In a showdown of YAIAA Division I powerhouses that boast the two top-ranked offenses in the league, it was the defense and special teams that stole the show Friday night at Northeastern.
And fortunately for the hundreds of home fans braving a driving rain storm and 45 degree temperatures, the Bobcats' units shined the brightest.
Fernando Flores recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown after Red Lion's punter mishandled a snap, and Gary Gobernik returned another fumble 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, giving Northeastern a gritty 14-13 win against Red Lion.
"We just kept grinding that whole game," Gobernik said. "We were excited for this (rain). We loved it, especially the defense."
Gobernik's first career defensive touchdown couldn't have come at a better time. Trailing 13-7 in the third quarter, Mason Kling blindsided quarterback Sam Emig, who replaced Dalton Grove after Grove was ejected in the second quarter. Emig lost the ball, and Gobernik scooped it up and scampered 65 yards to the house.
"I just knew we had to get a touchdown because our offense wasn't moving the ball very well," Gobernik said after the Bobcats managed just 75 total yards of offense. "I knew I had to make a play. I got the ball and saw a long stretch ahead of me. I didn't think I was going to make it. I felt like I was going so slow."
The win kept the Bobcats (5-0, 2-0 YAIAA Division I) undefeated, and showed how evenly matched the top teams of Division I are.
"It's hard to gameplan for a night like tonight," Northeastern head coach Jon Scepanski said. "And Red Lion is a tremendous football team, so a win against them definitely means something to us."
A sloppy, rain-soaked first half saw seven punts, five first downs, four personal fouls, an ejection, a special teams score and a punt return touchdown called back for a penalty. But Red Lion (3-2, 1-1) struck first with a 41-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter when Grove took off down the sideline on a quarterback keeper.
"On the first score, we made a mental mistake," Gobernik admitted. "They called the perfect play call for our defensive call."
As the rain continued to fall, the action heated up in the second quarter. Pinned deep in his own territory, Emig mishandled a snap on a punt, then tried to kick the ball on the run, but whiffed. Flores was the first one there to dive on the bouncing ball in the back of the end zone. The home fans, who were bundled up in ponchos and draped in blankets, erupted when Flores emerged from the pile with the ball held high above his head.
"We had to win two of the three units, because offensively we didn't win with 75 yards," Scepanski said. "But special teams and defense played tremendously."
RL — Dalton Grove 41 run (Sam Emig kick), 4:42.
Ne — Fernando Flores fumble recovery in end zone (Cameron Artman kick), 11:51.
RL — Sam Emig 1 run (kick blocked), 4:25.
Ne — Gary Gobernik 65 fumble recovery (Artman kick), 2:38.
RLNeFirst downs144Rushes-yards37-14733-66Passing8-211-7-1Passing yards829Total yards22975Punts4-39.57-31Fumbles-lost4-31-1Penalties-yards10-8210-96
Rushing — RL, Alex Keough 15-27, Patrick Daugherty 9-57, Dylan Gurreri 1-3, Dalton Grove 3-24, Sam Emig 9-36. Ne, Chris Whack 5-5, Anu Johnson 21-63, Shannon Valenti 5-8, David Ankney 1-(-4), Taemar Willis 1-(-6).
Passing — RL, Grove 1-4-6, Emig 7-17-76. Ne, Valenti 1-7-9-1.
Receiving — RL, Kendrick Boyd-Gillespie 2-25, James Jackson 2-4, Keough 1-28, Dillon Hildebrand 2-10, Daugherty 1-15. Ne, Anu Johnson 1-9.