SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The No. 23 ranked Western New England University football team earned its first ever NCAA Tournament win with a 44-27 victory over Husson University this afternoon in first round action at Golden Bear Stadium.
Western New England, which improves to 11-0 for the first time in program history, advances to the second round to take on Alfred (N.Y.) University, which defeated Bridgewater State 33-27 in overtime. Husson’s season comes to a close at 9-2.
Western New England junior quarterback Anthony Service accounted for 277 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, throwing for two and rushing for another.
Junior running back Dante Aiken ran for a team-high 99 yards on 23 carries (4.3 avg.) and found the end zone twice.
Senior linebacker Blair Cook finished with eight tackles, one sack and an interception.
Senior defensive lineman Robert Sihlanick was responsible for one of the key defensive plays of the game early in the fourth quarter, as his strip sack and ensuing touchdown return gave the Golden Bears a ten-point lead.
Sophomore bear Kurtis Jolicoeur and junior safety Sam Olsson recorded 13 and 12 tackles, respectively.
Husson sophomore quarterback Cory Brandon completed 17-of-33 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior wide receivers Deon Wiggins and Kadeem Edge both topped the 100-yard mark and combined for three touchdowns through the air.
Senior linebacker Alonzo Connor paced the Husson defense with a team-high 13 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss of three yards. Classmate Jeff Turcotte added eight tackles and two sacks for the Eagles.
The Golden Bears received the opening kickoff and drove deep into Husson territory with the help of a 54-yard completion from Service t senior wing Mohamed Camara (New York, N.Y.) on a play-action pass, but the drive stalled and Western New England’s 33-yard field goal attempt missed wide left.
The Eagles went three-and-out on their first drive, and sophomore punter Tyler Bassett (Dracut, Mass.) fumbled the snap at the Husson seven-yard line. Western New England took advantage of the miscue, as Service found senior tight end Trent Vasey (Cumberland, R.I.) in the back of the end zone three plays later to give the Golden Bears a 7-0 lead.
Husson tied the score in the closing seconds of the first quarter on a 44-yard pass from Brandon to Wiggins.
Western New England regained the lead (14-7) early in the second quarter on a 55-yard scramble by Service, who evaded several tackles in the backfield before finding a hole up the middle and breaking free for his longest run of the season.
The Golden Bears had a solid chance to extend their lead later in the second, as senior cornerback Obi Etuka picked off Brandon at the Husson 25-yard line and returned the ball all the way to the five, but two plays later Service was intercepted in the end zone by senior Logan Steward.
Husson was unable to move the ball past midfield on either of its next two drives, but the Eagles tied the score at 14 with 38 seconds left in the half when Brandon found Edge wide open for an 85-yard touchdown.
The Western New England defense forced a three-and-out on Husson’s first possession of the second half, and the Golden Bear offense put together an eight-play, 84-yard yard scoring drive to regain a 21-14 advantage. Connell capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown reception, as he caught the ball near the sideline and dove for the pylon.
The Golden Bears attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, which was unsuccessful. Husson took advantage of the short field, moving the ball 38 yards over five plays and tying the contest yet again on a six-yard pass from Brandon to Edge.
Senior kicker Kevin Patterson connected on a 25-yard field goal with 2:28 left in the third quarter, giving the Golden Bears a 24-21 lead.
Still trailing by three, Husson got the ball back with just over 11 minutes left in the game and an opportunity to tie or take the lead. Sihlanick came through with the defensive play of the game on third down and nine, however, stripping the ball from Brandon at the 8-yard line and walking into the end zone to extend Western New England’s lead to ten (31-21).
Husson’s next two drives ended in a punt and turnover on downs, respectively, and the Golden Bears effectively sealed the contest with Aiken’s six-yard touchdown rush up the middle with 3:24 on the clock.
Both teams added late scores, including Aiken’s second touchdown of the quarter with 40 seconds on the clock.