Led by first-year quarterback Thomas Merkle, Lords football made history at McBride Field on Saturday by downing Sewanee: The University of the South (Sewanee, Tenn.) for the first time in eight meetings with a score of 21-17. Facing a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter, the Lords (1-0; NCAC 0-0) showed great resilience in outscoring the Sewanee Tigers (0-1) 21-3 the rest of the way. This was the largest comeback for Lords football in Head Coach Chris Monfiletto’s five seasons helming the program.
Reflecting on the victory, Monfiletto lauded the mental fortitude his players displayed during the game. “I think that when we have the ability to control our attention and really focus, we can be pretty good,” Monfiletto said. “When you worry about losing rather than just what you’re supposed to do on that specific play, that’s when you start to have some issues. That’s the one thing that, if I could point to anything, we did a really good job with on Saturday.”
Each of Sewanee’s first two possessions ended in touchdowns, but Kenyon struggled to get on the scoreboard at the outset, not enjoying the same degree of offensive success as their opponent. Following a botched Kenyon punt attempt, Sewanee took over on Kenyon’s 27-yard line, poised to add to their 14-0 lead. Rising to the occasion, Quashae Hendryx ’18 intercepted an errant pass to keep Sewanee out of the end zone.
Galvanized by their defense’s inspiring play, the Kenyon offense was able to cut Sewanee’s lead in half with one minute remaining in the second quarter. Taking over on Kenyon’s eight-yard line with three minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the half, Merkle orchestrated an eight-play, 92-yard scoring drive, which he capped off with an 18-yard touchdown pass to John O’Brien ’17.
Though Sewanee extended their lead to 17-7 with a third-quarter field goal, the Lords were quick to respond. On the ensuing Kenyon possession, Merkle went deep to connect with co-captain Brian Hunca ’17 for a 34-yard gain, giving the Lords a first down on the Sewanee seven-yard line. Ian Bell ’18 finished off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to raise the score to 17-14.
On Kenyon’s next possession, Merkle continued to assail Sewanee through the air, hitting Jibri McLean ’17 34 yards down the middle of the field to give the Lords a first down on the Sewanee 17-yard line. Taking a direct snap on the following play, Bell left the Sewanee defense in the dust and tore across the goal line to give Kenyon its first lead of the game with 14:49 left in regulation. For his 136 all-purpose-yard, two-touchdown performance, Bell was named Offensive Player of the Week by the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC).
A missed Kenyon field goal attempt gave Sewanee the ball on their own 20-yard line, 6:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Tigers had one last shot to retake their recently squandered lead. With their backs against the wall, Sewanee drove deep into Kenyon territory, intent on putting the Lords away for good with a go-ahead touchdown. Curt Williams ’18 dealt Sewanee the decisive blow with an interception at the two-yard line, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and sealing the 21-17 victory in an electrifying finish to a memorable match.
Kenyon Football will return to McBride Field this Saturday when they open up NCAC play against Oberlin College (0-1; NCAC 0-0) at 1 p.m.