MARIETTA, Ohio – Junior running back Kenny Riordan (Spring Grove, Ill./Richmond-Burton) rushed for a career-high 155 yards on just 19 carries, and the Case Western Reserve University football team erased an early 10-point deficit with 26 unanswered points en route to a 26-23 victory in the 2012 season opener at Marietta College on Saturday evening at Don Drumm Stadium.
The Spartans (1-0) have now won 11-consecutive season-openers and 25 of the last 26 road games dating back to 2007. After allowing 10 points in the first 8:41 of play, Case's defense shut the Pioneers out for nearly three quarters and totaled six sacks with an interception. For the game, the Spartans outgained the Pioneers, 219 to minus three, on the ground.
Marietta took the opening drive 73 yards on just five plays and found the endzone when quarterback Tom Fulton hooked up with wide receiver Kirby Harris for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Conor Durina hit the extra point, and the Pioneers led 7-0 at 13:03 of the first quarter.
The ensuing kickoff resulted in a Spartan fumble, and Marietta grabbed possession at the 27 yard line. Five plays later, the Spartan defense made a key stand and held the Pioneers at the seven. Durina then attempted a 24-yard field goal but missed right.
The Spartans' first offensive series then resulted in a three-and-out, and a 43-yard punt return gave the Pioneers possession at the visitor 22. After a quick Marietta first down, Case's defense followed with another goal line stand, and the Pioneers settled for a 20-yard field goal by Durina with 6:19 remaining in the first quarter.
After nearly a quarter of scoreless play, the Spartans grabbed the momentum when sophomore running back Manny Sicre (Miami, Fla./Belen Jesuit Preparatory) made an impact play on special teams with a blocked field goal on a 37-yard attempt with 12:24 left in the first half.
Two possessions later, the Spartans drove 28 yards on eight plays and got on the board when freshman kicker Won Kun Park (Daejon, South Korea/Kimball Union Academy, N.H.) hit a 26-yard field goal at the 4:53 mark.
The defense followed by forcing Marietta out on downs, and the offense took over with a six-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a three-yard touchdown run by Sicre. Kun Park's PAT tied the score at 10 with 51 seconds remaining in the half.
In the second half, the Spartans took the opening possession and marched 84 yards on eight plays with senior quarterback Erik Olson (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) finding sophomore wide out Sean Lapcevic (Presto, Pa./Chartiers Valley) for an eight-yard TD pass at the 11:16 mark. A missed PAT left the score at 16-10.
The next Pioneer drive fizzled out, and Case's offense kept its rhythm going with a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a five-yard TD run by Olson. Kun Park hit the PAT and the Spartans led 23-10 with 5:47 left in the third quarter.
Kun Park then added his second field goal, a 33-yarder, to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive with 12:15 left to play to make the score 26-10.
Marietta got back in the game with two late scores as Fulton hooked up twice with WR Linard Williams for a seven-yard TD pass at 6:25 and an eight-yard strike at 4:35. The first score was followed by a failed two-point conversion, and the second was coupled with an extra point by Durina to bring the score to 26-23.
However, the Spartan running game churned out important first downs on the final drive to preserve the three-point victory.
For the game, Olson completed 10-of-18 passes for 196 yards and a score. Lapcevic recorded four receptions for 81 yards, and senior wide out Brian Rice (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) caught three balls for a career-high 72 yards. In addition to Riordan's career-high total, Sicre rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries.
Defensively, senior linebacker Wade Self (Hawthorn Woods, Ill./St. Francis) and senior nose guard Michael Harris (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Shaker Heights) recorded nine tackles each. Junior end Brandon Bryant (Rockville, Md./Rockville) and Harris each set career bests with 2.5 and two sacks, respectively.
For Marietta, Fulton completed 21-of-37 for 333 yards and three TDs. Tannon Roberts had six receptions for a game-high 142 yards, while Harris finished with six catches for 109. Linebacker Jake Hammer led all tacklers with 15 stops.
The Spartans return to action next Saturday, September 8 at Hiram College at 7:00 p.m. at Charles A. Henry Field.