LANCASTER, Pa. – Kirk Cherneskie kicked a career-long 38-yard field goal with one second left to complete the Ursinus College football team's stirring rally from a 17-0 deficit as the Bears stunned host Franklin & Marshall with a walk-off 27-24 victory in a Centennial Conference thriller.
Thomas Garlick became the all-time leader in passing yards, Samuel Ragland rushed for two touchdowns, and the defense stifled the Diplomats after a rough start to move Ursinus (6-3, 5-3) into a tie for third place in the conference standings. The Bears climbed out of a 17-0 second-quarter hole and bested F&M for the first time since 2014.
Cherneskie's game-winning kick was his second 38-yard field goal of the afternoon and his third made field goal in the last two games. It came after a pair of timeouts used by F&M (6-3, 5-3) in an effort to ice the senior, but the third time was the charm as Cherneskie sent the Bears to an unforgettable triumph.
Garlick threw interceptions on two of his first three passes but recovered to throw for 303 yards and surpass Chris Curran '13 for the top spot in program history with 5,716. The junior had a pair of crucial completions to senior Thomas Cardozo on the winning drive, hitting the big tight end for 18 yards on 3rd-and-10 and 24 more on the next play to put the Bears on the F&M 18. Cherneski's clutch kick came three plays later.
Ragland was bottled up for much of the day but still managed to up his total to 13 rushing touchdowns, including the go-ahead score midway through the fourth. Cardozo caught six balls for 126 yards, registering triple digits in yards for the second time in as many games.
After an early F&M field goal, Garlick looked to have the record on a deep pass to senior Alec Vera on play action, but Marlon Fenstermacher somehow managed to wrestle the ball away as the two tumbled to the ground for a stunning interception. The Diplomats capitalized on the (literal) takeaway with an impressive drive, covering 71 yards in nine plays and grabbing a 10-0 lead on Tanner Erisman's 11-yard fade to K.J. Pretty in the left corner of the end zone with 2:30 remaining in the opening quarter.
Another interception short-circuited a promising drive on the ensuing possession, as Garlick's slant was through the hands of his receiver and into the belly of Thomas Downs, who returned it into Bears territory. The blue and white converted the turnover into seven points again, picking up a big third down on a 20-yard strike to Pretty on the sideline to set up Joe Hartley-Vittoria's touchdown run and a 17-0 advantage with 12:37 on the clock.
Garlick became the Bears' all-time leader with a quick slant to Ragland on third down, but a nice tackle prevented the star back from picking up first-down yardage. Freshman Mike Reilly, however, dropped a perfect punt that rolled down at the Diplomats' 2-yard line.
Ursinus forced a quick and three-and-out and took over at the F&M 36. The Bears were unable to make the Diplomats pay, turning it over on downs when Garlick was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 keeper. F&M had a long drive brewing again, but junior Nolan Murt made a great shoestring tackle to force a 4th-and-5 from the Bears' 25 and the secondary gave Erisman nowhere to go on fourth down.
Garlick hit a wide-open Cardozo for 38 yards on the next play, and the Bears finally got on the board on Ragland's 13-yard run with 1:43 left in the first half.
The Bears received the second-half kickoff and moved the ball right down into the red zone, thanks in large part to back-to-back long completions to freshman Ryan Loughlin (20 yards) and junior Zach Gravelle (26). But the F&M defense stiffened again, stoning Ragland on 4th-and-1 at the 15.
Undeterred, the Bears returned the favor with a three-and-out and took over at the F&M 46. Though the drive stalled in the red zone, Cherneskie made a 38-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-10 with 8:22 remaining in the third.
After limiting the Diplomats to another punt, the Bears came up short on another fourth-down play as the home side stopped Garlick short of the sticks on 4th-and-1 from the F&M 35 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
It was up to the defense to restore momentum, and once again it did. The very next play, junior Mitchell Bradford went step for step with Pretty and rose up for his fifth interception of the season.
Garlick hit Cardozo for 14 yards and Loughlin for 16 before a 20-yard strike to Cardozo brought the ball down to the F&M 4, and Garlick took it in himself for the touchdown as Cherneskie's extra point knotted it at 17-17 with 11:46 to go.
After another three-and-out forced by the defense, Garlick connected with Vera for 32 yards on third down to move it to the Diplomats' 26. Four plays later, Ragland's 14-yard touchdown run put Ursinus on top for the first time with 8:04 left on the clock.
The Bears had a chance to ice it on a 4th-and-13 with 1:51 remaining, but Erisman picked it up with a 20-yard pass to Pretty, and a 6-yard touchdown to Timothy Walter made it 24-24 with 1:11 on the clock.
That set up the incredible final sequence, one that culminated in the Bears' biggest win of the season.
Junior Jacob McCain racked up 14 tackles – three for loss – and freshman Aaron Diamond added 10. Ursinus kept the Diplomats to 3 of 13 on third down and limited the home side to a mere 109 yards of total offense in the second half.
The Bears close the regular season at home against Dickinson next Saturday. A win would guarantee Ursinus a spot in the Centennial/MAC Bowl Series.