Cal comes back in final seconds, beats IUP, 26-24
California (Pa.) sophomore Cody Nuzzo saved his best kick for last on Saturday night at Adamson Stadium.
Nuzzo made a 30-yard field goal with three seconds left to deliver the Vulcans a 26-24 home victory over Indiana (Pa.). The game-winner changed the fate of Nuzzo, who less than a minute earlier missed a game-tying extra point attempt.
“I saw it, and it went right down the middle,” Nuzzo said of the winner. “It was the only one of the day I was so sure about. I couldn't have been happier. That's the first game-winning kick I ever hit.”
A showdown between No. 14 Indiana (3-1, 1-1) and No. 6 California (4-0, 2-0), the preseason co-favorites in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's West division, held the promise of drama. But neither side anticipated a conclusion that included such unpredictable play.
“To answer the question quickly, no, I've never seen anything like that,” California coach Mike Kellar said. “I knew going into this game we had our work cut out for us. … I knew they'd try to come out and pound the ball, and I knew we'd be lucky to come out with a win. I feel good, and I feel like we're a good football team. But either one of those teams, to win that game, would need a fortunate bounce.”
The Crimson Hawks tied the score, 17-17, when workhorse running back Harvie Tuck scored his second touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run, five minutes into the fourth quarter. And they went ahead, 24-17, three minutes later on a 8-yard touchdown pass from second-string quarterback Mike Box to Pat Brewer.
IUP appeared ready to score insurance points when it drove 60 yards to Cal's 13. But sophomore kicker Brett Ullman, good from 41 yards earlier in the game, missed a 30-yard attempt.
Cal took over with less than a minute remaining.
On the ensuing play, Peter Lalich threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Nadir Brown, who was wide open after defensive back Marvens Toussaint fell while in one-on-one coverage down the left sideline.
“I actually felt the corner fall, so I was like, ‘Uh, touchdown,'” Brown said. “That was all that was going through my mind: ‘Touchdown.'”
Nuzzo sent the extra point kick over the left goal post, so California remained down by one.
Senior All-American safety Rontez Miles recovered Nuzzo's onside kick — the ball did not go 10 yards, but it touched an IUP player.
Lalich then completed two short passes to running back Lamont Smith and a 20-yard strike over the middle to Trey Johnson, who went down at IUP's 13.
Nuzzo delivered when given his shot at redemption.
“I wasn't real sure that I missed (the extra point),” Nuzzo said. “I was a little discouraged because I thought that I made it. But I tried to forget about it. I always have a 15-second rule: You have to forget about the last kick 15 seconds after it happened.”
Lalich finished with 438 yards — the second-best total in school history — and three touchdowns. Brown had six catches for 128 yards, Johnson grabbed six passes for 120 yards, and Mike Williams finished with a team-high nine receptions for 143 yards and a score.
Cal's aerial show allowed the Vulcans to keep up with Indiana's brutal ground game, which finished with 290 yards on 51 rushes. Tuck had 262 yards on 43 carries.
“I feel very bad for our kids, but all of our goals are still attainable,” Indiana coach Curt Cignetti said. “Last year, Alabama lost to LSU in the middle of the season, and they came back, took care of business, and won the national championship. I think we can play with anybody in the country. And I think this was good for our kids, to see how good they can be.”
Just minutes before their comeback, the Vulcans experienced a heart-breaking moment, as they watched junior defensive tackle Darnell Harding lay motionless on the field. Emergency personnel eventually brought out a stretcher for Harding, who showed some signs of motion as he left the field.
“When I saw him go down,” Brown said, “that gave me more motivation to win it for him.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.