WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Washington Nationals' World Series victory parade wasn't the only big celebration in the nation's capital Saturday.
The Catholic University football team celebrated its first victory of the year by rallying past Norwich University, 31-27, at Cardinal Stadium. Catholic scored with six seconds to go when freshman Evan O'Donnell found junior Trey Carson for his third touchdown of the game.
The Cardinals, who twice lost double-overtime games this season, drove 85 yards for the winning score. Starting quarterback Brady Berger led the Cards for all but the final 13 yards when he was knocked out of the game and replaced by O'Donnell.
With a first down at the Cadets 13-yard-line and only 17 seconds to play, O'Donnell scrambled out of bounds to the 11. An offsides penalty against Norwich moved the ball to the 6 with 10 seconds remaining.
O'Donnell then dropped back and lofted a soft pass to Carson in the left corner of the end zone. Catholic players, coaches and fans erupted in cheers as the Cardinals improved to 1-7 and 1-4 in the NEWMAC.
"I'm excited for our players, and I want them to enjoy it," said head coach Mike Gutelius. "You love to win. It's been a long time coming for this group. They haven't had this payday."
The Cardinals broke to a 17-0 lead on two Berger to Carson scoring passes and a 34-yard field goal by Fabrizio Reilly. Carson's second TD, from four yards, concluded a 16-play, 80-yard drive midway through the second quarter.
Norwich (5-3, 2-3 NEWMAC) recovered a fumble at the Catholic 7-yard line with 17 seconds left before halftime and scored on quarterback Matt Dunn's 4-yard run. The tally trimmed the Cardinals' lead to 17-10 heading into the locker room.
The Cadets scored the next 14 points to go up, 24-17, with 3:14 to go in the third period. Catholic responded by embarking on a 6-play, 76-yard drive to tie it. Junior running back Chance Le Grand got it started with a 44-yard run and punctuated it from a yard out.
Gutelius was impressed with his team's response after giving up 24 straight points to a Norwich team that it lost to, 31-0, last season.
"They could have hung their heads and said, 'Here we go again, we're snake bit.'" he said. "But they didn't. I give them all the credit in the world. They said, 'We're going to keep fighting.'"
The Cards had a chance to go up by three, but Brasean Steward blocked Reilly's 21-yard field goal attempt. The Cadets then marched 75 yards to a first-and-goal at the 5. But the Cardinal defense rose up and limited Norwich a short field goal.
With 2:33 left, Catholic was 85 yards from the end zone and down 27-24. Berger hit Andrew Comeau for 14 yards and moved his team into Cadet territory with a nine-yard completion to Le Grand. He and Le Grand connected again two plays later for 12 yards and a first down at the Norwich 35.
Berger scrambled for nine yards but was injured when he was hit in the head and neck while going out of bounds. The personal foul penalty put the ball on the Norwich 13. O'Donnell was summoned into the game and finished what Berger started.
"He went in and ran the plays and executed," Gutelius said. "He dropped that last pass for the touchdown to Trey like a veteran. It was exciting to see him make those plays. And he should."
Berger, who was still being evaluated after the game, completed 20 of his first 24 passes.
"Brady is such a man. I think he's the best player in the league," Gutelius said. "The Norwich quarterback is a hell of a player, too, but without Brady orchestrating most of that drive, I don't think we [score]. You just watch that moxie that kid has."
"He's special. He's fun to watch, and he knows how to do it."
After losing by a point to Kenyon in the season opener and by six at Coast Guard on Oct. 5, the Cards were happy a few calls went their way this afternoon.
"It was nice job by the offense [on the final drive]", Gutelius said. "We did catch a couple penalties to help us, but those are things that have been going against us all year. The football has been bouncing against us all year. It bounced for us a little bit today."
Gutelius told his team to enjoy the win but not get too carried away.
"That feeling of winning is special," he said, "but we want to be here again. We want to win regularly. We'll enjoy this one and put it in the win column, but we have to go 1-0 next week, too."