MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Adrian College football team seems like they were having a letdown after last week's MIAA title-clinching win at Albion. Through three quarters on Saturday, the Bulldogs were trailing 17th-ranked Huntingdon 16-0 and looking like a long ride back to Michigan would be even longer. The switch flipped at the right moment for Adrian as they rattled off 17 straight points in the final 14:46 for a 17-16 win over the Hawks in the regular season finale. Adrian improved to 9-1 overall and extended their win streak to nine after a season-opening 20-17 loss to Carthage. In addition, the Bulldogs matched the most wins in a season in school history (9-1) matching the 1980 team that went 9-0.
"This was an extremely resilient group today," said head coach Jim Deere. "I think for three quarters we might have been happy with a playoff appearance. I think this group can never be counted out though. We have a great team with leadership from players and coaches. We never gave up against a nationally-ranked team on the road and really got momentum heading into next week."
Trevor Manuel was having a field day on the ground for the Hawks as he finished with 169 yards on 31 carries. Manuel carried in from one-yard out at the 6:47 mark of the first quarter to give Huntingdon a 6-0 lead after a failed PAT. David Ballard missed the extra point but came back and booted a 37-yard field goal with 9:43 left in the second quarter to give Huntingdon a 9-0 lead.
Manuel was not done getting into the end zone but this time it was through the air with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Neal Posey found Manuel on an 18-yard connection on a sustained drive that covered 74 yards in nine plays. The fourth quarter started with Kevin Kleine intercepting a Posey pass at the HC five-yard line and returning it to the one-yard line. Kyle Smock rumbled in on the next play and then Aaron Tenney found Justin Hemm for a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 16-8.
Huntingdon continued to misfire as two plays into their next drive, Posey fumbled the ball away to Juwan King at the Huntingdon 40-yard line with 14:06 remaining. Tenney completed passes to Mitch Gabriele (9 yards) and Hemm (21 yards) to put the Bulldogs within field goal range. Faced with a fourth-and-18, Adrian's Dustin Salliotte trotted out and kicked a career-best 43-yard field goal with 10:32 left in the game to cut the deficit to 16-11.
The Adrian defense forced yet another turnover on the Hawks' next possession. Posey was sacked and Charles Fleck pounced on the ball at the HC 34-yard line. Adrian drove to the eight-yard line and Tenney connected with Antoine Mason on third-and-goal to give AC a 17-16 lead. The two-point try failed and with 6:38 left it was Adrian clinging to a one-point advantage.
Both teams went three-and-out and Huntingdon took over possession with 2:42 left on their own 22-yard line. Posey completed a pass for 13 yards and then tossed an interception to Shuan Hladki at the Adrian 25-yard line ending the drive. Adrian took 1:01 off the clock on their next drive and punted back to Huntingdon with 1:16 left in the game. Posey incompleted four straight passes and the Bulldogs went into victory formation with two kneel downs.
The home team owned a substantial statistical advantage outgaining the Bulldogs, 334-157, and also churned out a 22-8 edge in first downs. The Bulldogs were plus-three in the turnover battle which led to the double-digit comeback. Tenney threw for 86 yards in relief of starter Taylor Copacia. Copacia completed 8-of-13 for 59 yards. Deontae Bridgeman led the defense with nine tackles and a forced fumble. Hunter Juntunen added eight tackles including seven solo stops.
Adrian will now await their first round opponent in the NCAA Division III playoffs which start next Saturday, November 17. The NCAA Division III selection show is set for 6 p.m. tomorrow evening on NCAA.com.