WESTFIELD, Mass. – Westfield State University got 156 rushing yards and two touchdowns from junior running back Travon Holder (Cheyney/Hartford, Conn.) as the Owls defeated Massachusetts Maritime Academy 35-28 in a Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference shootout at Alumni Field on Saturday.
Westfield gets its first win of the season, improving to 1-5 overall and 1-3 in the conference, and snaps a 10-game skid dating back to last season. Mass Maritime falls to 1-4 overall and 1-3 in the MASCAC.
The Owls led 13-0 midway through the second quarter on the strength of 4- and 65-yard touchdown runs from Holder. Holder erupted for the 65-yard score, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage and romped down the left sideline, evading the dive of the final MMA defender at the 10-yard line.
The Buccaneers responded with a quick strike drive of their own, using a 39-yard Ben Sheehan kick return to set up shop at the Westfield 43-yard line, then five plays later quarterback Chris Haggerty (Cohasset, Mass.) rolled to his right and found Dylan O'Neil (Hanover, Mass.) in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 13-7.
Westfield bounced right back with special teams play, as William Tejada (Acton-Boxboro/Princeton, Mass.) received the kickoff, then handed off to Evan Garvey (Wahconah/Dalton, Mass.) , who scampered down the right sideline for a total of a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, with Corey Pooler's (Middleboro, Mass.) extra point giving the Owls a 20-7 lead.
The Owls added a 9-play, 70 yard drive late in the half, capped by senior reserve quarterback Phil Cohen (Valley Reg-Old Lyme/Old Lyme, Conn) tossing a seven yard TD pass to tight end Bailey Raymond (Fermi/Enfield, Conn.) with 29 ticks left in the first half, after starting QB Jake Cassidy (Lawrence Acad./Lynn, Mass.) exited after being shaken up on a play on the drive, and Ethan Bartlett (Enfield, Conn.) rushed in the 2-point conversion to stake Westfield to 28-7 lead at the half.
Mass Maritime gained momentum in the early stages of the second half, scoring on their first drive of the half, as Richie Phillips barged into the end zone from 1-yard out to cap a smart 10-play 88 yard drive and cut the Owls lead to 28-14. Haggerty found Paul Suances (Middleboro, Mass.) with a 30-yard scoring strike over the top of the Owls defense early in the fourth quarter to keep the result in question as the Owls lead was trimmed to 28-21.
Westfield's special teams came up with another big play, as Tejada took a bouncing ball on a punt return, and returned it for what looked like an 88-yard touchdown return (which would have broken a 30-year old record held by Carlos Canino) but a holding call in the run back shortened the return to 54 yards and set the Owls up at the MMA 42-yard line. The Owls' drive stalled after a false start penalty and looked like a 3-and-out, but on the ensuing punt play, the Owls snapped the ball to protector Zach Howard (David Prouty/Spencer, Mass.), who wheeled to the left side of the field sprung by blocks from Trevor Abdallah (Methuen, Mass.) and Sean Dillon (Cambridge RL/Cambridge, Mass.) , and Howard sailed back to the right side of the field evading tacklers and into the end zone at the right pylon for a 44-yard touchdown run and a 35-21 Owls lead.
Undaunted, the Buccaneers shipped themselves back down the field on the next series, covering 65-yards in 10 plays, wrapped by a 24-yard touchdown run from Richie Phillips (Old Rochester/Onset, Mass.) , with Phillips breaking many tackles down the left side of the field. George Lampros' (Bridgewater, Mass.) kick cut the Westfield lead back to 35-28. Phillips finished with a career-high 192 rushing yards on the day.
Westfield had to survive one final attack from the Buccaneers, who moved the ball from their own 20 yard line all the way to the Owls 8-yard line in the final 4:38 of play, but time ran out on MMA as on the final play from scrimmage Haggerty connected with O'Neil on the sideline. O'Neil appeared to fall out of bounds on the catch with six seconds, but the officials wound the clock, and as the Bucs tried to get one last desperate play as time expired, they were whistled for a false-start penalty, and the required 10-second runoff ended the game.
Westfield amassed 354 yards of offense and another 306 yards on kick and punt returns, as Holder added a 70 yard kick return to his impressive day. Cohen finished 5-10 passing for 78 yards in relief of Cassidy. Cassidy finished 4-9 passing and carried five times for 34 yards. Tyler Bevan (Platt/Ansonia, Conn.) had two catches for 62 yards for the Owls.
Haggerty finished 22-39 for 203 yards and two touchdowns for MMA, but almost half of those yards came in the fourth quarter. Suances finished with four catches for 89 yards for the Bucs.
Westfield's defensive line got penetration throughout the afternoon, totaling three sacks and hurrying Haggerty on four other occsions. Tejada led the owls with 12 tackles, and a sack, Howard added 11 tackles and both Andrew Carpenter (Auburn, mass.) and Tyler Robbins (Valley Christian/Southwick, Mass.) made 10 stops.
Cameron Stewart (Uxbridge, Mass.) led the Buccaneers with 11 tackles.
Westfield State will be back in action at home next Saturday, hosting Fitchburg State in a 2:00 p.m. kickoff as part of the athletic department's Hall of Fame weekend.