A game-ending Hail Mary proved to be the final play of Kutztown’s 2021 season.
The top-seeded Golden Bears were on the wrong end of a last-gasp touchdown pass, as Shepherd quarterback Tyson Bagent connected with tight end Alex Wetzel in the end zone as time expired. The 42-yard play gave the No. 2 seed Rams the 30-28 win in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals on Saturday at Andre Reed Stadium.
“They made an unbelievable play to win the game and march on,” Kutztown coach Jim Clements said. “The ending of the game was heartbreaking. Truly heartbreaking.”
The 12th-ranked Golden Bears (11-2) concluded a historic season during which they won just their second Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title in program history in November and advanced to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals for the first time.
“It’s a testament to all their hard work,” Clements said about his team. “I’m proud of this group. It was a really good year.”
Prior to the final play, the Golden Bears’ 28-24 lead was the product of a comeback of their own. Kutztown fell behind 14-0 late in the second quarter and lost starting quarterback Eric Nickel to a hand injury.
Redshirt sophomore Donny Blaine entered the game in relief of Nickel and eventually led the Golden Bears on a 28-3 run, but not before a rough start. Blaine threw an interception on his first pass attempt, which Shepherd defensive back Klayton Batten returned 32 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 21-0 lead.
“The game went up and down for me,” Blaine said. “(It) didn’t start off too hot.”
The quarterback settled in on the next possession, leading Kutztown on a 14-play scoring drive. Blaine found wide receiver Jake Novak on a 15-yard touchdown with 28 seconds remaining in the first half to make it 21-7.
“The game always starts off fast,” Blaine said. “You tend to see stuff and everything slows down for you as you go and you get more comfortable in it.”
After the Golden Bears blocked a Shepherd field goal as time expired in the first half, they continued their momentum in the second half. Blaine ran for a 12-yard touchdown with 12 seconds to go in the third quarter to cut it to 21-14.
“I thought Donny (Blaine) did a really good job,” Clements said. “He kept fighting, he kept battling.”
The Golden Bears were successful on their next possession, thanks in large part to a 28-yard pass from Blaine to wide receiver Derek Anderson that put Kutztown in scoring position. Blaine powered his way into the end zone on a quarterback sneak a few plays later to tie it with just over 10 minutes remaining.
“His teammates believe in him, we all believe in him,” Clements said of Blaine. “I thought he made some really big plays at the end with his feet.”
Shepherd (13-1) responded with a 40-yard field goal on its next possession. More significantly, the Rams scoring drive lasted more than seven minutes and gave them a 24-21 lead with under three minutes remaining.
Chaos ensued on the next drive as Blaine was intercepted by Batten for the second time. During the interception return, Batten had the ball stripped away by Kutztown’s Jordan Davis in Shepherd territory.
Batten was initially ruled down prior to the fumble, but the play was reviewed. After a lengthy instant-replay review, the call on the field was overturned and the Golden Bears were granted possession.
“That was the play of the year,” Anderson said. “That just shows why you got to play hard, no matter what happens.”
The unusual play gave Kutztown momentum, and Blaine connected with a diving Anderson for a 24-yard touchdown to give the Golden Bears a 28-24 lead with 39 seconds remaining. Anderson finished with six receptions for 109 yards and the score.
Blaine completed 10-of-23 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for 20 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“(I) was really proud of the way the kids fought back,” Clements said. “Our kids fight to the end. They empty their tank on every play.”
Down 28-24, the Rams benefitted from a strong kickoff return. Shepherd moved the ball just 15 yards — that on a pass interference penalty — on four plays prior to the game-winning Hail Mary.
Bagent, a finalist for the Harlon Hill award, which recognizes the top player in Division II, was 30-of-42 for 248 yards. The Hail Mary was his only touchdown pass of the game.
Running back Ronnie Brown led the No. 8 Rams on the ground, accumulating 85 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Ryan Beach had 10 catches for 65 yards.
Source: Berkshire mont