CASTINE, Maine – Junior quarterback Phil Konopka (Shelton, CT) threw for 255 yards and two scores while rushing for two more touchdowns in a dramatic 38-35 victory Saturday afternoon (November 3) over Maine Maritime Academy in the New England Football Conference (NEFC) championship game. Konopka was the recipient of the William J. Mottola Award, which is given to the Most Valuable Player of the NEFC Championship game.
The Gulls battles back from twice from 11-point deficits and scored with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter on a Mike Lane (Medfield, MA) 5-yard touchdown run to take a three-point lead and the eventual victory over the Mariners. The Gulls will find out where they play in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon.
Endicott improves to 9-2 overall and captures their first NEFC Championship just a week after winning their first ever NEFC Boyd Division title. The Mariners fall to 8-2 on the year and will wait to see if they receive a bid to the ECAC Tournament when the field is announced on Monday.
The Mariners took a 6-0 lead on their first possession of the game when Nick Bourassa (Jay, ME) scampered 51 yards down the right sideline on MMA's fifth play of the game.
Endicott got their first points of the game at the 2:27 mark of the first quarter after MMA fumbled on their own 28-yard line and was recovered by linebacker Nick Scozzaro (Wellington, FL). After a Konopka to Ryan Carino (Stratford, CT) 19-yard completion that brought the ball down to the 1-yard line, Konopka finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge to tie the score. Dylan Rushe (Palos Verdes, CA) connected on the extra point giving the Gulls the 7-6 lead.
The Gulls converted another MMA fumble into points, just minutes into the second quarter. MMA was facing a second down and seven when they attempted a pitch off the left side but fumbled and Jordan Fields (Biddeford, ME) pounced on the ball giving Endicott possession at the MMA 22-yard line. Four plays later Dylan Rushe split the uprights from 35-yards giving the visitors the 10-6 lead.
After each team exchanged possessions, the Mariners got their running game in order and went 95-yards in 10 plays and then converted the two-point conversion to take a 14-10 lead into half time. Quarterback Matthew Rende (Augusta, ME) marched the Mariners out to the 50-yard line after pass completions to Todd Murphy (Middlesex, VT) for 22-yards and then to Michael Brennan (Manchester, ME) for 25-yards. After four Jim Bower (So. Paris, ME) runs, Rende hit Nate Duford (Claremont, NH) in the back of the end zone from 20-yards out for the score. Bower (29 rushes for 245 yards) converted the two-point attempt and with 47 seconds left in the half, MMA led by four.
The Mariners came storming out of the locker room and took a 21-10 lead on their first play from scrimmage to begin the second half. Matthew Rende (10 rushes for 62 yards) faked the option and ran the ball into the end zone from 54-yards out giving MMA the 11-point lead.
Endicott responded on their next possession with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that inched them back to within four points at 21-17. The drive was capped off by a Konopka to Taylor Allen (Westboro, MA) four-yard pass to the back corner of the end zone.
The Mariners pushed the lead back up to 11 early in the fourth quarter after an Endicott roughing the punter penalty that gave the Mariners the ball back on Endicott's 38-yard line. Three Jim Bower rushed later the Mariners were ahead 28-17.
Endicott scored the next two touchdowns and took a 31-28 lead with four minutes remaining in the contest. The first score came on a Konopka to Lane (32 rushes for 128 yards) 11-yard touchdown reception, which put the score at 28-23. Then the Gulls capitalized on MMA's fourth fumble of the day and marched 40-yards on six plays before scoring on a Konopka 1-yard plunge.
The Mariners fought back as they have all season as Nick Bourassa (8 carries for 69 yards) took the kick-off 31 yards to Endicott's 47-yard line. Three plays later, Bower took the ball over the left tackle and rumbled 30 yards into the end zone and gave MMA what seemed to be a game winning score at 35-31 with just 3:04 on the clock.
Endicott proved to be worthy of the NEFC crown and responded with a 9-play, 73-yard drive in just 2 minutes of action. Konopka completed five passes for 48-yards but it was Mike Lane who carried the load and rushed for 25 yards, including the game winner from five yards out with just 58 seconds left on the clock. The score gave the Gulls a 38-35.
MMA had one last drive to keep their NCAA hopes alive but a Matthew Rende pass to Nate Duford in the end zone as time expired was ruled out of bounds and the NEFC Championship was won by the Gulls from Endicott College.
Both offenses controlled the pace of play as they combined for 73 points and 829 yards. The Mariners rushed for 364 yards and threw for 78 yards while Endicott rushed for 132 and threw for 255 yards. The Mariners were hampered by three costly fumbles that resulted in 18 Endicott points.
Despite the loss, the Mariner rushing attack became the most prolific running attack in the DIII history. With their 364 yards on the ground, MMA broke Springfield College's DIII record for rushing yards in a season with 4,803. The previous mark was at 4,496 yards. Jim Bower also continued his climb up the NCAA Division III career-rushing list, moving into 6th place all-time with 5,917 career-rushing yards.
Endicott was led on defense by Peter Bay (Darien, CT) who collected eight tackles while Oscar Moore (Lynn, MA) tallied seven and two forced fumbles. Peter Kallas