/columns/around-the-region/northeast/2016/nefc-gets-modern-twist-on-title-game

NEFC gets modern twist on title game

Salve Regina and Western New England boast the top two defenses and offenses in the NEFC.
Western New England athletics photo

The NEFC once had something unique to Division III football: A league split into two divisions with a conference championship game awaiting the two winners.

The concept had supporters and detractors. Some coaches believed it was the greatest thing since the invention of the forward pass and that their players had a cherished memory for a lifetime by experiencing it. Others felt that the game took so much out of their team mentally and physically that it damaged their performance in the NCAA playoff games.

No matter, it has faded into the pages of NEFC history, but this week the NEFC is unique again. It is the only conference in D3 where two teams remain unbeaten, and they clash on Saturday in Rhode Island. The 7-0 Salve Regina Seahawks and 8-0 Western New England give us a game that has the feel of the old NEFC Championship Game.

The Seahawks did their part by beating Endicott 41-20 behind Brandan Basil who threw for 367 yards and two touchdowns and Sam Pascale with his 178 rushing yards with three touchdowns.

The Golden Bears set the stage by whipping Maine Maritime 48-25 as Anthony Service fired three touchdown passes. Kurtis Jolicoeur keyed the defense by making 10 tackles while forcing and recovering a fumble.

It all means everything is on the line, and it is a dream matchup. Salve is No. 1 in the league in total offense, and WNE is ranked No. 1 in total defense. Salve is No. 2 in total defense and Western New England No. 2 in total offense.

"We've got the two best offenses and the two best defenses out there. The place should be rocking," Salve Regina coach Kevin Gilmartin said.

"It should be a great one," WNE coach Ketih Emery said.

"Being home is always a benefit," Gilmartin said.

It certainly has been for the Seahawks, who take pride in protecting their house. They boast 19 consecutive conference victories at home and have won 25 of the last 27 games overall at their place.

Yet, it will likely be more like two home crowds. Emery said there has been a buzz that indicates to him that Golden Bear Nation will travel well for this one.

Both teams can move the ball over land or through the air. Salve features Pascale (Thunder) and James Dawson (Lightning.) They are 1-2 in rushing in the league. But they also have Basil who is capable of lighting the place up and does so when the defenses get too run conscious.

Basil is the son of a high school head coach and plays the game with the savvy that often comes with growing up in football.

"I can put the mental part of the game on him and know that he will figure it out," Gilmartin said.

Thunder & Lightning have gotten the spotlight.

"It's an old-fashioned Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," Emery said of the challenge the two backs offer to his defense. "Sam has a low center of gravity and is tough to bring down. Dawson is quick and they also use him on the screen."

Salve Regina has won 25 of the last 27 games played at their house.
Salve Regina athletics photo

But the rest of that challenge is honoring Basil and the passing game.

"Brandan is happy with handing off and winning because that is the kind of player he is. But if you stack the box, we've got him throwing the ball. He is a heck of a player," Gilmartin said.

The Golden Bears feature the same ability to drive the field with both the run and the pass. Anthony Service has had an outstanding season throwing the ball, and Nick Connell leads an excellent ground game.

"Service is throwing the ball all over the place, and Connell is very good," Gilmartin said.

It is a game every bit as enticing as the NEFC Championship Game of yesteryear.

Trinity leaves no doubt

The highly anticipated NESCAC showdown between unbeaten Trinity and undefeated Middlebury was less of a showdown and more of a showcase for Trinity. Yes, the Bantams are the heavyweights of the league and proved it with a convincing 49-13 victory.

The 6-0 Bantams picked off five Middlebury passes.

Sonny Puzzo tossed two touchdown passes, and Max Chipouras rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns.,

Puzzo might have been overshadowed by Middlebury quarterback Jared Lebowitz before this but Puzzo has been having a superb year in his own right. He now has 13 touchdown passes against only two interceptions.

He has cut down on the interceptions dramatically this season, something that coach Jeff Devanney attributes to his intense studying of the game during the off-season.

Cadets kick Maritime

Norwich beat SUNY-Maritime 17-14 on a field goal by Wes Medeiros in overtime. Following the field goal, Norwich's Ben Hummer recovered a Privateer fumble to preserve the victory.

Medeiros is the all-time leader in program history with 37 field goals. He had the fortune of working with former Carolina Panther kicker John Kasay while he was playing at Charlotte Christian. Kasay had children of his own at the school.

Nichols comes back

The NIchols story just keeps getting better and better. The Bison won again, beating Curry 45-33, and this time it was with a rousing comeback and a record-setting performance.

The Bison rallied from a 35-22 deficit behind freshman Chris Mullins who completed a school-record 43 passes for 432 yards.

It snapped a 14-game losing streak against Curry.

If you had said before the season that the Bison would win four games this season, you might have gotten some funny looks. Now, it's four in the bank and looking for more.

Quick kicks: The Tufts ground game was relentless as the Jumbos had two 100-yard rushers in the 27-10 win over Amherst. Chance Brady had 136 yards and two scores and Ryan McDonald added 104 yards and a touchdown. ... Mark Piccirillo passed for 218 yards and ran for a touchdown as Wesleyan swamped Bowdoin 39-10. ... Bates got up on Colby 21-3 and held on for a 21-19 win. ... Mickey Keating had 13 tackles and an interception to help Hamilton top Williams 16-6. ... Travis O'Brien ran for 156 yards and two scores to lead Mount Ida to its 55-21 win over rival Anna Maria. Josh Davis had a monster day for the Mustangs with 17 tackles, including three for a loss, and a pass breakup. ... It was business as usual for John Smith: 168 yards rushing with three touchdowns to lead Husson to a 45-14 win over Becker. ... Gallaudet got its first ECFC win, edging Castleton 21-17. Ryan Santana had 13 tackles for the Bison. ... Noah Hwang kicked his second field goal of the day with 3:50 remaining, lifting Worcester State to a 13-10 win over Plymouth State. ... Chris Dagg angled three punts inside the 20 to help Framingham State to a 21-3 victory over Mass. Maritime. ... Connor Fitzsimmons threw three touchdown passes for Fitchburg State in a 28-6 win over Westfield State. Cyrick Watford had 10 tackles including four for a loss, He was also in on 10 tackles for Fitchburg. ... Tucker Cheyne made three of his four field goal attempts for MIT in its 23-7 win over Coast Guard. ... Quinn Fleeting threw for 293 yards and a score for Western Connecticut. Kyle McKinnon complemented that passing game by rushing for 139 yards and two scores. He was a workhorse with 31 carries as the Colonials beat UMass-Dartmouth 35-22.

The big games

The dream matchup in the NEFC is not the only big game this weekend. Norwich makes the trip to Husson with the ECFC title on the line. The Cadets have one league loss and Husson is perfect in the conference.

Last year the Cadets won the ECFC crown by pinning a defeat on Husson at home.

Mount Ida will also look to stay in the race at home against SUNY-Maritime in the league's other key game.

Bates travels to Bowdoin for another leg of the CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) Series that is so special to the state of Maine. Also in the NESCAC, Trinity will try to stay unbeaten against Amherst.

No question as to which game is the marquee contest in the MASCAC. Bridgewater State puts its perfect league mark on the line at Framingham State, the team that has owned the league the last few years and has one league loss.

Bridgewater, Framingham, Salve Regina, Western New England, Norwich and Husson are all playing in those types of games you hope to be competing in when the calendar flips to November.

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter. He has been D3football.com's Around the Northeast columnist since 2007.

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