HARTFORD — He made NESCAC history Saturday with his legs, his heart, his vision. On this crisp November afternoon when Trinity ended Wesleyan's run at history and protected one of small college football's remarkable home streaks, Evan Bunker also grabbed a piece of Trinity lore with his arm.
"Oh, yeah, best arm on the team," Bunker said, laughing, after the Bantams crushed Wesleyan 40-10 at Jessee/Miller Field to ruin the Cardinals' chance at completing their first perfect season since 1969.
27 Cardinal Pass.
That's the play. It was implemented this past week of practice. It was named especially for rival Wesleyan.
Bunker spent four years as a punishing, indefatigable running back.
"Never missed a practice," his coach Jeff Devanney said. "Never."
That inexorable drive would be rewarded with 10:38 remaining in his college career when his 10-yard run made him the all-time leading rusher in NESCAC history. Bunker finished with 3,828 yards, 11 more than Amherst's Fletcher Ladd in 2001-04.
"It feels great, but it really hasn't sunk in yet," said Bunker, who had 85 yards on 19 carries. "There have been a lot of great players who have played in this league."
But 27 Cardinal Pass? Oh, he could talk all day about that play.
"Tuesday," Bunker said, "was the first time we ran it."
Although the final score might eventually be forgotten, replaced by a more nebulous memory that Trinity routed the Cardinals in shocking fashion, the play will continue as a source for satisfying humor.
There were 83 seconds left in the first half, Trinity was leading 16-3, and it still was a ballgame when Bunker began his run right.
"I just handed off to Bunk," freshman quarterback Sonny Puzzo said. "He makes like a run, 27, a play we were running and running and running."
"I had the feeling it was going to work," Bunker said. "We motioned, so we knew it was man coverage. They obviously had no one manned up on the quarterback."
Devanney knew Wesleyan would use a lot of man blitz.
"That's what they do," he said. "We had seven-eight other plays that we didn't use put in for the situation. We had a timeout there. We talked about it. We thought it was the right time."
Puzzo timed his fake and turned it into a wheel route. He was open. He was wide open. Bunker stopped and threw all the way across the field.
"We were planning on some back side pursuit," Bunker said. "So I was thinking I was going to get hit. I saw Sonny open. I threw it up high so he'd run under it."
"I was busting him that it was up there so long I was wondering if I should call a fair catch," Puzzo said. "But it worked just the way we practiced."
"He felt the pressure and said, 'Coach I just threw it,'" Devanney said.
Bunker's only pass of his senior year nestled in his quarterback's arms for a 22-yard touchdown play. It was 23-3 at halftime. Wesleyan was never in it after that play.
Bunker said he played a little quarterback at Masconomet High in Topsfield, Mass. So the coaches knew he could throw a little. As a Trinity freshman, he had thrown a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Hunt in a victory over Amherst.
"I ran to the line, jumped up and threw it, the old Tim Tebow play," said Bunker, who also threw a pass to former quarterback Ryan Burgess in a similar play against Wesleyan. "Similar play to today, he dropped that one in the end zone."
Not Puzzo. He said he had caught two touchdown passes at James Caldwell High in West Caldwell, N.J., on similar plays.
"The pressure was a little higher, though," Puzzo said, who completed six of 12 passes and threw two touchdown passes when he wasn't making like Wes Welker.
The Trinity defense had a big day. Stacking the box, they stalled the Wesleyan run. The defensive backs responded with huge games. Wesleyan quarterback Jesse Warren, who had 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions as one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the nation, threw three picks. Ben Crick, Bunker and Puzzo combined to pound out 249 yards on the ground. Puzzo found A.J. Jones twice for pass plays of 44 and 31 yards. The rout, in what had been of the most anticipated small college games in state history, was total.
"As a senior, the home streak means everything to us," said Bunker, who'll be a project manager at a construction management company in Danvers, Mass., when he graduates in May.
No Poop in the Coop. That's the Bantams' battle cry.
And for 12 years, opponents of the Bantams have found nothing but constipation. The Bantams haven't lost at home since the opener against Williams of 2001. This afternoon would bring their 51st victory in a row at Jessee/Miller.
"It's something that is bigger than all of us here," Puzzo said. "It is our job to honor the streak. You don't want to let down the guys who came before you."
As he spoke, a number of former players came up to embrace Devanney.
"How many guys just gave me a hug?" he said. "So many of them played during the streak. It makes them feel like they are still part of it. Remember, we only play four home games a season. How many quarterbacks, middle linebackers, free safeties is that? It makes me happy we have put together that kind of consistency."
Wesleyan would leave the field with a three-way share of the NESCAC title with Amherst and Middlebury. The Cardinals also would leave with their 13th successive loss to Trinity.
"After the disappointments of the last two weeks [losing at Middlebury and Amherst]," Devanney said, "for our guys to come out here and play the way they did against an undefeated team, we didn't win the championship this year, but I don't know if I would feel much better right now if we had."
The Bantams' players and coaches felt plenty good as they surrounded Bunker and one after another hugged him after he broke the NESCAC record. Crick would run for 18 more yards than Bunker in the game. And although he was held to only 38 yards, Wesleyan's LaDarius Drew would finish with five more yards than Bunker, who had a 30-yard run negated by a penalty, for the NESCAC season title. But nobody has ground it out for four years like Bunker, who entered Trinity as a fourth-stringer and left as ….
"The leader of this team," Puzzo said. "This record couldn't have happened to a better person. He puts his work in better than anybody out here. It was an honor to play with him."
"He's a throwback player," Devanney said. "There is nothing flashy about what he does. He shows up for work every day. It's hard for me to believe he got as many yards as he got. It's not like he got a bunch of 70-yard runs. He just keeps grinding and grinding downhill. It's third-and-7, he makes a guy miss and gets eight. He's a special player. And he can throw the football."
27 Cardinal Pass. Yep, Trinity's going to love that one for a long time.