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St. Lawrence makes moments count in opening win

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CANTON — Sometimes you need to play great for only a few minutes.

The St. Lawrence University football team produced a great start and a great finish, but struggled in between, en route to a 21-17 win over Coast Guard in the nonconference, season-opener for both teams Saturday at Leckonby Stadium.

The Saints, who went winless last year, held a 14-0 lead just 4 minutes, 30 seconds into the game, but did not score again until there were 81 seconds remaining.

SLU’s new starting quarterback Mike Lefflbine thwarted a Coast Guard comeback by connecting with Joe Battaglia on a 15-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown with 1 minutes, 21 seconds left.

The play came on a 4th-and-6, and the Saints went for the win, instead of a tie to send the game to overtime, after Coast Guard blocked three field goal attempts earlier.

“It was the last play to determine the whole game,” Battaglia said. “We really had to capitalize on it, and I’m glad we did.”

After the early good fortune, SLU continued to move the ball, but could not find a way to add any more points to its lead. The Saints hurt themselves with 12 penalties for 153 yards, including a few that took them out of scoring positions.

“We have to get rid of the penalties,” Saints coach Mark Raymond said. “It puts us behind the (yardage) sticks a lot and puts us in poor situations.”

SLU’s defense appeared to be tiring as the second half wore on and the game looked bleak for the Saints when they had to punt with only 2 minutes, 58 seconds left and down 17-14. But the Saints stopped Coast Guard on three plays and got the ball back at the Bears’ 47 with 2:03 left.

Lefflbine, a junior transfer from Sacred Heart, completed three passes to start SLU’s winning drive. He hit Jake Gnieser for 15 yards, Mike Tateosian for 12 and then another pass to Tateosian for 5, moving the ball to the 15.

“It’s special,” Raymond said of the winning drive. “These guys came together in training camp. They did a great job and hung together. They trust each other and they pulled it out.”

Raymond said SLU didn’t hesitate to go for the fourth-down touchdown play instead of tying the game with a possible field goal.

“There was no question,” Raymond said. “I talked to the offensive staff and they were confident they had a play called. They did a great job.”

Early in the game it appeared as if the Saints might enjoy a runaway victory.

SLU received the opening kickoff and moved 65 yards on 11 plays, taking a 7-0 lead when Lefflbine threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to freshman fullback Mitch Gallagher, who was Malone’s quarterback the last two years.

“It feels amazing, it’s unexplainable,” Gallagher said of catching a touchdown in his first college series. “I couldn’t have a better (first game).”

Right after Gallagher’s touchdown another newcomer made an immediate impact as freshman linebacker Jayson Leigh, who earned a starting spot Thursday, picked off the first pass thrown by Coast Guard’s Blake Thompson and returned the ball 37 yards for a touchdown, giving the Saints a 14-0 lead just 4:30 into the game.

“It felt great,” Leigh said. “I was just doing my job, as coach preaches. I was in the right spot and made the right play. I know the guys had a poor season last year. We came out fired up and we knew we could take it to them.”

Coast Guard began its comeback when Tyler Henning kicked a 32-yard field goal with 42 seconds left in the first half.

A 1-yard run by Jake Wawrzyniak with 4:33 left in the third quarter cut SLU’s lead to 14-10 and the Cadets took a 17-14 lead when Collis Brown took an end-around play 31 yards to the end zone with 4:12 left in the game.

“We’re a young team,” Coast Guard coach Bill George said. “We played well defensively. We struggled moving the ball.”

For video highlights as well as interview from this game check out the Times Overtime Blog at watertowndailytimes.com.





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