BANGOR – When your football team has the nation’s top rushing offense in Division III, led by the nation’s top rusher in quarterback Chris Sharpe, the passing game and defense become almost an afterthought as far as outsiders are concerned.
Saturday afternoon, defense and passing were front and center for Springfield College at the Winkin Complex as it used both to remain unbeaten and turn a tight game with Husson College into a runaway in the fourth.
Sure, the Pride racked up 373 total yards on the ground, but it was their 94 yards passing – 19 in particular – and a stout defensive effort that made Saturday’s 43-16 victory over the Eagles look much easier than it actually was.
The Pride defense swarmed the line of scrimmage, bottled up Husson’s runners, harassed quarterback David Chase most of the game, and helped cause four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery leading to 20 second-half points.
“Our defense has been steady all year and improved each game,” said head coach Mike DeLong, whose 5-0 team is ranked first in the New England Div. III coaches poll. “We got beat a couple times over our heads, but played really well against the run.”
Springfield’s offensive line of Fairfield native Mike Mestieri, Nate Germain, Adam Feit, Dan Connors, and a rotation of Jon Mercer and Sean Kemp at right tackle not only paved the way for the backs against a Husson defense that was keying on Sharpe all game long, it also allowed no sacks.
“We don’t pass a lot, generally, but that all depends on the defense they throw at us,” said Sharpe, who averaged 183.8 rushing yards per game coming in. “By the end of the game, they had 11 people coming hard at us and it seemed like they were disregarding the pass.”
That was precisely the case with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and Springfield nursing a 23-16 lead. The Pride went for it on fourth down-and-4 at the Husson 25-yard line and decided to do it with only their fifth pass attempt of the game.
Sharpe took the snap, backpedaled quickly from a Husson blitz and lofted a pass 10 yards downfield to wide-open tight end Tim Fledderjohn for a 19-yard gain.
“I knew where he was going to be and in the pre-snap read, they didn’t have anyone in the middle of the field, so I tried to run it as quick as possible and get it out there fast,” Sharpe said.
Pride fullback Andrew Jackson took it into the end zone on a run off left tackle one play later and the Pride never looked back. Springfield got the ball back three plays later as Brian Hess stripped the ball from Husson tailback Bryan Ferguson and Mike Nicol recovered it at the H-21. Jackson took the next snap and ran hard off left tackle, cut to the left side and ran it in for another score to make it 36-16 with 7:53 left.
“The defense really kind of changed the momentum for us and gave us a boost,” said Jackson, who led the rushing attack with three touchdowns (all in the second half) and a game-high 94 yards on 18 carries.
Ferguson, who led the 3-3 Eagles with 67 yards rushing on 23 carries, said the Pride threw a surprise at Husson right from the outset of the game.
“Basically, they ran a ’50’ defense, but we practiced for a ’40.’ They came out with something totally different and that really threw us off,” he said.
Husson more than held its own with the Pride for three quarters after Springfield took a 10-0 lead. Darren Gauthier capped a nine-play drive with a 33-yard field goal with 4:37 left in the first and Lisbon native Jeremy Shorey hauled in a 20-yard TD pass from Sabattus’ Chase to make it 10-9 at the half. The TD pass was set up by Bryan Biggers’ 72-yard interception return.
After Springfield made it 23-9 with 2:55 left in the third, Husson started the fourth with a six-play, 69-yard TD drive started by Doug Blades’ fumble recovery and finished by Ferguson’s 2-yard TD run.
PRIDE 43, EAGLES 16
Springfield (5-0) 7 3 13 20 – 43
Husson 0 9 0 7 – 16
S – Walker 24 run (Czarnecki kick)
S – Czarnecki 27 field goal
H – Gauthier 33 field goal
H – Shorey 20 pass from Chase (kick failed)
S – Joseph 63 run (kick failed)
S – Jackson 3 run (Czarnecki kick)
H – Ferguson 2 run (Gauthier kick)
S – Jackson 6 run (Czarnecki kick)
S – Jackson 21 run (kick failed)
S – Rose 39 pass from Sharpe (Czarnecki kick)
First downs 20 16
Rushing att.-yards 49-373 43-109
Passing comp.-att. 3-6 13-28
Passing yards 94 152
Total yards 467 261
Punts-avg. 2-43.5 6-29.7
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1
Intercepted by 2 1
Penalties-yards 2-20 5-30
Springfield: Jackson 18-94, Sharpe 14-79, Joseph 3-78, Walker 10-62, Brouillard 4-60; Husson: Ferguson 23-67, Wildman 2-22, Hayes 3-20, Johnson 5-11, Fortin 1-8, Eaton 1-4, Uwasomba 1-(-1), Chase 6-(-8), Nehring 1-(-14)
Springfield: Sharpe 3-6-1-94; Husson: Chase 13-27-2-152, Shorey 0-1-0-0
Springfield: Rose 2-75, Fledderjohn 1-19; Husson: Shorey 8-114, Lasko 3-22, Ferguson 1-9, Wildman 1-7