College Football Final – Guilford 23, Bridgewater 20

BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Guilford College’s De’Eric Bell (Jackson, Ga./Jackson) returned the opening kickoff a school-record 100 yards for a touchdown and added 104 rushing yards in the Quakers’ 23-20 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) football win at Bridgewater College Saturday.

Bell, who returned a kickoff 92 yards for a score in last Saturday’s win over Shenandoah University, finished with 254 all-purpose yards and two scores. He carried 21 times in his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game, including a 42-yard third-quarter touchdown run that opened a 16-6 Guilford (5-1, 2-1 ODAC) lead. Bell entered the tilt ranked second among NCAA Division III all-purpose yardage leaders.

Bridgewater’s Kevon White scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 23-yard jaunt late in the third quarter. The score drew the Eagles (3-3, 1-2 ODAC) to within 16-13 and set the stage for an entertaining fourth quarter.

Both squads’ defenses made key third-down stops throughout the final stanza. Guilford held on third down at the Eagles’ 42-yard line, which forced Tyler Dawson’s 17-yard punt into the wind. The Quakers took over from their own 41-yard line and entered Bridgewater territory on quarterback Matt Pawlowski’s (Greensboro, N.C./Northwest Guilford) 19-yard, third-down completion to Austen Thompson (Greensboro, N.C./Southern Guilford).

Two plays later, Guilford faced third down from the Eagles’ 29. Pawlowski threw incomplete to Thompson, but the Quakers were called for holding. Bridgewater declined the foul to set up a fourth-and-five with roughly three-and-half minutes to play. Pawlowski again targeted Thompson, who drew a pass-interference penalty that extended the drive and advanced the ball to Bridgewater’s 20. Two plays later, on yet another third down, Pawlowski lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone where Thompson grabbed the touchdown through two defenders. Tyler Hunt’s (Gibsonville, N.C./Eastern Guilford) point-after-touchdown (PAT) kick gave Guilford a 23-13 edge with 2:26 left.

Bridgewater answered with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by Ross Rushing’s (Monroe, N.C./Metrolina Christian) five-yard touchdown pass to Keith Jennings. The score made it a 23-20 game, but the drive left only 10 seconds on the clock and used all of the Eagles’ timeouts. Bridgewater kicked the ensuing kickoff over the sideline, and Pawlowski knelt down on the game’s final play.

Guilford’s defense played well, aside from the final drive, and forced a season-high three turnovers, two in the red zone. Hunter Hoots’ (Winston-Salem, N.C./North Davidson) fumble recovery at the Quakers’ 16 stopped a first-quarter drive and teammate Tyriek Able’s (Greensboro, N.C./Smith) interception in Guilford’s end zone ended a Bridgewater threat early in the second quarter. Hoots made nine tackles and Able added eight. The Quakers’ Robert Smith (Winston-Salem, N.C./Reynolds) led all defenders with 13 stops.

Pawlowski completed 26-of-43 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. Thompson was his favorite target as the senior made 12 receptions for 109 yards, both game- and career highs, plus the game-sealing score. Classmate Adam Smith (Mocksville, N.C./Davie County) added seven catches for 44 yards. Hunt booted a 23-yard field goal just before halftime, which gave the guests a 10-6 halftime lead. He also broke the ODAC’s career (PAT) record, which now stands at 139.

Rushing paced the Eagles’ offense with 50 rushing yards on seven carries. He completed 17-of-29 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. Jeffery Moore made an Eagles’ best six catches for 82 yards. Daniel Brent paced Bridgewater with nine tackles. Davey Hardesty added eight stops and recovered a Quakers’ fumble, which marked Guilford’s second turnover of the season.

Coach Chris Rusiewicz’s Quakers host Randolph-Macon College Saturday (10/24) at 1:00 p.m. in an ODAC contest.