Worcester, Mass. - September 22, 2018 - The Springfield College football team rallied for a 17-14 win at WPI in its New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) opener on Saturday afternoon.
The Pride, which was receiving votes in last week's AFCA Division III National Coaches Poll, improves to 3-1, 1-0 in conference play, while the Engineers dropped to 2-2, 0-1.
Starting for the first time in his collegiate career under center, Hunter Belzo (Middletown, Conn.) rushed for a game-high 113 yards and two touchdowns as he directed Springfield's offense to 269 yards of offense. Defensively, Nick Giorgio (Cumberland, R.I.) delivered seven solo tackles, while AJ Smith (Rahway, N.J.) had two tackles, an interception, and blocked a field goal. WPI, which entered the game averaging a conference-best 415 yards of offense per game, was held to just 298 yards on the day.
Julian Nyland (Melrose, Mass.) was 13-33 for 210 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while Sean McAllen (Prospect, Conn.) was held in check with just 88 yards on 24 carries. Blayne Merchant (Sanderson, Fla.) and Collin Saunders (Westwood, N.J.) led the defense with 12 and 11 tackles, respectively.
The Engineers went up 7-0 when Lain Zembek (Binghamton, N.Y.) recovered an offensive fumble in the endzone with 6:19 left in the first. The drive started on the Springfield 26 thanks to a blocked punt by Merchant.
After the Pride's offense mustered just 18 yards on its first 11 plays, Belzo broke free for a remarkable 75-yard touchdown score on the final play of the first quarter, eluding multiple tacklers en route to his first score of the afternoon.
The teams would trade turnovers to start the second quarter, with Smith producing an interception and returning it 23 yards for the Pride. Two series later, Springfield grinded out a 20-play, 67-yard drive that lasted 9:07, only to have the visitors come up a yard short on a 4th and 4 from the WPI 8.
Senior Christian Humulock (Naragansett, R.I.) drilled a 28-yard field goal to give the Pride a 10-7 advantage nearly five minutes into the third. However, WPI's Nic Rossi (Howell, N.J.) made a defender miss and busted out a 68-yard tochdown with 10:36 left in regulation to put the hosts back on top.
On the ensuing drive, Springfield benefitted from a terrific kick return by Ryan McCarthy (Palmer, Mass.), as the sophomore raced 60 yards to allow the Pride to start on the WPI 35 yard line. Seven plays later, on fourth and goal from the one yard line, Belzo rolled out and beat a pair of defenders to the pylon and plunged over the goal line for the 17-14 edge.
The Engineers would make one final push, driving 47 yards in just 1:38 to set up an opportunity for Spencer Harrington (Clearfield, Pa.) on a 45-yard field goal with 34 seconds remaining. However, Smith elevated to get a hand on the ball as the kick fell short and to the left of the uprights to give the Pride the conference win.
The Pride will continue NEWMAC play next Saturday when it travels to Vermont to clash with Norwich for a 1 pm contest.
Photo by Matt Noonan