DEFENSE LEADS HOST GROVE CITY TO 31-14 VICTORY OVER FDU-FLORHAM IN JAMES LYNAH BOWL – Eastern College Athletic Conference

DEFENSE LEADS HOST GROVE CITY TO 31-14 VICTORY OVER FDU-FLORHAM IN JAMES LYNAH BOWL – Eastern College Athletic Conference

GROVE CITY, Pa. – A suffocating defense that produced a season-high seven sacks and two turnovers propelled host Grove City College over Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham, 31-14, in the 2022 Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) James Lynah Bowl at Robert E. Thorn Field on Saturday.
The first meeting all-time between the teams pitted the winners of the last three installments of the James Lynah Bowl.
A fourth ECAC bowl triumph in the last four fall seasons put Grove City at 8-3 on the year. The Wolverines, who finished in a three-way tie for fourth in the 11-team Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) with a 5-3 mark, wrap up the 2022 season at 6-1 at their own venue. FDU-Florham fell to 6-5. The Devils, out of Madison, N.J., were an even 4-4 in the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC), good for sixth out of 11 squads.
Grove City took the opening kickoff at its own 27 and went 73 yards in 13 plays and 6:26 for the game’s first score, a four-yard Ian Demeri touchdown run through a big hole on the left side. The key play on the drive was a conversion on third and 10 as sophomore quarterback Logan Pfeuffer beat the all-out blitz and found Ryan Lenhart right at the marker in the center of the field at the FDU 36. 
The Devils answered that score right back with a 12-play, 73-yard drive in 5:25, aided by a facemask penalty for the day’s first infraction. Their own star sophomore quarterback, Ryon Thomas, found Eric Castorina in the end zone on the left on fourth and 1 from the 4. Chris DiMedio’s extra point tied the contest with 3:01 to go in the first quarter.
The second Wolverine drive of the afternoon was highlighted by a remarkable 55-yard catch by Ryan Heckathorn with a defender draped all over him, to put the home side at the FDU 14. Following the quarter break, Grove City looked to have stalled at the 3, but like FDU, the Wolverines opted to go for it on fourth down, and Pfeuffer found Heckathorn on the right at the goal line as they went back up, 14-7.
The first sack of the contest led to its first stop as Ryan Fleming brought Thomas down for a loss of five yards, before Thomas, an All-MAC First Team selection at punter, had to kick it away two plays later.
Nico Flati galloped 26 yards down the right side across midfield to the FDU 45, but a holding penalty helped to stop Grove City for the first time. The Wolverines went for it again on fourth down but failed to convert as Isaiah Massey sacked Pfeuffer at the FDU 41. Pfeuffer, an All-PAC second-teamer, was injured on the play and would not return.
Grove City was right back in business moments later, however, as Fleming and Bryce Spolnik caught Thomas behind the line and caused a fumble that was recovered by teammate Ben Bladel at the FDU 33.
The Wolverines were unable to convert that turnover into any points, but their punt kept field position in their favor as it pinned FDU-Florham at its own 3. Sure enough, one three-and-out and a 17-yard Joey Guida punt return later and Grove City had the ball back at the FDU 24.
On the fifth play of that sequence, junior backup Ayden Gutierrez dove one yard on the quarterback keeper and the Wolverines took a 21-7 advantage into the locker rooms. Despite that stellar first drive by FDU, Grove City held the Devils to just 68 yards on 27 plays for the half.
FDU-Florham’s initial possession of the second half stalled, and the long snap on the punt attempt went over Thomas’ head, ultimately giving Grove City great field position once again at the 28. The Wolverines could only manage a yard on three plays, and their try at a 44-yard field goal was thwarted after another mismanaged snap.
The Devils’ second drive of the half then went for 11 plays, 63 yards and 4:04 to close to within a score at 21-14. Going for it on fourth down for the second time on the drive and fourth time in the game, Thomas hit Nayson Brown on the right flat for a two-yard touchdown with 6:45 to go in the quarter. The earlier fourth-down conversion was a direct snap to Michael DeSantis with one yard to get at the FDU 46, and the senior tight end gained six on second effort after initially getting stopped.
Later in the third, Grove City used a shanked six-yard punt and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to regain a two-score advantage, getting the ball back at the FDU 29 and eventually a 26-yard Nick Morrow field goal at the 12:50 mark of the fourth quarter that narrowly snuck inside the left upright for 24-14.
Grove City forced a three-and-out and on the first play of its next possession, Flati picked his hole up the middle and broke several tackles at both the start and end of an incredible 69-yard run to the FDU 15. Flati carried three more times to the 3, and Clayton Parrish took it in from there to effectively ice the contest at 31-14 with Morrow’s PAT. Five rushing plays netted 84 yards, all but three by Flati, on the drive.
Fleming, a senior, sacked Thomas on the ensuing FDU possession to give him 2.5 on the day and 21 for his great career to tie the school record. Thomas was then hit as he threw and picked off for the first time in the game by Parker Kilgore at the Grove City 18 with 6:15 left. It was Kilgore’s second interception of 2022 and second in as many games.
Fleming fittingly fought off a block and came around right end to sack Thomas for another 13 yards on the game’s final play to yank the Grove City career sack mark all to himself as his teammates rushed onto the field and mobbed him. Fleming’s career-best 3.5 sacks in the game gave him a team-leading seven for the year and 22 as a Wolverine. Bladel, the 2022 PAC Newcomer of the Year as a freshman linebacker, added two.
Fleming would be named the James Lynah Bowl Most Valuable Player following the contest.
Flati, a true sophomore out of Aliquippa, Pa., wound up with a season-high 155 yards on 20 carries for Grove City. Parrish contributed 68 yards on 19 rush attempts and a touchdown. Heckathorn’s two catches, including the score, gave him 58 yards. The seven sacks were the Wolverines’ most in a single contest since 2014.
For FDU, Thomas went 23-for-38 for 171 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. Graduate student wide receiver Connor Perez, the 2021 James Lynah Bowl MVP and a repeat All-MAC First Team selection, put a bow on his tremendous career with six catches for 42 yards. The Devils went 4-for-5 on fourth down but just 4-of-16 on third, and netted -11 rushing yards to 233 by the Wolverines.
Grove City was making a fourth consecutive ECAC bowl appearance, having defeated Utica (49-7) in the 2021 Scotty Whitelaw Bowl, RPI (41-38) in the 2019 James Lynah Bowl, and Morrisville State (56-48) in the 2018 James Lynah Bowl, all also at home. The Wolverines are 4-1 all-time in postseason games.
FDU-Florham had earned its second straight appearance in the James Lynah Bowl, having come from behind at home to defeat another PAC foe in Saint Vincent College in last year’s edition, 38-19, behind then-starting quarterback and current first-year offensive assistant Anthony Caserta. That triumph marked the program’s first-ever bowl victory in its first postseason game since 1999. Saturday meant a fourth ECAC bowl berth for the Devils.
FDU was Grove City’s first-ever opponent from the state of New Jersey, and first MAC opponent since Sept. 10, 2011.

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