Sophomore receiver Aden Twer caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kody Smith as time expired, and Gettysburg held off a furious Ursinus rally to win 40-34 in the Centennial Conference opener for both teams at a hot and humid Shirk Field at Musselman Stadium.
Gettysburg (1-1, 1-0 CC), which was also playing its home opener, led 34-10 midway through the third quarter before Ursinus (0-2, 0-1 CC) rallied with 24 unanswered points, scoring three touchdowns and converting the two-point conversion on all three. Quarterback Chris Curran capped the rally with a 1-yard touchdown run – his second of the game – with 47 seconds left before running in the conversion himself, setting up a wild finish.
On just five catches, Twer finished with 179 yards and tied a school record with three touchdowns receptions on distances of 81, 43, and 32 yards. Smith threw for 291 yards and four touchdowns – both career highs – on 13-of-22 passing while junior tailback Ted Delia rushed for a career-best 86 yards on 12 carries for Gettysburg, which never trailed.
Win the victory, the Bullets won both their home and conference openers for the first time since 2007.
The two teams continued their history of shootouts after Ursinus won 49-39 last season and 55-50 in 2009.
"We needed a touchdown," said Twer. "Kody came into the huddle and said 'This is what's going to happen. I'm throwing a fade, and I'm throwing it to you, Twer.'
"As I turned back for the ball and tried to get into the air, I think the defender hit me a little bit and I fell down, so I caught it down low," Twer explained.
"It was just excitement," he said, on his big catch. "We had just won the game, and that was the most important thing. My teammates came running and piled up on me. It was great."
Bryan Ellis rushed for 130 yards on 30 carries for the Bears while Curran finished with 183 yards and one touchdown on 16-of-36 passing.
Gettysburg outgained Ursinus 461-307.
"It was exciting – probably the biggest play of my life," said Smith. "I got to the line and saw that the cornerback pressed on Aden, and I thought in my mind, 'we've got this.' The o-line gave me time, I threw it up, and Aden caught it."
"He's the fastest guy on our team," said Gettysburg head coach Barry Streeter on Twer. "He has good hands, and he had already made some big plays. The ball was up high enough that he could get up over the top and make the catch. That's a big, big play – if that goes to overtime who knows what happens."
Following Curran's game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, the Bullets received the ball at their own 40 after the kickoff went out of bounds. Smith rushed for 12 yards on the first play of the drive before hitting freshman receiver Bobby Romano with an 8-yard pass to the Ursinus-40. Then on a third-and-two, Delia rushed for eight yards to pick up a first down.
The Bullets called their final timeout with five seconds left before Smith connected with a well-covered Twer, who grabbed the Hail Mary pass out of the air before falling into the left side of the end zone for the game-winner.
Senior safety Peter Hak made a career-high 15 tackles and added a safety for Gettysburg while junior linebacker Mark Covington added a career-best 10 stops for the Bullets.
The Bullets never trailed after senior Rob Pennella converted his first collegiate field goal – a 21-yarder with 11:16 left in the opening quarter. Gettysburg had a first-and-goal at the Ursinus-1 but the Bears stuffed three consecutive rushes.
Gettysburg added to its lead when sophomore tailback Malcolm Perry ran for a 1-yard touchdown – his first collegiate TD – with 7:06 on the first-quarter clock. The snap never got down in time on the extra point, making it a 9-0 game.
The Bears got on the scoreboard when Michael Bennett kicked a 21-yard field goal with 1:02 left in the quarter. However, it took the Bullets only one play to answer, as Smith launched a bomb down the left sideline to Twer, who raced in for an 81-yard touchdown reception. Pennella's extra point made it 16-3 with 41 ticks showing.
Curran's first TD run cut it to 16-10 with 8:04 left in the first half before the Bullets reeled off an 18-0 run spanning the second and third quarters. Pennella knocked through his second field goal – this one from 34 yards – to make it a 19-10 game at the half.
Ursinus received the second-half kickoff, but on the third play of the drive senior cornerback Tyler Fasanella came up with an interception at the Bear-43. The Smith-Twer connection struck again on the very next play, with Smith finding a wide-open Twer down the right sideline off a fake pitch. The 43-yard touchdown pass put Gettysburg up 26-10 with 13:10 left in the third quarter.
The Bullets extended their lead to 28-10 four plays into the ensuing drive. Ursinus lined up to punt at its own 35, but a bad snap rolled all the way into the end zone, where Hak and several defenders tackled punter Derek Giannetti.
Gettysburg enjoyed its largest lead of the game with 8:53 to go in the third quarter, when freshman wing Freddy Caruso scored on a nice catch-and-run down the right sideline from 23 yards out. The extra point was missed, making it a 34-10.
Fullback Teddy Conrad capped a 71-yard Ursinus drive with an 8-yard touchdown run with 4:45 left in the quarter before Curran hit Seth Cardene on the conversion. Then after the Bears forced a three-and-out, Curran tossed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Al Desiderio, and his conversion pass to Nick Giarratano made it a one-possession game (34-26) with 2:35 leftin the third quarter.
Both defenses stepped up in the fourth quarter, as the first five drives resulted in either a punt, turnover on downs, or an interception. The Bears received an excellent scoring opportunity when a Chris Salaga interception gave his team that ball at the Gettysburg-19 with 7:05 on the clock, but Gettysburg's defense held strong. With the Bears facing a fourth-and-seven at the Bullet-16, Covington broke up a pass with a bone-jarring hit in the backfield to give his team the ball on downs. But Gettysburg went three-and-out before Ursinus drive 51 yards on seven plays for its game-tying drive.
Senior linebacker Marc Graziano, senior safety Joe Delaney, and senior defensive end Chris Douthett added nine tackles apiece for the Bullets while linebacker Greg Martel made eight stops for Ursinus.