When you coach for 30 years, there will inevitably be shocking losses. There is 1998, when head coach Mike DeLong and Springfield lost to Buffalo State 38-35 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There’s 2003, where Springfield had a perfect season end at the hands of Rochester Polytechnical Institute, 40-34 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And there is the 2006 season, when Springfield fell to St. John Fisher, 27-21 in the NCAA Tournament. Then there is 2013.
On Saturday, the Pride suffered a heartbreaking loss to the University of Rochester, 36-35, surrendering a two-point conversion with no time left on the clock in the fourth quarter. The loss was the first of the year for the Pride, dropping their record to 0-1 in Liberty League play and 3-1 overall.
“Over the course of 30 years, you’re going to win a couple like that, but also it’s going to balance off, [and] you’re going to lose a couple like that,” said DeLong. “This one ranks right up there; it’s a pretty frustrating loss. We had a couple opportunities there to finish it and we didn’t.”
Springfield trailed by 13 with under 2 minutes to play in the first half before John Marrero connected with James Poggio for a 12-yard connection with 20 seconds remaining. The Pride scored 14 unanswered points in the third before Rochester tied the game at 28 with 3:24 left in the fourth quarter.
Springfield once again went to work with their two-minute offense, scoring the go-ahead score with under one minute to play. Keith Rodman, who finished with over 100 yards rushing, started things off for Springfield with a 14-yard carry to midfield. After a short gain on first down, Joel Altavesta, who had 98 yards rushing, busted out for a 20-yard carry to the Rochester 27-yard line. After a pair of short gains and an incomplete pass, Springfield faced 4th-and-7 from the 24-yard line. Marrero threw incomplete to Poggio, but pass interference brought the ball to the Rochester 10. Altavesta followed with a 9-yard run to the Rochester 1-yard line before Marrero drove the final yard for the go-ahead score with 49 seconds left to play.
Once again trailing, Rochester answered. A personal foul on Springfield initiated the Rochester drive. With the ball at the Springfield 48-yard line, an incompletion and a four-yard gain set up Rochester for 3rd-and-6. With 24 seconds on the clock, senior quarterback Dean Kennedy connected with Thomas Hayes for a 26-yard gain.
After two incompletions, Rochester was faced with a 3rd-and-10, with time for just one play left. Kennedy fired to Derek Wager in the end zone. The ball appeared to hit the ground for an incompletion, but the refs ruled Wager made the catch, putting Rochester within one.
Rather than tie the game and go to overtime with an extra point, Rochester elected to go for two points and the win. Freshman Myles Allen got the carry on an outside zone and muscled his way in for the two-point conversion, giving Rochester the win.
“We went into [the final drive] with confidence,” Springfield sophomore cornerback Joseph Racciopi said. “They just overpowered us and punched it in [for two]. It was a heartbreaking way to lose, but we shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”
The same sentiment was echoed from the coaching staff.
“The coaches go through the highs and lows of the game and that game was an emotional roller coaster. You’re down, you’re up, you’re down, you’re back up,” said DeLong. “Offensively I thought we did a great job scoring right before half, basically two, two-minute drills, right before half and at the end of the game. It is a roller coaster and as a coach, you try to keep everything in perspective but one of the reasons you coach the game is the emotional part of the game…it’s part of what we do.”
A loss this devastating can be difficult to rebound from, but the luxury that the Pride have is that the loss comes very early in the year. This isn’t Division I, where a loss can end a team’s chances at winning a conference crown. For a talented Pride team, a loss to Rochester in week one of conference play is something they can rebound from.
“It’s only the fourth ball game of the year,” DeLong said. “We have a lot of other games. There are a lot of good teams and great opportunities for this team coming up over the next few weeks to really set their season back up. So it’s not like the whole season is over with.”
The Pride host rival Union on Family Weekend, playing just their second home game of the season.
“We [have to] come out strong and physical right from the start,” said Racciopi. “We got to get on them and stay on them. We think if we do that they will go away.”
DeLong has brought teams back from disappointing losses in the past, so expect him to do the same this week.
“Hopefully we’ll dig in and focus down on those mistakes,” said DeLong. “We’re at midseason, so we should not be making some of the mistakes we’re making. Hopefully we’ll be able to clean those up when we focus a little bit. Every game is meaningful and certainly our most meaningful game is the next game.”