JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Senior Day magic rang through D.B. Milne Field until the final horns of Saturday's home football finale. With seven seconds remaining in the game, Stetson University stood at Jacksonville's three-yard line, down 13-10, facing first-and-goal.
The Hatters spiked the ball to conserve the running clock, and were tasked with either going for the win or a tie. They went for the former, landing a short pass to Ja'Vonta Swinton, and he was pushed out-of-bounds at the one-yard line by senior Griffin Garland.
"The game was on the line," said Garland. "The whole season we've been saying we'll bend but we won't break. I know the play Coach [Alan] Darlin called was the right call, and I knew I had to make the play for my brothers."
A play prior, Garland saved what would have been Stetson's game-winning score, as he tackled the team's leading receiver Donald Parham, who finished the game with 165 yards, at the three-yard line. The play captured the 6-9 receiver moving the chains 25 yards on third-and-14.
"It was just a great way to go out and get that win," he continued. "They are a big cross-town rival, and I couldn't ask for a better way to end things at D.B. Milne Field."
Stetson's day began with back-to-back trips to the red zone, and both resulted in field goal attempts. The visitor's first drive lasted 14 plays for 65 yards and concluded on a successful 29-yard field goal, while Jonny Mesina's second try, a 31 yarder, sailed wide right.
The Hatters maintained a 3-0 edge through the closing minutes of the second quarter when Irvin Riley notched his sixth touchdown of the year on a short, two-yard carry. Jacksonville missed the ensuing extra point, and entered halftime with a 6-3 advantage.
It was a scoreless third quarter, but the Dolphins were racing downfield on the way to their second touchdown. Mitchell Bailey concluded the period with a 21-yard reception that put the Dolphins at Stetson's 15-yard line, and the offense continued to move at the start of the next quarter as Lamar Washington capped the 11-play, 80-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown from Wells.
Stetson picked up seven points on its next possession to set the score at 13-10.
"This was a great college football game," said Head Coach Ian Shields. "I give their players and their staff credit for how well they played and how well they executed on both sides of the ball. Everyone got their money's worth today; that's for sure.
"[The final play] typifies the effort these young men have shown over our last two years together. I'm really proud of them. We've won three games now, down in the stretch, and we've won them a bunch of different ways. That's what good teams do – they win games."
In a pre-game ceremony, the Dolphins celebrated their 2018 graduates: Jamal Adjamah, Jake Brito, Garland, Tyler Havenner, Chris Jones, Pernel Rattray, Robert Ritterhoff, Jaleel Roberts, Harrison Rodormer, Emon Smith, Rylan Wells and Mike Williams.
The seniors were well represented in Saturday's game as:
- Williams stuffed the Hatters' quarterback on first down for a one yard gain in the first quarter
- Brito recovered a fumble on the Dolphins' opening kick return at the JU 44-yard line
- Roberts notched a block in the backfield to stave off a Wells sack; the play was extended for a 15-yard pass to Bailey
- Late in the third quarter, Rodormer rushed Stetson's QB and Havenner tipped his pass; the drive ended in a Stetson punt
- Havenner also tackled Stetson's QB for a two-yard loss, forcing a punt in the fourth quarter; it was a needed stop after the Hatters pulled within three, 13-10, with 9:29 left
- Rodormer sacked the Hatters' QB for a four-yard loss on their final drive
- Rattray finished the game with 52 yards rushed on nine carries
- Wells went 11-for-15 with 127 yards in the air and one touchdown
The Dolphins will conclude their 2017 season on the road next Saturday at Drake. Kick-off versus the Bulldogs is scheduled for 1 p.m.