Pick a roller coaster, any roller coaster. It starts out at the highest point and plummets. Throw in a loopty loop and maybe some corkscrews, and finish with a nice, soft ending.
The Springfield College football team went on their own roller-coaster season this fall, overcoming adversity en route to a 7-3 regular season record and a second consecutive bowl game victory.
The Pride kicked off the season with a heart-stopping 49-40 victory over Western New England in the first match-up between the two Springfield city colleges on the gridiron. The Pride used some trickeration to pull ahead late, connecting on a double pass from James Poggio to Jason Woods to silence the crowd before Matt Berni intercepted a WNEU pass and took it 70 yards to the house to seal the opening weekend victory.
The Pride turned around and posted their first shutout of the season, crushing Husson University to the tune of 36-0. Led by Jon Marrero’s 132 yards and Lou Fenaroli’s three touchdowns, the Pride racked up over 400 yards of total offense while holding Husson to only 166 yards.
The shutout train continued to roll the following week when Springfield took a trip to Mt. Ida, where they dismantled the Mustangs on their way to a 41-0 victory. Marrero once again led the Pride offensively, compiling 163 yards rushing and three scores as the Pride offense rolled up 306 yards of rushing. The Springfield defense forced four Mustang fumbles while sacking Mt. Ida eight times.
After beginning the season 3-0 for the first time since 2010, the roller coaster took its first tumble. Traveling to the University of Rochester, the Pride went on an awe-inspiring two-minute drive to take the 35-28 lead with just 48 seconds left. The Yellow Jackets answered with a quick drive of their own, pulling within one point as time expired. Rather than force overtime, Rochester elected to go for two points and the win as Myles Allen plunged up the middle for the game-winning score.
The Pride returned home to face rival Union, only to have the once promising season suddenly begin to look bleak. The Dutchmen took a 13-7 lead in the half before scoring 14 unanswered points in the second on their way to a 27-7 win, their first of the season. The Pride offense was held to just 85 yards of total offense and could only pick up three first downs while Union amassed 481 yards of total offense, 320 of which came from the air.
The road would get no easier for the Pride, as they next had to face nationally-ranked Hobart. Hobart, the defending Liberty League champions, wasted little time in taking control of the game, scoring the game’s first 28 points. By halftime, the score was 28-7, and by the end of the third, Hobart had effectively put the game on ice, leading 42-7. The Pride managed a pair of fourth-quarter scores, but still fell 49-21. The Pride did manage 248 yards on the ground and 22 first downs, but 359 yards of total offense were too much for the Pride to handle.
Springfield’s next game against Merchant Marine was postponed due to the government shutdown.
With an extra week to prepare, Springfield rallied to defeat St. Lawrence at home on Homecoming Weekend, 21-20. The Pride trailed 20-14 late in the fourth before they marched down the field and took the lead with under one minute to play. Tim O’Brien led the Pride with 88 yards passing to go along with 82 yards of offense through the air.
Springfield traveled to RPI for their final road game of the season, taking down the Engineers 35-28. O’Brien and Marrero combined for 247 yards rushing and four scores to lead the Pride, while the Springfield defense held RPI to just 148 yards rushing.
Entering their final game of the regular season, the Pride hosted WPI, defeating the Goats 35-21. Marrero racked up 131 yards on the ground while five different players scored for the Pride, including a 95-yard kickoff return from Joe Festo.
With a 6-3 record, the football season appeared to be over for Springfield. With the chances of receiving a bowl bid appearing to be slim, the seniors approached the WPI game as if it were their last. But the last loopty loop the Pride would go through gave Springfield one last home game, an ECAC Championship Bowl Game against Norwich University.
The Pride responded with a thrilling 28-27 victory, sealing the win with a blocked extra point with under four minutes to play before converting a 4th-and-2 with less than one minute remaining. Alex Martin led the Pride with 69 yards rushing while Joel Altavesta added 60 yards and two touchdowns en route to earning the ECAC Bowl MVP award. The Springfield defense held the Cadets to just 50 percent passing and only 89 yards in the win.
The Pride graduate 26 seniors, but with a strong sophomore and freshmen corps, Springfield appears ready to make a serious run at the Liberty League title and a NCAA National Tournament bid in 2014.
Marshall Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org