SPRINGFIELD Mass. – Western New England faces one of its biggest tests of the year against Salve Regina in an important New England Football Conference (NEFC) Boyd Division contest beginning at noon Saturday (Oct. 1) at Gaudet Field in Newport, Rhode Island.
The Golden Bears are 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the division after a 38-23 victory over Nichols on September 24. The Seahawks are 2-2 and 0-1 in Boyd action.
Western New England struggled against Nichols before finally sealing the win with a late fourth-quarter 23-yard interception return by senior linebacker Joe Cicarella (Guilford, CT). The team's long snapper, Cicarella also had four tackles and made the weekly NEFC honor roll for his performance along with senior quarterback Bryce Brown (Guilford, CT) who passed for 114 yards and a touchdown while running for 64 yards and two more scores.
"We were inconsistent at best and flat our poor at our worst against Nichols," said WNE coach Keith Emery. "We have not yet played to our potential and we'll need to play to our potential on Saturday."
Although sitting at the .500 level, Salve Regina has one of the most improved teams in the region.
SRU opened with an impressive 25-22 win over Union (NY) team before dropping an 18-7 decision at No. 11 Montclair State (NJ). The Seahawks then defeated Framingham State 28-13 prior to a 24-17 loss at defending NEFC champion Endicott on September 24.
Western New England looks for improvement after managing only 105 yards rushing and controlling the ball for only 24 minutes against the Bison. "We need to run the ball better and we need to be able to stop the run," noted Emery.
The Golden Bears had another terrific defensive performance last week forcing five turnovers (including four interceptions).
Western New England and Salve Regina are tied for first in the NEFC with a plus 1.7 turnover margin.
Both teams also have several of the leading players in the NEFC.
Brown leads the NEFC with 722 total yards (424 passing, 298 rushing) in three contests and has eight touchdowns, including five on the ground. He is seventh in the conference in passing average (141.3).
Freshman receiver Andrew Walz (Groton, CT) leads the squad with 11 catches for 216 yards (19.6 avg.) with one touchdown. He is the younger brother of former WNE quarterback standout Justin Walz '10.
Junior free safety Phil Tsopanides (Fairfield, CT) has three of the team's league high 11 interceptions.
Sophomore linebacker Brandon Ormsby (Windsor, CT) has a team-best 29 tackles followed by sophomore tackle Kevin Soule (Medfield, MA) and senior linebacker Mark Devlin (Guilford, CT) each with 25. Junior end James Georges (Stamford, CT) leads the league in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (10)..
Salve Regina has a top player in sophomore running back Richie Edwards (Trumbull, CT) who is third in the NEFC with 527 yards rushing (131.8 avg.). He also leads the conference in all-purpose yards (179.8) and is tied for second with seven touchdowns (six rushing).
Senior quarterback Jimmy Connelly (Berlin, CT) has 507 yards passing and a touchdown.
Senior A.J. Albert (Franklin Park, NJ) is first in the NEFC in tackles (46) while junior strong safety Matthew Markese (West Hartford, CT) is second on the team with 33 stops.
Both Western New England and Salve Regina have strong kicking games.
SRU freshman Benjamin Barrett (West Greenwich, RI) is first in the conference in punting (38.1) followed by WNE sophomore John Krafick (New Milford, CT) (37.0).
Western New England freshman Nick Fox-Edele (Springfield, MA) and junior Brendan Deasy (Quincy, MA) haven't missed a point-after-touchdown or field goal this season. Fox-Edele is 13-for-13 in PATs and three-for-three in field goal attempts. Deasy is 8-for-8 in extra point and two-for-two in field goal attempts.
"We need to stop Edwards and continue the improvement in the kicking game that we have seen over the last few weeks. It's not a complicated game plan, we need to step our game up and execute," Emery stated.
This will be the 18th meeting between the teams with Salve leading the series (which started in1993) by a 13-5 margin. Western New England has won the last two meetings 10-5 last year in Springfield and 17-14 in 2009 in Newport.