October 19, 2011

Quick-thinking Mello

More news about: WPI
Ernie Mello
Ernie Mello risked his life at WPI to save a stranger from a burning car.
WPI athletics photo

It's been just about two and a half years since Ernie Mello saved a person's life.

A promising football career at WPI, a mechanical engineering degree and his own skin -- Mello risked all of this to save a complete stranger. Stupid? No. That's just Mello, according to his coach.

"He did something pretty special without hesitation," WPI coach Chris Robertson said.

It was a typical spring night on the WPI campus in Worchester, Mass, no later than 10 or 11 p.m. Mello, then a freshman, was outside his dorm with a handful of friends when an audible crash rang out down the road.

Mello and his friends, both concerned and curious, hurried to higher ground to get a clearer view of the source. What Mello saw stunned him -- a car had become completely engulfed in flames.

"I've seen other car accidents, but I've never seen a car just immediately go up in flames like that," Mello said. "It was pretty crazy seeing that. It was just a ball of fire, and from a distance too we had no idea really what it was. It was pretty crazy."

At this point Mello and his friends started to run down to the scene. When they arrived, they encountered more chaos than they expected. Traffic on the street had come to a halt and dozens of bystanders looked on in confusion and horror. But Mello wasn't ready for what he heard next -- a woman, still trapped in the flaming sedan, screaming for her life.

Mello saw someone smash the driver's side window with an object. But that same person was unable -- or unwilling -- to help 61-year-old Arsine Sahverdiyan out of the car. That's when Mello jumped in.

Mello, along with fellow WPI student Matthew Zubiel, battled the choking heat of the fire and pulled Sahverdiyan out through the window.

"We just like kind of shimmied her out of the window because you couldn't get the door open," Mello said. "It was just crashed in from the accident. But we got her out of the car and dragged her over to the side of the road and waited with her until the ambulance came."

Sahverdiyan had suffered severe burns, but after a lengthy stay in the hospital, made a full recovery. Mello and Zubiel, miraculously, each escaped without any burns.

"I was definitely nervous putting myself at risk like that, but I think a lot of it was just pure adrenaline," Mello said. "I really wasn't thinking a whole lot [but] there wasn't a whole lot of time to think."

Mello, who as a child needed stitches in his head after an accident on his family's boat in Maine caused the engine to explode, admits he's had a fear of explosions since he was young. Even the smell of gasoline will sometimes put him on edge.

"I've always joked around with my parents that I have a wicked bad fear of explosions, but I guess not," Mello said. "I guess I just put that in the back of my mind and kind of wasn't really thinking about it when I went and did this."

Because of that act, Sahverdiyan is still alive.

"If not for Ernie’s and Matt’s efforts, my mom would not be alive,” Vartan Sahverdiyan told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. They put their own lives at risk to save her. They are true heroes."

Mello, Zubiel and the Sahverdiyan family had planned to get together after Arsine was released from the hospital, but Mello said that's yet to happen because of conflicting schedules.

It seems almost trivial to transition to football, unless you believe -- like Robertson does -- that Mello's instinctual nature as a running back came into play that night in 2009.

"There's not a lot of hesitation in Ernie's life when it comes to anything," said Robertson, who as the Salve Regina head coach from 2006-09 remembers gameplanning against Mello. "Academically he works very hard. Football-wise it certainly caters to his skillset as a running back."

Mello, now a senior captain, is having his finest season in what will go down as one of the top all-around careers in WPI history. Mello, relatively undersized at 5-10, 175 pounds, currently ranks third in the Liberty League in rushing (676 yards), second in rushing touchdowns (nine) and third in kickoff return average (23.9).

Mello's 1,893 career rushing yards rank him seventh on WPI's all-time list, while his 132 points (22 touchdowns) tie him for 10th in team history. With strong performances in WPI's final three games, Mello could also notch just the sixth 1,000-yard rushing season in school history.

Mello has also returned a punt for a touchdown and, just two weeks ago against Union, recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.

"You look at guys and you say, 'What are you going to do with your potential? Are you going to reach your potential?' " Robertson said. "... Ernie's one of those special young men who understands what he can do and he always strives to be the best that he can be. He's at his potential right now. He's doing great things."

Mello, a mechanical engineer with a concentration in aerospace engineering, has already been accepted into WPI's master's degree program and, if he opts to go that route, could complete his master's in just one more year.

Mello and Robertson have also had preliminary discussions about Mello assisting the team as a coach next season. But before that bridge is crossed, Mello said he hopes to further instill an attitude -- and expectation -- of winning.

Since the team went 7-3 in Mello's freshman season, the Engineers have gone a combined 8-18 since, with 10 of those losses coming by seven points or less. WPI did tally its second straight win over RPI this season to keep the Transit Trophy in Worcester, a step in the right direction for the team.

