A middle-aged woman clad in maroon aptly described the football team’s season-opener as she exited Andy Kerr Stadium on Saturday: “That was a tough one,” she said, shaking her head.
A tough one, indeed. The Raiders squandered a one-point lead in the final 27 seconds of the game, allowing the Blue Devils of Central Connecticut State to drive 65 yards and kick an improbable game-winning field goal that split the uprights as time expired. All that occurred after a furious Raiders comeback had erased a 21-12 fourth-quarter deficit.
“I wasn’t pleased at all,” Raider Head Coach Dick Biddle said of his team’s performance. “We didn’t play well enough on either side of the ball to win the game. Very few of our players delivered the kinds of performances you need to beat a decent football team.”
The Raiders have now lost eight of ten season-openers under Biddle, which is remarkable considering the coach’s overall winning percentage of .704. The loss also marks the end of Colgate’s 17-game home winning streak.
Central Connecticut’s last-minute miracle aside, the story of the game was the Raiders’ seven turnovers. Junior quarterback Mike Saraceno, who made his first start as a collegian, threw five interceptions. But according to Biddle, the quarterback was not solely responsible for Colgate’s turnover woes.
“People are going to be quick to blame Mike,” Biddle said, “but when you have seven turnovers, the whole team is at fault. There was a kickoff when we just dropped the ball. There was a fumble by a running back. There was an interception that was the result of a poorly run route by a receiver. All the way around, we had trouble.”
The trouble started late in the first quarter, when an errant pass by Saraceno was picked off in Colgate territory, giving the Blue Devils possession on the Raider 39-yard line. Central Connecticut then kicked a field goal to take its first lead, 6-3, early in the second quarter.
The Blue Devils ripped off 12 points in the second, and took a 15-6 lead at halftime. Colgate’s only points of the first half came on field goals of 21 and 27 yards by senior kicker Mike Rava. Its four first-half turnovers kept them out of the end zone.
Midway through the third quarter, the Raiders came to life. Saraceno led a balanced 16-play, 77-yard drive which culminated in a four-yard touchdown reception for senior wide receiver DeWayne Long. Long achieved a team-high six receptions and 102 yards on the afternoon.
The next time the Raiders got the ball, senior Ray LaMonica found the end zone, bringing Colgate to within two points of Central Connecticut.
In his first start in more than two years, LaMonica delivered 60 yards on the ground. First-year Steve Hansen added 56 yards on eleven carries and was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week.
After the Raider defense forced Central Connecticut to punt with 7 minutes and 3 seconds left in the game, Colgate drove nearly the length of the field, but had to settle for three points after LaMonica was stopped on a crucial third and three. Rava’s 27-yard field goal in the game’s final minute appeared to give the Raiders the victory. And were it not for one unlikely play, it would have.
With eighteen seconds left to play, Central Connecticut quarterback Timothy Sheard found receiver Steve Bergeski. Bergeski caught the ball at his own 40-yard line and cut across the field, making his way to the Raider 15 before being pushed out of bounds.
“The problem on the play was threefold,” Biddle said. “We had poor coverage, we lost contain on the quarterback and gave him too much time, and we had poor tackling.”
The 70-yard catch-and-run set up the game-winning 32-yard field goal for Central Connecticut kicker Derek Pearson, who had already split the uprights from 42 and 48 yards earlier in the game.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened that way, but it wasn’t just that one drive at the end that killed us,” Biddle said. “We had many, many blown opportunities over the course of the game.”
Colgate will try to rebound tomorrow, when they play host to nationally-ranked UMass at noon. Colgate fell to the Minutemen in last year’s season opener, but beat them in the 2003 playoffs amid a Hamilton blizzard.
“They’re probably going to be one of the best teams we play,” Biddle said. “We’re not going to worry about their talent. We’re going to worry about the things we have control over. The first thing we have to do is eliminate turnovers and other mistakes. Mistakes cost you wins.”