Rocky Mount, N.C. - An 80-yard punt return and 71-yard rushing touchdown had N.C. Wesleyan's football team in line for a league win on Saturday, but a late surge by Averett University saw the Cougars steal a 38-34 win in Rocky Mount.
Averett scored 17 unanswered points to open the game, thanks in part to a pair of Bishops turnovers... the first on downs near midfield and the second on an interception in NCWC territory. The Cougars took their 17-0 lead into the second quarter, but a 66-yard rush by freshman Deandre Gillis set up Wesleyan's first touchdown early in the period to make the score 17-7.
Wesleyan's defense proceeded to force a 3-and-out on Averett's next possession, and senior Malik Adams returned the ensuing punt 80 yards for the score. Averett countered with a 12-play, 65-yard drive capped by a Kelly Hall scoring strike to Myles Bennet from 19 yards out, and AU would take a 24-13 lead into the break.
The third quarter saw NCWC take the opening kickoff 55 yards and eventually pull to within 24-20 on a 1-yard run by sophomore Adrian Minondo. After trading punts, the Bishops forced the Cougars into a turnover on downs, and on the first play from scrimmage, Gillis took the ball 71 yards down the left sideline to give Wesleyan its first lead, 27-24.
Averett's first drive of the fourth quarter saw Hall pick up crucial 4th-and-1 and eventually hit Terrance Owens with a 52-yard go-ahead score. The Cougars' lead was shortlived, however, as Bishop QB Nathan Garner orchestrated an 11-play, 64-yard drive that was once again capped by a Minondo 1-yard TD rush.
Unfortunately, AU had one more drive in the tank after a 43-yard return by Owens gave the Cougars excellent field position. Sean Bowman's 19 yard run on 3rd-and-1 put Averett back on top, and the Cougar defense would later hold on a Bishop 4th-and-3 to set up the victory formation.
Gillis finished with a career-high 211 rushing yards and a pair of TDs, while Bowman paced the Cougar ground game with 171 yards and two scores. Hall also threw for 276 yards and two TDs, while AU's defense limited the Bishops to just 86 yards through the air.
Defensively, NCWC junior Anthony Janezic led all played with nine tackles. Senior Bobby Tucker added eight stops and a pass break-up, while both players recorded one tackle-for-loss. As a team, the Bishops racked up 10 tackles-for-loss on the day.
Wesleyan (3-4, 2-2 USA South) wraps up the home portion of its 2016 slate next Saturday versus LaGrange College. The game is slated for 1:00pm start, and head coach Jeff Filkovski will be honoring his senior class prior to kickoff.