WEST CHESTER, Pa. – Despite 131 rushing yards by junior Andrew Brazicki (Franklin Park, N.J./ St. Thomas Aquinas HS) and five takeaways, the Bentley University Falcons came up short when a last-minute 30-yard touchdown by redshirt freshman Ja'Den Mckenzie (Morton, Pa.) gave West Chester University, the 22nd-ranked team in Division II, a season-opening 14-7 non-conference win at Farrell Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The winning touchdown came with 23 seconds remaining in regulation and finished an eight-play, 30-yard drive following a Bentley punt with 1:59 to play. The key play came on a third-and-11 when Golden Ram senior quarterback Paul Dooley (Philadelphia, Pa.) scrambled to elude a sack and dove for a first down at the Bentley 38.
Three plays later, Mckenzie broke through the line and went down the right side for the winning score. Junior Andrew Cheglia (Kennett Square, Pa.) came on to tack on the extra point.
Bentley had time for three final plays but was only able to advance to midfield.
The Falcon defense came up with a pair of interceptions and three fumble recoveries, but the offense was only able to take advantage once. Senior nose tackle Frank Damata (Framingham, Mass./ Marian HS), junior linebacker Marc Doran (Ramsey, N.J./St. Joseph Regional HS) and sophomore defensive lineman Ryan Philibotte (Nashua, N.H./Salisbury School) recovered fumbles and interceptions came from sophomore Aaron Racki (Tampa, Fla./Cambridge Christian HS) and freshman Joseph Howshan (Lawrence, Mass./Central Catholic HS).
Damata's recovery came on a fourth-and-one on West Chester's first possession of the game. Two plays after a fourth-down pass from junior Stephen Sturm (Collegeville, Pa./Perkiomen Valley HS) to classmate Austin Ryan (Foxborough, Mass./Foxborough HS) kept the drive alive, Brazicki broke a 20-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead with 8:35 left in the opening quarter.
It was the second time that a Falcon reached the end zone but the first that counted. On the third play of the game, a holding call (one of an uncharacteristic seven first-half penalties on Bentley) erased an apparent 76-yard TD pass by senior Drew Mahoney (West Suffield, Conn./Suffield Academy).
Bentley had an excellent opportunity to extend the lead before the half, following Doran's recovery at midfield. The Falcons drove to the Golden Ram 4 before a 21-yard field goal was blocked on the final play before the break.
After forcing a three-and-out to start the third, the Falcons used 15 plays to drive to the West Chester 21 before turning it over on downs. The Golden Rams answered with their first score of the game, Dooley's 25-yard completion to junior tight end Dan Niehaus (Downington, Pa.) and the ensuing PAT knotting the score at 7-7.
Midway through the final stanza, Philibotte recovered a fumble forced by sophomore linebacker Manny Resto (Avenel, N.J./St. Joseph HS) and presented the ball to the Bentley offense at the West Chester 21. The Falcons were unable to do much on the possession and settled for a 32-yard field goal attempt. Like the one at the end of the first half, it was blocked, keeping the game even.
Other than points, Bentley finished with an advantage in most statistical categories, including total offense (334-306), total plays (71-58), rushing yards (203-173), first downs (17-14) and possession time (34:30). Third down conversions were a problem with the Falcons 6 of 17 and West Chester 7 of 14.
Brazicki achieved his 131 yards on 19 carries. Sturm finished 20 of 34 for 131 yards and Mahoney led Bentley in receiving yards (6 for 54). Sophomore d-back Jailen Branch (Randolph, Mass./ Milton Academy) led the team in tackles with nine.
Mckenzie finished with 112 yards in 10 attempts in his rushing debut and Dooley was 13 of 28 through the air for 133 yards.
Bentley is back on the road next Saturday with a noon start at American International.