By Chris Gionta
Pressure built throughout Stagg Field on an unseasonably warm November afternoon. The Springfield College football team was leading 16-14, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) lined up at Springfield’s 25 yard-line on a third-and-eight situation with 42 seconds left and no timeouts.
MIT quarterback Chase Harmon took the snap out of the shotgun, and six members of the Pride blitzed. Springfield’s coverage downfield was unflappable, making it difficult for Harmon to find anyone. There was nowhere to scramble, either. When he began toward his right, Billy Carr and Quinn Sweeney were closing in off their blockers. Still in the pocket, Harmon threw the ball away, with no Engineer in the area.
After discussion between the referees, they dropped a flag to mark an intentional grounding call and a six-yard loss.
On fourth-and-14, the Engineers brought their special teams unit out for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Amidst the horns and shaking of cowbells at Stagg Field, MIT’s kicker booted the ball wide right and a little short.
The Pride were one kneel-down away from a 16-14 win.
Springfield’s efforts were symbolized in the final few plays, with the defense refusing to give in. The grit displayed was a large reason why the Pride did not allow any second half points.
“Our defense played great,” said Springfield defensive back Joe Maurer. “Our front gets a lot of pressure — they stopped the run like they always do.”
Maurer came through for some of the biggest moments of the game. With Springfield down 14-13 and coming off a turnover on downs, MIT had a second-and-seven situation at its 48 yard-line. When Harmon threw it across the middle, Maurer jumped the route and hauled in the interception.
On the Engineers’ next drive, they were at the Pride’s eight yard-line. Harmon dropped back and rolled to his left. With linebacker Aiden Lewin coming at him, he threw to the left corner of the end zone, and Maurer was there to grab his second interception of the day.
“I just had the tight end running the out route, then he started to turn upfield, and I guess he cut it off, then I turned and the ball was there,” Maurer said. “I knew I was close to the sideline, so I was just trying to get my feet down.”
What followed his first interception were the only points either team scored in the second half. At MIT’s 40 yard-line, a fourth down conversion on a Jacob Silvester seven-yard run brought the Pride closer to field goal range. Springfield gained four more yards, then reached fourth down again.
Christian Hutra lined up for a 46-yard field goal attempt. He kicked it through comfortably, setting a new career long, and gave the Pride the lead with 14:55 left in the fourth quarter.
The Pride did not score again, but they had a productive possession in the fourth quarter that made it difficult for MIT to come back. After Maurer’s second interception, Springfield ran 12 plays on a drive that lasted 6:27. The most notable play of the drive was on a third-and-10 situation, when quarterback David Wells avoided two blitzers and scrambled for a 13-yard gain.
Finally, Hutra sent a 34-yard punt that was returned to the Engineers’ 16 yard-line with 1:24 left in the fourth quarter.
The lack of time and timeouts did not stop the Engineers at the start of the drive. The first play of MIT’s drive was a pass down the middle to Collin DesRoberts for a 24-yard gain. Next, Harmon connected with wide receiver Andrew Hutchison down the right side for a 33-yard gain that brought them to Springfield’s 27 yard-line.
However, the Pride locked down — forcing an incompletion, a 2-yard pass play, and an intentional grounding call that led up to the missed field goal.
“It was scary there down the stretch — they had a couple completions,” said Springfield head coach Mike Cerasuolo. “But, the kids stepped up, had some key moments.”
The game started with momentum for the Pride, as they forced a three-and-out on MIT’s first possession, then scored a touchdown on a 46-yard run by Dante Vasquez.
The Engineers proved tough by responding with an efficient drive of their own. A 29-yard Dennis Gastel reception and 23-yard Jay Theriault set them up for a great scoring opportunity. MIT took advantage when Harmon connected with tight end Jonathan Berger for a nine-yard touchdown.
Springfield had a pair of long drives that resulted in Hutra field goals to make it 13-7 in its favor. The Engineers found the end zone again later in the half when Harmon threw a deep ball to Gastel for a 52-yard score.
The second half featured impactful moments for each defense, and it was ultimately the Pride who pulled it out.
Springfield will go on the road to face Catholic on Nov. 12 at 12 p.m., where the Pride look to clinch its second consecutive NEWMAC title.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics