By Tim Glon
UTICA, N.Y. — No. 18-ranked Ohio Northern opened its 2016 season with a tough 34-30 loss at Utica (N.Y.) on Saturday afternoon at Gaetano Stadium.
The Polar Bears (0-1 overall) were in control for most of the afternoon and led 30-13 with seven minutes left in the game.
But the Pioneers (2-0) scored 21 points in the final 6:35, including an 8-yard TD pass with 15 seconds to play, to post the improbable win.
Freed then threw into the end zone on the final play of the game and it appeared that junior Malachi Nolletti had the ball bounce off his hands and into Rex's hands while both players were on the on the ground for the score, but the officials ruled the ball had hit the ground and was incomplete to end the game.
Freshman Christiaan Williams carried the ball 24 times for 175 yards and a score and Freed completed 21-of-41 passes for 281 yards and a score to lead the ONU offense.
Teddy VanGalen completed 22-of-38 passes for 298 yards and three TDs for Utica.
Northern got on the board first when sophomore Joe French nailed a 42-yard field goal with 3:25 left in the first period.
Williams swept in from four yards out on the first play of the second quarter to put ONU ahead 10-0.
After a 30-yard field goal by the Pioneers made it 10-3, French countered with an 18-yard field goal at the 4:45 mark of the first half to make it a 13-3 lead.
Utica scored on a 30-yard pass with 40 seconds left to make it 13-10 at intermission.
Northern took the second half kickoff and increased its lead to 16-10 on a 38-yard field goal by French.
ONU then marched 99 yards in 11 plays and scored on a 3-yard run by junior Chad Rex to increase its lead to 23-10 with 3:36 left in the third.
Utica pulled within 23-13 on a 35-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But again the Polar Bears responded with a long scoring drive.
Williams' 59-yard run put the ball on the UC 5 and Freed hit senior Logan Ray one play later for the score and ONU led 30-13 with 13:14 left in the game.
Northern was going in for another score when Freed's tipped pass was intercepted and returned 83 yards for a touchdown to trim the lead to 30-20 with 6:35 left in the game.
After an ONU punt, Utica marched 80 yards in 10 plays and scored on a 25-yard pass with 1:43 left in the game to pull within 30-27.
Northern again was forced to punt and UC drove 72 yards in nine plays for the game-winning score.
Ohio Northern out-gained Utica 485-392 in total offense.
The Polar Bears will return to action next Saturday at Heidelberg in a 7 pm contest at Hoernemann Stadium.