By Evan Wheaton
Springfield knew what they were up against.
Norwich’s 4-0 record wasn’t as daunting as their run defense. Allowing just 106.3 rushing yards through the first four weeks of the 2019 season, the cadets presented a mighty challenge for the Pride offense.
This, much like anything else, wouldn’t discourage Springfield from running with their triple option scheme, as they took down Norwich at Stagg Field, 21-17.
“This is who we are,” head coach Mike Cerasuolo said. “This is our identity and it doesn’t waiver, so this is what we’re going to do. People know that and our kids know that, so we have to excel at it.”
Pride quarterback Chad Shade had an impressive opening drive. Accumulating 18 yards on two consecutive keepers, he was able to move the chains early on. Picking up two first downs, they found an early rhythm on the ground.
“Those guys up front opened up huge holes, the fullback had a great game, halfbacks were making big blocks, big plays out on the perimeter and that opens things up for me,” Shade said.
Shade racked up 169 rushing yards and a touchdown across 31 carries. Norwich quarterback Matt Dunn was on other side of the pendulum, relying on a dominant passing game. On the first Cadets possession, Dunn threw a strike over the middle to Trevor Chase for a 21-yard gain.
Dunn completed 11 of his 25 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. A bulk of his performance came throughout the first half as his receivers broke coverage with ease and hauled in everything that came their way.
“We have to get some pressure on the kid (Dunn),” Cerasuolo said at halftime. “He’s been able to sit up there and throw it… it’s a combination of not getting any pressure and then we have to hold up for a long period of time.”
The Pride’s pass defense woes would carry on for a brief time in the third quarter after a 37-yard connection between Dunn and Manni Romero to set up the Cats at the Springfield 25-yard line.
And that’s where coverage would tighten up.
“There weren’t really too many (adjustments),” Cerasuolo said. “The kids just started playing better and trusting their eyes and doing the things that they’re capable of doing. That’s been kind of the thing this year, we’ve been inconsistent. That second half was obviously probably one of the better second halves we’ve played all year.”
After giving up 14 points in the second half of their games against WPI and Union respectively, along with 10 for Western New England, this marks the second time in which the Pride allowed zero points for their opponent after the half this season.
Like the steady beat of a drum, the Pride pounded through Norwich’s defensive line in the fourth quarter. With 6:08 remaining in regulation, the Pride faced 4th and goal from the 1-yard line.
With a quick handoff to Tim Callahan, he punched his way through for the game-winning touchdown.
“Offensively, they (Springfield) just wore them out,” Cerasuolo said. “I mean just relentless, that second half as far as running the fullback game and then being able to get on the perimeter a bit. I was really happy being able to inside-out it with the offensive side of the ball.”
Callahan rushed for 140 yards on 27 carries. The fullback was instrumental for the Pride against such a strong run defense.
“He (Callahan) ran hard today, no question about that,” Cerasuolo said. “All those guys did. It was a lot of zone dive stuff and it wasn’t a lot of and he obviously hunkered down at the fullback position.”
Up by four points with just over five minutes remaining, the triple option had one last benefit for the Pride.
Keeping with the ground game, the seconds kept ticking away. Shade took a delay of game penalty before making up for it off a 12-yard quarterback draw.
“That’s why he (Shade) took that delay of game penalty, we wanted to bleed that clock as much as we could,” Cerasuolo said. “He just wanted to make it more interesting when he ran for that quarterback draw. That’s Chad Shade for you.”
The Pride didn’t just pick up their first NEWMAC win of the 2019 season. They stayed true to who they are despite the tremendous task at hand.
Photo courtesy of Jack Margaros