MIDDLETOWN, R.I. - Junior Jimmy Connelly (Berlin, Conn.) threw a career-high three touchdown passes and senior Rob LaRiviere-Tougas (Easthampton, Mass.) scored a pair of touchdowns as the Salve Regina University football team snapped a six-game losing to Plymouth State University with a 30-14 win in New England Football Conference (NEFC) action Saturday afternoon at Gaudet Field.
The Seahawks racked up 290 yards of total offense against the No. 1 ranked defense in the NEFC, including 152 on the ground, led by 109 from LaRiviere-Tougas. After averaging over 200 yards rushing through their first eight contests, the Panthers (6-3, 4-2 TCCC) were held to 92 yards on the ground and 170 yards of total offense. Junior A.J. Albert (Franklin Park, N.J.) (right) led the defensive assault with 11 tackles and one fumble recovery while senior Nick Jentz (Little Ferry, N.J.) racked up seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.
"Our defensive philosophy is bend but don't break," said Albert. "We bent twice on the touchdowns they scored, but we didn't break. We weren't going to give them anything. After we shut them down on their first drive, we knew they had no answer for our defense. Our confidence was through the roof and we had no doubt we were going to come away with a win."
Offensively, Connelly completed 72.7 percent of his passes (8-of-11) to four different receivers, including a 29-yard touchdown strike to junior Patrick Keenan (Harrisville, R.I.) midway through the fourth quarter that put the Seahawks in front 30-7. The junior transfer also threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to LaRiviere-Tougas and a 37-yard touchdown pass to classmate Michael Dargan (Meriden, Conn.), giving him five touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last three games.
"We have a lot of talented guys who work hard in the weight room and in practice, and it just comes down to how well we're able to execute," said Connelly (right). "Our offense wasn't clicking in those first few games, but we knew we were good. A win like this shows us where we can be."
The win extends the Seahawks win streak to four, matching their longest since 2000, and guarantees them at least a .500 record for the first time since 2001, when they finished 4-4. The Seahawks also picked up their first win over the Panthers since Nov 21, 1998 after having been outscored 182-35 during the losing streak to their visitors from the north.
"This is our best win, hands down. When we looked at the schedule at the start of the season, we said, 'We'll try to beat Curry, but Plymouth State is going to be very tough for us to come out with a win,' so I could not be more pleased with our overall effort," said Salve Regina first-year head coach Bob Chesney. "We were able to put it together today on offense, defense, and special teams. That Plymouth State team is a very physical squad who is known to push teams around and win games doing that. Today, I was glad to see our kids to step up to the challenge. I challenged them to consider themselves the best in the league, and they did an unbelievable job today."
The Seahawks created the first the first turnover of the contest on the second play of the game when Albert recovered a fumble by junior Chad Croteau (Weare, N.H.) in PSU territory, but went three-and-out on offense. Plymouth State took over on its own two-yard line and marched 98 yards in 16 plays, capped by a six-yard touchdown run by sophomore Ty Long (Dover, N.H.), to take a 7-0 lead with 3:38 to go in the first.
Salve Regina answered early in the second with a five-play, 51-yard drive that Tougas capped with a 28-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. The PAT attempt was blocked, however, which kept PSU in front 7-6. The Seahawks defense then forced another three-and-out and took possession at the PSU 46-yard line. The drive appeared to stall at the PSU 38, but the Seahawks faked a punt and the ball ended up in the hands of junior Brian Smith (Tarrytown, N.Y.), who scampered 26 yards for a first down. LaRiviere-Tougas carried the Seahawks the rest of the way, picking up the final 12 yards of the drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown run to put SRU in front 12-7 (missed PAT), which is how the half ended.
The turning point of the game came with PSU facing a fourth-and-nine from its own nine-yard line early in the third quarter. Sophomore Nick Provost (Stratham, N.H.) lined up to punt, but Salve Regina junior Anthony DePaolo (Southington, Conn.) got his hand on the ball and block the kick. Freshman Michael Gangitano (Coram, N.Y.) (right) pounced on the loose ball in the endzone for a touchdown that gave the Seahawks an 18-7 lead (missed PAT) and their third defensive touchdown in 2010. Later in the quarter, Connelly threw a short pass to Dargan that went for a 37-yard touchdown and put the home team in front 24-7 with 6:22 to go in the third.
In the fourth, Keenan caught his only pass of the game for his fourth touchdown of the season that stretch Salve Regina's lead to 30-7. Freshman Josh Morgan (Foster, R.I.) - who replaced PSU starting QB J.J. Brooks (Seabrook, N.H.) behind center in the second half - tossed a 30-yard scoring strike to Brooks with 6:22 remaining to close the scoring.
Long finished the afternoon with 57 yards rushing to pace PSU while Brooks completed 4-of-16 passes for 48 yards and one interception before being replaced by Morgan. On the ground, Brooks picked up 16 yards on nine carries - an average of 1.8 ypc. Defensively, senior Zach Parsons (Florence, Mass.) tallied a game-high 12 tackles (seven solo) while classmate Brian Castellucci (Derry, N.H.) picked up nine (six solo).
For the Seahawks, sophomore Greg Gosselin (Kingston, Mass.) (right) averaged close to 40 yards a punt and was a key reason why the Panthers began six of their 13 drives inside their 20-yard line.
The Seahawks return to action on Saturday when they host Nichols College (1-8, 1-5 NEFC) at Gaudet Field at noon while the Panthers host Curry at noon.