By Sports Editor Tom Griffin
A bumpy start and some late adjustments throttled the Corsair football team past Western Connecticut’s Colonials in a late-game rout.
The offense started slow, culminating in starting quarterback Stephen Gacioch departing after a drive and a half. In his stead, freshman backup Ryan Qualey completed Gacioch’s drive with a series of rushing plays, capitalized by a 23-yard touchdown reception from Qualey to Abbi Bamgbose.
Bamgbose, who had stepped up at the number 1 receiver in the Corsairs lineup following a critical injury to D.J. Machado, led the team with 81 receiving yards on the evening.
While Qualey managed 146 passing yards in his showing over Gacioch, the offense quickly stalled out after their initial touchdown drive on behalf of two drive-ending interceptions from the second-stringer.
The first of which, occurring around midfield, directly contributed to the Colonials’ first score. In a three-minute drive, Western Connecticut found success on the ground and turned it into points, but a blocked extra point by Connor Russ kept the lead in UMassD’s hands.
It was there, halfway through the second quarter, that the Corsairs took a page from Western Connecticut’s playbook and began to rely heavily on their running corps. This slight adjustment would soon produce in spades.
Five straight rushing plays on the legs of Luis Gonzalez moved the chains, freeing Qualey to target Bamgbose three more times for 19, 10, and 20 yards in quick succession. The third pass found Bamgbose in the endzone for six, and a James Tooker extra point secured the Corsairs’ lead at 14-6, which would hold to halftime.
UMassD would continue to put faith in their running game, to the tune of 243 yards of total offense contributed solely on the ground. Gonzalez, the workhorse of the Corsair offense, set career records for both rushing yards and touchdowns in a game, racking up 140 yards and punching in two short touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal a convincing 28-12 win.
With the Corsairs nestled uncomfortably, which is to say, tied with Western Connecticut at third in MASCAC seedings, the Corsairs can celebrate a conference-relevant and potentially playoff-sealing win, but should do so carefully. With D.J. Machado injured long-term and Stephen Gacioch taking an unusually low amount of reps in Saturday’s game, the team seems to be lacking starters at key skill positions.
To their credit, Ryan Qualey, Abbi Bamgbose and Leroy Brown have all stepped up admirably to replace their fallen teammates. However, with playoffs on the horizon, and the undefeated-in-conference Framingham State Rams trailblazing at the top of the division, the Corsairs will need all hands on deck if they want a deep playoff run.
The Corsairs’ next opponent, another MASCAC rival in Mass. Maritime, meets Cressy Field for the football team’s senior night.