Men's Sports Sports

After a third straight NEWMAC title, the Pride begin their preparation for Ithaca

Luke Whitehouse

On Sept. 15, the Springfield College football team lost its first game of the session against Union.

It was a wakeup call.

The Pride had won the first two games by double-digits, and yet against Union, albeit a tough opponent, all they mustered was a single touchdown via a Joe Maurer punt return.

But with a team that takes one game at a time, there was only one direction: forward.

Time to reflect, but no time to panic.

Entering the season, Springfield had many new additions to the starting lineup – specifically on offense. With a completely new offensive line, and a new quarterback – it was inevitable that success was not achieved overnight.

For head coach Mike Cerasuolo, it was a team finding its identity.

“Coming together during preseason camp, you try to figure out who you are,” he said. “And each week, I think we learned a little bit more about ourselves and who we are and what we’re capable of doing. I am really proud of how connected the team became and I think that always overcomes any inadequacies you might have when you believe in each other.”

The loss against Union was Springfield’s last.

The Pride ripped off seven consecutive wins – six of which were by double-digits – and averaged over 300 total yards after just accumulating 150 against the Garnet Chargers.

A big reason for this was the ability to not only run up the middle, but also stretch the defense and have success running outside and on the edge. Because Springfield runs the triple option, many teams “load the box” against the Pride – putting as many defenders inside as possible.

But with halfback Blane Hart breaking out in the latter half of the season – finishing with 776 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns, and senior Arsen Shtefan racking up 1,206 yards from the fullback position – Springfield’s offense became hard to stop.

And with Cerasuolo taking over play-calling reigns this season, he’s had a first-hand look at its evolution and improvement.

“You can’t just stop one phase of [our offense],” Cerasuolo said. “With the weapons we have on the perimeter, our fullbacks and our offensive line, it opens up a lot in the run game and when we do throw the ball, you get a lot of one-on-one coverage. It allows us to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically.”

Springfield’s defense – the more experienced unit – also took command, allowing just an average of 11.7 points per game over the final seven games.

Fast forward to the second week in November.

The Pride finished the regular season 9-1, and remained undefeated in conference play for the third straight year, earning another NEWMAC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament.

After Sunday’s selection show and bracket reveal, Springfield will be facing a familiar foe – Ithaca College. The Bombers finished the season with a 8-2 record, finishing first in the Liberty League.

Last year, the Pride’s season ended abruptly after suffering a second-round loss to Ithaca. But this time, Springfield gets to face the Bombers at home, after earning the top seed in the New England Region.

“It’s obviously that much more exciting for the kids because they get to be at home and it’s always special to play on Stagg [Field],” Cerasuolo said.

But the opponent?

Cerasuolo downplayed the “revenge” that can possibly be circulating.

“We never really talk about the opponent other than film breakdowns,” he said. “We always feel that if we take care of our business and control the controllables, then we don’t really concern ourselves with what other teams are doing or if we’ve played them before.”

The Pride will host the Bombers on Saturday, Nov. 18 and will look to advance to the second round for the second consecutive year.

“Any time you have the opportunity to be one of the final 32 teams it’s pretty special,” Cerasuolo said. “And so we’re gonna show up on Saturday and be ready to play.”

Photo courtesy of Springfield College Athletics

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