"Even if things don't go your way, you've got to change the environment here at WPI and get some of those close games, you've got to find a way to win them instead of coming up shy, instead of coming close," Mello said.

While it wasn't a blocked punt, big kickoff return or four-touchdown performance -- all of which Mello has accomplished in a WPI uniform -- the selfless actions of Mello back in the spring of 2009 serve as a shining example for every WPI player.

Salisbury sends a message to the Empire 8
In football, there are wins, there are blowouts and, on occasion, there is complete and utter dominance. What Salisbury did in its 69-0 rout of defending Empire 8 champion Alfred this past Saturday qualifies as domination.

Is Salisbury really 69 points better than Alfred? Maybe not. Probably not, in fact. But on this particular Saturday, on the Sea Gulls' first ever trip to Merrill Field, Salisbury was that much better.

The Sea Gulls forced five turnovers, blocked a pair of punts and limited Alfred's usually potent offense to just 155 total yards, including a meager 40 yards through the air. Quarterback Dan Griffin rushed for 31 yards and four of Salisbury's six touchdowns on the ground. Griffin also threw a pair of touchdowns.

The numbers from this game are staggering. Salisbury tallied more touchdowns (10) than Alfred had first downs (8). Alfred quarterback Tom Secky, one of the finest in the Saxons' history, completed only six of his 21 attempts. Alfred's longest play from scrimmage went for just 22 yards. Salisbury, a triple-option rushing team, had two touchdown passes go for longer than that.

The shutout loss was the first for Alfred since a 24-0 loss to Ithaca on Nov. 6, 2004. Salisbury, on the other hand, has outscored its last three opponents -- Utica, Springfield and Alfred -- by a 204-68 margin. In case you don't have a calculator handy, that's an average of 68 points per game over that three-game stretch. For the entire season, Salisbury is averaging an even 49 points per game, tied for second in the country with North Central (Ill.), and just behind Mount Union (49.5 per game).

This game should send a clear message to the rest of the Empire 8 -- Salisbury is the best team in the conference. While it's obviously premature to anoint the Sea Gulls champion -- a key game vs. St. John Fisher on Nov. 5 still looms -- the road back to the NCAA playoffs becomes nearly impossible for the Saxons. Alfred will have to win out and hope for some help.

Brockport State upsets Kean
Salisbury's destruction of Alfred wasn't the only stunner in the East region this past weekend. The previously winless Brockport State Golden Eagles knocked off the previously unbeaten Kean Cougars 28-20 Saturday.

Sophomore wide receiver Jake Spalik put Brockport up 14-3 by tossing a seven-yard touchdown to Jordan Hogan and hauling in a four-yard touchdown pass from Joe Scibilia in the second quarter.

Kean answered with a 10-play, 64-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tom D'Ambrisi just before halftime. But for every punch Kean threw in the game, Brockport responded with a punch of its own.

A three-yard touchdown run by Tyrone Nichols put the Golden Eagles up 21-10 in the third quarter. Kean would strike back with a field goal to cut the lead to 21-13. But Brockport would answer right back, covering 63 yards on just seven plays and scoring on a 26-yard pass from Scibilia to Spalik.

Kean answered with another touchdown run -- again culminated by a D'Ambrisi touchdown plunge -- to cut the lead to 28-20. But the Cougars would get no closer. In a season in which Kean has won four games by seven points or less, a fifth nail-biting victory wasn't in the cards. After D'Ambrisi's final score, the Golden Eagles' defense would force a punt, intercept a D'Ambrisi pass and force a turnover on downs on Kean's next three possessions.

The loss certainly doesn't eliminate the Cougars from postseason contention, but with games remaining against Rowan and Montclair State, the Cougars didn't do themselves any favors. Brockport State gets a chance at a second straight win when it faces Western Connecticut this weekend.

Delaware Valley edges Albright, remains undefeated
Delaware Valley inched closer to a 10-0 regular season mark with a 20-10 win over Albright, arguably the toughest opponent it had remaining on its schedule this season.

A 14-yard touchdown run by Tyler Neal early in the fourth quarter put the Aggies up by 10, and the defense closed out the game by forcing a three-and-out and two turnovers on downs in succession.

Delaware Valley used the same simple formula it has all season -- run the ball effectively and play solid defense. Kyle Schuberth (123 rushing yards) and Neal (53 yards) spearheaded the ground attack against the Lions. Delaware Valley is averaging 201.6 yards on the ground per game this season, just under 16 less yards than it averages through the air.

Defensively, the Aggies held the Lions to just 10 points and routinely came up with big stops. But that's nothing new -- Delaware Valley has surrendered just 74 points through seven games this season.

At this point it's clear that Delaware Valley is the most complete and balanced team in the MAC. The Aggies still have key games against Lycoming and Widener in the final two weeks of the season, but barring a complete collapse, the Aggies have the look of a playoff team.

