Published October 06. 2013 4:00AM
New London — Given what already transpired on Saturday, what happened in the crazy closing minutes probably shouldn't have been a surprise.
Coast Guard Academy sophomore Tyler Henning's punt took a fortunate hop and bounced off a Western New England player. Alert teammate Mark Behne recovered the fumble on the five-yard line with one minute, 16 seconds left.
Four plays later, Henning booted a game-winning 22-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining, lifting Coast Guard to a thrilling 41-38 win in New England Football Conference action at Cadet Memorial Field.
It wasn't until Western New England's Kevin Patterson missed a 30-yard field goal on the game's last play that the Bears could finally exhale.
"That was awesome," junior Collis Brown said. "It feels good now. It was a little crazy there at the end but we pulled it out."
The Bears (2-3, 2-0) watched a 24-7 first quarter lead dissolve and trailed 38-31 before scoring final 10 points in the last three minutes to secure the hard-fought victory. Each team had five turnovers.
"It's the nature of an academy team to be a fighting, fighting team because of all the things you go through," coach Bill George said. "You're in every game until the end. Technically, that's the way our games have been.
"The guys kept battling and we came out on top. I was nervous in the end that turnovers would haunt us."
Freshman quarterback Derek Victory contributed to the craziness, completing a school single-game record 36 passes (63 attempts) while throwing for 388 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw four interceptions, two by Montville High School graduate Kenny Strecker, a sophomore strong safety.
Victory's main target, Brown, set a school single-game records for receptions with 16 and receiving yards with 244. He also caught touchdown passes of 35 and 54 yards.
"I'm surprised how far he's progressed from week one until now," Brown said of Victory. "He's doing great. He's putting the ball where I can get it. That's all I can ask for."
The offensive fireworks almost overshadowed two big plays late in the fourth quarter, one each by the defense and special teams.
After Victory's one-yard run tied the game at 38-all with 3:09 left, Coast Guard got the ball back when sophomore Cory Sonnega, one of two reserve linebackers called into service because of injuries, made a leaping interception near midfield.
But the Bears couldn't move the ball. forcing a punt from the Western New England 42.
Then Behne arrived just in time to take advantage of a favorable bounce that hit blocker Isaiah Barrios and recover the fumble, setting up the game-winning score.
"I saw it bounce off his foot," Behne said. "My first instinct was to jump on the ball. They tried to wrestle it away from me but I was able to hold on to it."
"It was awesome. It was incredible. Thank God for that."
George decided to play for the field goal. Victory safely handed the ball off three times to Jake Wawrzyniak (two touchdowns) before Henning trotted on the field.
"It was the three most nervous/exciting hand-offs of my life," Victory said.
The Bears were confident that Henning would convert the pressure-packed field goal. He had already hit from 35 but missed from 39 yards.
"I was nervous," Henning said. "But I have my teammates behind me, so that makes you feel better."
The Bears needed every point because Western New England (1-3, 1-1) moved the ball behind Kevin Cook who rushed for 153 yards and four touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Andrew Walz of Groton added four catches for 59 yards, including three on the final drive that put the Golden Bears in position to tie the game late.
Now Coast Guard hopes to ride the momentum into next week's game at Curry College.
"No one expected this out of us," Victory said. "We're just going to keep rolling with it. That's all we can do."