PAINESVILLE, Ohio – Lake Erie closed out its 2013 season with an impressive victory over the Tiffin Dragons on a warm and sunny afternoon at Jack Britt Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Anthony Bilal rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns, and Brendan Gallagher tossed three TD passes as the Storm (4-7, 3-6 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) notched 50-plus points for a fourth time on the season.
A solid Storm defense pressured Tiffin (2-9, 1-8) into three turnovers, recording a program-record nine sacks along the way. Junior linebacker Tanner Wells finished the game with 22 tackles, setting a new single-game program record for Lake Erie. Junior defensive end Kyle Herth registered an LEC-record 4-1/2 sacks.
"I thought [defensive coordinator] Tom [Anthony] made some great aggressive calls out there today," said Head Coach Mark McNellie, whose program logged a fourth win in a season for the first time since 2009. "We created some turnovers, and that gave us a big lift."
Tiffin converted on a key third down deep in its own territory in the first drive of the contest. The play proved to be crucial and one that propelled the Dragons to the first score of the game. Tiffin's drive – a 14-play, 86-yard march down the field – was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run by running back Jerry Brown at 9:15. TU quarterback Antonio Pipkin went 4-of-5 through the air in leading the Dragons to a 7-0 lead.
Lake Erie countered with a scoring drive of its own when the Storm powered its way 75 yards across the Britt Stadium gridiron. That drive culminated with a 1-yard Anthony Bilal TD run. Bilal's rush came on the heels of quarterback Brendan Gallagher running for 18 and then 14 yards on back-to-back plays. LEC misfired on the extra points and cut the Tiffin lead to 7-6.
The Storm defense then got in on the act, pitching a three-and-out in one TU drive and notching a safety the next time the Dragons had the ball. The Lake Erie two-pointer came courtesy an Isaiah Bell sack of Pipkin in the end zone.
Tiffin took a 15-8 lead early in the second quarter on a 1-yard TD run. LEC returned the ball to TU on a punt on th next drive, but a Marquan Richardson then set up the Storm for a 57-yard TD drive when he picked off an Antonio Pipkin pass at the LEC 22 and returned it 19 yards. That takeaway turned in to six when Brendan Gallagher found Cole Gordon on a 5-yarder at the 5:54-mark in the second quarter.
Then, with the Jack Britt Stadium reading 15-15, the LEC defense and offense turned in a memorable one-two punch to give the home Storm a lead and the momentum of the game. After Tiffin had driven the ball down to the Lake Erie 3, the LEC defense came up with a dramatic, 19-yard sack on a fourth-and-goal attempt by TU. On the next play from scrimmage, Brendan Gallagher hit Tommy Jackson in stride down the left hash. Jackson beat his man and scored on what amounted to a 78-yard play.
The two plays in conjunction amounted to a 97-yard flip of the field and a 22-15 lead for the Storm. Lake Erie took that seven-point lead into halftime.
The LEC defense and special teams played their part in the home side yielding just 15 points in the first half. Lake Erie recorded four quarterback sacks, and Brandon Davis blocked a 42-yard field-goal attempt late in the half. Tanner Wells turned in a monster performance in the first, collecting a sack and 14 tackles.
Lake Erie opened up the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Anthony Bilal ran one 36 yards to paydirt in vaulting the Storm with a 29-15 lead. Tiffin cut the LEC back to seven (29-22) when a Seth Pekoe punt skittered 68 yards down the right sideline to the Lake Erie 6-yard line. Brendan Gallagher fumbled on the next play from scrimmage, and TU's Ronald Johnson banged his way into the end zone for six.
The Storm returned fire approximately two minutes later when Tommy Jackson scored a TD on an 8-yard scamper. That TD put Lake Erie up, 36-22. Tiffin would add a touchdown later in the third, and Lake Erie carried a 36-29 lead into the fourth quarter.
A goal-line stand early in the fourth kept Tiffin out of the end zone; the Dragons settled for three, getting a field goal at the 12:04-mark.
The Lake Erie defense turned in another takeaway when Tiffin mishandled a shotgun snap on a third-and-long at the 11-minute mark. The play resulted in a first-and-goal, and the Storm capitalized, going up, 43-32, two plays later when Gallagher connected with Cole Gordon on the duo's second TD pass of the day.
The LEC defense turned in another big play on Tiffin's next drive. After the Dragons had moved the ball into Storm territory, linebacker Kyle Herth forced and then recovered a fumble after pinning Pipkin back in the pocket on a pass attempt.
The Storm defense held the Dragons off the scoreboard the rest of the way. LEC added a late score in closing out the eventual 50-32 victory.
Lake Erie totaled 474 yards on the afternoon; Tiffin finished the day with 459. TU quarterback Antonio Pipkin went 32-of-48 for 347 yards. His opposite number – Gallagher – went 18-of-27 for 216 yards.
Gallagher was one of nine Storm players taking the field for the last time in a college football game. The nine players were recognized in a pregame ceremony.
"I saw a lot of leadership from those seniors this week," said Mark McNellie. "Sometimes when it's an emotional week, you don't know what you're going to get. What we saw was a core group of players playing with big hearts."