ERIE, PA. -- Once again the Lake Erie College football team and Gannon University staged a thriller in the season opener Thursday night (Aug. 30), but for the visiting Storm, Gannon University Field continued to be a house of horrors as the host Golden Knights rallied for a 36-33 victory in "The Battle of Lake Erie."
The back-and-forth affair had the Storm (0-1) up 33-29 and first-and-goal inside the Gannon five- yard line, but Lake Erie failed to punch it in and senior Sam Marcotte (Chardon, Ohio/Chardon), who up to that point had kicked a school record four field goals, missed a 20-yard attempt and gave the Knights the ball back with 3:29 to play.
A 60-catch and run off a deflection by Justin Caliste set Gannon up at the Storm 20-yard line. Three plays later, faced with a fourth-and-two from the 12, Liam Nadler connected with Abraham Ocasio who carried two defenders into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 1:05 to play.
Lake Erie was unable to gain a first down on its final possession and after two kneel downs, the Knights secured their third straight series home win and claimed the Ship's Wheel trophy.
The loss overshadowed some outstanding individual performances for the Storm, most notably freshman running back Brandon Phenix (Toledo, Ohio/Maumee) who rushed for a game-high 130 yards and two touchdowns in his college debut. He scored on a 10-yard run in the second and then broke several tackles on a spectacular 54-yard scamper to open the fourth quarter and give LEC that 33-29 lead.
Sophomore Aaron Lindgren (Willoughby, Ohio/South) also had a huge game with a career-high six receptions and 127 yards. He scored the game's first points with a 27-yard reception from senior Patrick Nicely (Willoughby, Ohio/South/Akron) on the opening drive.
Nadler and Ocasio hooked up on an 89-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-20 on Gannon's first possession to tie the game at 7-7. Marcotte followed with field goals of 24 and 41 yards to make it a 13-7 Storm lead.
Nadler tossed another touchdown to Joe Sobuski early in the second, but that lead was short lived as the Storm drove down the field and retook the lead with a 43-yard kick by Marcotte. Phenix's 10-yard score pushed the lead to 23-14 but Nadler threw a 31-yard pass to Quad Law with less than a minute to go in the half to cut the deficit to 23-21.
A 27-yard run by Phenix set up Marcotte's fourth field goal, a 30-yarder, that made the score 26-21. But late in the third, Nicely was picked off deep in his own end by Will Giles, setting up the Knights at the Lake Erie six.
Three plays later, Jansen Jones plunged in from two yards out and Matt Jones added the two-point conversion to put the Knights up 29-26.
After the Storm retook the lead on Phenix's big run with 14:12 to play, the teams traded punts and then the Storm came up with a big fumble recovery on a sack by redshirt freshman Austin Hoeflich (Fredericktown, Ohio/Fredericktown) at the Gannon 30 with 7:18 left.
A pass from Nicely to Lindgren covered 24-yards to set the Storm up at the four. Lake Erie made it to the one on the next play, but two subsequent plays resulted in a loss of four yards and an incomplete pass. The missed field goal followed, setting up the Knights at the 20.
The Storm defense put up one of its best statistical nights ever, limiting the Golden Knights to minus-18 yards rushing with eight quarterback sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The rushing yards, sacks and forced fumbles were all school single-game records.
Freshman Nick Kirschner (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor) made a game-high 10 tackles and seven different players had sacks, including two by senior Taylor Leppla (Cambridge, Ohio/Cambridge). The previous record for sacks in a game was five done twice – including last year's game against Gannon.
However, the Storm was done in by big plays and hurt by penalties. The Green and White was flagged 14 times for 122 yards in the game, compared to 10-for-78 for the Knights.
Nadler completed 27-of-44 passes for 420 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Knights. Ocasio caught eight for 159 yards and two scores, Law hauled in seven for 81 and Sobucki made six catches for 106 yards.
Lake Erie held a 410-402 edge in total yards. Nicely, making his first start for the Storm, was 14-of-30 passing for 169 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
In each of the three games played between the two teams at Gannon Field, the Knights have scored a late touchdown to claim 35-34, 26-20 and now 36-33 wins.
The Storm will look to bounce back next Saturday, Sept 8., when it opens Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) play against Ferris State. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Jack Britt Memorial Stadium in Painesville.