DUDLEY, Mass. (Sept. 2) – Nichols College junior linebacker Peter Curto (Braintree, Mass.) ran back a school record-tying 94-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but Westfield State sophomore defensive back Joey Shisler (Hanover, Mass.) blocked the point after attempt as the Owls held on for a 21-20 season-opening victory on Vendetti Field Friday evening. Westfield improves to 1-0 on the year as the Owls win their sixth-straight against the Bison. Nichols dips to 0-1.
Curto added a game-high 13 tackles to his impressive first collegiate score. His return tied Geoffrey Taintor who set the Bison's mark in 1999, and was just three yards shy of the New England Football Conference record, set in 1998 by Kaleem Clarkson of Worcester State, also against the Owls.
Westfield outgained Nichols, 325-216, and almost doubled the Bison in the air, led by 154 yards passing on a 10-14 night by Tyler Dow (Franklin, Mass.). Nichols, however, rallied for 13 points in the final frame despite maintaining possession for only half the stanza.
Sophomore running back Brian Beauchemin (Orange, Mass.) paced the Owls with 85 yards on 21 carries, and put the visitors on the board on their first drive of the game after Kevin Parnell (Berlin, Conn.) returned the kickoff 61 yards. Beauchemin capped the drive with rushes of seven, five and three yards to put the Owls quickly ahead, just 1:29 into the game.
Kane Terilli (Cranston, R.I.) pushed the Owls ahead, 14-0, at the end of the quarter with a 14-yard diving catch in the endzone that finished off a six play, 50-yard drive with 3:16 left in the first.
A roughing the punter call on the Owls gave Nichols first down at the Westfield 28 early in the second quarter, where Irie Perry (West Palm Beach, Fla.) pushed the ball ahead with a trio of short gains before a Dan Snyder (Stoughton, Mass.) pass play set up first year fullback Felipe Njeim (Stoughton, Mass.) for a nine-yard scoring push on fourth and two from the Owls' nine.
A late Westfield field goal attempt fell short, setting the Bison up at their own 21 yard line with 1:07 left in the half. Perry took over, gaining 18 yards before the clock ran out.
Owls' linebacker Justin Ehrhardt (Stoneham, Mass.) stopped Perry on a fourth-and-one attempt at midfield to start a wild third quarter. The Owls' next drive was intercepted by Bison defensive end A.J. Farina (Barrington, R.I.).
A penalty drove Nichols back and forced the Bison to punt from their own 34, with the Owls starting their drive from their own 40. A Michael Mercadante (Wilbraham, Mass.) 17-yard rush and a 13-yard catch by Justin Karrat (Ashland, Mass.) made it first-and-10 from the Nichols 27, but the Owls turned it over on downs at the Nichols 19 on fourth-and-two when Michael Merjuste (Norwich, Conn.) held up Mercadante.
Dow connected with tight end Jeff Winchell (Scituate, R.I.) for a 24-yard reception to set up the Owls for first-and-goal at the Bison eight yard line on Westfield's first possession of the final quarter. Bison first year linebacker William Manzi (So. Windsor, Conn.) sacked Dow on his next attempt, forcing the ball out to sophomore defensive lineman Derrick Moore (Boca Raton, Fla.), who recovered the fumble and ran it back nine yards.
Westfield senior defensive back Ryan O'Connell (Athol, Mass.) intercepted the Bison's first pass attempt of their drive, however, running it back 12 yards before Snyder took him down at the Bison 35. Mercadante took over from there, running it in from 35 yards out on the very next play for a 21-7 lead.
A 10-yard pass from quarterback Jacob Shoup (Boca Raton, Fla.) to Tom Capobianco (Wethersfield, Conn.) brought the Bison right back into the game on the ensuing drive. The score capped an eight play, 73-yard drive that saw Shoup go 5-for-5 and Njeim rush for 39 yards on three carries.
Up 21-14 with 7:38 to play, the Owls ran almost five minutes off the clock on their next drive, using Beauchemin and Mercadante to complement a 39-yard pass from Dow to Kevin Nicol (Wolcott, Conn.) to drive all the way to the Bison six yard line before Curto's fumble return.
Curto swiped the ball out of Mercadante's hands, picked it up and carried it unopposed on the near sidelines to set up the game-tying PAT. Shisler, however, got an arm up and blocked the Bison's attempt with 2:41 left on the clock.
Perry paced the Bison's ground efforts with 72 yards on 18 carries. Njeim added 61 yards on six carries with his first collegiate touchdown. Shoup was 7-for-13 for 54 yards passing for the Bison, while Snyder finished 4-for-5 for 20 yards and an interception.
Beauchemin and Mecadante shouldered the Owls' ground efforts. Beauchemin racked up 85 yards on 21 carries, and Mercadante totaled 69 yards on 14 carries; each scored a touchdown.
In addition to Curto's 14 tackles, senior defensive backs Christopher Kerrigan (Hyde Park, Mass.) and Mike Rubalcaba (Barre, Vt.) each added eight for Nichols. Ehrhardt paced the Owls with eight, while Mike Mizzoni (Westford, Mass.) forced a fumble and posted six tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss of 17 yards.
Nichols now plays the next three games on the road, starting with a 7 p.m. game at Framingham State on September 9. Westfield hosts Endicott at 1 p.m. on September 10.