SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Senior Joe Cicarella (Guilford, CT) is relatively small for a linebacker at 5-7 and 185 pounds, but the hard-hitting player delivered a big play with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:04 remaining in the game as Western New England posted a 38-23 victory over Nichols in the New England Football Conference (NEFC) Boyd Division opener for both teams Saturday (Sept. 24).
The Golden Bears improved to 3-1 with the Homecoming victory before 2,770 fans, which was also part of the national Coach to Cure MD Day initiative. The Bison remain winless at 0-4.
Western New England led 24-10 heading into a wild fourth quarter that featured big plays by both squads.
Nichols moved within 24-16 on a two-yard run by sophomore running back Irie Perry (West Palm Beach, FL) just 2:01 into the period that was set-up when freshman special teams player Bernatho Files-Aime (Lake Worth, FL) recovered fumble on a botched WNE punt return. Perry (29 carries, 82 yards, two TDs) carried the ball three times to the seven before a pass interference call gave the Bison a first and goal at the two.
Junior running back Mike Graham (Norwalk, CT) then electrified the crowd by returning the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a score to give the Golden Bears a 31-16 advantage. Freshman special teams player Andrew Treschitta (Warwick, NY) made a key block on the play that gave Graham running room down the right sideline.
The Bison again came back when sophomore quarterback Jacob Shoup (Boca Raton, FL) tossed a 38-yard scoring pass to sophomore receiver Dylan Rimsky (Denville, NJ) on fourth down to cut the lead to 31-23 with 3:58 remaining. Shoup also had a key seven-yard completion on fourth-down in the same series to keep the drive alive.
Western New England punted on its next possession and Nichols started a drive at its own 13 with just under three minutes left. After Perry ran for two yards, Cicarella (who serves as the long snapper) delivered the biggest play of his career with his first career interception near the right sideline and racing into the end zone for his first career score.
Nichols made one last push moving to the WNE 40 before junior defensive back Nicholas Silvester (Weatogue, CT) came up with the team's four interception of the contest to seal the win.
The Golden Bears took a 7-0 lead when junior quarterback Bryce Brown (Guilford, CT) threw a 12-yard scoring pass to freshman receiver Andrew Walz (Groton, CT) at 8:08 of the opening quarter. It was the first college touchdown for Walz who finished with a game-high five receptions for 79 yards.
Brown scored on a one-yard at the 11:42 mark of the second quarter before Perry ran two yards with 6:03 left before halftime to get the Bison on the board. Brown (17 carries, 64 yards) added his second touchdown on a two-yard run with 2:56 remaining before senior Bill Crory (Townsend, MA) kicked a 37-yard field goal with just three seconds left before intermission to get Nichols within 21-10.
Freshman Nick Fox-Edele (Springfield, MA) made a 21-yard field goal with 7:13 left in the third quarter to give Western New England a 14-point heading into the final stanza.
Nichols outgained Western New England by a 262-219 margin and had a commanding advantage in offense plays (80-52). The Bison also controlled the ball for 35 minutes, 54 seconds, but suffered five turnovers that proved to be the difference.
Shoup, who didn't play in the third quarter, finished 18-of-37 passing for 193 yards and had two of the team's four sacks. Rimsky and Perry each had four receptions for 82 and 32 yards, respectively. Senior defensive back Mike Rubalcaba (Barre, VT) led the team with eight tackles.
Brown completed 8-of-13 passes for 114 yards with no interceptions although he was sacked three times. Senior linebacker Mark Devlin (Guilford, CT) had a game-high nine tackles while sophomore linebacker Brandon Ormsby (Windsor, CT) contributed eight stops, including one for a loss.
Senior linebacker Todd Krolikowski (Bristol, CT) added seven tackles and had an inception while senior free safety Phil Tsopanides (Fairfield, CT) also had an interception.