By Chris Gionta
The Springfield College football team set the tone early in its 45-7 victory against Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) at Stagg Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Pride won the coin toss and deferred, which gave the Engineers the ball first. WPI’s quarterback dropped back and threw it 10 yards through the air around the right hash markers. It was too far to the left of his target, and went into the hands of Springfield defensive back Tyler Pohlman.
This was the second week in a row in which the Pride intercepted the ball on their first defensive play.
“The [turnovers] to open the game — when we’re stealing a possession early on, is great,” said Springfield head coach Mike Cerasuolo.
The Pride got a first down on a Dante Vasquez 13-yard rush, which also put Springfield in comfortable field goal range. Four plays later, Christian Hutra put a 34-yard field goal through the uprights to make it 3-0.
Springfield forced a punt, then found itself in a third-and-four situation at its own 36 yard-line. Quarterback David Wells dropped back to pass, and he found Dante Vasquez crossing to the left side about 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Vasquez caught it and had a lane down the left sideline which he followed, and no one touched him en route to his 64-yard touchdown.
“I thought Dante [Vasquez] played awesome today — his blocking on the perimeter, his receiving, his running — I thought he had a great game,” Cerasuolo said.
The Pride’s defense forced a three-and-out, then fed the ball to power running back Joe Cannizzaro. He ran for two first downs before breaking completely loose from 36 yards out for a touchdown.
The Engineers’ next drive consisted of a productive first play that put themselves in a second-and-three situation. WPI’s quarterback dropped back to throw on the next play. After not finding anyone open, he started to tuck the ball and scramble. Around the line of scrimmage, linebacker Billy Carr emerged behind him with an impactful hit that knocked the ball out of his hands. Linebacker Aiden Lewin scooped it up immediately and set the Pride up at WPI’s 32 yard-line.
“It was great coverage downfield,” Carr said. “They allowed us to get the forced fumble because the quarterback kept checking and trying to find open receivers and there was nobody open. I just got lucky and happened to chase the guy down from the back side.”
A Vasquez 10-yard run set up a first-and-10 at the 19 yard-line, which was where Jacob Silvester ran through the left tackle and guard en route to the end zone.
A couple drives later, the Pride were at the Engineers’ 49 yard-line and ran a pass play. Wells aired it out to Noah Wagnblas on a deep post, and Wagnblas made the grab shortly before being brought down at the four yard-line. On second-and-goal from the one yard-line Cannizzarro punched it in for his second touchdown of the day.
Following that possession, the Engineers had their longest drive of the first half. They advanced 60 yards before attempting a 30-yard field goal, but it was missed wide to the left. The Pride sat on the ball for the half’s final minute, and entered halftime with a 31-0 lead.
Springfield opened the third quarter with the ball and extended its lead further. Arsen Shtefan and Vasquez converted a pair of first downs, then on third-and-four at WPI’s 45 yard-line, Wells skyed it deep down the middle of the field for a wide open Blane Hart, who hauled the ball in and scampered into the end zone.
The Engineers got on the board in the fourth quarter on a six-yard touchdown pass. Later in the period, Blane Hart scored a rushing touchdown from five yards out.
On the next possession of the game, the Engineers threw a deep ball toward the end zone on the right side of the field, and safety James McGaughan lept and grabbed it out of the air for Springfield’s third takeaway of the game.
The Pride had a variety of contributors, along with a diversity of methods to attack their opponent offensively and defensively. Vasquez had 57 yards on the ground and gathered 93 yards from catches. Hart added 25 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards, while Shtefan and Cannizzaro each ran for more than 50 yards. Wells also had a significant performance with a career-high 180 passing yards.
“That’s where we’re going to be playing our best — is when we can get all phases going and get a lot of guys involved in it,” Cerasuolo said.
Defensively, Carr had nine solo tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a sack along with his forced fumble in the first quarter. Pohlman had seven total tackles to go with his interception, and Lewin combined for five total tackles along with his fumble recovery. DJ Brown also provided four solo tackles and a sack.
Springfield will be on the road for a 1 p.m. matchup next Saturday at Merchant Marine. The Pride’s next appearance at Stagg Field will come on Nov. 5 at 12 p.m. against Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Photo: Springfield College Athletics