By Jay Miller, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- A lot of things went right for the Bridgewater State football team on homecoming weekend, as it hosted the MASCAC-leading Western Connecticut State at Swenson Field.
Everything but the final score, as WCSU prevailed, 27-20, on Saturday night.
That eclipsed the fact that Bears’ junior wideout Jack Lavanchy of Walpole set new records for receptions and yardage in this game, with an astounding 14 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns – with perhaps an even more eye-popping stat that 10 of those catches earned BSU first downs. Or that sophomore quarterback Stefano D’Emilia, of Bridgewater, in only his fifth week at the Bears’ helm, passed for 300 yards and three TDs and kept his team in the game until the final couple minutes. Or that BSU senior running back Malik Garrett gained 100 yards on the ground, while the Bears’ defense mostly kept the Colonials aerial attack under wraps.
Heck, there was even a post-game fireworks display and a fourth-quarter fan running across the field to add to the entertainment.
The Bears’ particular Scrooge on this day would be WCSU running back Duane Gary, a maddeningly elusive 5-foot-9 junior who has such a quick burst he was often through the line before the defense looked up. He gained 185 yards gained on 21 carries.
But Bridgewater State really played at least three excellent quarters in this game, but was betrayed by a sub-par third period.
Bridgewater State did everything it wanted in a tight first half, stopping four of five Colonials drives while grinding out consistent yardage themselves. The Bears were most successful through the air, as quarterback D’Emilia connected on 10 of 24 first-half passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Lavanchy, the son of former Boston sportscaster Gene Lavanchy, was the key to the passing game, grabbing seven receptions for 82 yards. D’Emilia hit Lavanchy with a 15-yard TD pass to cap off the Bears’ opening possession of the game.
The Colonials came back with a 14-play march of their own, tying the score at 7-7 when WCSU quarterback Quinn Fleeting tossed 13 yards to split end Jawad Chisholm for the score. That was how the first period ended, and neither side could score in the second quarter, with an interception by Bears junior Reda Laftih thwarting one Colonial drive just before halftime.
But the visitors took the second-half kickoff and marched down to paydirt in eight plays, highlighted by a 26-yard Gary draw, before Fleeting ran in from four yards out for a 14-7 Colonials lead. Bridgewater State was about to match that, after a 44-yard Lavanchy catch, with a first down on the Colonials’ 1-yard line. But a shotgun snap got away, got kicked, and eventually was scooped up by WCSU safety Doug Katz, who raced down to the Bears’ 15 before he was tackled. Two plays later, Fleeting passed to Zatrell Lyons for a three-yard TD, but the Colonials missed the extra point, and led 20-7.
A 32-yard kick return by Ray Sainristil helped the Bears reply right away with a seven-play scoring drive. The eventual 18-yard TD was a memorable one, as D’Emilia tried to hit a double-covered Lavanchy in the end zone, but defenders batted the ball away, only to have Bridgewater State sophomore Aidan Silva grab the carom in the back of the end zone. Russell Bolarinho’s kick made it 20-14 going into the fourth period.
“We had our shots today, that’s for sure,” said Bridgewater State coach Joe Verria. “That third period was tough, and that play where we had it on their 1-yard line was a 14-point swing. We’re a young team, and we just played a very good football team, but we’re getting there. Our offense kept us in this one. Our defense was good in that first half, but they began running a bit on us in the second half. But our quarterback is getting better and better, and Jack Lavanchy is just incredible, and we had a shot right down to the final minutes.”
A 29-yard Gary scamper had started a WCSU drive as the third quarter was ending, and eight plays later Fleeting rolled out and threw a 17-yard touchdown strike to Gary, pushing the Colonials’ advantage to 27-14, with 13:00 to go. But that D’Emilia/Lavanchy connection wasn’t done yet, and a 64-yard pass play put the home team on the WCSU 12-yard line. Three plays later, D’Emilia threw to Lavanchy for the 12-yard score, but the Bears missed the extra point, and trailed 27-20 with 4:48 left.
The Bears (2-6, 2-4 MASCAC) got across midfield on a later drive, but ran out of downs with 1:23 to play. By the end of the game, WCSU had its quickest guy, running back Gary, trying to cover Lavanchy. D’Emilia ended up hitting on 20 of 45 passes for 300 yards, with two interceptions and two sacks, while Fleeting was 13 of 25 for 126 yards, three TDs, one pick and three sacks.
“Jack Lavanchy is a possession receiver, first and foremost,” said Verria, “so I’m not surprised he got us all those first downs. That’s what he does, and we rely on him on a lot. He is always double-covered, but he runs great routes, and is our hardest worker. But our quarterback is also making a lot of progress – he threw the ball away several times today to avoid sacks, and he’s really looking comfortable leading our offense. We have a lot of players progressing very well, and we had our chances today.”