BRIDGEWATER, Mass. – The Bridgewater State University football team hung on for a 30-29 victory over visiting Buffalo State College on Saturday afternoon at Swenson Field in a wild season-opening contest that came down to a two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds.
The game marked just the second meeting of the two teams as the Bears avenged a 20-19 setback at the hands of the Bengals a season ago.
Junior running back Nick Santavicca (Yorktown Height, N.Y.) rushed for a career-best 200 yards and two touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Jack Lavanchy (Walpole, Mass.) hauled in a game-best ten receptions for 109 yards and a score to lead the way for Bridgewater State.
Senior slot receiver Travis Bassett (Littleton, Mass.) added four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in his return to the BSU lineup, while junior quarterback Stefano D'Emilia (Bridgewater, Mass.) completed 17 of 26 passes for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns with two interceptions.
The Bears (1-0) came away with the victory despite turning the ball over six times. Five of the six miscues came in the first half.
For the visiting Bengals (0-1), senior quarterback Kevin Torrillo (Amherst, N.Y.) completed 20 of 33 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Junior wideout Jordan Evert (Buffalo, N.Y.) pulled down five receptions for 153 yards including a 56-yard touchdown, while senior receiver Jamar Rutledge (Buffalo, N.Y.) grabbed eight passes for 68 yards and a pair of scores. Sophomore running back Paul Tonic (Albany, N.Y.) added 95 yards on the ground as he carried the ball 25 times.
With the score tied 23-23 late in the fourth quarter, the Bears took advantage of outstanding field position following a bad third-down snap that nearly resulted in a safety and subsequent short 21-yard punt. Santavicca capped off a quick four-play drive that started at the Buffalo 22 with a ten-yard touchdown run. Senior kicker Jacob Crear (North Attleboro, Mass.) knocked home the point after try to give Bridgewater the 30-29 advantage.
A 24-yard kickoff return by Rutledge and a 15-yard personal foul penalty gave the Bengals good field position at the BSU 49 with just 2:17 remaining in the game. Eight plays later, Torrillo hooked up with Rutledge on a two-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to pull the Bengals to within one, 30-29, with 27 seconds left to play. The Buffalo State coaching staff decided to go for two and win the game, but Torrillo's conversion pass attempt to senior receiver Vinny Gregory (Amherst, N.Y.) was off the mark.
The Bengals still had a shot to get the ball back with an onside kick, but BSU freshman Nathan Ellis (Dartmouth, Mass.) came up with the big recovery as the Bears held on for the win.
Buffalo State led 16-10 at the half thanks in large part to Bridgewater's five first-half turnovers. Following a Rolando Cercone (Buffalo, N.Y.) interception on the game's opening drive, sophomore kicker Merrick Sproule (Oakville, Ontario) got the Bengals on the board with a 32-yard field goal.
Crear answered with a 36-yard field goal to cap off an eight-play, 54-yard drive to knot the score at 3-3.
After a change of possession, Buffalo State forced a Santavicca fumble and six plays later Torrillo connected with Rutledge on a 25-yard TD pass. Sproule's point after try was true and the Bengals led 10-3.
Another BSU fumble gave Buffalo State solid field position at the Bears' 38 to start the second quarter. Despite moving the ball down to the 12, two key false start penalties and a Chris Gemayel (Dedham, Mass.) sack stalled the drive at the 30 and forced a punt which resulted in a touchback and a person foul penalty.
The Bears then moved the ball 65 yards on six plays with Bassett scoring on a 41-yard touchdown pass. Crear's PAT tied the game at 10-10.
The Bengals responded with an eight-play, 73-yard drive capped off by a nine-yard touchdown pass from Torrillo to Tonic. The extra point try, however, was off the mark as Buffalo State led 16-10 with 6:34 remaining in the second quarter.
The two teams combined for three turnovers on the final three possessions of the first half as the score stayed at 16-10 in favor of the Bengals at the break.
An interception by BSU senior cornerback Carlos Rivera Jr. (New Bedford, Mass.) to open the third quarter would ultimately lead to the game-tying touchdown. Starting at their own 18, the Bears marched 82 yards on 13 plays with Santavicca rumbling into the end zone from nine yards out. Crear's point after try, however, was blocked as the game was tied at 16-16.
The Bengals quickly reclaimed the lead with a 56-yard scoring strike from Torillo to Evert on the ensuing possession. Sproule knocked in the extra point to give the visitors a 23-16 advantage.
The Bears answered with a five-play, 75-yard drive resulting in a 30-yard touchdown pass from D'Emilia to Lavanchy. Crear's PAT evened the score at 23-23.
After a change of possession early in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater had a glorious chance to take the lead. On second down and five from the Buffalo nine, Santavicca fumbled the ball out of bounds off the pylon for a touchback. Following a punt, the Bears moved the ball down to the Bengals' nine. On fourth and three, the Bears chose to go for it rather than attempt a field goal and were unable to convert.
That, however, would set the stage for the wild finish as the Bengals were backed up on their own nine-yard line with 5:42 remaining. An incomplete pass and a Tonic eight-yard run made it third and two at the Buffalo 17. A bad snap then sailed over Torrillo's head and Tonic was able to save a possible safety by falling on the ball just before the goal line.
Bridgewater State held a decided 243-92 edge in rushing yards. The Bears amassed 454 yards of total offense, while the Bengals finished with 356. Buffalo State won the turnover battle (BSU 6, Buffalo 2) but the Bengals hurt themselves with ten penalties.
Buffalo State junior defensive back Gino Bonagura (Lindenhurst, N.Y.) led all players with 17 tackles, including 16 solo stops. Bonagura also intercepted a pass (54 yd. return) and forced a fumble. Senior linebacker Dupreme Robinson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) added 12 tackles (11 solo) to go along with a forced and recovered fumble.
Junior strong safety Mark Wilson (Foxborough, Mass.) and sophomore linebacker Michael Rosa (Uxbridge, Mass.) finished with eight tackles apiece to pace the BSU defense. Senior free safety Kyle Dance (West Roxbury, Mass.) checked in with six tackles (five solo) and an interception (45 yd. return).
Both teams are back in action next week. The Bears travel to Endicott on Friday night for a seven o'clock game with the Gulls, while the Bengals head to Adrian College in Michigan on Saturday afternoon to take on the Bulldogs at one.
Notes: Bassett became just the third receiver in BSU football history to reach the 2,000-yard milestone. Bassett has 136 receptions for 2,037 yards and 17 touchdowns in his four seasons at Bridgewater State....With his ten receptions, Lavanchy moved past Bassett for second place on the Bears' all-time receptions list. Lavanchy, who is in his third season at BSU, has 138 catches for 1,855 yards and 17 touchdowns as a Bear...The Bears' last 200-yard rusher was Alex McLaughlin who ran for 207 yards in a 27-19 win over UMass Dartmouth on October 7th of 2016.