WASHINGTON – As the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday afternoon the Gallaudet University football team stormed the field with fans in tow to celebrate a historic win as the Bison clinched their first-ever Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) championship. The undefeated Bison (9-0, 6-0 ECFC) celebrated and danced with a mob of people at midfield as the famous Gallaudet drum provided the beat to a joyous occasion for a program that has endured its fair share of losing.
The Bison defeated conference foe Anna Maria College, 35-7, before a crowd of 768 at Hotchkiss Field and increased its school-record win streak to 11 games dating back to last season. Gallaudet earns one of the 24 automatic qualifiers into the 2013 NCAA Division III football championship, which is made up of 32 teams and starts on Nov. 23. Gallaudet's football team becomes the first men's team in school history to make a NCAA tournament.
This is Gallaudet's fourth football conference championship in program history. The Bison last celebrated a title in 1998 when GU, then a club team, won the Seaboard Athletic Conference. The previous conference title for a Bison varsity football team occurred in 1989 when Gallaudet won its second straight Atlantic Collegiate Football Conference (1988, '89). GU returned to Division III status in 2007 and joined the ECFC in 2009.
The Bison look to complete a perfect season for the first-time as a varsity program next Saturday, Nov. 16, when GU takes on Maritime (N.Y.) College on the road.
Early in the game, both teams were locked in a defensive struggle. The first six drives for both teams results in five punts and one touchdown for each. The Bison were able to break through first as they scored on their second drive of the first quarter. After being pinned back at the 4-yard line, sophomore quarterback Todd Bonheyo (Frederick, Md.) connected with his older brother senior running back Ryan Bonheyo (Frederick, Md.) for a 30-yard reception. On the very next play, Ryan Bonheyo took a toss to the right side of the field, eluded tacklers, and ran 66 yards for the touchdown. The Bison missed the point after attempt as GU led 6-0 at the 9:24 mark.
The first quarter remained scoreless but the AMCATS (2-7, 1-5 ECFC) responded early in the second. Anna Maria's defense forced a three-and-out and a 16-yard punt return gave the AMCATS great field position at the Gallaudet 36. They marched down the field and scored in six plays, culminating with a seven-yard pass in the back corner of the end zone from quarterback Gregory McGoldrick (9-for-29, 77 yards) to wide receiver Joshua Sundquist. Anna Maria made its extra-point and took a 7-6 lead.
The AMCATS were with in a minute of taking their one-point lead into halftime but a blotched punt deep in their own territory gave the Bison prime field position at the Anna Maria 18. Todd Bonheyo ran the ball twice and scored on a 1-yard plunge with 40 seconds left before intermission. Nicholas Elstad (Colorado Springs, Colo.), the holder on extra points, tricked the AMCATS defense up when he received the snap and stood up and bolted to the right side of the end zone to score the two-point conversion. Gallaudet led 14-7 at halftime.
The momentum gained from taking the lead before halftime was carried throughout the rest of the game. The Bison defense shutout the AMCATS in the second half and the Bison offense scored three more times. The first score of the second half came on a long, sustained drive as Gallaudet covered 88 yards in 14 plays, and took over six minutes. Junior running back BJ Flores (Raymondville, Texas) helped to carry the Bison into the red zone after three different runs of 14 or more yards. Freshman running back Chris Papacek (Cuero, Texas) capped off the drive with a 10-yard run for a touchdown.
In the fourth, Flores brought the Bison in scoring territory after breaking off an impressive 37-yard run to the Anna Maria 18. Ryan Bonheyo was able to give the Bison some assurance as he finished off the drive with a three-yard rush as Gallaudet led 28-7 at the 11:33 mark. GU kept rolling as it scored on its next drive on a third Ryan Bonheyo touchdown with 4:36 left in regulation.
Gallaudet was able to control the pace of the game as it held the ball for 40 minutes, 12 seconds. The Bison lead every NCAA school, at any level, when it comes to time of possession as they average 37:04 per game. Flores led the Bison ground attack as he gained 146 yards on 16 carries as he averaged over nine yards a carry. Right behind him was Ryan Bonheyo as he ran for 124 yards on 21 carries and three scores. As a team Gallaudet gained 386 rushing yards on the day, averaging over five yards a carry.
The Bison defense was stifling as they held the No. 3 ECFC offense to a mere 87 total offensive yards (10 net rushing yards). This includes holding the No. 1 rusher in the conference, Robert Small, to only 34 yards on 18 carries for an average of 1.9 yards per carry. Leading the Bison defense was junior linebacker Jaris Alleyne (Waldorf, Md.) who tallied seven tackles (six solo) including two sacks for a loss of 13 yards. Freshman defensive back Matt Taylor (Auburn, Kan.) pitched in with his second interception of the year, which came late in the second quarter, killing the start of an Anna Maria drive. The Bison sacked McGoldrick five times for a loss of 31 yards.
The AMCATS were led defensively by Kevin Card, who was all over the field, as he made 18 tackles (13 solo) and tallied one sack and two tackles for a loss. Right behind him was Jordan Koehler who racked up 15 tackles (10 solo) and two tackles for a loss.
The Bison are in the midst of the longest winning streak in program history at 11-0. The previous best start to a season was in 1987 when the Bison won their first five games and finished with a 9-1 record. Gallaudet's 2005 club football team went 9-0, which includes a forfeit to Duke's JV team. That team's schedule included games against other club teams, junior varsity teams and unaffiliated NCAA teams.