SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The President's Cup is back in the den of the Golden Bears.
Sophomore free safety Phil Tsopanides (Fairfield, CT) set a school record with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown as the Western New England College football team outlasted visiting Westfield State University 17-10 in the 22nd meeting for the President's Cup trophy.
The Golden Bears improved their record to 2-1 after capturing the plaque for the first time in four years. The Owls fall to 1-2.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Western New England College went ahead 7-0 when junior quarterback Bryce Brown (Guilford, CT) scored from a yard out just 1:51 into the second period to cap a nine-play, 85-yard drive.
Westfield State cut the margin to 7-3 following a 37-yard field goal by senior Casey Stengel (North Harford, MD) with 51 seconds left before the break.
Senior Pat Lesko (Seymour, CT) then returned the following kickoff 52 yards to the Owls' 32. With eight seconds remaining, senior Jake Field (Long Valley, NJ) drilled a 34-yard field goal to give the Golden Bears a 10-3 halftime advantage.
Western New England College's defense then took over with several outstanding plays in the final 30 minutes.
After forcing a punt, Westfield State took over in good field position at the WNEC 47 and moved to the hosts' five before Tsopanides picked off a pass from junior quarterback Tyler Dow (Franklin, MA) at the two and eluded several tackles to give Western New England College a 17-7 lead at the 7:17 mark of the third quarter.
The Owls came back with another smart drive moving from their 48 to inside the 10, but Tsopanides and senior linebacker Dylan Chandler (Durham, ME) stopped freshman running back Kane Terilli(Cranston, RI) on third-and-goal at the one. Westfield elected to go for the score, but came up short when freshman linebacker Brandon Ormsby (Windsor, CT) stopped Terilli again with 2:52 left in the third period.
Westfield State got a big break early in the final quarter when officials ruled a punt by Stengel hit a Golden Bears' player at their 28. After being forced out of the pocket, Dow fired a 10-yard scoring strike to senior receiver Evan Berneche (Chicopee, MA) who made a nice catch to get the Owls within 17-10 with 11:36 left in the game.
Later in the period, Western New England College's defense again came through with a big play when junior linebacker Todd Krolikowski (Bristol, CT) sacked Dow on fourth-and-six at the Golden Bears' 24 with 3:46 left. Freshman defensive tackle Kevin Soule (Medfield, MA) recovered the fumble on the play.
Western New England College managed only 199 yards (152 rushing), but junior running back JJ Jachym (Milford, CT) had another strong outing with a game-high 94 yards on 21 carries (4.5 avg.). Sophomore defensive back Alex Miller (Seekonk, MA) had a team best 10 tackles followed by Tsopanides with seven stops, and Ormsby and Krolikowski with five apiece.
Westfield State finished with 221 yards, thanks mainly to Dow who completed 18-of-39 passes for 180 yards. Sophomore Kevin Parnell (Berlin, CT) (74 yards) and junior receiver C.J. Franklin (Natick, MA) (45) each had six receptions. Franklin also added 70 kickoff return yards to finish with 119 all-purpose yards.
Sophomores linebackers Dan Dowling (Stoneham, MA) and Justin Ehrhardt (Stoneham, MA) led the Owls with a game-high 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Sophomore defensive end Chris Walker (West Springfield, MA) had a fumble recovery.
It was an interesting game statistics-wise as Westfield State took 20 more plays (72-52) despite the possession being almost equal (30:28 to 29:32 in favor of WNEC). There were also 16 punts (9 by the Golden Bears) for a total of 615 yards.