WESTFIELD, Mass. – Senior Evan Berneche (Chicopee/Comp HS) rushed a remarkable 37 times for 236 yards and a touchdown in his collegiate debut at running back to lead Westfield State University to a 26-15 victory over Coast Guard in New England Football Bogan Division action on Saturday, Oct. 16.
The versatile 5-10, 195-pound Berneche – Westfield's leading receiver this season – displayed power inside and speed outside in his spectacular start in the backfield. Prior to the game his only collegiate rush was on a successful two-point conversion two weeks ago.
"It was a great team effort today but what can you say about Evan – he was unreal," said Westfield veteran coach Steve Marino. "With Luke Johnson (Westfield's top running back) out we just took our best player and decided to put him back there.
"And Evan said he would love to do it. That's the type of player he is. He is our top receiver, he returns punts and he is our holder for extra points. And he threw for a first down on a fake field goal attempt but the play was called back because of a penalty. He does anything we ask him to do."
With the Owl offensive line opening holes, Berneche rushed for 141 yards on 24 carries in the first half as the Owls took a 13-6 lead. Westfield took a 7-0 first-period lead on a nifty 33-yard scoring scamper off left tackle by Berneche. The TD capped a 7-play, 66-yard drive.
"We said before the game that for us to win the offensive line had to play well and the line was exceptional today," said Marino. "The offensive line keeps working hard and it showed today."
Marino's game plan also emphasized that Westfield had to limit its turnovers. The Owls only committed one turnover but it set up Coast Guard's first touchdown. Kyle Ennis recovered a Berneche fumble at the Bears 47 and 11 plays later Pat Meggars scored on a one-yard run. Jacob Shackleford's PAT was wide right and the Owls led 7-6.
Westfield then marched 67 yards in 12 plays with fullback Justin Karrat scoring from 1-yard out. The PAT was blocked and Westfield led 13-6 with 5:41 remaining in the first half. Berneche lugged the ball nine times on the drive for 48 yards.
Coast Guard closed to within four, 13-9, early in the third quarter on a 39-yard field goal by Shackleford. The 3-pointer set a school record as Shackleford now has 24 career field goals.
Westfield took the ensuing kickoff and marched 80 yards in nine plays, with the big play a 60-yard sprint by Berneche to the Coast Guard 1-yard line. Tyler Dow scored on a quarterback sneak for a 20-9 lead with 7:35 remaining in the third stanza.
Coast Guard made things interesting when it scored a touchdown with 5:10 remaining in the game. The run for the PAT was no good and the Owls led 20-15. Reserve quarterback Jesse Karr and tight end Casey Paris sparked the 9-play, 66-yard drive. Karr and Paris hooked up on three straight completions over the middle, the last a 13-yard scoring strike.
The Bears got the ball back with just over three minutes remaining but O'Connell iced the victory when he intercepted his second pass of the game, cutting in front of Coast Guard receiver Randy Vinall, and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown at the 2:55 mark.
O'Connell had two interceptions with 76 return yards and was Westfield's second leading tackler with seven stops (six solos). Senior linebacker Bryan Anderson posted a team high nine tackles and Walker was in the Coast Guard backfield for most of the game, finishing with six tackles, including three sacks and four for losses. The Owls registered a season-high six sacks and limited Coast Guard to 45 net yards rushing on 27 carries.
"Nobody could stop C-Walk (Walker)," said Marino. "He was dominating."
Dow only completed 6 of 16 passes for 51 yards, with freshman running back Kane Terilli (3-31) the leading receiver.
Jon Resch (17-23-0, 136 yards) and Karr (10-21-13, 111 yards) combined for 247 passing yards. Eric Gerken was the leading receiver with seven catches for 59 yards, followed by Paris (5-63).
Ennis led the Bears with eight tackles and a fumble recovery.