By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- There was a fireworks display over Swenson Field early Saturday night as part of homecoming weekend festivities at Bridgewater State University.
It was a fitting end to a day that had been full of fireworks on the football field, courtesy of the Bears’ offense.
Bridgewater State produced season highs in points, total offense and passing yardage in a 44-28 victory over UMass Dartmouth, the Bears’ fourth straight win since a two-game losing streak.
Quarterback Stefano D’Emilia of Bridgewater completed 19 of 23 passes for 292 yards with Jack Lavanchy (12 catches, 185 yards) and T.J. Hairston (eight catches, 111 yards) both eclipsing 100 yards.
The Bears (5-2) finished with 543 yards of total offense with Aidan Silva getting 112 rushing yards on 20 carries and scoring two touchdowns.
Bridgewater State has moved into sole possession of second place of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference at 4-1 and plays at first-place Western Connecticut State (4-0) next Saturday night with a chance to move atop the standings.
“These kids don’t quit,” said head coach Joe Verria. “The culture that we’ve created, the character that we have on the team, the captains, the leaders, all the seniors, this is a good group of kids. They are very hard working kids. They want to win for each other and that’s why we’re finding ways to win.”
Bridgewater State has gained more than 400 yards in four of its seven games, and the offense was in high gear against the Corsairs (3-3, 2-2 MASCAC) before a crowd of 1,532.
“The offense did a heckuva job,” said Verria. “The offense, every single week, they have gotten better and better and better. They’re finding new weapons and we’re spreading the ball everywhere. We’ve got great athletes on offense and we’re moving the ball around a lot better.”
Lavanchy had 12 catches for the second consecutive week and added to his school-record for receptions (190). The senior now has 2,511 receiving yards, third on the all-time list.
“It is tough with our offense because they can’t double cover Jack,″ said Verria, whose team had a 31-10 edge in first downs. “They can’t double cover Travis (Bassett) and we’ve got T.J. Hairston, who had an unbelievable game. The backs are running well. When we get man coverage, everybody’s turning and running, so the backs are able to run the football. We’re doing a great job on offense.”
The teams were tied at 7-7 after one quarter with D’Emilia scoring on a 10-yard run, and the Bears and Corsairs combined for 34 second-quarter points with Bridgewater State holding a 27-21 halftime lead.
BSU’s other quarterback, freshman Brad Thiltgen, scored on an 8-yard run and Silva followed with a 6-yard TD run for a 20-7 lead. But UMass-Dartmouth’s Leroy Brown (six catches, 199 yards, three touchdowns) helped UMass Dartmouth slice the lead by the break with TD catches of 60 and 59 yards in a span of just over four minutes.
Nick Santavicca scored on a 2-yard run for the Bears in between those two Brown TDs, and BSU had the six-point edge at the break.
Brown put UMass Dartmouth on top, 28-27, for the only time of the game when he took another Stephen Gacioch pass 57 yards for another touchdown with 6:05 left in the third quarter. That was the last time the Corsairs would get in the end zone with the Bears scoring the final 17 points to pull away.
“We played all right on defense, but we gave up three bad plays,” said Verria. “We’re young, we’re trying to get better every week and that’s what happens. We made some adjustments at halftime and we did all right.”
Silva scored on a 1-yard run with 4:17 left in the third quarter to give BSU the lead back at 34-28, the score set up by a 55-yard pass by D’Emilia to Lavanchy that brought the ball to the 1. Santavicca went in from 6 yards out just 38 seconds into the last quarter for a 41-28 lead and Jacob Crear added a 24-yard field goal with 2:04 left.
The Corsairs’ defense displayed its frustration in the fourth quarter with cornerback Dwayne Hunter-Parker was ejected for punching Lavanchy several times. UMass Dartmouth received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on its next offensive series.
“We knew it’d be a chippy game and it was in our favor that we were poised,” said Verria. “It could have gotten ugly, but our kids were poised enough.”