SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Junior Matt Sewall (Portsmouth, R.I.) finished with 180 kick return yards, including a 97-yard touchdown return, to lead the Bryant University football team to a 27-17 victory over Wagner on a cold and damp Saturday afternoon at Beirne Stadium.
With the win, the Bulldogs (3-4, 2-1 NEC) snap a two-game losing streak and hand the Seahawks (4-3, 2-1) their first loss in league play. Bryant is now 3-1 at home this season.
The Bulldogs' dominance on special teams was the turning point on Saturday afternoon. Sewall's 180 return yards are the third-most in a single-game in program history and led directly to 10 points. Sewall's 97-yard kick return for a touchdown was the second longest return in school history. Senior Ricky Perez (Miami, Fla.) added a pair of field goals and Bryant turned a fumbled punt by the Seahawks into three more points.
Bryant's ground game also returned as sophomore Brenden Femiano (Northport, N.Y.) and junior Hunter Taute (Norfolk, Mass.) combined to rush for 157 yards. Femiano, who missed the previous four games with an injury, rushed for 98 yards on 15 carries, while Taute rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 14 carries. He added a team-high three catches for 39 yards.
Senior Dalton Easton (Miami, Fla.) finished the game 14-of-25 for 172 yards and a touchdown. His 23-yard touchdown pass to classmate Taylor Barthelette (East Longmeadow, Mass.) in the fourth quarter was the 57th of his career, pushing him past Charlie Granatell for the most passing touchdowns in program history.
The Black and Gold took advantage of an early special teams mistake by Wagner to grab the lead. Bryant punter Drew Chretien (Coventry, R.I.) struck a low-lining punt that was mishandled in the soggy conditions by Jesse Flaherty and recovered by redshirt-freshman Jean Constant (Delray Beach, Fla.) at the Wagner 41. The Bulldogs were able to move the ball to the 25 but had to call on Perez to knock down a 42-yarder to make it 3-0 with 6:58 left in the first quarter.
Bryant and Wagner then combined for two punts, two turnovers on downs and a turnover on the next five possessions. The Bulldogs eventually ended up with the ball at their own 20 after a touchback on a Bryan Rafano punt. They proceeded to take up nearly seven minutes of clock with a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Taute was relied on heavily during the drive, factoring in on seven of the 14 plays. He rushed six times for 32 yards and a caught one pass for 21 yards.
Taute opened the drive with a 13-yard carry and then hauled in a 21-yard pass to push the ball across midfield. The Bulldogs then converted on 4th-and-8 as Easton connected with junior Aaron Aryee (Hartford, Conn.) for a 10-yard gain to the Wagner 25. Bryant would go for it again on fourth down as Taute drove the ball into the endzone on 4th-and-2 from the Wagner 4 to make it 10-0 with 7:59 left in the half.
Wagner trimmed the lead to just three with an eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive at the end of the first half. The Seahawks opened the drive with a 32-yard reverse pass from Andre Yevchinecz to QB Alex Thomson. An 18-yard run by Denzel Knight put the ball inside the five and Matthias McKinnon capped the drive with a two-yard TD run with just 28 seconds left in the half.
Sewall then totally changed the complexion of the game in the third quarter. He fielded the opening kickoff of the second half and exploded down the Wagner sideline for a 60-yard return, putting the ball at the Wagner 30. The Bulldogs would push the ball to the Wagner 2 but the Seahawks stood tall on three-straight plays to force an 18-yard field goal by Perez to make it 13-7.
Bryant's defense then made a huge third-down stand to hold the Seahawks to a field goal and set up Sewall's fireworks. Wagner opted to kick the ball to Sewall and the speedy Rhode Islander caught the ball at his own 3. He shook off a shoestring tackle at his own 20, cut from one sideline to the other at midfield and then received one final block from Keenan Thompson (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) to cap off his 97-yard kick return touchdown. It was the first return TD of his career and Bryant's second in as many seasons against Wagner.
Wagner didn't blink though, answering with a seven-play, 72-yard drive to make it 20-17. Thomson completed four passes on the drive, finishing it with a 32-yard TD pass to the Yevchinecz on 4th-and-7.
The Black and Gold had a huge answer as well, driving 74 yards in seven plays to regain 10-point lead. Femiano bolted down field for a 16-yard gain and Easton connected with Aryee for a 19-yard gain four plays later to put the ball on the Wagner 23. On the very next play, Easton lobbed it up for Barthelette and he made an outstanding tumbling catch in the corner of the endzone for his sixth TD of the year with 11:20 left in the game.
Bryant then put the game away with a dominating 13-play, 69-yard drive that lasted 6:22 but did not result in points. Femiano and Taute teamed up to carry the load, bruising and exploding their way down the Wagner 6 before getting stopped on 4th-and-1. The long drive, however, left the Seahawks with a long field and just 2:36 on the clock.
Freshman Jesse Nemerowicz (Hudson, Mass.) led Bryant in tackles for the third-straight game, finishing with eight. Seniors Charles Keenan (Tyngsborough, Mass.) and Marquise Watson (Hillside, N.J.) and redshirt-sophomore Dillon Guthro (Newburyport, Mass.) all finished with seven tackles. Guthro added his fourth sack of the year and freshman Tomas Wright (St. Augustine, Fla.) also added a sack and now has 2.5 on the year.
The Bulldogs finished with 142 rushing yards as a team and posted 314 yards of total offense. Bryant held a Seahawks team that was averaging 177 rushing yards per game to just 97 on Saturday. Wagner finished with 359 yards of offense and had 23 first downs.
Thomson finished 17-of-37 for 230 yards and was sacked twice. McKinnon finished with 43 yards on 13 carries and John Williams made six catches for 112 yards. Santoni Graham led the Wagner defense with 13 tackles, while Quintin Hampton had 11 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss.
The Bulldogs go back on the road next weekend when they head to Pittsburgh, Pa., to face NEC preseason favorite Duquesne. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.