By CAP CAREY
CANTON — Sometimes you only have to play great for a few minutes.
The St. Lawrence University football team had a great start and a great finish, but struggled in-between, earning a 21-17 win over Coast Guard in the nonconference, season-opener for both teams Saturday at Leckonby Stadium.
The Saints, who went winless last year, had a 14-0 lead just 4 minutes, 30 seconds into the game, but did not score again until there were only 81 seconds remaining.
A Coast Guard comeback was thwarted when SLU's new starting quarterback Mike Lefflbine connected with Joe Battaglia on a 15-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown with 1 minutes, 21 seconds left.
The play came on a 4th-and-6 play and the only reason the Saints may have gone for the win, instead of a tie to send the game to overtime, was that Coast Guard blocked three field goal attempts earlier.
After the early good fortune SLU continued to move the ball, but could not find a way to add any more points to its lead. The Saints were also hurt by 12 penalties for 153 yards, including a few that took them out of scoring positions.
SLU's defense appeared to be tiring as the second half wore on and things looked bleak for the Saints when they had to punt with only 2:58 left in the game. The Saints stopped Coast Guard on three plays and got the ball back at the Bears' 47 with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left.
Lefflbine, a junior transfer from Sacred Heart, completed three passes to start SLU's winning drive. He hit Jake Gnieser for 15 yards, Mike Tateosian for 12 and then another pass to Tateosian for 5, moving the ball to the 15.
Early in the game it appeared as if the Saints might have a runaway victory.
SLU received the opening kickoff and moved 65 yards on 11 plays, taking a 7-0 lead when Lefflbine threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to freshman fullback Mitch Gallagher, who was Malone's quarterback the last two years.
Right after Gallagher's touchdown another newcomer made an immediate impact as freshman linebacker Jayson Leigh, who only earned a starting spot Thursday, picked off the first pass thrown by Coast Guard's Blake Thompson and returned the ball 37 yards for a touchdown, giving the Saints a 14-0 lead just 4:30 into the game.
Coast Guard began its comeback when Tyler Henning kicked a 32-yard field goal with 42 seconds left in the first half.
A 1-yard run by Jake Wawrzyniak with 4:33 left in the third quarter cut SLU's lead to 14-10 and the Cadets took a 17-14 lead when Collis Brown took an end-around play 31 yards to the end zone with 4:12 left in the game.
■ NOTES: Massena native Jordan Hart, a freshman, started at left tackle for Coast Guard. ... SLU gained 450 yards on 91 plays. Lefflbine completed 25 of 45 passes for 244 yards. Mike Tateosian led the Saints with eight receptions for 76 yards and Maurice Irby gained 77 yards rushing on 16 carries. ... Freshman safety James Holley-Grisham led SLU with 16 tackles. Jayson Leigh finished with two interceptions for the Saints.