DARTMOUTH, Mass. – Junior Jason Ferri (Billerica, Mass.) pulled in a pair of fourth quarter touchdown receptions to whittle the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth deficit to 14-13, but a missed extra point with 41 seconds remaining in regulation allowed visiting Westfield State University to escape the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) football opener this afternoon at Cressy Field.
The Corsairs (1-2, 0-1 MASCAC) began their frantic fourth-quarter comeback midway through the final frame. Sophomore Cory Burnham (Essex, Mass. / Manchester-Essex) led the hosts from their own 29-yard line on a seven-play, 71-yard drive. The Owls (2-1, 1-0 MASCAC) were whistled for a pass inference call on a 4th-and-6 that prolonged the drive. UMass Dartmouth made the defensive miscue prove costly on the ensuing play, when Burnham tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Ferri down the left sideline.
The Corsairs defense rode the wave of momentum to a quick three and out, setting the hosts up near midfield with four minutes remaining on the clock. Facing 4th-and-7, junior running back Preston Cooper (Wareham, Mass. / BC High) caught a screen pass and evaded several tacklers to earn the crucial first down. Burnham converted a third down later in the series with an eight-yard pass to senior Abiola Aborishade (Attleboro, Mass.) to put the Corsairs on the visitors' 31-yard-line. Burnham completed five consecutive passes to lead UMass Dartmouth into the end zone, capped by a four-yard strike to Ferri.
Westfield State raced out to an early 14-0 advantage, scoring on its first two drives of the afternoon. Junior Bobby Boire (Millbury, Mass.) cracked the scoring column with an 11-yard touchdown reception from senior Steve Guercio (Gardner, Mass.), but the Corsairs blocked the extra point The Owls capitalized on a muffed punt to regain possession at the hosts' 44-yard line. Senior Michael Mercadante (Wilbraham, Mass.) took the handoff on four straight plays, culminating with a nine-yard touchdown run. Westfield State executed two-point conversation on a two-yard rush by senior Troy Cutter (Lunenburg, Mass.).
In his first collegiate start, Burnham completed 25-of-35 passes for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Aborishade was his favorite target, pulling in 11 catches for 35 yards. Ferri made the most of his targets, hauling in six passes for 70 yards. Cooper averaged 4.2 yards per carry for 68 yards, while also registering a pair of catches for 17 yards.
The Corsair defense was the catalyst for the comeback, holding Westfield State scoreless over the final 47 minutes, 20 seconds. UMass Dartmouth limited the Owls to 21 total yards of offense in the second half, including five of seven drives for either zero or negative yards. Freshman Marvey Mathurin (Woburn, Mass. / Northeast Vocational) led the Corsairs with eight total tackles, including two stops behind the line of scrimmage. Classmate Seth DeMello (Somerset, Mass. / Somerset-Berkley) made an impact in the second half, making seven stops and a pass breakup.
Westfield State recorded 244 yards of offense, including 138 on the ground. Mercadante was kept below the century mark for the first time this season, as he rushed for 72 yards and a TD on 21 carries. Guercio was 6-for-11 with 83 passing yards and a touchdown, while junior Erik Washburn (Lisbon, Conn.) was 3-for-7 with 23 yards. Junior Colby Bostek (West Boylston, Mass.) registered 54 yards on four receptions, while Boire caught two passes for 16 yards including the touchdown.
Junior Greg Sheridan (Burlington, Mass.) led the Owls with eight tackles, while senior Julon McCoy (Gardiner, Mass.) recorded seven tackles, one sack, and a quarterback hurry.
UMass Dartmouth will return to action at 1 p.m. on Sept. 27, when the Corsairs travel to Currier Field to face MASCAC foe Plymouth State University.