By MICHAEL PEZONE
CLAREMONT, N.H. — Paul SIlva wasn’t left much of a choice after Donald Pellerin’s touchdown with 1:24 left to play pulled the Stevens football team within one in its bout with Campbell on Sept. 13.
That’s not to say the third-year coach would have called for the potential game-tying extra point under normal circumstances, but with kicker Austin Tenney cramping up on the sideline, the decision was all but taken out of his hands.
So with the game on the line, Pellerin took to the ground with hopes of finding the end zone for his second two-point conversion of the night and a virtual assurance of a 2-0 start to the season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, however, Campbell’s defense had different plans, stopping the senior running back inches shy of the goal line to clinch a 21-20 victory in its first game in Division III. Stevens fell to 1-1.
“We came up one point short on the scoreboard and that was my decision,” said Silva. “With everything that was going on — we had the momentum and I thought that was our best chance. We were 1-for-5 (this year) kicking it, so I said ‘let’s go for it.’ “
Pellerin (224 yards, three touchdowns) bullied his way within the one yard line on the try, but began to lose his grip on the ball as he attempted to reach over the goal line. Lineman Noah Ladd was there to take the ball and carry it into the end zone, but officials ruled Pellerin was down, leaving the Cougars two snaps after the ensuing kickoff to run out the clock.
Campbell coach Greg Gush — whose team had an unconventional Week 1 bye — credited the Cardinals for being able to adjust their game plan and have a shot at winning despite being held scoreless through much of the first half.
“That’s a great football team over there,” Gush said of Stevens. “We came up and watched them last week and we knew that we were going to have our hands full. Donald Pellerin is very dynamic. We put together a plan to try and slow them down, and they did a great job of adjusting to that.”
The Cardinals headed into the final quarter trailing, 14-6, but knotted things up on a two-yard Pellerin touchdown run and two-point conversion. Stevens began the drive on its own 47 yard line, and drove 53 yards in 3 minutes, 10 seconds with its biggest play coming on a 29-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Tanguay to Brandon Bell.
Campbell answered two drives later when quarterback Christian McKenna hit Cody Alward for a 67-yard touchdown pass with 4:33 left. McKenna looked to have come up short on a deep pass down the sideline, but the offering was tipped up by a Stevens defender, allowing Alward just enough time to change direction and make the catch. Trevor Duqette knocked in his second and final extra point of the game to put Campbell up, 21-14.
Silva’s team almost responded two plays later on what appeared to be an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tanguay to Nate White, but a block on the backfield erased the score and backed Stevens up to the Campbell 30. The Cardinals got the score, nonetheless, after an 11-yard pass from Tanguay to White, and four consecutive rushes from Pellerin.
“It will be a fun week of second guessing myself,” said Silva, of the ensuing two-point conversion attempt. “We had gotten it when we had to earlier, but I’ll still second guess myself.”
Campbell jumped out to an early advantage in the game when McKenna hit Kyle Manning for a 50-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter, and made it 14-0 on another good-fortune tip later in the frame.
The Cougars began their final drive of the first on their own 49 yard line, but advanced all the way to the Stevens two after strong runs from Christian Kamacho, Duqette and Kevin Moreau. After rolling out of the pocket on first and goal, McKenna lofted a pass across the length of the field that was tipped by a Cardinals defender and deflected into the arms of a ready and waiting Moreau in the end zone.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get lucky,” Gush said. “There are lots of pieces to this game, and we try to fit everything in. We’ve been working hard to make sure we put ourselves in position to make some plays, and tonight the kids made plays.”
Stevens, who fumbled on each of its first two possession of the game — including one on the Campbell two yard line — made it 14-6 with 2:21 left in the first half on a five-yard run from Pellerin.
The Cardinals will try and bounce back from their first loss of the season Sept. 21 when they travel to face Bow (1-1). The Falcons defeated Franklin, 49-0, in their last outing Sept. 13.
“This bunch of kids, they don’t give up,” Silva said. “We didn’t have much go our way early on, but they kept fighting. You’re going to face adversity, but it’s how you handle it that’s going to determine your character. We showed a lot of character today in my opinion.”