The Massachusetts Maritime Academy football team was able to dodge a bullet by missing out on the league’s best passer to score a late-season road win against the Corsairs.
Stephen Gacioch, who’s averaging a Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference-best 277 passing yards per game and 20 passing touchdowns, was out of the game and UMass-Dartmouth relied on back-up Ryan Qualey. He played admirably, but fell to an aggressive Bucs’ defense, 28-14.
MMA senior quarterback Matt Long added to his conference-leading rushing touchdown total, added three scores on the ground to go with 157 yards rushing and 162 yards passing. The visitors never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 7-0 first quarter and added a touchdown in the next three quarters in the win.
Long wasted little time in establishing his presence on the ground. Facing a third-and-nine on his first offensive possession, Long ripped off a 79-yard touchdown run for the early 7-0 lead just five minutes into the action. With 8:08 left before halftime, the Bucs embarked on its second scoring drive. The offense needed just four plays to travel 86 yards and find the end zone. A play before Long rushed for the one-yard score, he connected with senior Will Bennett for a long catch-and-run.
MMA entered the break at halftime with a 14-0 advantage.
Receiving the ball to begin the second half, the Bucs made quick work in pushing their lead to three scores. In only four plays, MMA went 61 yards, capped by a double-reverse pass from Bennett to Ryan McNally 23 yards for the score.
Down 21-0, UMass-Dartmouth began to mount a comeback effort. Qualey made the most of favorable field position and connected with wide receiver Abbi Bangbose for a 46-yard touchdown strike. The Corsairs added their final score of the afternoon early in the fourth quarter when Qualey and Bangbose hooked up for a 26-yard score that closed them within a touchdown, 21-14, with 13:30 left in the fourth.
But on the ensuing possession, the Bucs went back on the offensive. Long found Bennett for another long gain, this one a 64-yard catch-and-run that ended on the Corsairs’ one-yard line. Two plays later Long scored his third rushing touchdown of the day to give the game its final score, 28-14.
Senior captain Cameron Stewart made a late, game-sealing interception to give the Bucs their most wins in a season since going 8-2 in 1999.
Bennett finished the game catching only two passes, but racked up 146 yards receiving to go with his 23-yard touchdown to McNally. Defensive end Kyle Johnston had himself a game, compiling 11 tackles, 4.5 for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. Johnston now leads the league in sacks with 11.5 — two more than teammate Colin McCabe.
UMass-Dartmouth’s Qualey finished the game 18-of-45 passing for 214 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Bangbose, who is third in the league in receiving touchdowns with seven, hauled in six balls for a team-high 131 yards and two scores.
MMA (6-3, 4-3 MASCAC) will look to finish off a memorable season by claiming the 41st Cranberry Bowl against Bridgewater State University Saturday, November 16, at noon at Clean Harbors Stadium. The Bears (5-4, 5-2 MASCAC) are coming off a 40-20 road loss to Framingham State last Saturday, but had won the previous five games entering the contest. Historically, BSU has dominated the annual end-of-season meeting with the Bucs, including last year’s 21-7 win. However, the Bucs will look to win back-to-back home games against the Bears after scoring a 21-18 in at Clean Harbors Stadium in 2017.
Bridgewater State is averaging 31.6 points per game on 246.7 passing yards and 149.1 rushing yards per game offensively. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears are allowing 24.2 points per game on 297.2 passing yard and 106.8 rushing yards allowed.
THE PICK: MMA 32, Bridgewater State 24 — It’ll be a game to remember, but the coveted Cranberry Scoop will change hands again. Long will score three touchdowns (again) and the defense will create enough havoc to hang on for a win.