WESTFIELD, Mass. – It was a Senior Day and Homecoming to remember as Westfield State University frolicked to an 11-0 victory over Massachusetts Maritime Academy in a New England Football Conference game played in snowy and blizzard conditions at Alumni Field.
"Those were the worst conditions I have ever seen," said Westfield veteran coach Steve Marino. "But the players, they were having fun out there today."
It began snowing heavily during pre-game warmups and never let up throughout the entire game as Westfield State students worked non-stop to keep the major yard markers clear as the snow accumulated to at least six inches.
Amazingly, the Owls (4-5 overall, 3-3 in the NEFC Bogan Division) did not have any turnovers while the Buccaneers (5-3, 3-3) committed seven turnovers (two interceptions, five fumbles lost).
"It was fun out there," said defensive back Ryan O'Connell of Athol, one of Westfield's nine seniors honored prior to the game. "I do not think either side (offense/defense) had an advantage because it was hard to move out there. But defensively we did a good job of stripping the ball."
Marino stated that his pre-game strategy was to score early and limit turnovers and that's was his Owls did.
With the snow just starting to accumulate, the Owls took the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards in 12 plays, with freshman running back Michael Mercadante (Wilbraham) scoring from one yard out.
Mercadante carried the ball eight times for 33 yards during the TD drive, and for the day the bruising 6-0, 230-pound back had 27 carries and 74 rushing yards. The big play in the scoring drive, however, was a 21-yard pass completion from Tyler Dow to tight end Jeff Winchell to the Mass Maritime 1-yard line.
Westfield did mishandle the ball several times during the game but it turned one of the miscues into two points. On the extra point attempt following the touchdown, holder Dylan Smith picked up a bad snap from center, rolled to his right, and found Anthony Laramee in the end zone to give the Owls an early 8-0 lead.
Westfield scored the game's final points midway through the second period on an 20-yard field goal by dependable placekicker Kennan Startzell to cap a nine-play, 47-yard drive.
With the conditions worsening by the minute, the Owls went into a ball control, clock-killing offense for most of the second half.
"We tried to run the ball (in the second half) but we just couldn't," said Marino.
But the opportunistic Owls intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles and registered three quarterback sacks in the second half.
Westfield also received a huge game from punter Dan Dowling, who punted 10 times for an amazing 33.8 average, including a long of 49 and two punts inside the 20, in the blizzard conditions. Most importantly, Mass. Maritime only had one punt return for zero yards.
Mass. Maritime gave up the ball twice on downs in Westfield territory, at the 25 early in the third period and at the 35 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Bucs coughed up their final fumble at the Westfield 18 with 1:12 remaining the game.
Mass Maritime (38 carries, 150 yards) outrushed Westfield (48 carries, 78 yards). Mike White rushed 23 times for a game-high 126 yards. Buccaneer quarterback Mike Stanton completed 11 of 27 passes for 117 yards, with Keith Caruso leading all receivers (6 catches, 49 yards).
Dow completed 6 of 18 passes for 74 yards, with Kevin Parnell the leading receiver (3-41).
O'Connell was one of three Westfield players with seven tackles; he also had a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Dowling had five tackles and recovered two fumbles in addition to his stellar punting.
Mike Bois led Mass Maritime with nine tackles (5 solos, two for losses and a sack).