FAIRFIELD — Known more for his abilities on the baseball diamond, Fairfield Ludlowe senior Mike Arman came up with the biggest catch of his young football career Saturday afternoon against Harding.
Down 31-29 in the fourth quarter, Ludlowe senior quarterback Matt White lofted a pass in the air originally intended for Arman. What unfolded next was a wacky and highlight worthy series of events. The ball tipped off Arman’s fingertips, then deflected off his defender, hit Ludlowe’s Patrick O’Leary in the facemask and reflected off into the hands of Arman. Arman secured the ball and raced down the field 66 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
The Falcons’ defense held Harding on the final series and Ludlowe survived for the 35-31 victory to improve to 3-1 on the season on homecoming at Taft Field.
“The ball tipped, I was just there, and I got it and kept running,” Arman said. “I didn’t realize what had happened until I got to the sideline; I was just in shock.”
As crazy as the play was, it overshadowed a gusty comeback effort from Harding, who was playing without first-year head coach Jack Cochran. The New Haven Register staff spoke with Cochran later Saturday on the matter.
“It had to do with personal health issues I have to take care of,” Cochran said. “Had to leave teaching and coaching Wednesday and Thursday. It was something (I) had to do, I’d been putting it off.”
Entering the fourth quarter down 29-13, the Presidents’ run game got going and made things interesting. With less than nine minutes to play, Harding’s Reggie David ran it back 89 yards on the second play of the series to cut the lead to 29-19 after a two point conversion failed.
The next series, Ludlowe fumbled the snap and Harding recovered and ran it back for the score. After a great defensive series from Harding, the defense blocked a Falcon’s punt and ran it in for the touchdown and its first lead of the game, 31-29. But the effort from the Presidents may have been a little bit too late.
Ludlowe’s offense took advantage on the next series as Arman scored to give Ludlowe the four-point advantage.
The Falcons’ defense forced Harding into a fourth-and-9 and then sacked quarterback Christian Hopkins as Ludlowe’s Cole Gottlieb recovered the ball. Ludlowe ran out the clock and took away the win and the best start in program history under first-year head coach Vincent Camera.
“It’s exciting,” Camera said. “I can’t take the credit. The kids are very, very coachable. I have a tremendous staff. The level of experience and knowledge…it’s a fun group to be around.”
Added Arman, who has committed to Central Connecticut for baseball: “It’s a fun thing to be involved in.”
Ludlowe’s Camera said he received an up and down performance from his defense, which had trouble with the Presidents run game most of the afternoon. But when the team was faced with adversity, they didn’t waver. The motto the team uses is “Play the next play.”
“We’ve instilled them at this point that we’re not going to quit,” he said. “We’re not going to cry about it. It’s not as pretty as the game could have been. It’s not the way we designed but a win’s a win. We’ll take it.”
Ludlowe took a quick 7-0 lead as White hit receiver Stephan Zadravec for the 30-yard score. On the next offensive possession, running back Jimmy Gasper made a nice run for 70-yards to give Ludlowe the 14-0 lead.
Harding cut the lead in half, as Antoine Sistrunk finished off a nice drive with a 1-yard score. Hopkins added a nifty 17-yard run to make it a 14-13 game, but that was as close as Harding got all first half.
Jimmy Gasper, who ran well all afternoon for Ludlowe, punched in a 1-yard score to give the Falcons the 22-13 edge at halftime. Teammate Warren Davis also had a nice day on the ground.
Santiago said his team should have had a better showing as they were hampered with penalties through the afternoon.
“We got to stay disciplined,” he said. “Mental errors on the field.”
Ludlowe will travel to face Staples on Friday at 7 p.m.
Sean Patrick Bowley contributed to this article.