BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Senior running back Alex McLaughlin (Littleton, Mass.) rushed for a season-high 176 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bridgewater State University football team to a 28-9 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) victory over visiting Westfield State University on Saturday afternoon at rainy Swenson Field.
The Bears improve to 1-4 on the season and 1-2 in the MASCAC, while the Owls fall to 0-5 overall and 0-3 in conference play. Bridgewater is now 27-9 all-time against Westfield and 14-3 at home as the Bears have won each of the last six meetings.
McLaughlin, who scored on runs of seven, five and seven yards, increased his career rushing total to 2,987 yards.
Westfield took advantage of a BSU turnover on the first play from scrimmage to take an early 3-0 advantage as sophomore kicker Cody Cleveland (Northampton, Mass.) booted a 24-yard field goal. A Zach Howard (Spencer, Mass.) interception and 33-yard return set up the Owls at the Bridgewater nine-yard line. The Bears' defense stiffened, however, and limited the Owls to the short field goal attempt.
Bridgewater answered with a nine-play, 68-yard drive capped off by a McLaughlin seven-yard TD run.
Later in the quarter, Westfield marched 67 yards on 11 plays with sophomore running back Chris Belsito (Worcester, Mass.) punching it in from a yard out to give the Owls a 9-7 lead. The extra point was blocked by BSU senior linebacker Charles McCarthy (North Reading, Mass.).
After three straight punts, the Bears came up with a key turnover. Senior linebacker Anthony Fogarty III (Albany, N.Y.) forced a fumble at the BSU 49 which was recover by senior free safety Cameron Williamson (North Easton, Mass.)and returned to the Westfield 40. Seven plays later, McLaughlin rumbled into the end zone from five yards out. A Russell Bolarinho (Acushnet, Mass.) PAT gave Bridgewater a 14-9 lead with 3:29 left to play in the first half.
The Owls put together a time-consuming drive to start the third quarter, but got nothing out of it. Westfield marched 51 yards on 13 plays and took over eight minutes off the clock. McCarthy came up with big stop on fourth-and-five at the BSU seven to put an end to the scoring threat.
Bridgewater responded with an eight-play, 95-yard drive capped off by a McLaughlin seven-yard touchdown run. The drive was also highlighted by a McLaughlin 44-yard scamper. Bolarinho added the extra point to put the Bears up 21-9 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter.
BSU put the finishing touches on the victory as sophomore quarterback Stefano D'Emilia (Bridgewater, Mass.) hooked up with junior wide receiver Jack Lavanchy (Walpole, Mass.) on a 65-yard scoring strike down the sideline in the fourth quarter. Bolarinho converted his fourth PAT of the afternoon to account for the final tally of 28-9.
Lavanchy finished with four catches for 92 yards and the touchdown as he became the 13th receiver in Bridgewater State football history to reach the 1,000-yard milestone. Lavanchy has 81 catches for 1,046 yards and 11 touchdowns in just two seasons with the Bears.
With his 18 points on the day, McLaughlin moved into eight place on the Bears' career scoring list. He now has 220 points in four seasons at BSU. McLaughlin moved past former standout running back Bruce Burley who tallied 212 points from 2006 to 2008.
Senior back Malik Garrett (Dorchester, Mass.) added 50 yards on the ground for the Bears who finished with a season-high 262 team rushing yards.
D'Emilia completed 4 of 9 passes for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Senior cornerback Jonathan Marrero (Boston, Mass.), making his first start in the defensive backfield, recorded his first career interception to go along with three solo tackles. Marrero also forced and recovered a fumble.
McCarthy finished with a game-high ten tackles (five solo) to help lead the BSU defensive effort. Senior defensive end Yacoub Dobeib (Raynham, Mass.) added eight tackles including 2 1/2 for loss, while Fogarty contributed six solo stops (one for loss) in addition to his forced fumble.
Howard paced the Westfield defensive with eight tackles (seven solo) including two for loss as well as the interception.
Offensively for the Owls, Belsito grounded out 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while junior running back Travon Holder (Hartford, Conn.) came off the bench to rush for 70 yards on 20 attempts. Sophomore quarterback Jake Cassidy (Lynn, Mass.) added 67 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Westfield finished with 214 yards on the ground, but just 14 through the air.
Cleveland connected for a school record 75-yard punt in the second quarter. He eclipsed the previous Westfield mark of 74 yards set by Chris Stengel against Framingham State in 2008.
The MASCAC schedule continues for both teams next Saturday. The Bears travel to Plymouth State University for a one o'clock game with the Panthers, while the Owls entertain Massachusetts Maritime Academy starting at 2:00 PM.