When the Massachusetts State Athletic Conference and Little East Conference affiliates split from the New England Football Conference following the 2012 season, it was thought that the championship game that had made the NEFC unique in Division III would be eliminated.
But through an unplanned, yet fortuitous scheduling quirk the NEFC championship game returns, albeit in a different format.
Both Endicott College and Salve Regina University have gone through the 2013 season with unblemished (6-0) Conference records. On Saturday at 1:00 the two teams will square off in Beverly, Mass., for the 2013 NEFC Championship and a trip to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.
Endicott enters the game on a six game win streak. The Gulls are the highest scoring team in the NEFC, averaging just over 39 points per game, and also leading the NEFC in total yards (3,885) and passing yards (2,455). Drew Frenette, a junior, is the top ranked quarterback in the league in completions, passing yards, and touchdowns passing with 21. In Conference play he has completed 70.7% of his pass attempts.
The passing game is balanced by a strong running attack led by sophomore Spencer Walsh. Walsh has rushed for 1090 yards and 14 scores. Walsh is also one of seven Gulls with double figures in receptions, led by sophomore wideout Alex Matys with 48 receptions and a Conference best 10 receiving touchdowns.
Defensively Endicott leads the NEFC with 20 takeaways including a Conference best 12 interceptions. The Gulls have surrendered the second fewest points in the Conference to a tune of 19.7 per game. Endicott is third in yards allowed per game at 338.
Linebacker Nick Kozlowski has made the most of his senior season, leading the team with 80 tackles. Classmate and fellow linebacker Andrew Holfinger has 14.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, leading the team in both categories. Junior Jake Cox has 25% of the Gulls' pickoffs from his defensive back position.
Special teams start and end with senior Dylan Rushe. Rushe is one of the top placekickers and punters in all of Division III, and has been since his arrival in Beverly. Rushe is second on the team in scoring with 40 PAT's and 13 field goals, both NEFC bests. As a punter he averages an NEFC leading 41.3 yards per punt with 14 of his 34 kicks downed inside the opponents' 20.
Salve Regina has won six of its last seven games, with the only loss coming to Division I FCS opponent Central Connecticut State University. The Seahawks have thrived on their NEFC leading defense. Salve Regina surrenders an average of only 16.7 points and 292 yards per game, both NEFC bests.
Sophomore Danny Ives leads the Seahawks with 80 tackles from his linebacker slot. Senior defensive back Joshua Bennett has three of Salve Regina's 11 interceptions and is second on the team with 61 stops. Soph defensive lineman Hayden Stanton leads the Conference with 9.5 sacks for 55 yards of loss.
Steven Wilken, a junior, calls the shots from behind the center. Wilken has 2,209 yards of total offense on the year. The Seahawks present opponents a balanced attack with a strong running game. Salve Regina has averaged over 204 yards rushing per game, good for third in the Conference. In addition to Wilken's 287 yards rushing, the Seahawks have three other runners that have rushed for over 200 yards in 2013. Senior Richie Edwards leads that group with an average of nearly 100 yards per game. Dan Bouonacore, a junior is the second leading rusher for Salve Regina and leads the Seahawks with 41 receptions. Junior wide receiver Matthew Traynor has 775 yards on 40 catches.
Junior Phil Terio is the most dangerous return man in the NEFC with an average of nearly 25 yards per kickoff return and over 11 yards on punt returns with a 61 yard return for a touchdown. Classmate Benjamin Barrett is the second ranked punter in the Conference with a 37.8 average and seven placed inside the 20. Christian Clark, a sophomore, can be a long field goal threat having hit successfully from 43 yards during the year.
Endicott won the NEFC Championship in 2010 with a 38-35 win at Maine Maritime Academy. Salve Regina has been co-champion of the Conference in 1998 and 1999, and the Seahawks came out on the short end of a 27-24 decision to Bridgewater State College in the first NEFC Championship game in 2000.