FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – The Bridgewater State University Bears clinched the 2016 Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) football title with a dramatic 28-27 overtime victory over defending champion Framingham State University on Saturday afternoon at Framingham's Bowditch Field.
The conference title marks the first for the Bears since 2000, when they were a member of the New England Football Conference (NEFC), and third overall (1999, 2000, 2016). Bridgewater will also be making its first NCAA Division III Tournament appearance since 2012 and fourth overall (1999, 2000, 2012, 2016).
Junior running back Malik Garrett (Dorchester, Mass. rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns and also caught four passes for 70 yards and another score to lead the way for Bridgewater State.
With their seventh straight win, the Bears improve to 7-2 on the year and are now 7-0 in the MASCAC with one game remaining. The Rams, winners of the first three MASCAC Titles since the MASCAC began football in 2013, are now 6-3 on the year and 5-2 in the league.
The Rams had the first possession of overtime and took the 27-21 lead on a one-yard touchdown run by junior Stephen Beahn (Spencer, Mass.). However, BSU sophomore linebacker Olubiyi Ojo (Boston, Mass.) blocked the extra point.
On the ensuing possession, Garrett scored on a one-yard run to knot the score at 27 apiece. Junior placekicker Russell Bolarinho (Acushnet, Mass.) then converted the extra point to give the Bears the 28-27 win and set off the celebration.
Bridgewater State jumped out to a 14-0 lead at the half as they held the Rams to just 98 yards of total offense over the first two quarters. Junior running back Alex McLaughlin (Littleton, Mass.) put the Bears on top with 3:38 remaining in the first on a one-yard TD run that capped a 15-play, 70-yard drive. Garrett doubled the lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter as he scored on a 50-yard QB keeper.
Bridgewater had a chance to increase the advantage in the closing seconds of the first half, but a 47-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
The Rams offense came alive in the third quarter with 14 straight points to tie the game. Sophomore Quron Wright (Worcester, Mass.) returned the second half opening kickoff 41 yards giving the Rams the ball at midfield. A short completion and a penalty on the Bears set up a 29 yard scoring strike from freshman quarterback Adam Wojenski (Stratford, Conn.) to sophomore Napoleon Miller (Boston, Mass.).
Senior Jaleel Wingard (Everett, Mass.) intercepted the Bears' Danny Higgins (Manahawkin, N.J.) on the ensuing BSU possession to set up the Rams second score of the day, an 11-yard touchdown run from Beahn.
Bridgewater State grabbed the lead back, 21-14, on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Higgins to Garrett with 8:39 left in regulation.
The Rams would tie the game with 2:09 remaining on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Wojenski to junior Mike Calicchio (Chelmsford, Mass.). The key play on the drive was 31-yard completion to sophomore Anthony Smith (Milton, Mass.) on a fourth and seven from the Rams' 43 yard line.
The Bears had one last possession in regulation and fumbled near midfield with 28 seconds remaining. The Rams recovered the fumble and moved down to the Bridgewater 35 yard line, but could not find the end zone sending the game to overtime.
The Bears amassed 454 yards of total offense in the game to 321 for the Rams including 223 in the second half and overtime.
Higgins completed 18 of 33 passes for 205 yards and the one touchdown with two interceptions. He also rushed for 61 yards on 13 attempts. McLaughlin added 64 yards on the ground, while senior receiver Dukens Leon hauled in six receptions for 73 yards.
Along with his big blocked kick, Ojo also added four tackles (three solo) including a sack and a pass breakup. Senior linebackers A.J. Pascuzzo (Wallingford, Conn.) and Stephen Jacobs (Tyngsboro, Mass.) finished with six tackles apiece, while Pascuzzo also broke up two passes.
Wojenski finished the game 17-for-35 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, while Miller finished with seven catches for 119 yards and a score. Beahn was the Rams leading rusher with two TDs on the ground.
Defensively, the Rams were led by 14 tackles, including ten solo, from junior Tom Burns(Attleboro, Mass.), while senior Aaron Owens (Springfield, Mass.) added ten stops.
The Rams close out the regular season next Saturday at home when they host Worcester State at noon, while the Bears host Mass. Maritime next Saturday in the 38th Annual Cranberry Bowl also at noon.
Notes: Bassett moved into second place on the Bears' all-time receptions list as he now as 122 for his career. Bassett surpassed BSU Hall of Famer Andy Macaione who caught 120 passes from 1997 to 2000....Higgins' touchdown pass marked the 42nd of his career which ranks third all-time at Bridgewater State. He moved past former standout quarterback and current assistant coach Mike McCarthy who threw for 41 touchdowns from 2010 to 2013.