SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Western New England senior quarterback Bryce Brown accounted for 407 total yards and all four touchdowns in the Golden Bears' 28-24 win over Norwich in Saturday's 2011 season opener at Golden Bear Stadium.
Brown threw two touchdown passes in the first half and then ran for two more in the second half, including the eventual game winner on a 2-yard scamper that capped a five-play, 66-yard drive and gave WNE the lead for good with 1:43 left in the game.
Norwich (0-1, 0-0 ECFC) rallied from behind twice, including scoring 17 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0. After Brown's third touchdown gave WNE a 21-17 lead, NU senior Colby Leclerc (Raynham, Mass.) picked off a pass near midfield and returned it to the WNE 24 with 4:55 remaining.
Freshman Derrick Pitts (Schenectady, N.Y.) stole the show from there with four straight carries out of the wishbone formation, ending with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Cadets a 24-21 lead after Long Ding's (Franklin, Mass.) point after attempt was good.
However, Brown proved to be too much for the NU defense to handle as he methodically marched the Golden Bears' offense back down to the field, needing just five plays to account for 66 yards, which was aided by a 15-yard pass interference to open the drive.
"I thought we played hard and our effort was outstanding," NU head coach Mark Murnyack said. "However, we made way too many mistakes and penalties to win on the road against a good football team. You can't do that and expect to win."
Western New England (1-0, 0-0 NEFC Boyd) didn't take long to get on the board as Brown found freshman South Burlington, Vt. native Kareem Hines on a short dump off pass to the left side that went for 68 yards and gave WNE a 6-0 lead on the third play of the game. Nick Fox-Edele added the extra point for WNE to make it 7-0 just 1:25 into the game.
Neither side was able to score again in the first quarter. WNE had the best opportunity with a 4th and 1 inside the red zone, but the Cadets' defense stood tall and smothered the rushing attempt in the backfield to force a turnover on downs.
Midway through the second quarter, the Norwich defense appeared to have Western New England's offense bottled up after a pass attempt from Brown on 3rd and 21 sailed over the head of a receiver. However, Norwich safety Sean Stone was whistled for a defensive pass interference penalty giving the Golden Bears new life and a fresh set of downs.
WNE made the Cadets pay as they extended their lead to two touchdowns with 5:42 left in the second quarter when junior running back Mike Graham was left all alone down field and Brown found him for a 33-yard touchdown pass on third down once again. Fox-Edele added the extra point to push WNE's lead to 14-0.
"We started off slow," Murnyack said. "We have got to find a way to come out of the gate a little bit faster on both sides. It takes us awhile to get into the groove and into the game."
Desperately needing some sort of spark before halftime, the Norwich offense was finally able to gain some traction with a bruising ground attack, spearheaded by senior Andrew Fulford (Gloucester, Mass.) and junior Danny Triplett (Haverhill, Mass.).
The Cadets marched down the field for a 13-play 79-yard touchdown drive that ended with Fulford punching in a 1-yard run with 19 seconds left. Ding added the extra point to cut the lead to 14-7 heading into the half.
The big play on the drive though came from Triplett who was finally able to breakthrough for a big play with a 26-yard run through the middle of the WNE defense.
"I think Triplett provided a spark for us and ran the ball hard," Murnyack said. "He had a couple of big runs to set up our first touchdown right before the end of the half."
NU built off the momentum from late in the first half to score 10 more points with two nine-play drives. The first resulted in a 39-yard field goal from Ding and the second was highlighted by a Triplett 42-yard run and finished with a 1-yard touchdown carry from the powerful 5-foot-10, 234 pound running back. The two drives gave the Cadets their first lead of the game at 17-14 with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
However, WNE responded right back with a seven-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that took only 2:32 and was capped by a 12-yard run from Brown.
"The kid (Brown) is good, really good," Murnyack said. "They run a quarterback sweep and speed option on the edge, which did a good job stretching the perimeter of our defense to find holes and some cut back seams. When a team that does that, you have to run to the ball and backside guys are as important as the front side guys. We had him sacked three or four times in the game and he turned it into big plays."
Norwich ran the ball 58 times for 322 yards and had three players over 90 yards on the ground. Triplett led the way with 13 carries for 99 yards, while Fulford and junior quarterback Kris Sabourin (Georgia, Vt.) each ran for 91 yards on 19 and 14 carries respectively. Pitts also added 42 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
The Cadets' passing attack was never able to really get off the ground as Sabourin completed just seven passes on 16 attempts with one interception. Sophomore Derius Silas (Miami Gardens, Fla.) posted three catches for 15 yards to lead the receivers, while classmate Brandon Rudd (New Haven, Conn.) added one catch for 14 yards.
Brown had a hand in 407 of WNE's 513 total yards of offense that featured five plays for over 30 yards that plagued the Norwich defense. He gained 159 yards on 16 carries for a 9.1 yards-per-carry average. He also completed 17-of-23 passes for 248 yards with two interceptions.
The Cadets were successful in bottling up WNE running back J.J. Jachym to just 32 yards on 15 carries. But, the two big touchdown passes to Hines and Graham with both coming on third down put NU's defense in a hole early.
Sophomore Jimmy Labell (Stanhope, N.J.) and senior Jason Springer (Fall River, Mass.) led the NU defense with 11 tackles each. Sophomore Nael Pierre-Louis (Cumberland, R.I.) added 10 tackles as well.
Norwich forced three turnovers and committed just one. The Cadets' had three pass interference penalties that accounted for a large chunk of their 10 penalties for 93 yards. WNE had six penalties for 51 yards.
WNE now leads the all-time series between the two schools 2-1. The Golden Bears have now won both meetings on their home field with a 28-27 win in 2009.
Norwich will return to action next Saturday, Sept. 10, for its home opener at Sabine Field. The Cadets will host St. Lawrence with kickoff slated for 1:30 p.m. Both teams will be looking for their first win of the season as the Saints lost 48-35 to Utica today.
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