By Joe Arruda
With under two minutes left in Springfield College football’s game against undefeated NEWMAC-foe Merchant Marine Academy, the Mariners had the ball on Springfield’s 17 yard line. Trailing 28-23 on fourth down and seven, the Mariners needed a first down to stay in the game – and a touchdown to win.
Merchant Marine, a typical-triple option team, had to throw the ball. A sea of umbrellas covered over 100 alumni, students and families in the Stagg Field bleachers on the rainy afternoon. They exploded with an air horn and cowbells, willing the Springfield defense. Merchant Marine quarterback Ian Blankenship took the snap and looked for his No 1 receiver Cody Miller in the end zone.
Senior cornerback Damien Rabis lined up in front of Miller, prepared for a one-on-one battle that had been in effect all afternoon. Miller ran five yards and began to fade towards the right corner of the endzone when Blankenship released a perfectly placed ball.
Miller jumped and Rabis followed suit. Reaching with his right hand, Rabis deflected the pass onto the turf, igniting everyone on and around Stagg Field.
Merchant Marine went for it on 4th and 7 but the pass was broken up by Damien Rabis! Springfield ball on their own 17 with 1:46 remaining. pic.twitter.com/nBitX407LJ
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) October 30, 2021
“It’s just great to be put in a position to make that type of play in a big win like this. I don’t want to take all of the credit, just the scheme and the coaches – they prepared us very well to make plays like that,” Rabis said, with a rush of adrenaline.
Players, jumping for joy, knew exactly what that stop meant and the offense got the ball back with just over 90 seconds remaining, but Merchant Marine still had all three timeouts. Springfield’s offense took the ball, but was held to a three-and-out.
Senior punter Pat Touhy prepared for the most important boot of his career. Swinging his right leg, Touhy launched the ball and was rewarded with a favorable bounce that helped it go 59 yards down the field. The Mariners had one last chance to win the game.
Blankenship took the snap but was forced to release the ball as Springfield’s Quinn Sweeney almost immediately burst through the line and crashed into the quarterback. The ball floated down field, straight into defensive back Kyle Niehr’s game-sealing hands.
FINAL — Springfield College defeats Merchant Marine 28-23 after this game-sealing interception from Kyle Niehr as the clock ran out! pic.twitter.com/04nOODFXSx
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) October 30, 2021
Coaches raised both hands in celebration, cowbells rung with pride, and the maroon sea of players – top in their conference – stormed onto the field.
“We’re never satisfied, we’re always hungry,” Rabis said. “We play for eachother – that’s the biggest thing. This team is different than any other team in the nation because we play for each other, we’re a true family and I love my brothers, man. I play for my brothers.”
The 28-23 win on Saturday vaulted Springfield into the top spot in the NEWMAC conference and their undefeated conference record continues.
“The kids did an unbelievable job, they took everything in and they played hard. This is as hard as we’ve played in years as far as the physicality piece. It was awesome,” Springfield head coach Mike Cerasuolo said.
“I’m jacked up,” said fullback Tim Callahan who ran the ball 30 times for 137 yards and a touchdown. “I’m happy to have everybody out here and it’s a great day for some football, I don’t care if its raining and what-not, great win. Just a great win overall. I’m proud of everybody today.”
Merchant Marine would’ve guaranteed itself a conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Playoff with a win. It was a matchup of the two best rushing offenses in college football as both the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coaches for the Mariners are Springfield College alumni, certainly influencing their triple-option attack.
Springfield, which entered the game having outscored its three NEWMAC opponents 162-24, ran almost all of its offense through its two dominant fullbacks – Callahan and Pat Ladas. The pair combined for 245 rushing yards on 52 attempts with three touchdowns.
“The previous few weeks, obviously Isaiah [Cashwell-Doe] and Ryan [DeGuire] and all of the halfbacks have done an unbelievable job,” Cerasuolo said. “Their defense was designed to take the perimeter game out and force it back inside and we’ve got a really good offensive line and we’ve got really good fullbacks too so it’s hard to stop all three phases. They wanted to make a commitment to stopping things on the perimeter, and for the most part they did a good job, but our fullbacks did a pretty good job up inside.”
Springfield has two games remaining on its schedule, both against conference opponents in MIT (1-2 NEWMAC) and Catholic (3-1 NEWMAC). With wins in both of those games, the Pride would secure the conference championship and the automatic bid that comes along with it.
“It was a great win today and they’ll celebrate and protect the Brotherhood tonight and then we’ll get back at it tomorrow,” Cerasuolo said. “They’ve definitely earned this one so we’ll enjoy this and have a big Halloween lift tomorrow so that’s costume’s galore – it’ll be fun.”
Photo courtesy of Danielle Schmelling/The Student