SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The Husson University football team picked up the program's first-ever NCAA Championship Tournament victory with a 23-21 upset win over #19/#20 Springfield College on Saturday afternoon in a first round game in 2017 NCAA Division III Championship Tournament at Stagg Field.
Springfield earned one of seven at-large bids after going a perfect 10-0 in the regular season and capturing the inaugural New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championship, and concluded the year with a 10-1 mark. Today marked Springfield's first appearance in the national tournament since 2006. Husson, which earned their third automatic qualifier into the national tournament in the last four years by virtue of winning the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) for the third time in the last four years, improves to a school-record 10-1 overall mark and advances to play #5/#7 Delaware Valley (Pa.) next Saturday.
The game pitted two of the premiere running backs in the nation, with Husson's John Smith entering the game with 1,917 yards, while Springfield's Jordan Wilcox was fourth nationally with 1,675 yards. As impressive as the offenses were, the defenses of both teams were ranked in the 15 nationally in scoring defense, with neither team surrendering more than 12 points a contest.
Husson outgained Springfield on the afternoon, 369-264, and held a huge advantage in time of possession, controlling the balling for 39:32 compared to just 20:28 for the Pride. The Eagles finished the game going 9-for-18 on third down, an impressive statistic considering entered the contest ranked sixth in the nation on 3rd down conversion defense, previously allowing just 24.3% conversion rate through the first 10 games.
Smith carried Husson's offensive load as he rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries, allowing him to become the first tailback in program history to run for 2,000 yards in a single-season. Quarterback Cory Brandon threw for 209 yards and a score, going 20-for-30 with a pair of interceptions. Defensively, Elvin Suzo, Jr. made a team-best 11 stops, forcing and recovering a fumble, and Quan Soyini tallied five solo stops and the game-clinching interception, giving him his eighth of the season, tying the single-season mark held by Adam Scott (8 in 2004), while becoming Husson's All-Time career leader with his 13th of his career. Devin Pickett converted both of his points on the afternoon, giving him 29 straight made, breaking Carlos Romero's program record for most consecutive extra points made. Pickett also set the single-season records for extra points attempts and points scored by a kicker.
For Springfield, Hunter Belzo produced 113 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries, averaging 12.6 per rush, while Wilcox totaled 111 yards and two touchdowns in his final collegiate game. The linebacker trio of Dominic Traversa, Christian Zotti, and Jack Hammond combined for 35 tackles in the setback, with Zotti also adding an interception and forced fumble.
The Pride's defense forced a turnover on the game's first drive as Zotti delivered a huge hit that resulted in a fumble on the home 43 yard line which was recovered by Traversa. After the Pride went three and out, Springfield's defense came up big again, this time getting an interception from Mackenzie Allioth inside Springfield's 20 yard line.
The Eagles finally broke through for the game's first touchdown 4:37 into second quarter when Kyle Gaudet got behind Springfield's secondary and hauled in a 36-yard strike from Brandon. The play capped off a 13-play, 83-yard drive that churned up almost seven minutes.
Springfield answered right back with their first established drive of the game and marched 67 yards in just over five minutes on 12 plays. On his seventh carry of the drive, Wilcox plunged in from the two-yard line on a 4th and goal for his 20th rushing touchdown of the season. The ensuing extra was wide left as the Eagles clung to a 7-6 advantage with 5:08 on the clock.
Husson added to their lead thanks to a touchdown by Smith with 1:38 on the clock as he sliced through the defense for a 12-yard score and headed into the break with a 14-6 edge. The Eagles outgained Springfield, 218-88, in the opening 30 minutes of play.
The Pride took the opening drive of the second and within five plays were in the red zone before coughing up a fumble for their first turnover of the afternoon. However, just three plays later, Zotti made an incredible defensive play for an interception and raced to the one-yard line, setting up Wilcox's second score of the game at the 11:46 mark of the quarter. Jake Eglintine was able to roll out and score for the two-point conversion to even the game at 14-all.
Husson then manufactured a 15-play drive that lasted nearly seven minutes, converting a pair of third downs and a fourth and nine before Smith got free up the middle for a five-yard score to become the first tailback to score 30 touchdowns in a single-season. The extra point was mishandled and the Eagles regained a 20-14 edge wiht 5:16 left in the third. Husson's special teams then came up with a critical play, forcing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which allowed the offense to hold onto the ball for the rest of the third, concluding a quarter in which the visitors had the ball for 13:07.
The Eagles finally finished off their 10-play, 24-yard drive that ate up almost six minutes just 48 seconds into the fourth when Pickett drilled a 22-yard field goal, his first make of the 2017 campaign. After the teams traded possessions, Springfield made it a 23-21 game with 7:06 remaining in regulation as Belzo broke through the right side of the defense and scampered 52 yards for the touchdown.
The Pride held tough on Husson's next possession and forced a punt with 3:32 remaining and took over on it's own 15 yard line. Springfield's offense moved the ball all the way to the Husson 40, getting big runs from Belzo and Tyler Hyde, only to have Soyini pick off Eglintine's third pass attempt of the afternoon with 1:52 remaining to seal the program's first ever postseason victory.