BRIDGEWATER, MA – The Alfred University football team stormed back from an early 10-point deficit to hand host Bridgewater (MA) State a 41-10 defeat in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Northeast Bowl championship game Saturday afternoon.
Alfred's 41 unanswered points gave the Saxons their fourth ECAC bowl title in the last seven years. It also marked the second time AU had defeated Bridgewater in an ECAC bowl; the Saxons beat the Bears 30-27 in the 1989 ECAC North Bowl championship.
AU (8-3) played well on both sides of the ball, producing 289 yards of offense (137 rushing, 152 passing) and converting four of 10 third downs, while holding the Bears to 254 yards (83 passing) and allowing only one third down conversion in 14 tries. AU was solid on special teams as well, allowing only 77 net return yards on five punts and seven kickoffs. The Saxons also blocked two punts, scoring a touchdown on one.
The host Bears (7-3) took an early 10-0 lead before the Saxons responded with six straight touchdowns. With 1:19 left in the opening frame, Bridgewater's Jarred Diorio booted a 34-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 53-yard drive and give the Bears a 3-0 advantage. On Alfred's ensuing possession, AU senior quarterback T.J. Kilcarr was intercepted by Justin Cruz at the Bridgewater 33-yard line. Three plays later, the Bears' Justin Fuller scored on a 55-yard run to give his team a 10-0 lead.
Bridgewater's advantage was short-lived, however, as Alfred scored two unanswered touchdowns to go ahead, 14-10. After Fuller's long TD run, Bridgewater attempted an onside kick, which AU recovered at the Bear 42-yard line. Bridgewater was called for being offsides and the Saxons began their drive at the host's 37-yard line with 12:45 left in the half. Alfred would lose possession on a fumble but regain the ball near midfield on a Bridgewater punt. Seven plays later, Kilcarr connected with junior tight end Adam Schutz on a five-yard TD pass to make it 10-7 Bridgewater with 7:14 left in the second.
The Saxons took the lead for good with 5:34 left in the half when freshman defensive back J.R. Britton blocked a Mike Pettis punt in the Bridgewater endzone, which junior defensive back Andre McCloud recovered at the 9-yard line and returned for a touchdown and a 14-10 Saxon lead.
Alfred upped its advantage to 11 points on its next possession, taking over at its own 46-yard line after a punt and driving 54 yards in five plays, with Kilcarr tossing his second TD pass of the day to Schutz, from seven yards out with 1:30 left before intermission. Bridgewater took the ensuing kickoff and drove from its own 13-yard line to the Saxon 49, but Bear quarterback Mike McCarthy's long pass toward the AU endzone was intercepted by senior cornerback Roland O'Brien at the Alfred 10-yard line as the first-half clock expired.
AU forced Bridgewater kick the ball away its first two possessions of the second half, taking over at the Bear 46-yard line after the second punt midway through the third. The Saxons then marched 46 yards on six plays, with senior linebacker Nick Clark capping the drive with a one-yard TD plunge that put his team up 28-10. The Saxons' drive was aided by a facemask penalty on Bridgewater after AU came up short on a pass play on third-and-14 at Bear 39-yard line. The penalty gave AU a first down at the Bridgewater 24-yard line.
The Saxons took a 24-point lead on the second play of the fourth quarter when AU junior free safety Jon Jackson intercepted a McCarthy pass at the Saxons' 37-yard line and returning it 63 yards for a touchdown. The extra point missed and AU led 34-10. The Saxons pushed their lead to 31 points, at 41-10, on their next possession when Clark scored on a two-yard run to cap an eight-play, 60-yard drive with 8:13 left in the game. The touchdown was set up by Kilcarr's 29-yard pass on third-and-6 to sophomore wideout Josh Phillips to the Bridgewater 2-yard line.
Bridgewater had a chance to cut into Alfred's lead on its next possession, driving to the Saxons' 5-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. The drive was aided by a 25-yard pass from McCarthy to Jake Scott on fourth-and-11 from the Bridgewater 39. But after a four-yard run, McCarthy tossed two incompletions. An offside penalty on AU made it fourth-and-1 at the Saxon 5 but McCarthy again misfired and the Saxons took over with 3:20 left and ran out the clock.
Kilcarr was 11-of-20 for 152 yards, two TDs and an interception. Phillips had a big day for the Saxons, catching five passes for 102 yards. Junior tailback Tyler DeRosa ran 12 times for a team-leading 79 yards, while sophomore tailback Austin Dwyer with 47 yards on 15 carries.
Fuller led the Bears with a game-high 111 yards rushing on 17 carries. McCarthy, who ran for 51 yards, completed nine of 24 passes for 91 yards and a pair of interceptions.
Senior linebackers Wes Smith and Dan Haasis had a game-best seven tackles for the Saxons, while junior end Chris Steeves (blocked punt) and Clark each had five.
Vincent Henry had seven stops for Bridgewater, while Tate Doehler (sack) and Alex Monteiro each had six.