Worcester, MA --- Host WPI used a hard-nosed rushing attack, a surprising aerial assault and some timely trick plays to post the first win over Liberty League rival Springfield in school history, 28-14, on a sunny but brisk afternoon at Alumni Field.
The win for the Engineers ends their 2014 season at 4-6 overall and 3-4 in conference contests, while the Pride sees their record even out at 5-5 and drop to 3-4 in Liberty League. It marked the first win for WPI over Springfield in 31 tries (0-27-3).
After a scoreless first quarter, the Crimson and Gray got on the board early in the second stanza with a methodical 10-play, 86-yard drive that was capped by a Zach Grasis (East Brookfield, MA) 1-yard plunge, giving WPI a 7-0 edge.
Late in the second quarter with WPI still ahead 7-0, a muffed punt by the Pride set the Engineers up in excellent field position at the Springfield 45 with less than two minutes remaining in the half. Four plays later Dan Eckler (Stoughton, MA) found a leaping Aaron Marshall (Acushnet, MA) on the right side of the endzone from 30 yards out to give the Engineers a commanding 14-0 lead.
Buoyed by a kickoff that went out of bounds, Springfield took advantage of great field position and wasted little time as they went 52 yards in 43 seconds. On the third play of the drive, Timothy O'Brien (East Bridgewater, MA) found Andrew Alty (Norwood, MA) up the left hash mark with a 28-yard strike and the score was sliced in half with less than a minute to play.
The ensuing kickoff went to the WPI 15 and Sean Murphy (Mattapoisett, MA) returned it 43 yards to the Springfield 42, giving the Engineers an opportunity to tack on more points before the half ended. A pair of completions – the last one to Mitch Celaj (Worcester, MA) – and a defensive holding penalty put the ball on the 16 with seven seconds to play.
WPI set up for a field goal in the swinging gate formation – all the lineman to the left side and the snapper, holder and kicker all alone on the far right hash mark. The snap went to the holder, Celaj, who ran to his left and flipped it to Ian McMullen (Londonderry, NH), who delivered a picture perfect pass to a wide open Marshall, who had been the snapper, in the back of the end zone with no time left in the half.
The Engineers look poised to put points on the board to begin the second half as they put together a 14-play, 66-yard drive down to the Engineer 15, but O'Brien was stopped short on fourth and eight, turning the ball over on downs.
After each team punted, WPI was set up at their own 20-yard line with just under five minutes to play in the third. On the series' first play, Eckler hit a streaking Steven Thulin (Walpole, MA) for a short pass and Thulin outraced everyone for an 80-yard score – the first of his career and the longest pass play of the season for the Crimson and Gray.
Springfield mounted another long drive, this one a 10-play, 66 yard effort late in the third period but that march was thwarted when Eric Lacroix (Methuen, MA) picked off O'Brien at the goal line on fourth down and returned it 30 yards.
The Pride forced a turnover of their own in the early in the fourth quarter when Kenny Calaj (Everett, MA) and Dylan Stimson (Princeton, MA) had simultaneous possession of an Eckler pass but Calaj ripped it away and promptly returned the ball 36 yards to inside the Engineer 30. Two plays later, O'Brien went around the right side for a 21-yard score, cutting the lead to 28-14.
WPI took the ensuing kickoff and embarked on a clock-killing, 14-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes but it resulted in no points after they turned it over on downs. The Boynton Hillers again used some trickery, extending the drive with a fourth down fake punt by the placekicker Blaine Bursey (Middleburg, FL).
O'Brien moved the ball into Engineer territory for the Pride in an attempt to close the gap, but his pass was intercepted by Murphy, sealing the Senior Day victory for the hosts.
The Engineers outgained Springfield, 377-283, and held the Pride out of the end zone in their two trips into the red zone.
Grasis, two weeks back from an injury that sidelined him for two months, ran for a game-high 101 yards on 22 carries, while Eckler proved to be extremely efficient in the passing game, going 10-for-15 for 218 yards and a pair of scores.
McMullen, who threw one of the Engineers three touchdowns on the day, had game-bests of four catches and 75 yards. Marshall, meanwhile, hauled in a pair of scores and 62 yards on his three catches.
O'Brien paced the Springfield offense with 98 yards on the ground on 24 rushes, while Drew Brown provided a spark, collecting 71 yards on just eight attempts.
Lacroix and Brian Murtagh (Wayland, MA) each finished with a game-high 12 tackles for WPI, while Matt Berni (Scarsdale, NY) had ten stops (all solo) and two tackles-for-loss for the Pride.
WPI will kick off the 2015 season at home Labor Day weekend against New England Football Conference champion MIT. Springfield begins the 2015 campaign the same weekend, traveling to city rival Western New England.
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