On a warm, humid afternoon in southern Michigan, the Carthage College football team (1-0, 0-0 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin) opened its 2012 season on Saturday, Sept. 1 with a 20-17 upset of No. 38 Adrian College (0-1) at Adrian's Multisport Performance Stadium in Adrian, Mich. A late field goal by the Red Men's Brett Bukari (Jr., Bloomfield Hills, Mich./Beverly Hills-Detroit Day) broke a 17-17 tie.
Carthage struck first on a 12-yard quarterback sneak by A.J. Simoncelli (Fr., Downers Grove, Ill./South) at 12:16 first period. Brett Bukari's point-after was good, and the Red Men led, 7-0,. A 36-yard pass play from Simoncelli to Nick Gremley (Sr., Niles, Ill./West) set up that score. A 23-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by free safety Alex Vitkauskas (Sr., Tinley Park, Ill./Chicago-St. Rita) gave Carthage a 14-0 lead at 2:39.
Adrian missed on a 25-yard field-goal attempt by Dustin Salliotte at 14:12 second period, but the Bulldogs came right back. A 43-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Tenney to Justin Hemm set up a two-yard touchdown carry by Damon Brown at 9:57. Salliotte's kick was good, and the score was 14-7. Carthage's Bukari missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt at 5:39 and a 36-yarder with 51 seconds remaining in the half. Adrian kicker Ben Klaver just missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt as time ran out in the half.
Carthage upped its lead to 17-7 at 7:29 third period on a 37-yard field goal by Bukari. Salliotte connected on a 35-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play in the third period, shaving the Red Men's lead to 17-10. A 37-yard pass from Tenney to Hemm midway through the fourth period set the Bulldogs' game-tying touchdown. Tenney scored on a fourth-and-inches at 8:29, and Salliotte's point-after was good for a 17-17 tie.
With Adrian on the Carthage 33-yard line, Red Men cornerback Aaron Morris was whistled for pass interference, giving the Bulldogs a first down at the 18-yard line. Adrian's drive stalled out, and Ben Klaver's 41-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Nick Dorau.
The Red Men took over on their own 22-yard line. A 36-yard screen pass from Simoncelli to Reggie Miller put Carthage on the Adrian 15-yard line. With the Red Men going for the touchdown on fourth-and-one at the five-yard line, the Bulldogs were called for offside, giving Carthage a first-and-goal at the three-yard line. With fourth-and-goal on the five and 20 seconds remaining, Bukari connected on a 22-yard field goal for the winning, 20-17 margin. "On the last drive," said Carthage coach Tim Rucks, "we started to work the clock. We didn't want to score too quickly and give them a chance to march down the field. We told the offensive line that we were going run on that last series of plays, and they got it done. That last drive was just a setup for Brett Bukari's field goal. We wanted the ball in the middle of the field, and we had confidence in Brett Bukari, even though he missed two field goals earlier."
Carthage collected 287 total offensive yards, 116 rushing and 171 passing while Adrian collected 404 yards, just 81 on the ground and 323 in the air. Carthage quarterback A.J. Simoncelli had a fine freshman debut, completing 15-of-25 passes for 171 yards while rushing for 14 yards. Reggie Miller ran for 47 yards on 13 carries., and Nick Gremley caught six passes for 67 yards. Brett Bukari connected on two-of-four field-goal attempts. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Tenney completed 22-of-34 passes for 323 yards, with Justin Hemm catching nine of those for 169 yards. Carthage defensive tackle Nick Dorau (Sr., Kenosha, Wis./Bradford) had two sacks, as did defensive ends Mike Merucci (Sr., Kenosha, Wis./Bradford) and Tyler O'Brien (Sr., Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove).
"It was a hard-fought win," said Rucks, "and I honestly didn't know where it was headed at the end. When we needed it, we found it. We had a great first series to open the game, and then we had a good one to finish the game. Everything in between, we'll work on next week. The kids found a way to win, and I'm excited for them Adrian is a good team and picked to win their league, so this was a good win. Adrian didn't pressure us all that much. Our pass protection was good, better than I thought it would be. A.J. Simoncelli did a lot nice little things that don't show up in the stats. He is a very composed individual, and he will grow a lot from this game. His potential is unlimited. He never got rattled or shook. I think we have the best defensive line in the league—they're pretty good. It's the strength of our team right now."
Carthage now enjoys an off-week before playing host to No. 41 Wartburg College on Saturday, Sept. 15 in a 1 p.m. contest at Art Keller Field in Kenosha, Wis.