MARIETTA — No. 12 John Carroll bolted out to a 21-0 lead after the opening quarter here Saturday afternoon at Don Drumm Stadium and managed to hang on for a 31-28 Ohio Athletic Conference victory against Marietta College, which dropped to 0-35-1 in the all-time series.
The Blue Streaks (4-1, 4-0) needed just five plays to score 2:11 into the affair when Joe Collins connected with Brennan Fugh for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
Connor Vierstra, who completed 34 of 50 passes for 395 yards and two interceptions, was picked off by Jacob Hufnagel on the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage.
Four plays later, Jon Tomcufcik had a 4-yard TD run and it was 14-0 after Yanni Volas’ successful PAT.
MC (3-2, 2-2), which returns to action at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Wilmington, was unable to convert a fourth-and-1 at the JCU 46 as Vierstra was held for no gain on a sneak.
Although the Pioneers held and forced a punt, head coach Andy Waddle’s program followed with a three-and-out.
The Blue Streaks proceeded to make it 21-0 just four plays later when Collins found Fugh for a 15-yard touchdown pass at 3:13 of the first.
Bryce Agnew, who led the hosts with 20 carries for 65 yards, found some running room on the next series. Facing a third-and-7 at the JCU 21.
Vierstra threw into double coverage in the end zone.
JCU’s Elijah Chungu was there with teammate Kevin Doyle, who managed to tip the ball, but it went into the hands of Jay Melchiori just before he went out of bounds for a touchdown. Derek Cline’s extra point cut the deficit to 14 at 12:34 of the second.
The Blue Streaks had their next drive thwarted when MC’s Jaelon Quiero-Gordon made a leaping interception, but the hosts converted just one first down before a holding call on third-and-1 at the JCU 41 led to a punt.
Chance Knight, who joined teammate Harley Hopkins with two tackles for loss apiece, had a key 6-yard TFL of Evan McVay on a third-and-1 snap midway through the second. The visitors were forced to punt and the Pioneers found paydirt with 49 ticks left before intermission when Vierstra had a 12-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Snyder, who finished with game-highs of 15 catches for 164 yards.
Snyder opened the second half with a 35-yard kickoff return and then hauled in a 14-yard reception. Despite a holding call, coach Waddle’s team had a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-1 at the JCU 35, but couldn’t convert.
The Blue Streaks, who welcome in Ohio Northern for a 2 p.m. showdown next Saturday, had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Volas on the ensuing drive at the 8:42 mark.
Dre Baldwin had a 20-yard grab to get the hosts going on their next series. Marietta College converted a third-and-1 at the JCU 46 when Vierstra hit tight end Derek Wittsberger for a gain of 9. The Pioneers finally reached the red zone when John Sierputowski had a 15-yard reception, which converted a third-and-7 and moved the ball to the 9. On the next play, Snyder caught a slant for a touchdown as the deficit was just 24-21 at 3:57 of the third.
John Carroll, which was led on the ground by Mason Sullivan (17-90) and Evan McVay (13-59), had to punt on the first play of the fourth after Collins was sacked by Anthony Sabatino and Jake Visnic.
Despite taking over at their own 10, the Pioneers moved the ball all the way to the JCU 26 before Lamar Thomas picked off Vierstra.
After picking up a trio of first downs, which included at one point six straight rushes, JCU first-year head coach Jeff Bearman dialed up a pass play with his team at the MC 48 on first down. Collins ended up finding tight end Lucas D’Orazio, who was all alone, for the 48-yard touchdown strike and a 31-21 advantage with 5:41 remaining.
Down but not out, the Pioneers were able to drive 73 yards and found paydirt when Snyder caught a 2-yard fade from Vierstra, which closed the deficit to three with 2:21 on the clock.
Even though Marietta wasn’t able to get the onside kick, the Blue Streaks were eventually forced to punt as the hosts gained possession with 1:59 to go at their own 20 and no timeouts.
Vierstra, who started the drive with a 14-yard scramble, had completions of 8 yards to Melchiori, 10 yards to Baldwin and 14 yards to Snyder. That gave MC a first-and-10 at the John Carroll 34 as the clock went below a minute, but Jahiem Peake followed with a sack and the Blue Streaks held on.
“Obviously, we didn’t start out the way that we wanted to start out and dug ourselves a big hole,” admitted coach Waddle, who had a forced fumble by Hopkins that JCU managed to fall on. “We had to battle out of that throughout the day, but proud of our guys’ effort and proud of the way they fought throughout the day.
“We just came up a couple plays short. We went for it twice on fourth down and we weren’t able to pick those two up. That was frustrating, but I thought as a whole our offense did a really good job today. We had the pick on the first play of the game, but as a whole I thought we played a good game today and the guys were tough.”
Along with the big game from Snyder, Melchiori had seven catches for 80 yards and Sierputowski had seven grabs for 82 yards. D’Orazio led the visitors with five catches for 94 stripes.
Marietta College not only won the first down battle, 28-21, but finished with a 496-360 edge in total yards.