POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – Making its first impression in Pioneer Football League play, Jacksonville University (2-1, 1-0 PFL) met Marist (2-2, 1-1 PFL) at a sold-out Tenney Stadium Saturday evening, and walked away with a 44-37 victory.
The outing marked a battle between the league's top rushing offense (Jacksonville) and its top rushing defense (Marist), and the Dolphins prevailed, finishing with 330 yards on the ground.
In four games, the most Marist had allowed this season was 69.
The Red Foxes came knocking on the door in the second half, twice pulling as close as six points in the final quarter, but when the Dolphins needed to pick up momentum, they did just that.
Thomas Oporto tabbed Jacksonville's third interception of the evening to put his team on the Marist 41-yard line, and the offense scored when Rylan Wells dropped a 19-yard pass into the hands of Nic Duch. The 6-5 receiver toe-tapped the back of the end zone to extend JU's lead to 36-23 with 8:47 remaining.
The point differential didn't last long, however, as it took the Red Foxes only 24 seconds to score a touchdown on the next drive.
There were four straight touchdowns – two on each side – scored in the fourth quarter, and it continued until the closing seconds – in actuality, until Tommy Mack.
With 38 seconds remaining, Marist managed a fourth down conversion to drive down to the JU 49-yard line. Two plays later, Mack intercepted the Red Fox quarterback.
"I just told the guys 'Play the next play.' We needed to be a little more situationally aware at times, but we can grow from that," said Head Coach Ian Shields. "It's always great to stack a W; to get a victory on the road in this conference is hard. There's a million things that we can do better offensively, defensively and in the kicking game, but the objective is to score one more point than the opposition and we did that."
On an eight-play, 66-yard opening drive, where the Dolphins rushed on each attempt, the visitors struck first with seven on the board.
Javier Arce-Ramirez nailed a 22-yard field goal on Jacksonville's second drive, and added another in the second quarter to push the team to a 13-3 edge with 6:39 on the clock in the second quarter.
The ensuing plays both charged and stunned the crowd. For the Dolphins, the latter also featured a feat not seen since the 2002 season.
Following Arce-Ramirez' 31-yard field goal, the Red Foxes' Mekhai Johnson recorded a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The point-after attempt was blocked by Emon Smith – who hauled in his third interception earlier in the game – and was ran 90 yards in the opposite direction by Calvin Turner Jr.
Boshawn Mack was the last Dolphin to return an extra-point attempt for a score on September 7, 2002.
The Dolphins needed just 42 seconds to score their final touchdown before the half, and entered the break with a 22-9 advantage.
Jacksonville's defense finished the game with four interceptions, and the final proved to be the difference.
Wells went 10-for-14 for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He added a game-high 78 yards rushing for three touchdowns. Prince Gray recorded 120 yards receiving on six catches.
"This was a big win for us to go on the road and beat a quality football team like Marist," Shields continued. "That's a first class program, good players, good schemes. It was a 15-round fight and we happened to get the last punch in. That was a great college football game."
Jacksonville returns to D.B. Milne Field next Saturday for a 1 p.m. game versus Guilford. The sweet sounds of The Pride of the First Coast will be combined with area schools for Marching Band Day.
Single-game tickets are available for purchase day of game at the ticketing booth or online at JUTickets.com. General admission tickets are $10, children aged four and under are free, and students and faculty are free with a valid JU ID.