PAINESVILLE, OHIO – Visiting Ohio Dominican University took advantage of a couple of miscues by the Lake Erie College football team early and went on to spoil the Storm's home finale with a 44-14 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) victory on Senior Recognition Day and Veterans' Appreciation Day at Jack Britt Memorial Stadium.
The Panthers (7-3, 6-3 GLIAC) shutout the Storm (3-7, 3-6 GLIAC) 23-0 in the second half.
The Storm had a 56-yard pass on the opening play of the game wiped out by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty and found themselves in a 14-0 hole after the first quarter on a 36-yard touchdown run by Ohio Dominican's Brandon Schoen and a three-yard scamper by Mark Miller.
But Lake Erie battled back, scoring on a 14-yard pass from redshirt junior Brendan Gallagher (Aurora, Ohio/Aurora) to redshirt sophomore tight end Cole Gordon (Naples, Fla./Naples/Georgia Southern) early in the second quarter. The play was set up by the LEC defense taking a page out of a volleyball playbook when redshirt junior linebacker DaVon Coman (Akron, Ohio/North) batted Miller's pass up into the air and senior defensive end Taylor Leppla (Cambridge, Ohio/Cambridge) snagged it and returned it 19 yards inside the ODU 15.
Leppla, who earlier in the game caught a 24-yard pass on a fake punt, recovered a fumble on the next Panther drive. The Storm drove to the Ohio Dominican 18 before settling for a 35-yard field goal attempt.
However, Ben Copher broke through the line and blocked the kick and Billy Eakins picked up the loose ball and returned it 68 yards for a 21-7 lead.
Gallagher hit redshirt sophomore Tommy Jackson (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard) for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the first half to make it a 21-14 game heading into the locker room.
Miller scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter for the period's only points, giving the Panthers a 28-14 edge and Mark Nichols added a four-yard run early in the fourth to make it 35-14. The Storm's ensuing drive stalled at the Ohio Dominican 33 and Brent Wahle kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 38-14 lead.
Defensive lineman Tyrone Patel picked off a Gallagher screen pass and rumbled 19 yards on the first snap of Lake Erie's next drive for the game's final points and the 44-14 margin.
Gallagher completed 18-of-29 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted twice, including once in the ODU endzone. Three different receivers caught at least five passes in the game as the Storm was limited to just 65 yards on the ground, picking up 241 of their 306 yards through the air.
The Panthers picked up 448 total yards on the day, including 291 on the ground. Nichols led the way with 212 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. Miller completed 12-of-18 passes for 157 yards and an interception but had the two rushing TDs. Abe Johnson caught five passes for 39 yards and added a 43-yard punt return for the Panthers.
Freshman Nick Kirschner (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor) made nine tackles to lead the Storm defense. Leppla had five, including one for a loss, to go along with his interception and fumble recovery.
Nikki Tanksley made a game-high 11 tackles to lead the Panthers while Di'Andre Harrison finished with nine total stops, including two of the team's five sacks. Justin Bell had the other interception.
Lake Erie closes out the 2012 season next weekend on the road at Tiffin University. Kickoff from Frost-Kalnow Stadium in Tiffin on Saturday, Nov. 10, is set for 1:30 p.m.