By Sports Editor Tom Griffin
An unexpected lineup and some defensive playmaking carried the Corsairs over their MASCAC rival Westfield State Owls to a final score of 19-13 on Saturday afternoon.
UMassD’s final outing of the regular season saw a new face under center. Having previously provided key depth to the Corsair ground game, UMassD junior Jacob Francis took snaps at quarterback in their victory on the road.
The former running back put up impressive numbers in his first start as a shot-caller. In place of both Stephen Gacioch and Ryan Qualey, Francis found success as a dual-threat escape artist, both inside and outside the pocket.
Throwing and rushing for a touchdown each, the junior converted quarterback boasted a hundred-yard game in both areas.
The offense around Francis managed to complement the new quarterback’s strengths. Luiz Gonzalez, out of the backfield, ran away with a 55-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to put the Corsairs on the board and in the lead.
The receiving corps, while at one point hobbled by injuries, returned this week twofold. Abbi Bamgbose, once again the preferred target for UMassD’s quarterbacks, worked short receptions to move the chains, and came down with a touchdown reception just before halftime to extend the Corsair lead to 13 points.
Meanwhile, the previously unsung Pedro DelToro acted as more of a deep threat at Francis’ disposal, leading the team in receiving yards with 57 on the day.
The UMassD defense kept the Owls out of the endzone through four quarters, allowing just a field goal partway through the third. Tony Slaughter and Connor Russ combined for three sacks, while Russ and Corsair junior Chris Gomes came away with an interception each.
Despite production on both sides of the ball, miscues kept the Owls trailing within a score. Francis’ talent and playmaking abilities came with a severe case of the dropsies, donating two fumbles to the Westfield State defense, one of which was returned for the Owls only touchdown.
The Corsairs’ struggles in execution extend to the special teams as well. Placekicker James Tooker, despite a knack for conservative consistency through the regular season, missed an additional two extra points. Following a late-game Jacob Francis touchdown run that otherwise would have sealed the win for the Corsairs, Tooker’s try was blocked and eventually returned for two Owl points.
Westfield State trailed by 6 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Their offense, who had otherwise lay dormant for the previous 40 minutes of regulation, engineered a 1 minute 9 second, 32-yard push for the endzone, where a score and extra point would spell Corsair defeat.
Seated comfortably at the UMassD 33-yardline, the Owls called their final timeout on second down with 15 seconds remaining. A win for the Corsairs would be close, but it would have to come with shutdown defensive play.
Sam Krajewski breaks up the next pass attempt – third down.
No holes in Corsair secondary coverage forces the Owl quarterback to overthrow his next pass – fourth down.
Westfield State’s last chance, a Hail Mary lobbed deep into the endzone, is knocked to the ground by Jacob Burkhead – turnover on downs.
With that, the season was over. Amidst a roster loaded with talent yet wrinkled with injuries, the Corsairs clawed to a 7-3 regular season finish, the team’s most successful campaign in a decade and a half.
Nonetheless, a historic season for UMassD concludes with no championship or playoff appearance, their 5-3 conference record smothered beneath the weight of the Framingham State, Western Connecticut and Bridgewater State juggernauts above them. Despite the fallen stars, the step-up substitutes, and an overwhelming drive to keep winning, the Corsairs fall victim to a top-heavy MASCAC.