The 2011 Springfield College football team had clearly developed an identity as one of the most explosive teams in the Empire 8, yet the Pride were still in desperate need of a character-defining victory Saturday against archrival Ithaca College at Amos Alonzo Stagg Field.
Trailing 27-25 entering the final quarter of play, senior quarterback Josh Carter led the Pride to 13 unanswered points when he connected with Phil Baier for a 38-yard touchdown and then hurdled his way through Ithaca defenders and scampered for a 56-yard touchdown in a span of two minutes and 31 seconds to deliver the Pride a defining 38-33 victory.
“There is never a better win than Ithaca,” Carter said. “They are a huge rival and it is just a great feeling. It really is kick starting our season now. We’ve got four more games left, and then hopefully a playoff berth or bowl game.”
It was Springfield’s 10th all-time victory against Ithaca and just the second since 2004.
Ithaca did not go down quietly, however. First, Pat Griffin scored from four yards out with 5:12 remaining to cut the SC lead to 38-33, and then the Bombers recovered a fumble by Joel Altavesta at the Ithaca 35 with 2:47 remaining before marching methodically down the field.
Yet, on 4th-and-5 from the Springfield 14 yard line with 53 seconds remaining, senior co-captain Matt Ramos dove in front of Phil Neumann’s intended pass to Dan Ruffrage, who had a 91-yard punt return in the second quarter, to end the game.
“They were running it all game, and I got beat on it twice,” Ramos said. “I knew it was coming. I read it, and I didn’t fall for it.”
Ramos was influential in setting up Carter’s 56-yard score when the strong safety intercepted Griffin’s pass at the Springfield 20 with the Pride holding a slim 31-27 lead with 10:34 remaining in the game.
“We said at the beginning of the week it was a make-or-break game for the season,” Ramos said.
Once again, Carter continued to put up dominating numbers as the quarterback finished with a career-high 224 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries while also throwing for 97 yards and a score on 5-of-11 passing. The senior now has 16 rushing touchdowns this season, which is a new career-high.
“Josh did two things today. He made some plays both running and passing,” coach Mike Delong said. “Josh executed as a whole very, very well, and the key thing is he made some really key plays for us.”
“The pass play from Carter to Baier was something we certainly had to do at that point in the game,” added the 28-year head coach.
The Pride’s chances at winning the Empire 8 sunk drastically following the team’s losses to Alfred (30-22) and Salisbury (63-25) during Springfield’s previous three-game road trip, and on Saturday, Springfield nearly cost themselves dearly with poor penalties (10-126 yards) and special teams play.
“To bounce back after a real bad loss at Salisbury speaks a lot about our mental toughness and our character, but still we’re trying to get the full potential out of this team,” Delong said.
Springfield out-gained Ithaca 532-314 in total offense, and James Kikel (nine tackles) and Corey Kaiser (three sacks) led the defensive effort.
Kikel made a momentum shifting interception on the Bombers’ first drive of the second half with the Pride holding a slim 25-24 lead, when he picked off quarterback Jason Hendel’s ill-advised throw at the Springfield four yard line.
Hendel was benched by Ithaca coach Mike Welch and was replaced by Griffin, who later got hurt and was replaced by Neumann.
Welch believed it was not his offense that struggled, but instead the difference maker was the success of the high-octane Springfield offense.
“You have to take care of the quarterback,” Welch said. “That’s the number-one in the option scheme and [Carter] did a great job. The offense is obviously unconventional so its something you have to work hard to defend and obviously, we didn’t do the kind of job we expected to do.”
The win meant a lot to the Pride who erupted in joy at the sound of the final horn. It was a much-needed win for a team that has suffered it fair share of tough losses this season.
“It means everything to us,” Kikel said. “I know it means the most to coach [Jack] Holik who stressed it was Bomber week all week. It was the last time we’re going to play Ithaca with us switching leagues next year, so we went out on top.”
Justin Felisko may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org