September 17, 2013

Senior surge

Gregg Jackson is more than poised to have a fine senior season, he's already en route.
Westfield State athletics photo

Often a player will commit to a season like never before. Frequently, it's that last season. The senior year.

Westfield State coach Steve Marino likes the way senior defensive back Gregg Jackson has come back for this season. The results haven't been bad, either. Jackson picked off two passes in the Owls' 33-6 victory over Western New England, giving him three interceptions in two games.

"I don't think he had a great year for us last year," Marino said. "He had kind of a down year. I think he came back saying that he had something to prove."

His interceptions were part of what many considered a surprising victory over the Golden Bears. After all, WNE opened by being competitive with a strong Springfield College team, losing 49-40. Marino watched Western New England's up tempo offense against Springfield and thought his team might be in trouble.

"We were saying that we didn't know if we could compete with them. But our kids did," Marino said. "We told them that we knew they were going to move the ball but that we had to keep them out of the end zone and our kids bought into that."

WNE did move the ball.

"They ran something like 50 plays in the first half," Marino said.

But the drives bogged down as WNE committed six turnovers. The big one was an interception that Nick Adams returned 89 yards for a score. "That changed the whole game," Marino said.

The Owls also got a good pass rush from players like Jonathan Lytle and 6-4, 320-pound Cam Green. "We call him our Vince Wilfork," Marino said of Green.

Making the win all the more surprising is the fact the Owls had opened with a loss to a Nichols team that has been the doormat of the New England Football Conference in recent years. But the Owls had the formula against WNE. "We came up with interceptions and we had some short fields. And our kids played hard," Marino said.

It wasn't all defense. The Owls rode tailback Michael Mercadante. They gave him the ball 34 times and he piled up 140 yards.

"The tailback in our offense is going to get the ball. We're not one of these Spread teams," Marino said. "Merc's the guy. And the offensive line did a solid job."

Western Connecticut's win wasn't surprising, but maybe the way the Colonials dominated that Nichols team coming off a win was a bit of a surprise. Western Conn. rolled past Nichols 44-7. Six different backs carried for 28 or more yards with Tory Mack and Octavius McCoy leading the way with 86 and 84, respectively.

Western Connecticut had been a bottom feeder in the New Jersey Athletic Conference and coach Joe Loth is elated that his program is playing back in a New England league where he feels they should be. Western is a member of the new MASCAC with Massachusetts state institutions plus his team and Plymouth State, in New Hampshire.

"We are a New England school now playing in a New England conference," Loth said. "It is a league of similar schools and a level playing field. It is what a Division III league should be. We only have one overnight game and that's Plymouth."

The Colonials showed balance, not only unleashing that running game with a wave of backs, but also a precision passing attack that saw Will Arndt complete 13 of 15, one for a touchdown.

"We're excited to get a win in our first game," Loth said.

Endicott was also excited to get a win after falling to Framingham State in its first game, a matchup of teams favored to win their leagues.

This time Endicott rolled to a 43-7 road victory over Castleton State College.

"This gives us a boost. It's very important to come up here and get a win," Endicott quarterback Drew Frenette said. "It's a lot tougher playing away."

Frenette was sharp completing 23 of 32 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns.

The Gulls still found themselves in a game at halftime, leading just 19-7.

"We came out in the second half and played a great game. Our defense played really well," Frenette said.

But the guy most fans were talking about was Endicott kicker Dylan Rushe. He was 5-of-5 for field goals, kicking them from 44, 27, 22 yards and two more from 42 yards out.

"The NFL has been in to look at him," said Endicott coach J.B. Wells of his kicker who nailed a league record 55-yarder two years ago.

Castleton continues to come to grips with its disciplinary problems. Starting quarterback George Busharis and All-American receiver Brandon Boyle have been suspended indefinitely related to retail theft and four others joined them in being suspended for the same crime.

No small matter for AmCats

Anna Maria's Robert Small amassed 240 yards on 23 carries as the AmCats outgunned Maine Maritime 55-49. Jon Lamothe threw only three passes for two touchdowns. Tony Valente was every bit as impressive on the other side of the ball for Anna Maria with 13 tackles and three forced fumbles.

