Senior captain Nick Connell rushes for career-highs in both yards (170) and touchdowns (four)
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (November 5, 2016) – Western New England University captured its second consecutive New England Football Conference (NEFC) title and third in program history with a 41-22 victory over Salve Regina University this afternoon at Gaudet Field.
The Golden Bears (9-0, 6-0 NEFC) opened up a 21-0 lead and held off Salve Regina's (7-1, 5-1 NEFC) rally early in the second half to claim the final NEFC championship. Western New England racked up 286 yards on the ground against the nation's second-ranked rushing defense (50.4 YPG) while limiting the Seahawks, who entered today's action ranked eighth in the NCAA in rushing offense (292.9 YPG) to just 88 yards.
• Senior running back Nick Connell (East Marion, N.Y.) fueled Western New England's potent rushing attack with career-highs in both yards (170) and touchdowns (four) on 30 carries (5.7 avg.).
• Senior Dante Aiken (Brooklyn, N.Y.) also topped the 100-yard mark, rushing for 107 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries (5.1 avg).
• Senior wing Mohamed Camara (New York, N.Y.) caught six passes for a team-high 77 yards, while junior wide receiver Mark Dietrich (Cheshire, Conn.) added 56 yards on three receptions with one touchdown.
• Senior cornerback Obi Etuka (Middletown, Conn.) recorded a team-high seven tackles (one for loss) to go with three pass breakups and his 19th career interception, adding to his own program record.
• Junior Sam Edouard (Roosevelt, N.Y.) was a disruptive force on the Western New England defensive line, finishing with five tackles (one for loss).
• Salve Regina senior running back Sam Pascale (Cheshire, Conn.) carried the ball 18 times for 86 yards (4.8 avg.).
• Sophomore linebacker Tyler D'Errico (Cheshire, Conn.) and sophomore defensive lineman John Salute (Mahwah, N.J.) led the Seahawks' defense with 13 tackles each.
• Western New England was forced to punt on the opening possession of the game, but the Golden Bears got the ball back just two plays later on a diving interception by junior linebacker Tim Huffam (Medway, Mass.). Neither offense was able to find its groove for the remainder of the quarter as both defenses dominated. Western New England drove to the Salve Regina 25-yard line late in the period, but Service was forced to throw the ball away on fourth and 13.
• The Golden Bears finally broke through 1:41 into the second quarter, when Connell found the end zone on a seven-yard run, capping an eight-play, 63-yard drive. Camara had two key catches during the possession, including a seven-yard reception on third down and a 27-yard completion on the next play to get Western New England into the red zone.
• The Golden Bears doubled their lead with 10:19 remaining in the second quarter, when Dietrich hauled in a 21-yard pass from Service in the left side of the end zone.
• Salve Regina picked up its first first down of the game midway through the quarter on a 20-yard completion from senior quarterback Brandan Basil (Northford, Conn.) to Pascale. The Seahawks were unable to move the ball past midfield, however, as the drive resulted in another punt.
• Western New England went three-and-out on its next possession, but another Salve miscue gave the Golden Bears the ball back with a short field, as sophomore bear Kurtis Jolicoeur (Windham, N.H.) intercepted Basil at the Seahawks' 32-yard line. Two plays later, Connell broke a 19-yard run up the middle and extended the ball across the goal line as Western New England opened up a 21-0 advantage with 6:08 left in the half.
• Salve Regina answered with a five-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in a 36-yard touchdown pass from Basil to junior tight end Tommy Seaver (Rocky Hill, Conn.), but sophomore kicker Andrew Verre (Wethersfield, Conn.) missed the ensuing point after attempt. Western New England took a 21-6 lead into the locker room for halftime.
• The Seahawks cut their deficit to eight (21-13) early in the third quarter on a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, before making it a two-point game (21-19) midway through the period when Basil connected with junior Connor Sullivan (Lowell, Mass.) for a 39-yard touchdown pass.
• Western New England answered with a much needed score on its ensuing possession, with most of the damage on the nine-play, 75-yard drive coming on the ground. Aiken capped the four-minute, 11-second possession with a 30-yard touchdown run, breaking several tackles before finding open space along the sideline on his way to the end zone. A missed extra point kept the Seahawks within eight points (27-19), however.
• Verre cut Salve Regina's deficit to five (27-22) with 12:40 remaining in the contest on a 28-yard field goal.
• The Golden Bears restored their two-score lead on the following possession with a five-play, 51-yard drive that was aided by a Salve Regina pass interference call. Connell's third touchdown of the afternoon, a five-yard rush, gave Western New England a 34-22 lead with 10:25 on the clock.
• Etuka intercepted Basil on Salve Regina's subsequent possession, and the Seahawks' next two drives ended in turnovers on downs, effectively sealing the contest. Connell scampered for a 25-yard rushing touchdown, his fourth of the game, with just under two minutes remaining to cap the scoring.
• Today's contest served as the second straight meeting between these two programs with the NEFC title on the line. The Golden Bears claimed a 28-21 victory in Springfield last November.
• Western New England improves to 9-15 in 24 all-time meetings with Salve Regina.
• Western New England's three NEFC titles (2011, '15,'16) have all come under 12th year head coach Keith Emery. The Golden Bears will also be making their third appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament, which gets underway with first round action on Saturday, November 19.
• The Golden Bears outgained the Seahawks 429-239. Western New England converted on 9-of-21 (43%) third down opportunities, while limiting Salve Regina to a 24% success rate on third down (4-of-17).
Western New England will look to complete its second consecutive undefeated regular season next Saturday, when Coast Guard visits Golden Bear Stadium. The Western New England football program will celebrate senior day prior to the 1 p.m. kickoff. Salve Regina wraps up its regular season next Saturday at Maine Maritime.