First Half Offense, Second Half Defense Keys Football to Opening Victory over MIT

Dan Eckler

WORCESTER -- WPI's offense scored 28 first-half points and the defense made a trio of key stops down the stretch to secure a 31-28 victory over MIT on Friday night at Alumni Stadium. It was the first meeting between the two programs since 2002.

With WPI clinging to a 31-28 lead, the host defense shined with a key pick by Eric Lacroix (Methuen, MA), a fumble recovery and pass breakup by Brian Murtagh (Wayland, MA) to secure the victory. Lacroix's 42-yard interception return halted an MIT drive 11 yards from the goal line. Later in the frame Jason Lamb (Plymouth, MA) recorded a sack and knocked the ball loose to setup Murtagh's recovery. MIT went for it on a fourth-and-one at the WPI 36 only to have Edward Giles (Franklin, MA) hurry the quarterback and Murtagh break up the pass with 14 seconds left on the clock.

MIT chewed up nearly four minutes and converted one of two third-down opportunities on the initial drive before punting it away. On WPI's ensuing drive, Joe Igoe (Framingham, MA) hauled in a 22-yard reception from Dan Eckler (Stoughton, MA) to put the host Engineers on the board with 7:08 to play in the initial quarter.

Cambridge's Engineers clocked another lengthy drive only to turn it over on downs at their own 48 yard line thanks to tackles by Dereck Pacheco (Barnstable, MA) and Jake Brown (Fall River, MA). The Crimson and Gray took advantage of the field position by using seven plays, including a trio of rushes by Zach Grasis (East Brookfield, MA), to take a 14-0 lead following a five-yard Eckler keep with two ticks left in the frame.

The visiting Engineers came back to tie the game with a pair of scores with 8:14 remaining until the break.  Seve Esparrago (St. Louis, MO) put MIT in good field position with a 27-yard kickoff return to the MIT 43 and bookended the drive with a 16-yard reception from Danny Callahan (Hinsdale, IL) to cut the guests deficit in half. Cambridge's Engineers capitalized on a special teams miscue to begin their next drive on the WPI 8. The quick sequence ended with a Harris Stolzenberg (Weston, FL) two-yard touchdown catch to level the game at 14-14.

WPI regained the lead courtesy of a two-yard scamper by Eric Razanousky (Stuyvesant, NY) with 2:49 left to the half. The two teams then traded scores with 1:14 before the break. Karson Ota (Katy, TX) hauled in a 50-yard TD pass to tie the game once more. With three seconds on the clock, Eckler and Brandon Eccher (Franklin, MA) hooked up for their first TD of the season, a 15-yard reception to conclude an eight-play 72-yard drive and take the 28-21 lead.

After the intermission, MIT turned a WPI fumble into another touchdown, and a stalemate, as Adis Ojeda (Springfield, VA) rushed 11 yards for the score 7:17 into the half. WPI took its final lead on a 26-yard Blaine Bursey (Middleburg, FL) field goal.

Grasis finished with 100 yard on 29 rushes while Eckler added 58 yards on 13 carries in addition to a 18-for-23 performance and 197 yards in the air. Eccher and Mitch Celaj (Worcester, MA) each caught six passes and combined for 103 yards. Special teams saw Grasis log a punt for 38 yards and Sean Murphy (Mattapoisett, MA) return four kicks for 97 yards while breaking up three passes on defense. Defensively, Murtagh finished with 10 tackles – five solo – followed by Giles with seven solo stops. Hartford was credited with five solo tackles and Lamb pitched in with five total – four solo.

MIT's Callahan totaled 245 yards in a 20-for-31 night with three touchdowns. Ojeda led the guests on the ground with 65 yards on 19 carries and a score. Ota racked up 102 receiving yards on five receptions while Esparrago hauled in seven catches for 69 yards to go with his 77 yards on four kick returns. Tremaan Robbins (Long Beach, CA) collected nine tackles – seven solo – as Kodiak Brush made seven solo stops. Cullen Clairmont (Cheshire, CT) added seven – six solo – and Mitch Turley (Westfield, IN) chipped in with four individual and two assisted tackles.

MIT had a slight edge in time of possession early on but WPI finished with a 33:00 to 27:00 margin. The hosts also enjoyed a 21-19 advantage in first downs and a 143-127 differential on the ground. Cambridge's Engineers had the upper hand in the air with a 245-197 bulge.

The Boynton Hillers converted seven of 13 third downs while MIT went 8-for-14. The Crimson and Gray claimed the only fourth down conversion of the game as they were 1-foir-4 and the guest Engineers were 0-for-3.

The all-time series between the teams is now even at 6-6-1 with WPI winning the last six matchups and MIT last registering a win in the rivalry in 1900.  

WPI remains within the city limits for a 7pm road game at Worcester State on Friday night. MIT, meanwhile, returns to the area on Saturday for a noon kickoff at Becker.

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