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Late Touchdown Sends Spartans to 23-16 Win Versus Thiel

Late Touchdown Sends Spartans to 23-16 Win Versus Thiel

From Case Western Reserve University Athletics

Senior quarterback Billy Beecher (Palmyra, Pa./Palmyra Area) threw a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winning 23-yarder to freshman wide receiver Luke DiFrancesco (Johnstown, Pa./Bishop McCort)  with 1:08 remaining, and the Case Western Reserve University football team defeated Thiel College (Pa.) by a score of 23-16 on Saturday afternoon at DiSanto Field.

The Spartans improve to 2-1 both overall and in the Presidents' Athletic Conference. The Tomcats drop to 1-3 (0-2 PAC). Today's meeting was the first between the schools since 1983.

Thiel scored nine in a row to tie the game with 2:53 remaining. The Spartans had scored 16 unanswered to lead 16-7 with 12:50 left on the clock. The final points of that run were set up by a key 72-yard interception return by Jordan Esteban (Miami, Fla./Belen Jesuit Preparatory).

Beecher finished 16-of-29 for 174 yards and added 34 rush yards. DiFrancesco hauled in four receptions for a season-high 75 yards. The touchdown was the first in the rookie's career. The Spartans were limited to 88 yards rushing, 43 of which came on just two carries by junior fullback Adam Hochman (Austin, Texas/Anderson).  

The game included a combined eight turnovers, and a sloppy first quarter finished without either side finding the scoreboard.

However, a Spartan miscue early in the second led to the first points of the game. On a botched throwback pass attempt from sophomore running back Anthony Bianco (Allison Park, Pa./Hampton) to Beecher, Thiel corner Chris Jones picked up a fumble and stumbled 10 yards untouched into the home endzone. Jon Fennick added the extra point, and the Tomcats led 7-0 with 14:42 remaining before halftime.

CWRU's defense joined the turnover fun later when a Ryan Radke pass was tipped by sophomore linebacker Zach Lyon (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny) then intercepted at the home 44 by junior end Tyler Hamilton (Wyandotte, Mich./Theodore Roosevelt). The pick was Hamilton's first career.

A 56-yard touchdown run by Beecher on the very next play was wiped out by a penalty, and the CWRU drive eventually stalled on an unsuccessful fake punt in Thiel territory.

On the ensuing drive, a sack deep in Tomcat territory and a short punt gave the Spartans possession at the visitor 35. Four plays later, sophomore kicker Nick Bavaro (Medina, Ohio/Medina) nailed a career-long 37-yard field goal to bring the score to 7-3 with 3:59 left in the half.

After an uneventful start to the second half, the Spartan offense got going on its second drive. Beecher found junior wide receiver Ethan Albers (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty) for a 34-yard catch-and-run. One play later, Hochman darted straight through the middle of the line for a career-long 35-yard touchdown run. A missed PAT left the score at 9-3 at 8:59 of the third quarter.

The remainder of the third went scoreless, but Thiel drove deep into CWRU territory early in the fourth. On a 1st-and-10, however, Esteban stepped in front of a Radke pass and bolted 72 yards to the Thiel 10. One play later, Beecher found sophomore tight end Zech Medved (Imperial, Pa./West Allegheny) in the back of the endzone for his first career receiving score. Bavaro's PAT bumped the CWRU lead to 16-7 with 12:50 left to play.

Refusing to go away, Thiel took the next possession and marched 78 yards on six plays, finding the endzone when Radke scrambled and hooked up with Rich Smallwood for a three-yard TD. The extra point failed as the visitors pulled to within 16-13 with 9:48 remaining.

Penalties short-changed the very next CWRU possession, and Thiel wound up taking over at its own 31. The Tomcats then pieced together a nine-play, 61-yard drive culminating in the game-tying 25-yard field goal by Fennick.

The Spartans' winning drive covered 62 yards on just four plays. Beecher also found DiFrancesco for a 22-yarder to open the drive.

Thiel had one more shot, but its final drive ended thanks to an interception by junior safety Scott Suren (Brunswick, Ohio/Brunswick) at the home 24. Overall, CWRU intercepted four passes in the game. The team had zero INTs through the first three weeks.