FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Senior QB Dalton Easton (Miami, Fla.) threw for a program-record 391 yards and four touchdowns, classmate Patrick Kenney (Camarillo, Calif.) posted a career-high 14 tackles and the Bryant University football rallied from a 14-point first-quarter deficit to defeat rival Sacred Heart, 42-34, on Saturday afternoon at Campus Field.
With the win, the Bulldogs (5-6, 4-2 NEC) finished tied for third in the Northeast Conference standings and defeat the Pioneers (6-5, 1-5) for the first time since 2012. For the first time, the teams played for the right to win the Golden Hammer (a gold painted sledgehammer) in an effort to build the rivalry. The winner of the annual game will win the Golden Hammer and hold it on their campus for the year.
Playing in the final game of their careers, Easton and Kenney sparked their teammates in Saturday's regular-season finale. Easton completed 22-of-36 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns to wrap up his career. He broke his own record for passing yards in a game and set the single-season program record for passing yards with 2,855.
Kenney, meanwhile, registered a career-high 14 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble to help the Bulldogs overcome a first-quarter deficit. The 14 tackles are the sixth-most in a game in program history and he finishes second all-time with 251 career tackles.
The Black and Gold also got outstanding performances from their group of wide receivers. Junior Matt Sewall (Portsmouth, R.I.) caught eight passes for a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns, classmate Aaron Aryee (Hartford, Conn.) hauled in his first-career TD reception, a 67-yard catch-and-run, and redshirt-freshman Jean Constant (Delray Beach, Fla.) caught four passes for 74 yards.
Sophomore Thomas Costigan (Stamford, Conn.) and freshman Jesse Nemerowicz (Hudson, Mass.) also excelled on Saturday, posting 11 and 9 tackles respectively. Costigan added three tackles for a loss, while Nemerowicz intercepted the first pass of his career. Nemerowicz finished the season with 91 tackles, becoming just the third player in school history to post 90+ tackles in a single season.
Saturday didn't start well for the Bulldogs as Sacred Heart scored 14 points in the first three minutes. The Pioneers intercepted the first offensive play of the game for Bryant and scored three plays later on a TD run by RJ Noel. Bryant then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Nate Chavious recovered it and returned it 20 yards for the score.
Bryant, however, never blinked and fought its way back into the game. Easton connected with Constant for a 23-yard gain to ignite the drive and then scrambled for a first down two plays later. After a sack made it 2nd-and-13, senior Taylor Barthelette (East Longmeadow, Mass.) made an acrobatic one-handed catch and then dove into the endzone for a 21-yard touchdown.
Kenney then gave the Bulldogs back with great field position. Marquis Harper made a first-down reception near midfield but Kenney ripped the ball from his hands and returned it to the SHU 26. Sewall then helped the Bulldogs convert on a pair of third downs with receptions of 11 and 10. With the ball at the one, junior Hunter Taute (Norfolk, Mass.) barreled his way into the endzone to tie the game.
The Pioneers regained the lead with a 32-yard field goal but Bryant grabbed the momentum with back-to-back 80-yard scoring drives in the final 3:30 of the first half. Sewall opened Bryant's first scoring drive with a 50-yard reception over the middle to put the ball to the SHU 30. Easton then followed with completions of nine and 12 to Constant and senior Mitchell Baxter (Cumberland, R.I.).
On 2nd-and-10 from the SHU 19, Bryant tried a trick play as Sewall lined up in the wild cat. He handed the ball to Easton who threw to a wide open Baxter in the endzone but the Bulldogs were flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield. The Bulldogs were not deterred as Easton found Sewall over the middle and the speedy wideout raced to the pylon and tucked the ball inside of it to give Bryant a 21-17 lead.
Bryant's defense got the ball back four plays later, giving the offense two minutes to score. Constant made a 12-yard catch on 3rd-and-10 and then a pass interference moved the ball to the Bryant 47. Constant then hauled in a 35-yard pass and Easton found Sewall over the middle again and this time Sewall tip-toed the sideline before diving the ball across the goalline.
Sacred Heart opened the second half with a 13-play drive but Bryant's defense held for a field goal. The Bulldogs then quickly answered with a six-play, 70-yard drive. Aryee opened the drive with a 30-yard catch, junior Joe Fine (Cumberland, R.I.) made a 20-yard reception and Sewall put the ball inside the 10 with a 13-yard catch. Sophomore Brenden Femiano (Northport, N.Y.) then capped the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run to make it 35-20.
The Pioneers answered, once again, with a 12-play scoring drive. Backup QB Kevin Duke rushed for 27 yards and completed three passes for 46 yards. He capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Byron Barney on 4th-and-goal from the Bryant 13.
It took just one play, though, for the Bulldogs to respond. Easton threw a quick slant to Aryee and the Nutmeg State native beat his defender and exploded downfield for a 67-yard touchdown. It was Aryee's first-career touchdown reception.
Bryant's defense then answered the bell with a goalline stand in the fourth quarter to keep the Bulldogs ahead by 15. The Pioneers had first-and-goal from the Bryant 3 but the Bulldogs made four-straight stops to deny a score. Kenney had a hand in both stops on third and fourth down, teaming with sophomore Kevin Lazo (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) to stop Chavious at the one on fourth down.
Sacred Heart would pull within eight on a Chavious touchdown reception with 1:26 left in the game. The ensuing onside kick then went out of bounds, allowing the Bulldogs to take over and take a knee.
Noel, who finishes his career second all-time in passing yards in the NEC, was 9-of-17 for 54 yards but was knocked out of the game with an injury in the second quarter. Duke came in to throw for 227 yards and two scores in the second half. Moses Webb made seven catches for 103 yards, Ose Imeokparia rushed for 53 yards and the Pioneers finished with 196 as a team.