Football rallies from 17 points down to defeat Colby

Colby Jones '19 (Michael P. Doherty photo)
Colby Jones '19 (Michael P. Doherty photo)

A 2-yard touchdown run by Hamilton College's Mitch Bierman '21 in the fourth quarter lifted the Continentals to a 27-24 NESCAC football win against the Colby College Mules at Hamilton's warm and sunny Steuben Field on Saturday afternoon.

Bierman, who ran for a season-high 158 yards last week, gained 49 yards on 19 carries and helped the Continentals complete a 17-point comeback. Hamilton (2-4 NESCAC) picked up its first victory against Colby since 2007.

Kenny Gray '20 was 16 of 33 passing for 179 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions for the Continentals. Gray had thrown just two picks in the first five games. Christian Donahoe '20, Joe Schmidt '20 and Alec Waugh '18 all caught a touchdown pass. Schmidt is tied for the NESCAC lead with seven TD catches. Donahoe finished with six receptions for 100 yards and is second in the conference with 97 yards per game. He has five 100-yard games this year.

Billy Wagner '20 averaged 43.6 yards on his seven punts, and Sam Robinson '20 averaged 28 yards on his three punt returns for Hamilton. Robinson is 10th in the NESCAC with nearly 98 all-purpose yards per contest.

Colby Jones '19 led the Continentals' defense with eight tackles and a forced fumble. Tyler Hudson '19, who leads the conference in tackles, had eight stops. Bryce Phillips '20 chipped in eight tackles and broke up two passes. Defensive tackle William Rothschild '19 was credited with six solo tackles and Jeff Martinez '20 registered his first sack at Hamilton.

The Mules (0-6) racked up 250 yards of offense in the first half but mustered just 86 yards and three first downs in the second half. Colby hurt themselves with 14 penalties for 170 yards.

Jack O'Brien was 28 of 41 for 242 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 44 yards. Jake Schwern led the Mules with 49 rushing yards and caught 10 passes for 57 more yards. Mark Snyder finished with seven catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Don Vivian paced the defense with seven tackles and a 19-yard interception return. Patrick Yale returned a pick 53 yards and Patrick Sopko, Hans Gabriel and Craig Strand collected one sack each.

Bierman's touchdown was the only score in the second half. The Continentals took advantage of great field position after a 13-yard punt sailed out-of-bounds at the Colby 42. A key play on the drive was a 7-yard pass from Gray to tight end Trevor Pinkham '19 down to the 17 on fourth-and-5. On the next play, the Mules were flagged for pass interference near the goal line, and Hamilton had first-and-goal at the 2. On second-and-goal Bierman, who operated out of the Wildcat formation on several plays during the second half, ran around left end and went into the end zone standing up with 6:53 left. Zach Altneu '18 added the extra point for the 27-24 lead.

Colby was forced to punt on its next two possessions but the Mules got the ball back at their own 34 after a Hamilton punt with 37 seconds remaining. O'Brien completed two quick passes for 34 yards to get Colby to the Continentals' 32-yard line. After a false start and a dropped pass, O'Brien heaved a Hail Mary into the end zone where Sam Bowen '20 swatted the ball to the turf as time expired.

The Mules had scored just 27 points all season but led 17-0 early in the second quarter. Colby's Jibri Woods had a nice return on the opening kickoff but Jones knocked the ball away from him at the Mules' 44-yard line. The ball flew forward and Andrew DeFranco finally recovered for Colby at the Hamilton 35. Just three plays later, O'Brien floated a high pass to the left side of the end zone where Snyder leaped over a defender and came down with it for a 28-yard touchdown. John Baron added the PAT and it was 7-0 just 92 seconds into the first quarter.

The Continentals ran just six plays in the first quarter and couldn't stop the Mules' offense. Colby drove 71 yards in 10 plays on its next drive, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown run between the right guard and right tackle by Schwern with 7:51 to go. A 39-yard quarterback draw by O'Brien to the Hamilton 15 was the key play of the drive.

The Mules embarked on a 16-play drive that covered 65 yards and took nearly eight minutes off the clock on their next possession. O'Brien was 7-for-9 for 68 yards on the drive, which ended with a 40-yard field goal by Baron with 12:24 left in the second quarter for a 17-0 cushion.

The Continentals scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions. Gray was 5-for-7 for 55 yards on the ensuing drive, including a 23-yard pass to Donahoe down to the Colby 10, and a 10-yard bullet to a diving Waugh near the right sideline in the end zone for Hamilton's first points with 7:41 remaining.

The Mules muffed the Continentals' short kickoff and Hamilton recovered at the Colby 37. Three plays later, Vivian intercepted Gray at the 6 and returned it 19 yards. The Mules couldn't move the football, and Baron's 44-yard punt was returned 26 yards by Robinson to the Colby 36. On the second play of the drive Gray found Donahoe over the middle for a 30-yard pass that he caught at the goal line. Altneu's extra-point made it 17-14 with 4:05 to go.

The Mules' next drive ended with another punt that Robinson brought back 20 yards, and a personal foul on Colby gave the Continentals the ball at the Mules' 39-yard line. After two incomplete passes, Donahoe caught an 11-yard pass and Marcus Gutierrez '18 darted 14 yards for another first down. Colby called a timeout and Gray responded with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Schmidt on a fade towards the left sideline in the end zone. Shane Normandeau blocked the extra point and Hamilton led 20-17 with 1:34 left.

It took Colby just 83 seconds to move 65 yards and go back in front of the Continentals. O'Brien found Schwern for 26 yards on the first play of the drive and, after a 12-yard face mask penalty on Hamilton moved the ball down to the 12, Snyder ran a fade pattern to the left side of the end zone and caught the ball with 5.4 seconds remaining. Baron's kick was good and the Mules led 24-20 at the half.

Seven of the first eight drives in the second half ended with punts. The best chance to score during that stretch belonged to the Continentals as they marched from their own 37 to the Colby 10 midway through the third quarter. The drive ended with an interception by Yale that he returned 53 yards to the Hamilton 41.

The Continentals travel to Williams College on Saturday, Oct. 28 while Colby hosts in-state rival Bates College in Waterville, Maine, that same day.