WESTFIELD, Mass. – Senior Evan Berneche (Chicopee) rushed or 127 yards on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns as Westfield State University held on to defeat Fitchburg State University, 17-14, in the regular season football finale on Saturday, Nov. 6.
Westfield posted its fourth straight non-losing season with a 5-5 record; the Owls were 4-3 in the NEFC Bogan Division. Fitchburg finished 1-9 overall and 1-6 in the division.
Berneche had a difficult time running the ball against the rugged Falcon defense but he gave the Owls an early 7-0 lead with a 69-yard touchdown run. The versatile back/receiver burst through the line on a sweep and outraced two defenders down the left sideline for the score.
Fitchburg's scores were both short drives set up by Westfield's two turnovers in the game. Defensive back Mike Vaughan returned an interception 29 yards to the Westfield 21 late in the first stanza. Four plays later, running back Darren Wilson (30 carries, 114 net yards) scored on a pitchout from three yards.
Westfield scored its final 10 points in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead; both scores were set up by Falcon turnovers. Kennan Startzell booted a 31-yard field goal to give the Owls a 10-7 lead with 8:06 remaining. Westfield kept the scoring drive alive when Justin Karrat took the snap on fourth-and-six in punt formation and rushed 14 yards to move the sticks.
Westfield then scored with 51 seconds left in the half on a two-yard TD run by Berneche that capped a 5-play, 25-yard drive that was set up by a Jeff Smith interception.
Westfield struggled to move the ball in the second, only recording three first downs in the final two quarters. Fitchburg also had trouble moving the ball but the Falcons finally got the break they were looking for when Westfield quarterback Tyler Dow's fumble was recovered by Vaughan at the Owl 20 with 4:29 remaining in the game.
Four plays later quarterback Jeremy Kimber completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan O'Neil to make the score 17-14 with 3:23 remaining.
Fitchburg made it interesting in the final minutes when it forced Westfield to punt and took over at its own 10-yard line. The Falcons moved the ball to the Westfield 48 but the Owls sealed the hard-earned victory when senior linebacker Bryan Anderson forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Dan Dowling.
Fitchburg compiled 359 yards in total offense to Westfield's 228. Kimber scrambled for 97 net rushing yards and completed 11 of 27 passes for 124 yards. Dow only completed 5 of 20 passes for 79 yards.
Westfield's starting linebackers – Anderson, Dowling, Justin Erhardt – shared game-high honors with 12 tackles apiece. Dowling had nine solos, two for losses, a sack and a fumble recovery. Anderson had seven solos and forced two fumbles and Erhardt registered a sack.
Vaughan had two broken up passes in addition to his fumble recovery and interception. Linebacker James Rupp posted a team-high 10 tackles and defensive end Anthony Bizzotto had nine tackles (7 solos), including four for losses and a sack.