October 29, 2011

Western New England shocks Endicott 40-37 in the snow to claim NEFC Boyd Division title

More news about: Western New England
11-20-10 Mike Graham (1 action)
Mike Graham returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a 40-37 win over Endicott.
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Junior Mike Graham (Norwalk, CT) returned a pair of kickoffs 85 and 83 yards for touchdowns as Western New England shocked previously undefeated Endicott 40-37 to capture its first New England Football Conference (NEFC) Boyd Division title Saturday afternoon (Oct. 29).

The Golden Bears improved to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in the division following their seventh consecutive victory, which tied the school record set last year.

Western New England has one game remaining in the regular season at UMass Dartmouth next Saturday (Nov. 5), but will host Bogan Division winner Framingham State in the NEFC Championship game on November 12.

Endicott, which came into the contest as the top-ranked New England Division III team, falls to 8-1 and 5-1 in Boyd action.

In a game marked by big plays by both teams, Graham provided the heroics with his spectacular performance. He has four kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and six for his career.

Despite allowing 505 yards, Western New England's defense forced four turnovers that proved crucial in the final outcome. Three miscues led to touchdowns while junior cornerback Corey Brown (Worcester, MA) intercepted a pass in the end zone to snuff out another scoring threat.

Five of Western New England touchdowns were from 27 yards or longer.

Snow started falling at game time and by the start of the second half the field was covered by the white stuff. Contest management workers did a nice job helping the officials, players, and statisticians by clearing lines throughout the third and fourth quarters.

The game stated on an ominous note for Western New England when a high snap on a punt attempt went 31 yards into the end zone for a safety just 90 seconds into the contest.

Endicott then fumbled a punt, which was recovered by freshman Adam Dunne (Holyoke, MA) at the visitors 39. Three plays later senior quarterback Bryce Brown (Guilford, CT) fired a 27-yard scoring pass to sophomore tight end Dan LaNoir (Queensbury, NY) at the 9:18 mark for an unusual 6-2 lead.

The Gulls missed a great scoring opportunity after moving to the WNE 4 when a holding penalty and Brown's third interception of the season killed the drive.

The slippery field conditions gave kickers from both teams trouble. Freshman Nick Fox-Edele (Springfield, MA) missed an extra-point-attempt in the first quarter, then EC sophomore Dylan Rushe (Palos Verdes, CA ) (who entered the game with a conference best 13 field goals), misfired on a 27-yarder on Endicott's first possession of the second stanza.

Endicott finally scored its first touchdown when senior quarterback Phil Konopka (Shelton, CT)  scored on a one-yard run with 10:43 remaining before halftime. The play before Konopka had a 40-yard completion to junior receiver Mike Murphy (Chelmsford, MA) who finished with six receptions for 131 yards.

There were three touchdowns in the final 2:42 of the quarter beginning when senior running back JJ Jachym (Milford, CT) ran nine yards to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive that featured him making an important first down on a fourth-and-one at the 50. The Golden Bears missed the two-point conversion on an incomplete pass by Bryce Brown.

Konopka quickly led EC on a seven-play, 60-yard march that ended when he fired a nine-yard scoring pass to senior receiver Mike Fimani (Melrose, MA) with 49 seconds left before the break.

Graham took the ensuing kickoff, raced down the right sideline, and cut across the middle for a sensational 85-yard score that gave Western New England a 19-16 margin at intermission.

With heavy snow falling to start the second half, the Golden Bears defense again sparkled when sophomore linebacker Brandon Orsmby (Windsor, CT) picked-off a pass that bounced off Fimiani and returned it 55 yards to the 30.

On the second play, freshman running back Kevin Cook (Hamburg, NJ) (21 carries, 75 yards) ran 30 yards for a 26-16 advantage with 8:41 remaining in the third period.

Endicott again came back with four seconds left in the quarter closing the margin to 26-23 when senior running back Mike Lane (Medfield, MA) scooted seven yards for a touchdown.

Graham then delivered perhaps the biggest play of the season with an 83-yard return to give the hosts another 10-point cushion at 33-23 on the final play of the quarter.

The Gulls took advantage of a WNE turnover when senior Izzy Abraham (Canton, MA) recovered a fumbled punt return early in the fourth quarter.

Konopka completed three straight passes, the last a 20-yard scoring strike to senior receiver Ryan Carino (Stratford, CT) at the 13:23 mark. A bad snap forced Rushe to attempt a pass on the extra-point attempt which failed as EC got within 33-29.

Endicott then turned the ball over again when senior Joe Cicarella (Guilford, CT) recovered a fumble on a punt return. Brown lofted 39-yard scoring pass to freshman receiver Andrew Walz (Groton, CT) on the first play to give the Golden Bears a 40-29 lead with 11:33 remaining in the game.

Once again Endicott rallied when Konopka finished a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 19-yard score to Carino (5 catches, 55 yards) with 8:06 left.

Senior defensive end Kevin Eagan (West Hartford, CT) then recovered his second fumble of the game to give the Gulls momentum at their own 41 at the 6:29 mark, but this time WNE stopped a fourth-and-six attempt at the 36.

Western New England then ran out the final 4:41 helped in part by a pair of clutch third-down conversions and a pair of ill-advised EC penalties.

Konopka was brilliant in a losing effort completing 38-of-53 passes for 407 yards. Lane finished with a game-high 128 yards rushing while Fimani had 12 catches for 110 yards. Senior tight end Taylor Allen (Westboro, MA) had seven catches for 57 yards. Eagan had a great performance with 15 tackles, including five for losses and a sack.

Western New England totaled only 255 yards, but controlled the ball for 32 minutes, 17 seconds.

Brown accounted for 189 yards by completing 9-of-17 passes for 144 yards with no interceptions. He also ran for 45 yards on 16 carries.

Graham finished with 229 return yards on four kickoffs while Walz had three receptions for 82 yards. Junior free safety Phil Tsopanides (Fairfield, CT) compiled 12 tackles while Miller and Ormsby each contributed eight stops.

Junior defensive end James Georges (Stamford, CT) added seven tackles and two-and-a-half sacks.

Sophomore defensive tackle Kevin Soule (Medfield, MA) also chipped-in with seven stops, including five against Lane who was a former teammate at Medfield High School.
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