-29 lead with 4:37 to play.
The Storm's lead could have been much bigger, but Lake Erie's special teams units struggled in the kicking game. In addition to Schmidt's game-ending block, Gannon blocked two extra point attempts and the Storm missed on two other field goal attempts.
After Bilal's big run, the Knights responded with a 75-yard, 10-play drive in 3:22 to regain the margin. Nadler need two tries from the one before punching it in on third down. Earlier in the drive Nadler hit Quad Law for 22 yards and Araham Ocasio for 26 that put the ball inside the Storm five-yard-line.
Taking over at his own 25 with 56 seconds left, redshirt senior Brendan Gallagher (Aurora, Ohio/Aurora) drove the Storm down the field, competing three straight passes at the end of the drive to set Lake Erie up at the Gannon 23 with just two seconds left. Following a Gannon time out, freshman Kyle Galbraith (Monroe, Mich./Monroe/Oakland) came on to try to tie the gamebut Schmidt got a hand up to knock the kick off course and seal the game.
In a series characterized by close calls, this one was no different. Neither team had more than a six-point lead, and the 36-33 final score was identical to the one in 2012, won by Gannon in Erie. It was also the third straight game in the series decided by three points.
Jones ran for 218 yards, including a nine-yard first-quarter touchdown run, and also caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nadler.
Nadler completed 25-of-42 passes for his 398 yards and three Knights – Ocasio, Law and Justin Caliste all went over 100 yards receiving.
Gallagher set career highs with 26 completions, 36 attempts and 276 yards passing. He also ran for 88 yards on 16 carries. Redshirt sophomore Shane VanFleteren (Shelby, Mich./Shelby) led the receiving corps with seven catches for 61 yards. Redshirt junior Tommy Jackson (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard) caught four passes and added a 33-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that gave the Storm their first lead.
Newcomer Donnie Eatmon (Macedonia, Ohio/Nordonia/Fort Scott) scored on one-yard run for LEC's first touchdown of the year. That came one play after Bilal's 49-yard run.
Junior Tanner Wells (Carrollton, Texas/Parish Episcopal) led all players with 11 tackles while redshirt sophomore Devante Sims (Fort Myers, Fla./Dunbar/West Liberty) had 10 tackles in his first college game.
Mike Zanders and Rico Wright each made 10 tackles for Gannon, who got field goals of 40- and 27-yards in the game from Donnie Mann.
The Storm is on the road next week to open Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) play at Ferris State University on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.
Due to a change in the GLIAC schedule, the Storm will open the season with a league game each of the next two years, meaning the Gannon series is on hold until at least 2016 at the earliest.