Remembering a bit of history -- Iverson's record kickoff return
Braezen Subick passed for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Rochester tallied its most convincing win of the season in a 45-16 win at Merchant Marine. Subick added a rushing score, while Chris Lebano added 57 yards and a touchdown on the ground as well.

But long before Subick, Lebano or even Rochester coach Scott Greene were born, another Rochester player set a school record that will never be broken.

On Oct. 27, 1956, Rochester fullback John Iverson returned the opening kickoff at Merchant Marine 103 yards for a touchdown. That record still stands today and, thanks to an NCAA changes on statistics that now caps kickoff returns at 100 yards, will stand for the foreseeable future.

Iverson's record is still listed in the Yellowjackets' record book with a note stating the new NCAA rule. According to the Rochester alumni office, Iverson is retired from IBM and currently resides in Newport, RI.

Top 25 glance: Salisbury keeps climbing, Alfred takes a tumble
Only three of the five teams ranked in last week's D3football.com Top 25 poll won this past weekend. The two that lost -- Kean and Alfred -- saw significant falls in the Week 7 poll.

Kean fell from No. 10 to No. 19, while Alfred plummeted from No. 23 to unranked with receiving a single vote.

Montclair State (No. 11 to No. 9), Delaware Valley (No. 14 to No. 13) and Salisbury (No. 18 to No. 14) all saw rises in their rankings. Cortland and Lebanon Valley remained just outside the top 25, while St. John Fisher and Rowan also picked up a few votes.

Quick hits
Chris D'Andrea rushed 193 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries as Montclair State rolled past William Paterson 20-0. The Red Hawks improved to 6-0 overall (5-0 NJAC), but will have to get by without starting quarterback Tom Fischer. Coach Rick Giancola said Tuesday he expected Fischer to miss the rest of the season with a fracture in his ankle. ... Troy Sant returned an interception -- his third in the last four games -- 34 yards for a touchdown as St. John Fisher topped Frostburg State 34-7. The Cardinals' Ryan Kramer rushed for 121 yards and two scores in the win. ... Drew Connolly hit Eric Zavadsky on a nine-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to lift Union to a key 10-6 win over conference rival St. Lawrence. St. Lawrence workhorse back Marcus Washington carried the ball a staggering 48 times for 171 yards and a touchdown. ... Chris Haupt passed for 272 yards and four touchdowns in Widener's 54-19 win over Stevenson. Stevenson's Jeromie Miller caught seven passes for 100 yards and two scores. ... Anthony Marascio had 10 tackles -- five for a loss -- and two sacks to spearhead a dominant Lycoming defensive effort in a 40-7 win over Wilkes. Offensively, running back Parker Showers rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns. ... Jesse Scanna and Joe Kirchner each tallied two sacks as Cortland's defense shut down Western Connecticut en route to a 56-10 win. Cortland held Western Connecticut to just 143 yards of total offense. Dan Pitcher led the Cortland offense with 270 passing yards and three touchdowns. ... Springfield held off Ithaca, which had inserted its third quarterback of the game, in the final minutes to grab a 38-33 win Saturday. Josh Carter rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Ithaca's Dan Ruffrage set a team record by returning a punt 91 yards for a touchdown. ... Rich Pete (156 rushing yards, one touchdown) led a ground attack that piled up 365 rushing yards in Buffalo State's 34-12 win over TCNJ. ... Andrew Benkwitt capped a nine-play, 71-yard drive late in the fourth quarter with a 16-yard touchdown to Jeremy Meier to rally Utica past Hartwick 20-17. ... Ben Guiles rushed for 148 yards and scored twice to become Lebanon Valley's all-time touchdowns leader in the Dutchmen's 51-7 win over FDU-Florham. ... Steve Hevalow rushed for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Rowan won its third straight, defeating Morrisville State 36-17.

Looking ahead
Montclair State (6-0, 5-0 NJAC) will look to remain undefeated when it faces TCNJ (4-2, 3-2 NJAC) on the road at 2 p.m. Saturday. TCNJ is coming off a disappointing loss to Buffalo State, while Montclair State just lost its starting quarterback for the season.

The Empire 8 might belong to Salisbury now, but St. John Fisher (5-1, 3-0 Empire 8) won't concede it quietly. The Cardinals face Springfield (4-2, 2-2 Empire 8) on the road at 2 p.m. Saturday in a pivotal conference clash.

Both Lebanon Valley (5-1, 3-1 MAC) and Widener (6-1, 4-1 MAC) are chasing conference leader Delaware Valley, but only one will remain a close second after the two teams meet at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Other games of note: Buffalo State at Rowan, 1:30 p.m., Saturday; St. Lawrence at RPI, 1 p.m., Saturday.

Contact me
I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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