By Joe Arruda
The Springfield College football team defeated Catholic 28-14 on Saturday at Stagg Field behind a tremendous defensive effort. With the win, the Pride clinched a NEWMAC Championship and in return, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The last time the Pride made the NCAA Tournament came after an undefeated 2017 season, before the NEWMAC Conference controlled an automatic bid. After Saturday’s performance the team is headed back.
The offense put the points on the board in the first half, cruising down the field with its typical ground attack, and went into halftime ahead 28-7. As the offense struggled in the second half, it was time for the defense to step up for the third week in a row.
And they did just that.
Midway through the second quarter, after Pat Ladas punched in a one-yard touchdown to give Springfield a 21-7 lead, Aiden Lewin made a play on the ball on defense. He tipped the Catholic pass into the air and hauled it in before advancing it 10 yards. The team’s leader in tackles on the day (12 total) provided the ball back to his offense which was hot at the time. Tim Callahan plowed his way in from three-yards out, giving the Pride a 28-7 lead.
To start the second half, Pride quarterback David Wells tossed the ball down the right side of the field. It was a jump ball, but Ian Porter had it ripped away in the air by Catholic’s Mason Stillwell, giving the Cardinals the ball on its own 38. Soon after, Amari Bilal forced a fumble from Catholic’s quarterback and Billy Carr landed on it to get the ball right back to his offense.
Later, Preston Jeffrey caught a deep pass which set Catholic up on the Springfield two-yard line. The Cardinals completed a pass into the endzone on the next play, but it was called back after an offensive holding penalty. On the following play, Catholic found the endzone again, but was again called back after an offensive pass interference penalty. The Springfield defense broke up a pass into the endzone on fourth and goal from the 20-yard line, erupting the massive crowd which filled the Stagg Field bleachers.
With just over five minutes to play and the 28-14 lead still standing, Catholic was driving in Springfield territory. On the Springfield 39-yard line, Catholic quarterback Madden Lowe dropped back to pass. He released the ball into the middle of the field, but Mark Montano read it perfectly and made an incredible diving interception.
Montano ran over to the Springfield sideline, threw on the hard hat and celebrated with the Springfield College faithful.
“Pat [Touhy] had a big punt late there and obviously defensively Mark [Montano] came up with a big interception, there was a lot of big plays,” Springfield head coach Mike Cerasuolo said. “We got off the field on a couple of fourth downs which was huge in the first half as well. That’s a potent offense so we’re super excited that we get another game next week and the kids are super excited about that as well so we’ll get to work tomorrow and figure out who we’re playing and have some fun.”
That wasn’t the end of it though, as Catholic had one last chance to get on the board. Lowe dropped back to pass again, but this time sent a deep shot down the field. Ronald Beard looked up and saw the ball coming in his direction, he turned around and picked it off, effectively sealing the win for Springfield.
Springfield’s defense gets a HUGE stop as Catholic went for it on 4th and Goal from the 20. The Cardinals had the ball on the 2 and found the endzone twice but both were called back after holding and pass interference calls on the offense. pic.twitter.com/KEPSJq17HT
— Joe Arruda (@joearruda9) November 13, 2021
“Offense wins games but defense wins championships. All year they’ve been lights out and let’s hope we keep that going,” Wells said.
The offense, which was fueled by its typical core, featured touchdowns from Wells, Ryan Deguire, Ladas and Callahan, all of whom are graduating this year. With families in the crowd for senior day, they’re just excited to keep playing.
With the NCAA Division III selection show scheduled for Sunday, the Pride will have eased nerves knowing that they’re a confirmed contender.
“The time that they put in over the course of the last whatever it’s been and just committed to each other, and the program, and the school has just been amazing,” Cerasuolo said. “Obviously it was challenging for everybody, and really challenging for athletes because they got something taken away from them that they loved and to be able to come back and where we were four or five weeks ago to where we are now – they committed to each other and they made it a mission to get to this moment and they did.”
After missing out on so much due to the pandemic, there was a feeling of unfinished business for many of the Pride’s 33 seniors who were celebrated before the game.
Cerasuolo said, “The type of kid that we get at Springfield College shows day in and day out on the practice field, in the classroom, and then they showed it on game day as well. Just really excited for those kids, especially those kids that came back for that fifth year when they could’ve started their lives and things like that, they made a commitment to The Brotherhood and a commitment to the school.”
The team will now celebrate and wait for the selection show tomorrow to find out where they it will play next week.
Photo courtesy of Gillian Dube/The Student