ALBION, MICH. - The Adrian College football team (8-1, 6-0) defeated Albion College (6-3, 3-2), 20-19, in overtime at Sprankle-Sprandel Stadium on Saturday afternoon clinching their first outright MIAA title since 1983 and advancing to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time since 1988. The last time Adrian had at least a share of the conference title was during the 1997 season.
"I am so proud of our team and how they have faced adversity all season long," said a jubilant head coach Jim Deere. "I started three years ago and promised that either we would win a conference title or I would resign. Thank goodness the first part of that statement came true. Even today we were up 10 points at halftime and had to battle back into overtime. Our defense came up big in the biggest moment of the season on that two-point try. It looked like the hole was there and then the door shut. I can't describe how special this is for me, my staff and the players. The last appearance in the playoffs was my last game here at Adrian. It is just a very emotional win."
Adrian set the tone early as they took the opening kick and moved into the end zone.Dae'Von Robinson took a handout and raced 48 yards for his longest run of the season to give Adrian a 7-0 lead at the 12:33 mark. Adrian's trademark defense limited the Britons to just 13 yards in the first quarter and led 7-0 after 15 minutes.
Albion cut into the lead on their first drive of the second quarter. Darrin Williams and Colin Parks carried the ball downfield marching 63 yards in 15 play. The Adrian defense did not break however as Jimmy Nieman booted a 29-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 4:04 left until halftime.
Adrian increased their lead to 13-3 before intermission as they drove 49 yards in just one play as Taylor Copacia completed a touchdown pass to Justin Hemm and an out-and-up move down the home sideline. Hemm had an unbelieveable game for the Bulldogs finishing with 13 catches for 210 yards and two scores. In the process, Hemm set the single-season school record for receiving yards (1,006) becoming the first 1,000-yard receiver in school history.
"I felt like this was our game and as a senior wanted to go home with not only a championship but a win over Albion for the first time since I arrived here," commented Hemm. "To win this thing on the road the way we did it is just storybook. We have another big game at Huntingdon next week so we need to enjoy this tonight and get back to work. I also wanted to get this done for coach Deere and his staff. They are great people and deserve a lot of credit."
The momentum began to swing in favor of the Britons in the third quarter. On Adrian's first possession of the second half, Danny Cobb caught a screen pass and had the ball stripped from him by Mike Vandermus inside the Bulldog 20-yard line. Vandermus raced down to the Adrian three-yard line setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Williams for Albion.
The Adrian offense drove the ball to the Albion 29-yard line midway through the third but failed to convert a pass play on fourth-and-one giving the ball over to Albion. That was the best scoring chance for either team until early in the fourth quarter. Albion grinded out a 10-play, 40-yard drive which lasted 4:56 before Nieman kicked a game-tying 39-yard field goal which barely got over the crossbar.
Adrian had a chance to take the lead with 5:30 left in the game but Ben Klaver missed a 42-yard field goal into a breeze short and to the left after an 11-play, 39-yard drive. Adrian had one last drive before the end of regulation as Dustin Salliotte attempted a 45-yard field goal which was short. Albion was flagged for running into the kicker but Adrian was also flagged for a 15-yard foul which pushed the ball back to the Adrian 38-yard line. The Bulldogs elected to punt down to the Albion one-yard line with 42 seconds remaining. Albion ran a three-yard sneak by Dominic Bona and time expired with a 13-13 deadlock.
Adrian and Albion went into overtime for just the second time in the series history (2005) with the tension building for both teams. Albion won the toss and elected to play defense first. The Bulldogs marched 25 yards in just three plays as Hemm caught an eight-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone to give Adrian a 20-13 lead after the Salliotte extra point. Albion took over needed seven points to continue the game and Williams carried 20 yards to the Adrian five-yard line on the first play and then plunged over left end into the end zone on the second play to get the Britons within 20-19. On the scoring play, Adrian was flagged for a facemask moving the ball to the one and a half yard line. Albion rolled the dice and went on two. Bona took the carry up the middle and was stopped inches short of the goal line by a host of Bulldogs. The team rushed the field in one of the most dramatic games in school history.
"Our defense has been so good all season and when we needed a stop we got it," said defensive lineman Aaron Gray. "I believed in our guys up front and that penalty actually played in our favor. Albion played us very tough but in the end we made the plays and are going to the playoffs."
Albion became the first conference team this season to rush for over 100 yards with 124 yards on 38 carries (3.3 ypr). Adrian gained just 53 yards on the ground well below their season average. The Bulldogs outgained the Britons, 322-164, as the defense once again had a stellar outing. Copacia completed 22-of-32 for 269 yards and two scores with no interceptions. Adrian needed a clean game and turned it over just once. Robinson carried 20 times for 89 yards to lead the Bulldogs.
Charles Fleck had a career-high 12 tackles from his safety spot for Adrian. The Bulldogs recorded five tackles for loss and had five pass breakups. Adrian concludes its regular season next Saturday at Huntingdon (Ala.) and will then await their playoff opponent. That game will take place on Saturday, Nov. 17.