ALFRED, NY — Alfred University's defense forced five turnovers and held St. John Fisher to 45 yards rushing as the Saxons knocked off the visiting 11th-ranked Cardinals, 26-13, at Merrill Field Saturday afternoon to remain unbeaten in Empire 8 Conference play.
After a scoreless first-quarter, Alfred (4-1, 3-0 Empire 8) fell behind early, as Fisher scored on its possession of the second and took a 6-0 lead after a missed PAT. The Saxons scored 19 points in the second period – 12 on two TDs scored in a four-second span – to take a 19-6 halftime lead.
A fourth Saxons' touchdown 5:45 into the third made it 26-6 Alfred, before Fisher tallied a TD with 6:03 left in the period to close out the game's scoring.
AU allowed Fisher quarterback Ryan Kramer to throw for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he was intercepted three times. The Saxons forced two fumbles, with both leading to touchdowns in a strange sequence of events late in the second quarter.
With 37 second left in the half and Alfred clinging to a 7-6 lead, AU freshman cornerback Michael Berardi forced a fumble at the Fisher 34-yard line that was recovered by senior strong safety Reggie Pressley. Six plays later, junior tailback Chuck Beckwith scored on a three-yard run with eight seconds left in the half. The PAT failed and the Saxons led 13-6.
On the ensuing kickoff, Pressley forced a fumble at the Fisher 25, and Saxons' sophomore cornerback Michael Perkins recovered at the Cardinal 17-yard line with four seconds left in the half. The Saxons lined up for a 34-yard field goal, but junior wideout Jonathan Ruffin, the holder, took the snap and raced up the middle for the 17-yard TD run. The PAT again failed and Alfred took a 19-6 halftime lead.
The Saxons pushed their lead to 20 points when they scored on their opening possession of the second half, driving 69 yards on 10 plays, with freshman wide receiver Maleke Fuentes scoring on a two-yard run to give AU the 26-6 lead.
Fisher scored on their ensuing drive to make it 26-13 with 6:03 left in the third. But the Cardinals turned the ball over three times in the fourth – all on Kramer interceptions in Saxon territory – to end any hope of a Fisher comeback.
Senior free safety Jon Jackson picked off Kramer at the AU 32 with eight minutes left in the fourth and returned it to the Fisher 35-yard line. The Saxons turned the ball over on the first play of its ensuing drive, but Fisher could not capitalize on a drive that started at the Saxons' 22-yard line, turning the ball over on downs. On the Cardinals' next drive, Berardi intercepted Kramer at the Alfred 2-yard line and returned the ball to the Saxon 30. Fisher forced Alfred to punt, and blocked the kick to set up a drive at the Alfred 22, which ended with Jackson's second interception of the game, this coming in the Saxon endzone.
Alfred's run defense was outstanding for a second straight week. After holding Ithaca to four yards on the ground last weekend, the Saxons held Fisher – which came in averaging 184 on the ground – to 45 yards. The Saxons had nine tackles for loss, with senior defensive end Chris Steeves leading the defense with eight tackles (1 ½ for loss). Junior linebacker D.J. Welch also had eight stops and senior linebacker Brendan McGinnis had seven. Berardi finished with four tackles, a forced fumble, and interception and a pass breakup and Jackson had three solo tackles to go with his two picks. Pressley had six tackles (all solo, one for loss), three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Beckwith had his third straight game with at least 100 yards on the ground, finishing with 148 yards on 23 carries and two TDs. Junior quarterback Zach Sopak completed 15 of 23 passes for 138 yards and Fuentes had six catches for 86 yards.
Fisher wideout Tyler Stell caught eight passes for 124 yards and wide receiver Kevin Francis caught seven for 58. Tailback Cody Miller, who came in averaging 73 yards per game rushing, had 31 yards on 14 carries. End Mason Judd led the Fisher defense with a game-high 13 tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble. Linebackers Mike Donitzen and Joe Leavell had nine and eight tackles, respectively.
Saturday's win sets up an Empire 8 Conference showdown next weekend for AU, as the Saxons travel to Salisbury University for a noon kickoff. Salisbury (5-1 overall) and Alfred are tied for first in the Empire 8 with 3-0 conference marks.