CASTLETON, Vt. – After Castleton University tied the game early in the fourth quarter, Fitchburg State scored three unanswered touchdowns to defeat the Spartans, 31-10, Saturday night in Castleton's home opener at Spartan Stadium.
Down 10-0 at halftime, Castleton committed to the running game on its first drive of the third quarter, as Moe Harris carried the ball seven straight times for 56 yards, including a 21-yard run to start the drive and back-to-back 12-yard carries. However, the Spartans failed to score, as a missed field goal attempt kept Castleton in a 10-point deficit.
The Spartans forced a Fitchburg State three-and-out and took advantage of a personal foul on the ensuing punt to start their next drive at the Falcon 25 yard line. After an eight-yard completion, Matthew Hesford ran the ball three consecutive times, the third carry a 14-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 10-7 with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Jakob Trautwein forced a fumble, and Owen Tretter recovered the ball at the Falcon 27 yard line. After seven straight runs by Harris, including a fourth down conversion to begin the fourth quarter, Ryan Payne connected on a 24 yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10 with 12:16 left in regulation.
Fitchburg State (1-1) went three-and-out, but a muffed punt by the Spartans gave the Falcons new life on the Castleton 20 yard line. Nelson Valerio found Jesse Lastra for a five-yard touchdown pass with less than eight minutes to go, putting the Falcons back on top, 17-10.
After a Castleton three-and-out, Fitchburg State drove the ball 67 yards in five plays, with Lastra catching a 31-yard touchdown pass from Valerio to increase the Falcon lead to 24-10 with 4:18 remaining on the clock. The Spartans turned the ball over on downs, and the Falcons closed out the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Valerio to Jonathan Charles.
Offensively, Harris led the Spartans with 89 yards rushing on 22 carries. Mitchell Caron struggled at quarterback, completing just 7-of-20 passes for 37 yards and an interception, plus he was sacked three times.
Defensively, Trautwein collected 18 tackles, tying the career high he established last season at Gallaudet. Grant Cummings earned 11 total tackles, and Bubba Collins finished with 10 tackles, including a sack and another half-tackle for a loss.
Valerio led the Falcons by completing 19-of-26 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Herbert Acosta caught eight passes for 155 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown pass with 5:17 left in the first half. Three Falcon defenders earned six tackles apiece.
After earning just two first downs in the first quarter, Castleton attempted to shake things up in the second quarter, successfully executing a fake punt early in the second quarter when Mike Morgan completed a 24-yard pass to Joel Antoine to march into Falcon territory. However, Jovon White intercepted Caron on the next play to quickly change the momentum.
Castleton (0-2) hosts Norwich in the Battle for the Maple Sap Bucket Trophy next Saturday, Sept. 16, starting at 6 p.m. at Spartan Stadium. It is Homecoming weekend for the Spartans, and a large crowd is expected for the intrastate rivalry.