Ryan Flynn – Sports Editor–
As the third quarter came to a close, Southern football (0-4) watched as another lead slipped away. Winless Saint Anselm had them on the ropes, and another gut-wrenching defeat looked to be in sight.
Then Vaughn Magee decided to rush for 187 yards.
In the fourth quarter.
Magee had 297 rushing yards in all and four touchdowns in the 45-34 comeback victory, but seemed unstoppable in the final frame. His 187 yards broke a Division II record.
“I just wanted to win so badly,” Magee said. “I told my coaches, I was like ‘let’s keep running. I believe in this line.’”
The Owls fell behind early, allowing Saint Anselm to mount an early six-play, 63 yard touchdown drive capped by a touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Murphy to receiver Ahkeen Williams.
Williams and fellow receiver Justin Bernard were a problem for the Southern secondary all day, combining for 22 catches, 322 yards and four touchdowns.
Southern answered immediately, scoring on an 11-yard Magee touchdown.
They would score again early in the second quarter. Saint Anselm was pinned inside their own endzone and a bad snap sailed over Murphy’s head, which he knocked out of the endzone for a safety.
The teams traded touchdowns going into half, Murphy to Bernard pass for Saint Anselm and a Jacob Jablonski to Jayson Holt 25-yard pass for the Owls. A Saint Anselm field goal as time expired gave them a 17-16 lead.
After a missed Saint Anselm field goal, the Owls drove to take the lead. An impressive nine-play, 80-yard drive ended on another Jablonski touchdown pass.
The junior quarterback rolled left and threw deep to the middle of the endzone, into preseason All-American receiver Willie Epps waiting arms.
Up 23-17, things began to go awry.
Murphy threw a short pass to Bernard, who broke a tackle and ran 86 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Several times throughout the game, Bernard and Williams ran for big gains because of Southern’s inability to bring the two big receivers down.
“If there’s an area we need to address, it’s our tackling,” head coach Rich Cavanaugh said. “If we tackle the guy where he catches the ball, it’s a different story. Missed tackles were costly.”
The following drive lasted just one play: a Jablonski interception. Another Murphy-to-Williams touchdown put Saint Anselm up 31-23. On the ensuing drive, a Jablonski pass was tipped in the secondary and again intercepted.
This time, however, the Owls defense held. They forced a punt, which was promptly muffed and recovered by Saint Anselm. Facing their third straight turnover, however, the Owls defense stood their ground.
“We just had to suck it up. We had to come make plays,” defensive end Mwamba Williams said. “That’s the only reason why they had the points that they had, because we wasn’t making plays when we needed to make plays.”
The defense forced a punt, but the offense continued to sputter. After a punt, Saint Anselm drove down for a field goal to go up 34-23 with 14:50 left in the fourth quarter. It was the last time they would score.
“Our defense finally dug in,” Cavanaugh said. “They did a great job. Put in a very awkward situation, a hard situation, but they shut them down. We got the ball back, we were able to get settled down offensively and come up with a win.”
In the final frame, the Owls rode the hot hand of Magee, who to that point, already had 112 yards on just 14 carries, was featured in the final few drives. His 25-yard touchdown run and Jablonski to Jerome Cunningham two-point conversion brought the Owls within three.
Saint Anselm went three-and-out and punted, and it was all Magee from there. He rushed for 61 yards during the four-play drive, including a 44-yard touchdown run that put his team up for good.
Magee attributed the win to power of will, plain and simple.
“Just keeping our heads up,” he said, “not giving up, not getting down on anybody. Even when we came out and he threw the pick. It happens, you know. You can’t just get down on yourself, get down on the team, start pointing fingers at one another. You just gotta keep playing all four quarters.”
After a Saint Anselm punt, the nail in the coffin came by way of a 12-play 99-yard drive. Pinned inside their own one-yard-line, the Owls did what they do best: run.
Calling Magee’s number nine times on the drive, Southern pounded the ball downfield for an eventual 26-yard Magee touchdown run.
“Everyone on this team is winners,” Magee said. “I know it.”
Next up for the Owls is a game at Pace next Saturday, a team who last year the Owls crushed 61-0.