WESTFIELD, Mass. -- The visiting Bridgewater State University football team posted a 27-7 victory over Westfield State University in a Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) game on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Field.
The Bears improve to 6-2 with their sixth straight win and remain unbeaten in MASCAC play with a perfect 6-0 conference mark. The host Owls fall to 2-5 overall and 1-4 in the MASCAC standings. Bridgewater now leads the all-time series, 26-9, as the two teams have played every season since 1988.
The Bridgewater State defense was impressive throughout the contest as the Bears held the Owls to just 131 yards of total offense and eight first downs, and forced ten punts.
Junior running back Alex McLaughlin paced the BSU offense with a career high 193 rushing yards on 35 attempts. Junior back Malik Garrett added 63 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns, while senior quarterback Danny Higgins threw for 127 yards and a pair of scores.
McLaughlin became the 11th player in BSU football history to reach the 2,000-yard rushing milestone as he increased his career total to 2,124.
The game was scoreless until late in the second half when the teams exchanged touchdowns.
The Bears had two golden opportunities to put points on the board on their first two possessions of the game, but turned the ball over on downs both times. A 70-yard drive stalled on the Westfield 15, and the Bears could not take advantage of great field position at the Westfield 29 following a blocked punt that went just eight yards.
Midway through the second quarter, the BSU defense forced a fifth straight Owl punt. This time, the Bears were able to put points on the board as they drove 80 yards on 15 plays capped off by a Garrett one-yard touchdown run. Junior placekicker Russell Bolarinho converted the PAT to give BSU a 7-0 lead with 1:59 remaining in the half.
Special teams quickly became a factor as freshman Duane Roberts returned the ensuing short kickoff 47 yards down to the BSU 30. Three plays later, Owl freshman quarterback Justin Beck scrambled for a 16-yard touchdown run with 63 seconds showing on the scoreboard. Freshman kicker Norman Carroll knotted the score at 7-7 as his extra point was good.
McLaughlin rushed for 109 yards in the first half as he helped the Bears outgain the Owls, 151-67, over the first 30 minutes.
The Bears took advantage of a short 20-yard kickoff and a 15-yard fair catch interference penalty to start the third quarter on the Westfield 40. Despite the great field position, Bridgewater was forced to punt. The Owls offense also went nowhere, but junior punter John Ollari bailed Westfield out with a 67-yard punt.
Starting at their own 22, the Bears moved the ball into the red zone thanks in large part to a big 33-yard run by McLaughlin. On third and goal, Higgins connected with sophomore wide receiver Jack Lavanchy on an 11-yard scoring strike to give BSU a 13-7 lead. The Bears surprisingly went for two but could not convert.
After yet another Westfield punt, the Bears seemed on the verge of increasing their lead, but McLaughlin fumbled the ball away at the Owls' 27-yard line.
The teams exchanged punts on five straight possessions.
With 11:59 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bears' drive started at their own 45. On fourth down and six, Higgins faked a punt and connected with senior wide receiver Baron Osei-Bonsu on a 23-yard pass play to move the ball down to the Westfield 17. Three plays later, Higgins found senior receiver Dukens Léon in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to give the visitors a two-score lead. Bolarinho's PAT extended the BSU advantage to 20-7 with 7:21 left to play.
Following another failed possession by the Owls, Bridgewater put the game well out of reach with a Garrett 21-yard touchdown run. The eight-play, 45-yard drive was kept alive by an eight-yard reception by Lavanchy on fourth down and five. Bolarinho knocked home his third extra point of the afternoon to give the Bears a 27-7 lead with just 1:29 remaining.
That would be all the scoring for the game. Bridgewater got the ball back one more time and ran out the clock.
Senior defensive end Elvis Romero finished with eight tackles, including 3 ½ for loss to pace the BSU defense. Senior linebacker Stephen Jacobs added six tackles with one for loss and a blocked kick, while senior defensive end Matt Halaby notched four solo tackles with a pair of tackles for loss and a sack.
For Westfield, Travon Holder rushed for 43 yards on 15 carries. Beck finished 6-for-24 passing for 60 yards in game that saw both pouring rain, sunshine, scattered showers and high winds as a weather front rolled through.
Freshman linebacker Leo Clinton, Jr. finished with 14 tackles. Junior safety William Tejedamade 11 stops, broke up two passes and recovered a fumble.
Bridgewater outgained Westfield by a margin of 382 yards to 120. The Bears also finished with 26 first downs compared to just six for the Owls. Time of possession was also dramatically in favor of Bridgewater (40:39 to 19:21).
Westfield State will travel to Fitchburg State for a conference game next Saturday. Bridgewater has a bye next weekend before traveling to Framingham State on November 5th. With a win over the Rams, the Bears would clinch the MASCAC regular season title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Notes: Higgins eclipsed his own school single-season record of 162 pass completions set in 2014. He now has 164 on the season.