FITCHBURG, Mass. – The Castleton University football team dropped a heartbreaker Saturday afternoon, falling 12-10 on a last-second score to Fitchburg State at Elliott Field.
After being shutout in the first half, Castleton jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the third quarter. That lead held until the final seconds of the game, when Fitchburg State capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to take a 12-10 lead with five seconds left. Jacob McCarthy connected with Anthony Martinez for 29 yards on the ensuing drive, but with Castleton out of timeouts, the clock ran out on a comeback attempt to give the game its final score.
The Spartans drop to 0-2 on the season, while Fitchburg State improves to 1-1 after two games. The first-down battle was nearly even, with Fitchburg State collecting 15 to Castleton's 13. Both sides struggled on third down as neither team converted more than 20 percent of their chances, though Castleton was 2-for-2 on fourth down and Fitchburg State was 3-for-4. The Falcons collected 277 yards of total offense, 222 of which came through the air. The Spartans picked up 257 yards offensively, 177 passing and 80 rushing. Both teams were hit with nine penalties for nearly 100 yards each, and both sides punted eight times on the day.
McCarthy finished the day with 177 yards passing, completing 14-of-29 passes with an interception. Martinez led the way with five catches for 114 yards receiving, registering the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. Dylan Ellis also hauled in five receptions, while Simon Davis Jr. had 65 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Chris Rice had a big game defensively, racking up 10 tackles, three of which went for a loss. Luc Issa, Lukas Carlson, Ethan Palazetti, Nick Reca, Spencer Kozlak and Dustin Rock all added six tackles apiece, while Zak Pollicino had five stops for the Spartans. Reca intercepted a pass prior to the end of the first half, while Rock recorded a sack for the Spartans.
Connor Fitzsimons went 23-of-37 through the air for 222 yards, connecting on two touchdowns with an interception. Fernando Santiago was the leading rusher, toting the ball 16 times for 46 yards. Joshua Nelson was on the receiving end of nine passes from Fitzsimons, but Jesse Brown and Drew Ridenour were on the scoring side of Fitzsimons' throws.
Richard Austin and Evan Drake had eight tackles apiece, with Arnold Cadell Jr., Kiambu Jones and Caleb Gonsalves making six tackles each. Austin and Jones each had two tackles for a loss. Malik Crawford pulled in the first-half interception for the Falcon defense, while Joel Monteiro had a pair of pass breakups.
The first quarter saw both offenses struggle to get going, as Castleton managed just 39 yards of offense in the opening 30 minutes. Fitchburg managed the only score of the half, marching the ball down the field on the game's opening drive. An 11-play, six-minute drive culminated in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Fitzsimmons to Ridenour. The extra point was no good, as Fitchburg State jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Castleton's ensuing drive ended with a punt, stalling out after six plays and 28 yards. Both offenses struggled from there, with four consecutive drives ending in a punt before Fitchburg State turned it over on downs.
Following a Castleton interception, the game saw four more punts leading into a Fitchburg State pick just before the half. Fitzsimmons looked deep for a receiver, but Reca took advantage of an overthrow and forced the turnover with less than a minute until the break. Castleton ran the ball twice to kill the clock, heading to the locker room facing a 6-0 deficit.
The Spartans came out of the break with a renewed focus, working their way down the field to take their first lead of the day. A 10-play, 55-yard drive that chewed five minutes off the clock culminated in an 11-yard touchdown run by Davis, followed by a point-after by Kenosh to make it 7-6.
After forcing a three-and-out, Castleton put together another lengthy drive. Backed up at their own three-yard line, Devin Wollner carried back-to-back times to gain 12 yards and a first down. Facing a 2nd-and-13, McCarthy connected with Martinez over the middle, where Martinez slipped a tackle and took off for a 63-yard gain down to the Fitchburg State 10-yard line. The offense was unable to get into the end zone, but Kenosh drove through a 31-yard field goal to push the edge to 10-6.
The defenses went back to work after the field goal, as each side combined for six consecutive punts before the Falcons began their final drive. What looked to be a quick turnover on downs after four plays turned into the game-winning drive, as Castleton was flagged for defensive pass interference on a fourth-down incompletion. After receiving the fresh set of downs, Fitzsimons connected on 6-of-9 passes, ending in the four-yard touchdown pass to Brown. The drive was not without drama, as Fitchburg State converted on both 4th-and-16 and 3rd-and-2 before finding the end zone.
Castleton returns to action next Saturday, Sept. 21, at the University of New England. Kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.