By Joe Arruda
After earning an automatic bid into the 32-team NCAA Tournament field following its NEWMAC Championship-clinching victory on Saturday, the Springfield College football team sat together to watch the NCAA selection show on Sunday, Nov. 14.
Players dressed comfortably and waited with a lessened sense of anxiety, knowing that their team’s name would be called at any moment. The last time Springfield earned an NCAA bid followed its undefeated 2017 season, before the NEWMAC was one of the 27 conferences holding rights to an automatic entry.
Near the end of the show, the Pride found out that they would be heading to SUNY Cortland for a first-round game on Nov. 20. The game is set to kickoff at noon on Saturday, Nov. 20.
Last weekend, though, was time for the Pride to lock it up. Following a 1-3 start, Springfield ran through the NEWMAC. The Pride purposely scheduled tough, non-conference games on the road to start the season. In doing so, the Pride not only were prepared for the competition ahead of them, but built up their strength-of-schedule resumé.
Any tie-breakers in the conference standings would lead to a mathematical solution that calculates strength-of-schedule.
In order to avoid a tie-breaker, Springfield simply needed to defeat Catholic in its final game of the regular season last weekend. The team came out fast, with the offense running up the score in the first half, and the defense consistently returning them the ball.
But the second half was all defense and special teams.
The Pride led 28-7 heading into halftime, following touchdowns from typical scorers in quarterback David Wells, running back Ryan Deguire and fullbacks Tim Callahan and Pat Ladas.
The defense forced three Catholic turnovers in the second half as both offenses struggled. It was a key diving interception by senior defensive back Mark Montano that returned the ball to the teeth of Springfield’s triple-option offense with just over six minutes remaining and a 14-point lead.
The second-half struggle with the ball snapped it back to Pat Touhy, the punter, after a quick three-and-out. Touhy blasted the ball 46 yards down the field, giving Catholic the ball at its own 31 yard line. Three plays later, Springfield defensive back Ronald Beard leaped at the goal line and made a clutch interception that allowed Callahan to run the clock out.
The bleachers at Stagg Field, filled with students, families and fans, erupted as the celebration began on the turf. Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper delivered the NEWMAC trophy to the team as players posed for a picture. “The Brotherhood” erupted in song, scream-singing Eddie Money.
“Take me home tonight, I don’t want to let you go ’til you see the light,” the huddle echoed as it jumped around with the trophy.
It was a celebration of the team’s hard work throughout the course of the season — and the past two years, since the 2020 season was cancelled because of Covid.
“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,” Springfield head coach Mike Cerasuolo said after the game. “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.”
The regular season was surely something to be celebrated, but the time is now for the NCAA Tournament. In 2017, the Pride came up just two points short in the first round to Husson University – a team that they fell to earlier this season by a score of 26-21.
Cortland (10-0) earned an automatic bid into the playoffs after winning the Empire 8 conference title and was ranked No. 13 in the country in the most recent D3football.com poll.
Springfield will face a challenge in getting past undefeated Cortland in the first round on Saturday, but the Pride are fired up.
Photo: Gillian Dube/The Student