WPI 34, Salve Regina 20
Worcester, MA --- Senior QB Mike Swanton (Foxboro, MA) threw for 288 yards and a TD and ran for a second score, leading WPI to a hard-earned 34-20 win over Salve Regina in the home opener of WPI's 120th season of football on Saturday evening. WPI moves to 1-0 on the season as coach Ed Zaloom's Engineers look for their third winning season in the last four years in 2009. WPI posted a 7-3 record in 2008.
The win spoils former WPI assistant coach Chris Robertson's return to WPI as the head coach of the Seahawks (0-1) in the teams' first-ever meeting.
With Salve Regina leading 20-14 with 10:09 to play in the third quarter, Swanton led the Engineers on a seven-play, 50-yard drive capped by Ernie Mello's (Wilmington, MA) first career rushing touchdown, giving WPI the lead for good at 21-20. Following a defensive stop, Swanton directed a 79-yard march for a score as he connected with classmate Cody McGregor (Westfield, MA) for a 34-yard reception and a 27-20 Engineer lead. The pass-and-catch was the second career hookup between Swanton and McGregor.
The Engineers started the game with a long drive down to the Salve Regina 2-yard line before a turnover gave the ball back to the Seahawks. Salve Regina QB Jeff St. Onge (Kingston, NH) led the visitors on an 18-play 96-yard drive before the Engineer defense came up with a goal-line stand to keep Salve out of the end zone. On the next Seahawk possession, St. Onge led Salve on a 13-play, 79-yard drive, finished off by a 16-yard TD pass to Michael Dargan (Meriden, CT). WPI's Sam Gagnon (Westerly, RI) blocked the PAT attempt however, keeping the Seahawks to only six points.
WPI responded on its next possession, thanks to good field position set up by a 40-yard kick return from Mello. The Engineers drove 39 yards in six plays, with Aaron Champagne (Fairfield, ME) plunging into the end zone from three yards out for the go-ahead score, as WPI took a 7-6 lead into halftime.
Swanton notched his third career rushing TD on WPI's first possession of the second half, scoring from 11 yards out to give the Engineers a 14-6 advantage. Swanton led WPI with 78 yards on the ground in addition to his passing totals.
Salve Regina needed only the next 2:01 to score two touchdowns to jump out in front 20-14. The Seahawks benefited from a 25-yard touchdown run from freshman RB Trey Scales (Boston, MA) on his first career collegiate carry. Scales punched in his second TD of the game on Salve Regina's drive, scampering into the end zone from eight yards out. The Seahawks needed only four plays combined between the two drives to move ahead before Mello's and McGregor's TDs gave WPI a 27-20 lead with 8:59 to play.
St. Onge and the Seahawks took over at midfield with a chance to tie the score and moved the ball to the Engineers' 33 before he was picked off by the Engineers' Graham Leto (Grafton, MA) to put a stop to the threat. The grab was Leto's first interception. St. Onge finished the day with 228 yards on 27-for-42 passing.
Following the turnover, Champagne added his second rushing TD with 1:17 to play to put the game out of reach.
Michael Oliveri (Milford, MA) and Jack Mulhern (Worcester, MA) each posted double-digit tackles for WPI, with 14 and 11 respectively. Peter Forte (Everett, MA) added eight stops while John Perron (Auburn, MA) contributed seven tackles for the victors. Peter Gill (Franklin, MA) registered a pair of sacks on consecutive plays late in the third quarter.
Salve Regina LB Nolan McGarrity (Vernoa, NJ) led the Seahawks with 11 tackles.
Ben Hall (Conway, NH) paced the Seahawk receiving corps with 10 catches for 90 yards, while Dargan pulled down nine passes for 74 yards and one TD. Ryan Hazinakis (Newport, RI) was the leading gainer on the ground for Salve Regina, carrying nine times for 70 yards. Scales amassed 42 yards rushing in addition to his two scores.
The Engineers travel across town next Saturday to take on city rival Worcester State in a 7pm tilt. The Lancers (0-1) fell to Division II Assumption Friday night in their season opener. Salve plays its first home contest of 2009 on Saturday when they host Hartwick at 1pm.
Story by Ray Cotrufo - WPI Sports Information Correspondent