By Chris Gionta
In a game where the Springfield College football team converted a higher percentage and larger number of third downs, allowed less penalty yards, and consistently won the field position battle, Rowan’s 38-35 victory was defined by its big plays.
Down 14-7 on a third-and-15 situation in the second quarter, Rowan quarterback Mike Husni checked all his reads except his last one as he rolled to his right. He shovel-passed the ball to James Fara, and with help from his blockers, he sped down the right sideline for a 95-yard touchdown.
“We had a good rush going,” said Springfield head coach Mike Cerasuolo. “He stepped up in the pocket — he did a really nice job doing that all game. We knew that was something that he did really well, and he stepped up. Our guy who was in coverage left coverage a yard too soon. But, the quarterback was escaping and we knew how good he was, so we don’t fault him for that. He was trying to make a play on a really good quarterback.”
With 1:48 left in the second quarter, the Pride had the opportunity to keep it tied at 14. Rowan was going for it on fourth-and-four at Springfield’s 29 yard-line. However, Husni threw a perfect dart down the sideline to wide receiver John Maldonado for a touchdown, which put the Profs on top 21-14.
As the game went into the fourth quarter with Springfield ahead 28-24, there was a third-and-13 situation at Springfield’s 44 yard-line. Husni dropped back, and on an apparent zone defense, tight end CJ Barrett found a soft spot on the left sideline, where he caught a pass in stride beyond the outstretched right hand of a Springfield safety and took it to the end zone to make it 31-28 in Rowan’s favor.
However, with the majority of these big plays came a Springfield response. Later in the fourth quarter, the Pride forced a three-and-out and took field position at the Rowan 45-yard line. On second-and-10, David Wells ran for 12 yards, and on the play after, Nicholas Raneri ran up the middle for a 17-yard gain. Wells ran on back-to-back plays for four and eight yards respectively to get to Rowan’s two yard-line. The Pride wasted no time on the goal-to-go situation and immediately ran it in for a two-yard touchdown on a rush from Raneri.
The Profs got the ball back with 4:26 left. They got a first down to bring them to their 37 yard-line, but that was followed by three consecutive incompletions. With about two and half minutes left to play in a fourth-and-10 situation, Husni dropped back to pass and threw it down the middle in the soft spot of the zone coverage. The throw came in low to CJ Barrett, but he snagged it inches off the ground before falling for a 14-yard reception and a first down at Springfield’s 49 yard-line.
From there, it was smooth sailing for Rowan’s offense, as it did not see a third down for the rest of the drive.
On second-and-goal, Husni found Maldonado one-on-one on a fade route in the end zone. Maldonado won a jump ball to score his third touchdown of the day with 1:02 left to play. The Pride’s next possession ended on a fourth-down interception to seal the game.
Husni went 21-for-31 with 316 yards and five touchdown passes, while Maldonado grabbed nine receptions for 115 yards. Barrett also had 71 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.
“They’re good players,” said Cerasuolo. “[Maldonado] had 100 yards last week, so we knew that going in.”
The Pride proved to be a difficult team to defeat all game. They opened up with a defensive three-and-out to get the ball at their own 47 yard-line. They drove down to the 21 yard-line to set up a fourth-and-two situation. The ball was handed to power back Arsen Shtefan, who ran between the tackles and through all levels of Rowan’s defense to score the game’s first touchdown.
On Springfield’s following kickoff, the Profs’ kick returner made a mistake that gave them field position at their own one yard-line. On the first play of the drive, Husni threw a deep ball that was intercepted by C.J. Lavery and returned to Rowan’s six yard-line. The Pride scored another touchdown soon after to make it 14-0.
Springfield’s loudest touchdown occurred with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. The Pride were on the Profs’ 38 yard-line with a first-and-10 situation. Wells faked a handoff and dropped back, then found Noah Wagnblas, who had just beat his defender on a post pattern. He hauled it in and ran into the end zone to give the Pride a 28-24 lead.
The Pride’s next game will occur at Stagg Field on September 17 at 12 p.m. against Union College.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics