A dominant first half by Bryant, who was nationally-ranked earlier in the season, spoiled the football team’s undefeated season in a 34-15 loss to the Bulldogs on Oct. 4 in Smithfield, R.I. The Bulldogs surged to a 27-0 first half lead and never looked back, giving the Bison their first loss of the season after winning four straight to open up the year.
“Our opponent came off a bye week and was well prepared to play us,” head coach Joe Susan said. “They are a very talented team. The things that changed happened during the game.”
Bryant’s defense plagued the Orange and Blue throughout the game in the form of four interceptions and five sacks. Quarterback R.J. Nitti ’17 had his first rough outing of the season as the Bulldogs batted down some of his throws and forced him to throw three interceptions. Nitti finished 15-36 for 199 yards.
“We turned the ball over in critical situations, and if you lose the turnover battle, it is hard to win on the scoreboard,” Susan said. “We did not do a good job of protecting our QB and this is a must in our offense. All of these things combine to add up to the result.”
The Bulldogs converted two touchdowns in the first quarter off of a 73-yard touchdown pass and a fake punt that resulted in a 55-yard touchdown run.
Two more Bryant scores were tacked on in the second quarter, providing a cushion for the Bulldogs heading into the second half. C.J. Williams ’17, who engineered his eighth career 100-yard rushing game, closed the gap with a six-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 27-7. The touchdown was set up by Connor Golden’s ’18 blocked punt in the third quarter.
Despite the offense showing signs of life in the second half, Bryant broke the Bison’s chance for a comeback when the Bulldogs scored on a 96-yard touchdown run with 5:24 left in the third quarter. Williams posted his second touchdown run of the game in the fourth quarter, followed by a two-point conversion pass from Nitti to Josh Lebo ’15. The longest drive for the Bison ended the scoring for the day.
Third-down conversions hindered the Bison offense from moving the ball down the field, as they finished 1-13 in that category. Evan Byers ’15 continued his strong defensive play with nine tackles and two tackles for a loss. Team-interception leader Clayton Ewell ’16 added six tackles, three tackles for a loss, and two sacks.
Despite the loss, Bryant couldn’t take away what has been the Bison’s best start in 17 years.
“The humility of college football, [and] college sports in general, has taught our entire program that there is so much parity in this league and the leagues we play against,” Susan said. “Each and every game is a precious opportunity. Our team is mature enough to understand this and move on to focus on what we have to do to improve and continue to prepare, both on and off the field, to do what it takes to win.”
The Bison aim to get back on the winning track, as they battle winless Lehigh in Bethlehem on Oct. 11 to open Patriot League play.
“We have a 24-hour rule in our program. The nature of our players makes us confident that they will continue to prepare and perform,” Susan said. “Being that this game is the start of our league schedule provides extra incentive that will help to motivate our team.”