Plymouth had a huge bounce-back win after opening with a loss to Castleton. The Panthers went on the road and beat Mount Ida, the preseason favorite in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. And Anna Maria's Small had nothing on Plymouth tailback Andrew Foglia. He had 199 yards on 26 carries and also caught a 21-yard TD pass as Plymouth beat Ida 37-26.

Lancers get magic off the bench

Kevin Bumpus was awarded the coveted Gold Helmet for his performance in leading Worcester State to a season-opening win. But the quarterback went down with an injury in the second quarter in the game against city rival WPI. The Lancers didn't miss a beat in edging WPI 15-14 to go to 2-0. Pat Viencek came off the bench and his 22-yard touchdown pass to Jack Sprague with 37 seconds left was the game-winner. Viencek threw for 248 yards in his relief role and his big target Casey Hippert caught eight of his passes for 183 yards.

Engineering another win

The MIT Engineers won for the second time in two games. And they looked like a team ready to make some noise once the New England Football Conference season begins as they scored on their first four possessions in beating Becker 34-0. No jet lag for Peter Williams. MIT was back from its victory in California against Pomona-Pitzer and Williams was at it again. He riddled the Becker defense, throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns and running for 62 yards and another score. Jake Laux made 12 tackles and forced a fumble.

ECFC contenders

Gallaudet and Norwich are regarded as contenders in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. Gallaudet is looking the part. The Bison went to 2-0 by whipping Apprentice 38-14, The Bison had five interceptions and Todd Bonheyo and BJ Flores each ran for more than 100 yards. Norwich? Not so much yet. The Cadets have had trouble getting the offense untracked and fell to 0-2 with a 14-3 loss to St. Lawrence.

Rivalry games

Coast Guard suffered its second tough loss in two games, falling 27-20 to Merchant Marine in the Secretaries' Cup. Coast Guard gets another rivalry game back in 2017 when the Bears renew the series with Norwich known as The Little Army-Navy Game.

SUNY Maritime and Mass. Maritime have their own budding rivalry known as the Chowder Bowl. It was played for the sixth time with Mass. Maritime breaking through for its first win in the series, 24-20.

Westfield State's win over Western New England is played for the Presidents' Trophy each year and this was the first time in four years the Owls have won it.

Garden State variety

Bridgewater State, Salve Regina and Framingham State tried their luck against New Jersey teams with varying results. Bridgewater fared best as the Bears beat William Paterson 41-24 with Mike McCarthy running for two touchdowns and throwing for another. Salve fell 17-16 to Montclair State despite Steve Wilken's two touchdown passes. Wilken was picked off four times. Matt Silva threw two scoring passes against Rowan but it was not enough as they came home back with a 29-19 loss.

Gunslingers duel at Curry

Fitchburg State's Greg Dellechia threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Kevin Fruwirth also fired three touchdown passes, all to Jordan Shairs. But it was Dellechia who got what he came for as Fitchburg won the game at Curry, 20-19.

The Big Games

Finally, the New England Small College Athletic Conference opens. The NESCAC guys have been reading about and watching football for a couple of weeks and now they get to play. Trinity went through 2012 unbeaten and the Bantams look to keep it going at Bates. Middlebury, with prolific passer Mac Foote, could be another contender and the Panthers must also journey to Maine, taking on Bowdoin.

Western Connecticut is at Plymouth for the MASCAC opener and a game both programs view as the reinstatement of a rivalry.

"The teams were big rivals in the old Freedom Football Conference and now we are the only non-Massachusetts schools in our new conference so in some ways we are natural rivals," Loth said.

"Plymouth is a very physical football team."

Worcester State's visit to Bridgewater also has the look of a key MASCAC game now.

Endicott, the favorite in the NEFC, will challenge itself at home against Kean of New Jersey.

"Kean is a good team and we want to use that game to evaluate ourselves before the conference games," Frenette said.

"We want to eliminate our mistakes. We made too many mistakes (against Castleton) and we want to eliminate those mental mistakes and take the next step," Wells said.

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter.

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