Stetson Hatters Secure Thrilling Overtime Victory Against St. Thomas Bobcats
In a heart-pounding season opener, the Stetson Hatters clashed with the #14 St. Thomas Bobcats, ultimately prevailing in overtime with a final score of 34-33 at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, marking the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
This momentous game not only kicked off the Hatters’ 11th season since reviving their football program but also signaled the beginning of Head Coach Brian Young‘s third year at the helm. With a gap of 287 days between their last regular season game and this highly anticipated matchup, the Hatters and their fans were eager to see the team in action.
The Hatters aimed to secure a 1-0 start to the season for the third consecutive year, a feat they had achieved four times in the last five years. Stetson had a strong track record in season openers, boasting an 8-3 record since 2013. The win also continues the Hatters’ impressive winning streak of eight consecutive victories over Sun Conference opponents.
The game began with a twist of fate favoring the Hatters. After their initial drive stalled, punter Marshall Golick was preparing to punt the ball away, but a roughing the kicker penalty against the Bobcats gifted Stetson a first down. Seizing this opportunity, Kaderris Roberts unleashed a stunning 39-yard rush, setting the stage for his nine-yard touchdown dive into the end zone. This play gave the Hatters an early 7-0 lead.
However, the Bobcats responded with a field goal in the first quarter, narrowing the gap to 7-3. Freshman kicker Daniel Holbrook then showcased his talent, booting a remarkable 47-yard field goal to extend Stetson’s lead to 10-3.
The Bobcats, showing their resilience, answered swiftly when Rontavious Farmer’s powerful 39-yard run tied the game at 10. Quarterback Matt O’Conner led the Hatters on two crucial drives, setting up Holbrook for a 34-yard field goal just before halftime. With CJ Davis and the defense blocking a 29-yard field goal attempt by St. Thomas, Stetson entered the half with a 13-10 advantage.
St. Thomas began the third quarter with the ball but when the Bobcats threatened, Jaylon Johnson’s interception in the endzone thwarted their advance, maintaining Stetson’s lead.
Quarterback Brady Meitz returned for the Hatters in the second half and orchestrated a remarkable drive. When the Hatters needed it most, Meitz connected with tight end Elijah Workinger on a crucial third-down play, gaining 14 yards and securing a first down at the St. Thomas 35-yard line. Building on this momentum, Roberts pushed forward for solid gains on the ground, and Meitz delivered a precise 39-yard pass to Gabe Atkin. This set up the Hatters deep in Bobcats territory at the 15-yard line. Nazeviah Burris added 14 more yards on the ground, bringing Stetson within striking distance. Meitz then capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run, extending the Hatters’ lead to 20-10.
The second half saw St. Thomas make strides, cutting Stetson’s lead to 20-13 with a 40-yard field goal before the end of the third quarter. The Bobcats then started with the ball at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but their drive came to an end on a missed field goal.
Stetson regained possession but despite a series of ups and downs, they couldn’t convert, and they were forced to punt.
St. Thomas seized the opportunity and began their drive at their own 41-yard line. Quarterback Ty’Quan Wiggins led the Bobcats with a 39-yard pass completion to David Hayes, setting up a first and goal situation. Additionally, a roughing the passer penalty against Stetson moved them closer to the end zone. Farmer then powered through with a 4-yard rushing touchdown, tying the game at 20-20 with 8:47 remaining. Stetson responded with a resilient drive, aided by a face mask penalty against St. Thomas. O’Connor connected with Jalon Warthen-Carr for a crucial 28-yard pass play, putting them in prime scoring position. O’Conner then plunged into the end zone from one yard out with just 4:18 left on the clock, giving Stetson a 34-27 lead.
In a turn of events, St. Thomas responded with a touchdown of their own, tying the game at 33-33 with just 1:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With the game still deadlocked, overtime became inevitable. Stetson won the coin toss and chose to play defense first. St. Thomas took the ball at the 25-yard line and quickly scored a touchdown to take a 33-27 lead. A botched snap on the ensuing extra point, however, set the stage for the Hatters to walk it off.
Now facing a must-score situation, Stetson took their turn on offense. Roberts once again came through with a series of rushes, ultimately finding the end zone from five yards out. Holbrook’s successful extra point attempt secured the thrilling 34-33 overtime victory for the Stetson Hatters.
In this high-stakes battle, Atkin emerged as a key playmaker for Stetson, leading the team with six receptions for 67 yards. Meanwhile, Burris also contributed significantly with six receptions, amassing 51 receiving yards. On the ground, Roberts shouldered the rushing load, amassing an impressive 124 yards and scoring two crucial touchdowns on 24 carries.
Meitz and O’Connor alternated under center, with Meitz taking the lead in pass attempts, completing 19 passes for 123 yards. The Hatters’ defense was characterized by standout performances, with Nicholas Lerew recording a remarkable 16 tackles. Diego Davis and RJ Williams also made their presence felt, notching 13 tackles each, with Williams registering two tackles for loss.
Holbrook, the freshman kicker, was perfect in the game, going 2/2 on field goals and converting all four extra point attempts.
Their next challenge awaits as they take on the Webber International Warriors Saturday, aiming to build on the momentum from this exhilarating season opener.