Football knocked out of playoffs by No. 12 Kutztown


Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells

The New Haven football team celebrates after forcing a fumble against Bentley University, West Haven, Nov. 6.

The New Haven football team’s playoff run came to an end on Saturday as they lost in a second-round matchup against No. 12 Kutztown University 10-7. It was a defensive battle as the No. 18 Chargers limited Kutztown like few other teams have been able to this season. However, the New Haven offense was kept quiet the entire game, coming up just short on the road.

Kutztown started with the ball and showed why they have one of the strongest rushing offenses in the entire country. In the 11-play drive, the Golden Bears ran the ball nine times for 41 yards to get into New Haven territory. However, the Chargers defense did what they have done all year: bend but don’t break.

With a fourth-and-3 in field goal territory, Kutztown opted to go for it and take over the momentum early. Instead, graduate linebacker Khalim Cisse got into the backfield and took down Kutztown quarterback Eric Nickel for a turnover on downs.

New Haven’s offense couldn’t do anything with the opportunity, as a quick three-and-out forced the Chargers to punt the ball back. The next Kutztown possession led to a punt as just three minutes remained in the first quarter with the score still knotted at zero.

The game remained like this throughout the rest of the half, as neither side put together any extended drives. The Kutztown pass rush dictated New Haven’s offensive drive, keeping QB Connor Degenhardt from getting comfortable in the pocket. Meanwhile, the rushing game wasn’t finding the same success they had during other games this season.

With 43 seconds left in the half, Kutztown kicked a punt to New Haven returner Paul Cooper. Cooper, standing on the New Haven 36-yard line, muffed the punt that was recovered by the Golden Bears. A third-down sack from graduate defensive lineman Jason Dooling pushed Kutztown well out of field goal territory and saved the turnover from haunting New Haven.

Time expired in the half and each side went to the locker room with a tense 0-0 score.

New Haven started the second half with the ball looking to put the first points on the board. Instead, a pair of false starts pushed the Chargers back, even as they got their first passing gains of the afternoon.

After a pair of stalled drives, a short punt from New Haven gave Kutztown the ball at midfield. A 23-yard pass and a pair of rushes put the Golden Bears within the 10-yard line. The New Haven defense came up with the stop, holding Kutztown to a field goal to break the scoreless tie.

Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Chargers looked to get the passing game going. Three straight incompletions forced New Haven to punt again, this time just going 17 yards and once again giving Kutztown the ball in Chargers’ territory.

The fourth quarter started with short drives from each side. With 12:23 left in the game, Kutztown fielded a punt at the New Haven 44-yard line and got a first down on a 10-yard rush. Then, Nickel connected with a wide receiver running down the sideline for a contested 33-yard reception, placing Kutztown on the one-yard line and setting them up for a score.

The Golden Bears rushed the ball in and extended their lead to a crushing 10-0 margin. With less than 10 minutes on the clock, New Haven was staring directly into the eyes of elimination.

The Chargers, sensing the ticking clock, took to the air on their next drive and found the success they were missing all game. A handful of short gains set up an opportunity with the team’s leading receiver Dev Holmes striding down the sideline. He got a step on the opposing corner and Degenhardt let a bombing pass go towards the endzone. The ball drifted towards the center but reached Holmes, who had the ball just slip through his fingers for an incompletion.

That missed opportunity forced New Haven to continue chipping away at the defense which, while successful, continued taking time off the clock. Finally, the drive ended with an eight-yard rush from junior running back Jake Conlan to give New Haven their first points of the day.

The score was now 10-7, but just 3:03 remained on the clock as Kutztown looked to get two first downs to end the game.

New Haven called on their defense for one last stop on third-and-5, as 2:05 remained on the clock and would give the offense a final chance. Kutztown turned to junior RB Jordan Davis, who was one of the lone offensive players producing all game, for a 13-yard run that was the dagger for New Haven.

Davis followed this up with two more rushes to give Kutztown another first down and allow them to watch the clock run out. It wasn’t a pretty game, but the Golden Bears staved off the upset and took home the 10-7 victory.

Offensively, Degenhardt finished 13-22 with 97 passing yards while graduate RB Zach Mauro led the team with 54 rushing yards. Conlan added 23 rushing yards of his own along with the lone touchdown in the game. Cisse (team-leading 10 tackles) and Dooling led the defense, with each posting two sacks. Senior LB Ryan Hodgins added eight tackles, while senior LB Jermell Brandon, senior safety Devonte Myles and junior defensive back Khyon Fitzpatrick all had seven tackles.

With the loss, New Haven ends the season at 10-2 and appears in the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last three seasons. It is also the program’s best record since 2012, when they went 10-1 and lost in the second round.

Kutztown staves off elimination and improves to 11-1, advancing to the NCAA Quarterfinals with a matchup against #8 Shepherd University next Saturday.