BY NICK GRANADOS
On a day where ESU celebrated seniors from the football team, marching band and cheerleading squad, Mercyhurst came to Eiler-Martin Stadium on Saturday and played the role of spoiler.
The Warriors fell to the Lakers 37-20 in the season finale for both teams to finish the 2013 season with a 7-4 record.
The Warriors jumped to an early lead in a little less than three minutes into the game when redshirt sophomore quarterback, Matt Soltes, scored from the 1 to give ESU a 7-0 lead.
However, that would be the only lead ESU had in the game.
Later in the first quarter, Mercyhurst got on the board with a 32-yard field goal from Steven Wakefield to make it a 7-3 game. Lakers quarterback Anthony Vendemia found wider receiver Matt Hyland for a 4-yard touchdown pass to put Mercyhurst ahead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Mercyhurst running back Richie Sanders went untouched up the middle for a 74-yard touchdown run to add to the Lakers’ lead and make it a 17-7 game.
12 minutes passed before ESU junior tailback Gerald Van De Cruz scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Lakers’ lead down to three. ESU head coach Denny Douds used his two remaining timeouts to try and “ice” Mercyhurst kicker Steven Wakefield but he was unsuccessful as Wakefield nailed a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to put the Lakers up 20-14 at halftime.
After the cheerleader and marching band honored their seniors at halftime, the second half got underway with Mercyhurst receiving the second half kickoff.
After punting the ball away to ESU, the Lakers intercepted Warriors quarterback Matt Soltes with 9:15 left in the third quarter. The ensuing scoring drive was capped off with a 59-yard touchdown run from running back Allen Jones II to put Mercyhurst up 27-14 at the end of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, ESU recovered a Mercyhurst fumble and found themselves in the red zone with a golden opportunity to get to within 7.
The Warriors took advantage of the short field and capped off the drive with Gerald Van De Cruz’s second touchdown of the game, making it a 27-20 game after Taylor Groff missed the point after attempt.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors found themselves down by 7 with a chance to tie the game.
However, Matt Soltes’ pass intended for wide receiver Robert Bleiler was intercepted with 8:37 left in the game.
The interception was the second of the game for Soltes and just the fifth interception thrown by the redshirt sophomore this season.
This was also the second multi-interception game of the season for Soltes—the other was against Bloomsburg in which he also threw two interceptions.
Mercyhurst added a field goal just before the two minute warning and an 8-yard touchdown run from Allen Jones II, which was his second of the game, with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter to seal the game for the Lakers, who went on to win 37-20.
With the win, Mercyhurst finished their season with a 7-4 record. With the loss, ESU also finished their 2013 season with a 7-3 record.
This was the last game at ESU for six seniors: Wide Receiver Robert Bleiler (redshirt senior), Offensive Lineman Greg Blue (redshirt senior), Quarterback Nate Daniels (redshirt senior), Kicker Taylor Groff, Outside Linebacker Darius Jackson and Fullback Thomas Tippett.
Taylor Groff did not have any field goals, but went 2/3 on extra point attempts, missing on his third attempt and drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moments later.
Groff finished his career at ESU with 303 career points, which is the most in school history.
He also holds the school records for: most field goals in a single season (16), most career field goals of 40 yards or more (16) and most field goals of 40 yards or more in a single season (6 in both 2011 and 2012).
Robert Bleiler led all receivers with 8 receptions for 106 yards, but was held out of the end zone.
It was Bleiler’s sixth 100-yard game of the season and he ended the 2013 season with 71 receptions for 1,201 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Bleiler finished his career at ESU with 153 receptions for 2, 616 yards and 20 touchdowns in 3 seasons. His 1,201 yards ranks third on the all-time list behind former ESU wide receivers Evan Prall and Tim Strenfel.
Mercyhurst’s Richie Sanders led all rushers with 121 yards and a touchdown, while Allen Jones II led all rushers in touchdowns with 2.
Redshirt freshman Robert Healy led all ESU rushers with 12 carries for 66 yards, though junior tailback Gerald Van De Cruz had 2 rushing touchdowns.
Warriors quarterback Matt Soltes completed 18 of 32 passes and had 221 passing yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, as well as 24 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
Soltes finished his 2013 season with 3,244 passing yards and 34 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, as well as 472 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Soltes was also named to the regional list of 28 candidates for the Harlon Hill Trophy (given to the nation’s most valuable player in Division II football).
The winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy will be announced on December 20th.
With the 2013 season in the books, Matt Soltes, Robert Healy and the rest of the Warriors will now look to the 2014 season, which will be the 41st season for longtime head coach Denny Douds.
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