Rookie kicker and linebacker Peter W. Gilliland ’12 capped an amazing fourth-quarter comeback with a 37-yard field goal in the driving rain to lead MIT past Nichols College, 43-42, in a New England Football Conference Boyd Division contest at Steinbrenner Stadium on Saturday. The victory marked head coach Dwight Smith’s 100th career win, while MIT upped its record to 3-1 for the first time since 1988.
Gilliland’s conversion closed out an 11-play drive and ended with just 14 seconds remaining in regulation. Richard A. Mancuso ’12, who finished with 149 yards passing, set up the game-winning finish with runs of three and five yards respectively.
MIT earned the chance for the win after a tremendous defensive stand on the Bison’s last full drive of the game. After forcing Nichols to convert a fourth-and-seven from the MIT 33-yard line with just over three minutes left on the clock, William J. Gibson ’10 made the defensive play of the afternoon with the game’s only sack. The change of possession sparked the MIT bench as well as the spirited and wet MIT crowd.
Sophomore Kevin Oberg shined at quarterback in the loss for Nichols. Oberg, who finished the game 21-of-31 with four touchdowns and an interception, opened the scoring with a 26-yard completion to sophomore Langston Little midway through the first quarter. MIT responded with a nine-play, 67-yard drive that ended with DeRon M. Brown’s ’10 first touchdown of the day and tied the score at 7-7.
It took only three plays and 42 seconds for the Bison to reclaim the lead as Oberg connected with Colton Langdon for 29 yards and another score. Justin Nelson passed to a wide-open Chris Vallee for the unexpected two-point attempt as Nichols moved in front, 15-7.
The Nichols offense re-took the field just 21 seconds later after the Engineers answered with another score. Stephen L. Yablonski ’11 broke through the middle and down the left sideline en route to an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play of the MIT drive.
Oberg put the finishing touches on a nine-play, 65-yard drive on the Bison’s ensuing possession with a 15-yard touchdown toss to Nelson. The extra point attempt failed, leaving Nichols ahead, 21-14.
Brown, who rushed for a game-high 179 yards on 28 carries, scored his second touchdown of the day on MIT’s next possession from 23 yards out. Unfortunately, the Engineers left two minutes on the clock, enough time for the Bison to march back down field and reclaim the advantage. Oberg used his legs for the go-ahead score, crossing the line from one-yard out and nine seconds remaining in the half.
Ahead 29-21, Nichols appeared to gain control by scoring on its first possession of the second half. Covering 52 yards on nine plays, Oberg found Little in the end zone from 11 yards out to give the Bison a 15-point advantage. Although MIT would respond with a lengthy drive that ended with Robert C. Utz ’09 closing the deficit back to eight, Robert Morris exploded for a 40-yard run at the end of the third quarter to push Nichols ahead, 42-28.
The Engineers delivered a tremendous final quarter of play to complete an improbable comeback. Assembling the game’s longest drive at 14 plays and 73 yards, the Engineers closed the gap to 42-34 after Utz punched it in from the one-yard line.
After forcing a quick three-and-out, the MIT offense went back to work by covering 87 yards in just over three minutes. Brown capped the drive with a 47-yard touchdown that pulled MIT within two with seven minutes left in the game. Mancuso tried to hit Tony McDonald in the back of the end zone on the ensuing two-point try, but the pass sailed high.
Nichols ran nine plays and chewed up four minutes on its next drive but only managed 23 yards before Gibson’s sack put MIT in the driver’s seat for an unforgettable finish.