CASTLETON, Vt. – The Castleton University football broke into the win column in grand fashion Saturday afternoon, defeating Anna Maria 33-19 in Eastern Collegiate Football Conference action at Dave Wolk Stadium.
Prior to the game, the Spartans (1-7, 1-3 ECFC) celebrated their nine senior players, sending the class off with a victory in its final home contest. Anna Maria falls to 1-8 overall and 1-3 in ECFC play with the loss. It was Castleton's 11th win over Anna Maria all-time, its most wins against any opponent in program history.
The Spartan passing game came to life as Jacob McCarthy completed 21-of-30 passes for three touchdowns and 264 yards. Anthony Martinez was on the receiving end of seven catches for 90 yards and a score, while Dylan Ellis hauled in four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. Chance Fee made five grabs of his own for 56 yards and a score. Matthew Hesford led the rushing attach with 48 yards, while Lucas Morse added 19 yards on six carries with a touchdown.
Chris Rice became Castleton's all-time leader in career sacks on the day, notching a late sack to give him 13.5 for his career. He finished the day with five total tackles, two of which went for a loss, and an interception. Luc Issa, Nick Reca and Ethan Palazzetti had seven tackles each, with Issa registering an interception and Reca a blocked field goal. Dustin Rock had just three tackles, but two went for negative yardage and he forced a fumble that gave Castleton the ball back early in the second half. Three Spartans in total made six tackles each.
Tanner Kingsley completed 26-of-38 passes for three touchdowns and an interception, while Emmanuel Leake had 61 yards passing with a pick on 10 attempts. Marcelino Da Veiga had 10 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown, while David Robinson hauled in eight passes for 127 yards and a score.
Tyshawn Anderson had 11 tackles and a field goal block on the day, with Jude Sampson and Jarred Grant-Spann adding eight tackles each. Grant-Spann registered Anna Maria's only sack and finished with two total tackles for a loss.
Both teams collected 20-plus first downs and gained more than 325 yards of total offense on the day. Castleton held an edge in yardage, 354-334, though Anna Maria registered 321 of its yards through the air. Castleton held a 90-13 edge in rushing yardage and won the turnover battle by a 3-0 margin.
Castleton opened the scoring immediately on the afternoon, going 56 yards in nine plays before Andy Kenosh knocked through a field goal. The Spartans drove deep into AMCAT territory to the 5-yard line, but a run by Hesford was stuffed on third down and Castleton settled for the 22-yard field goal and 3-0 edge.
Castleton had a golden opportunity to add to that edge when Rice picked off a screen pass on the ensuing possession and returned it to the Anna Maria 4-yard line, but a penalty pushed the ball back to the 9-yard line. A pair of runs for three yards total forced a third-down pass that fell incomplete, and Castleton again lined up for a field goal try inside the 10-yard line. Kenosh's 22-yard attempt was blocked, however, as Anderson knocked the kick down to give Anna Maria possession once more.
The AMCATS used that momentum to drive down the field, moving the ball 73 yards in 10 plays all the way to the Spartans' 10-yard line. After a third-down run came up empty, Anna Maria lined up for a field goal of its own. Reca came around the edge and got a hand on it, however, blocking the kick and keeping the Spartan lead at 3-0 heading into the second quarter.
Castleton's offense went to work once more, grinding seven minutes off the clock with a 13-play, 82-yard drive that resulted in the game's first touchdown. McCarthy connected on four passes of 10 or more yards on the drive, leading to a six-yard touchdown run by Morse to give Castleton a 10-0 edge.
The two-score lead was short-lived, as Anna Maria came down the field in just 2:10, covering 49 yards to make it 10-7. On second down, Kingsley connected with Robinson for a 17-yard touchdown and Uthman Ajia drilled the extra point to cut the lead to three.
McCarthy and the Spartans responded before the break, however, putting together another touchdown drive that covered 57 yards in 3:46. Martinez reeled in a 12-yard catch on third down to keep the drive alive, before later pulling in a 10-yard reception to convert another third down and put the ball in the red zone. On 1st-and-17, McCarthy found Fee over the middle for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead heading to the locker room.
Anna Maria received the opening kick-off of the second half, but coughed the ball up on the first play from scrimmage as Rock caused a fumble that was recovered by the Spartans. The drive came up empty, however, as Castleton turned the ball over on downs in Anna Maria territory.
The AMCATS bounced back quickly, covering 81 yards in just six plays and 2:08 thanks to a 42-yard completion on 2nd-and-20 from Kingsley to Robinson that put the ball at the 5-yard line. On the very next play, Kingsley found Brandon Davicsin for the five-yard score, but the AMCATS missed the extra point to make it 17-13.
After both teams registered their first punts of the day, Castleton got back on the board with Kenosh's second field goal of the game. McCarthy found Fee for 22 yards to open the drive, but Castleton was unable to pick up another first down and settled for a 30-yard field goal to go ahead 20-13.
The AMCATS continued to press, answering once more on the ensuing drive. Kingsley again found Robinson for a big play, connecting on a 25-yard pass down the right sideline and into the red zone. After an incompletion, Kingsley found Da Veiga for a 14-yard touchdown and a 20-19 score. The AMCATS again failed to convert the extra point, keeping the Spartans in the lead.
With the fourth quarter underway, Castleton moved the ball deep into Anna Maria territory before a false start back the Spartans out of the red zone. On the ensuing play, however, McCarthy connected with Ellis for a 23-yard score and a 26-19 lead. The Spartans missed on the two-point conversion attempt, keeping the lead at seven points.
Anna Maria had yet another promising drive going on the following possession, but it came to a screeching halt after a wild snap backed the AMCATS into a 2nd-and-27 situation. Kingsley looked to air it out, but Issa was on the receiving end of the pass for an interception to give Castleton the ball back. An illegal block on the return cost the Spartans 15 yards and put them in the shadow of their own goal line before a three-and-out and a punt.
Castleton put the icing on the cake and sealed the victory with a 7-play, 40-yard drive that left just more than three minutes on the clock. The drive began with six consecutive carries by Devin Wollner before McCarthy looked towards Martinez in the end zone on the seventh play. Martinez leaped to make the acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone, securing the ball and maintaining possession for a 33-19 lead.
The Castleton defense went to work to cap off its first victory of the year, as the first AMCAT play was a completion for no gain. After a four-yard pickup, Rice notched his record-setting sack for a loss of 12 yards, before forcing an intentional grounding penalty on the very next play to cause a turnover on downs. Kyle Lynch entered to kneel the ball for Castleton as the Spartans capped off a Senior Day victory, 33-19.
Castleton concludes its season next Saturday at Dean. Kick-off is slated for noon in Franklin, Mass.