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Kutztown University stuns Charleston (W.Va.) in second round of NCAA Division II football playoffs

With its championship aspirations on the line, Kutztown University found itself trailing by 14 points with less than five minutes remaining.

Held scoreless in the second half to that point, the Golden Bears found their offense when it mattered most.

Kutztown scored 15 unanswered points in a four-minute span, including the tying touchdown run from quarterback Judd Novak and the winning extra point from kicker Dawson Evitts, to lift the third-seeded Golden Bears to a 32-31 win over second-seeded Charleston in the second round of the NCAA Division II football playoffs on Saturday in Charleston, W.Va.

“We just kept fighting,” Kutztown coach Jim Clements said. “We have that feeling that we’re never out of the game.”

The Golden Bears will play at fourth-seeded Slippery Rock in the Super Region One final next Saturday at noon.

With Kutztown trailing 31-17 and in desperate need of a spark, Steven Burkhardt returned a Charleston kickoff 74 yards to the Golden Eagles’ 1-yard line. Running back Darryl Davis-McNeil scored on the next play on a 1-yard run to make it 31-23.

“It was absolutely huge,” Clements said about the return. “The game is about momentum, and that was a big momentum swing for us. That was a really big play.”

Kutztown (11-2) then elected to go for the two-point conversion and was successful. Kaden Hastie completed a pass to Novak on the Golden Bears’ version of the Philadelphia Eagles’ trick play known as the “Philly Special” to cut Charleston’s lead to 31-25 with 4:38 remaining.

“We had momentum,” Clements said about the decision to go for two points. “We went for it.”

On the next drive, Golden Bears defensive back Oyame Adoga intercepted Javonte Howard deep in Kutztown territory with less than four minutes remaining.

“He’s got great leaping ability and a great catch radius,” Clements said about Adoga. “We were excited for him.”

The Golden Bears then orchestrated a seven-play, 71-yard drive that was capped by the 14-yard touchdown run from Novak with 1:21 remaining. Evitts gave Kutztown a 32-31 lead with extra point.

“Judd played great in the second half,” Clements said about Novak. “Judd did a really good job driving us in the two-minute drill and using his legs for the touchdown.”

Charleston (10-2) did not go away quietly, however, driving to set up a potential game-winning field goal. However, Tim McCutchen’s 51-yard attempt fell short, giving the Golden Bears the win and a spot in the quarterfinals for the second time in program history and first since 2021.

“You got to be great to be part of the eight,” Clements said. “We’re having a great run here at the end. One of eight teams in the country to still be balling is an unbelievable accomplishment.”

Kutztown scored all of its points in the second and fourth quarters and did not lead until 1:21 remained. The Golden Bears scored 30 points or more for the third straight game and defeated a top-15 opponent for the third week in a row, a program record.

No. 24 Charleston scored on its first drive, as quarterback Javonte Howard found running back Alex Brink for a 7-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. Howard finished 26-of-36 passing for 213 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

Kutztown responded early in the second quarter, as Novak connected with wide receiver Kaden Hastie for a 23-yard touchdown, which made it 7-7.

The Golden Eagles scored on their next two drives. Howard found Marquan Herron for a 21-yard touchdown and Yves Bosmans a 26-yard touchdown to give Charleston a two-touchdown lead.

“We struggled in the first half tackling,” Clements said. “We got to be better there.”

With Kutztown trailing 21-7 with just over four minutes remaining until halftime, Kutztown’s Sincere Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to the Charleston 10. The Golden Bears scored two plays later when Novak found tight end Nick Lovenguth from 7 yards.

The Golden Bears made it 21-17 with a 26-yard field goal from Evitts as time expired in the first half. The senior had missed a 25-yard field goal in the first quarter.

“We were disappointed in the first-half performance,” Clements said. “They just had to refocus and understand we’re better than this.”

Kutztown opened the second half with the ball, but Novak was intercepted by Ashton Gilkey, who returned it 42 yards for a Charleston touchdown. Kicker Tim McCutchen later extended the Golden Eagles’ lead to 31-17 with a 24-yard field goal with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Golden Bears responded with the touchdowns from Davis-McNeil and Novak to take the lead and steal the victory. Davis-McNeil finished with 102 yards and the touchdown on 16 carries.

“He’s our horse,” Clements said about Davis-McNeil. “He ran mean, he ran angry today. He was running some dudes over. It was a beautiful sight.”

Novak finished 9-of-22 passing for 106 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The redshirt freshman had 68 rushing yards and the touchdown on 13 attempts.

“We just want to keep this thing going,” Clements said. “To have the chance and the opportunity to play for a regional title is a huge, huge accomplishment for our program.”

Kutztown will face a familiar foe in Slippery Rock, which it beat 31-7 in the PSAC Championship Game on Nov. 11 at home.

The Rock defeated top-seeded Tiffin 45-35 in Saturday, and fifth-seeded East Stroudsburg 45-14 in the first round.

“They’re a really good team,” Clements said. “We’re excited to have an opportunity to play them again.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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