Canton, N.Y. - A young Coast Guard Academy football team nearly overcame a horrific start to win its season opener on Saturday.
The Bears, who trailed St. Lawrence 14-0 just four minutes and 30 seconds into the game, regrouped to take a 17-14 lead before Michael Leffibine threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Battaglia with 1:21 remaining to give the Saints a 21-17 victory.
Coast Guard, despite trailing most of the game, took its first lead with 4:12 remaining on a 31-yard reverse by junior wide receiver Collis Brown.
"Our defense played outstanding and kept us in the game," Coast Guard coach Bill George said. "And obviously our youth showed offensively ... we had our backs to the wall most of the (first) half."
St. Lawrence took the opening kickoff and drove 65 yards to take a 7-0 lead on Leffibine's 8-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Gallagher just 4:15 into the game.
The Saints' Jayson Leigh then intercepted Blake Thompson's first collegiate pass on the Bears first play from scrimmage and returned it 37 yards pushing the lead to 14-0 only 15 seconds later.
"The two QBs who played ... neither have game experience," George said. "And we have five new offensive linemen, so we knew there would be some struggles.
"We still have many things to do. We're still a young team on both sides of the ball. We just have to get better and grow from these mistakes."
Coast Guard's comeback began late in the first quarter when a 43-yard pass from Thompson to Brown led to a 32-yard field goal by Tyler Henning with 41 seconds left in the first half that made it 14-3.
It remained 14-3 the rest of the half, mainly in part to Coast Guard's special teams, which blocked a pair of field goals one by Blake Bonifas and a second by Eli Maurer with just 1:33 left in the half.
The Bears weren't finished, however. In the third quarter, Coast Guard blocked its third field goal of the day and Evan Rothfield, who had an earlier interception, picked up the loose ball and ran 58 yards, setting the offense up at the St. Lawrence 12.
That led to a Jake Wawrzyniak 1-yard TD run with 4:33 left in the third quarter and Henning's PAT cut the deficit to 14-10.
Thompson, making his first career start was 6 of 14 for 67 yards with two interceptions. He did lead the Bears in rushing with 94 yards on 15 carries while Wawrzyniak finished with 74 yards on 25 carries.
Sophomore Joe Rizzardi led Coast Guard with 14 tackles, 10 solo while senior Nick Phillips registered 11 tackles.