WORCESTER -- Senior Blayne Merchant (Sanderson, FL) and junior Julian Nyland (Melrose, MA) scored on 50-plus yard plays and senior Spencer Herrington (Clearfield, PA) kicked a career-long 42-yard field goal as WPI held off Norwich, 20-17, Saturday afternoon in the season finales for both teams in Alumni Stadium.
It is the fourth straight winning season for the Engineers (6-4, 4-3 NEWMAC), the first time in nearly a quarter century. The senior class joins just eight other classes (Classes of 1958, 1959, 1960, 1984, 1985, 1993, 1994 and 1995) in the 129-year history of WPI football to achieve winning seasons all four years. The Class of 2019 has amassed 28 victories, third most in program history. The triumph also moved head coach Chris Robertson into a tie with I.E. Bigler (1923-1940) for fourth all-time on the WPI career list with 42. Norwich ends the season 3-7 and 2-5.
Nyland was the first to find the endzone with a 52-yard run with 8:25 left in the first. Merchant used a pick-six with 4:14 to go in the first half. Herrington booted a 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter and connected on his career-best 42-yarder with 8:57 left in the frame.
Sophomore Clyde Tamburro (Elizabethtown, PA) put Norwich on the board with a 41-yard boot 5:15 into the game. Freshman Lavontae Decius (North Lauderdale, FL) hauled in an 83-yard pass from sophomore Matt Dunn (Rockland, MA) to make it 13-9 prior to Tamburro's PAT with 8:38 left in the half. Rookie Taj-Calvin Johnson (Avenel, NJ) pulled down a 17-yard pass from Dunn for the lone score of the second half with 2:13 to play.
The Cadets defense shined early as junior Tavares Ward (Sunrise, FL) and senior Bo Phillips (Chappaqua, NY) picked off Nyland on the first two WPI possessions of the game. The drives sandwiched a 44-yard Norwich FG attempt that went left. Junior Cahan Quinn (Putnam, CT), meanwhile, chipped in with a pick late in the third quarter and classmate Chris Ryan (New Milford, CT) forced a fumble early in the fourth.
WPI's defense responded with Merchant's pick-six and an interception by Senior Brian Mahan (Ashland, MA) on back-to-back Norwich drives toward the end of the first half. Seniors Collin Saunders (Westwood, NJ) and Kyle Havey (North Reading, MA) also caught passes from Dunn to end two of the Cadet's last three possessions. Earlier in the fourth, the guests had a 21-yard field goal try go too far to the right.
Nyland finished with 113 yards rushing on 10 attempts while passing for 61 yards on six completions. Senior Erik Fyrer (Ipswich, MA) and junior Nic Rossi (Howell, NJ) each caught two passes for WPI. Junior Sam Casey (Winchester, MA) led the defense with nine tackles – eight solo – with one for-loss and a pass breakup. Sophomore Aaron Whitehouse (Tewksbury, MA) added seven solo stops and a breakup while Merchant and Mahan added five tackles each to go with their interceptions.
Dunn went 20-for-53 with 354 yards and two touchdowns for Norwich. Johnson was targeted 12 times for 109 yards while Decius amassed 148 yards on only four catches. Ward collected a game-best 10 tackles with 1.5 for-loss, and interception and a QB hurry. Quinn and Ryan each had six stops followed by junior Michael Corinna (Milford, MA) and freshman Isaiah Williams (Apopka, FL) with five apiece.
Norwich had the 372-215 advantage in total offense with a 354-61 bulge in passing yards as WPI enjoyed a 154-18 margin on the ground and a 31:24-28:36 edge in time of possession. The teams combined for eight turnovers and only committed five total penalties.
Prior to the game, Zach Bellion (Washington Township, NJ), Larry Cafaro (Ansonia, CT), Tristin Carlton (Coventry, RI), Luca Cerasani (Abington, MA), Nick Day (Northampton, MA), Fyrer, Havey, Herrington, Mahan, Sam Malafronte (Abington, MA), Merchant, Keeghan O'Leary (Queensbury, NY), Marcus Pritchard (Amsterdam, NY), Connor Sakowich (Lynn, MA), Saunders, and Lain Zembek (Binghamton, NY) were honored for their contributions to WPI Athletics and the football program.
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