By Todd Stanford
For The Daily Item
Bucknell did plenty of things right in Saturday’s season finale against Bryant.
The Bison moved the ball well through the air, stopped a vaunted Bulldogs rushing attack, and made a big fourth-down stop when it mattered most. It all added up to a 24-21 victory at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium.
The win gives Bucknell (3-8) its second victory in its final three games of the season following a 1-7 start.
“(On Friday) night, coach (Joe) Susan said that every end sets up a new beginning,” said Bison junior wide receiver Victor Walker, who hauled in seven passes for 97 yards Saturday. “We wanted this win to set up spring ball and next year.”
The game was tied at 14 at halftime. Bucknell scored 10 straight points in the second half to put Bryant (4-7) away. Quarterback Brandon Wesley found running back Tyler Smith on a 10-yard catch-and-run scoring toss in the fourth quarter.
Wesley finished the day with 200 yards passing and two TDs while completing 18 of 26 passes. He also had a 16-yard scoring strike to Nick Gatto in the second quarter.
“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football here,” Bison coach Joe Susan said of his junior signal caller. “He does a lot at the line of scrimmage within out system.”
Bryant entered the day on a four-game winning streak behind the play of its two Jordans: wide receiver Jordan Harris and running back Jordan Brown. But the Bison defense held Brown to just 31 yards on 15 carries -- more than 60 yards fewer than his season average.
“All week we talked about playing in our gaps and playing sound defense,” said Bucknell defensive end Samuel Oyekoya, who also had half a sack to raise his season total to nine. “We take a lot of pride in swarming to the ball.”
Following Smith’s touchdown catch, the Bison led 24-14 with 10:54 to play. Bryant promptly went down the field and scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Mike Westerhaus to Harris. Harris caught eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
Following a Bucknell three-and-out, the Bulldogs took over at midfield. Bryant would eventually move the ball to the Bison 23, but on 4-and-9, coach Marty Fine decided to go for it rather than attempt a potential game-tying field goal from 40 yards out. Westerhaus found Harris underneath for a five-yard gain, but Jordan Dudas knocked him down as he made the catch and the Bison took over on downs.
“We jammed (Harris) at the line of scrimmage,” Susan said. “That took him out of his timing for that route.”
Bucknell gained one first down on its ensuing series before being forced to punt. However, the Bulldogs were charged with roughing the kicker, and the Bison got an automatic first down. With only 2:03 remaining and with the Bulldogs out of timeouts, that effectively ended the game.
“We got Tyler Smith’s first down on that one run (before the punt) to run some clock,” Susan said. “That took more of their timeouts off the board.”
The Bison drove down the field and scored on their first possession of the game. Smith took it in from three yards out to give the home team the early 7-0 lead.
That didn’t last long, however. Brown took the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards for the tying touchdown. Brown actually fumbled the ball at about the Bryant 40, but the ball took one bounce and then came back up to him. Brown never broke stride and took off all the way to the house.
“That’s how the ball bounces,” Susan said. “It’s not a round ball; it bounces really funny.”
Bucknell went up 14-7 on Wesley’s pass to Gatto in the second quarter. Bryant tied it late in the second quarter on a five-yard scoring pass from Westerhaus to Harris.
The score remained 14-14 until Bucknell’s Sean Cobelli nailed a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter.