MIDDLETOWN, R.I. - Junior Michael Dargan (Meriden, Conn.) scampered in from 13 yards out late in the second quarter to help the Salve Regina University football team post its first winning season in a decade with a 6-0 win over Nichols College in New England Football Conference (NEFC) action Saturday afternoon at Gaudet Field.
Senior Rob LaRiviere-Tougas (Easthampton, Mass.) racked up 125 yards on the ground for the Seahawks, who finished with a 6-4 record and a 5-2 mark in the NEFC, both of which mark the school's highest win totals since the 2000 campaign. The Bison, meanwhile, fell to the Seahawks for the second time in three years and finish with a 1-9 record (1-6 NEFC).
The Seahawks defense held the Bison to 177 yards of total offense en route to posting their first shutout win in nine years. The last time the Seahawks blanked an opponent was back in 2001, when they defeated Western New England 12-0 on Sept. 22. The game also marks the lowest scoring game in the 18-year history of the SRU football program. Earlier this season, the Seahawks broke the previous record of 13 points, which had been set in 1997, with a 6-3 win over WPI in the season-opener on Sept. 4.
Meanwhile, the Bison defense held the Seahawks to only 146 total yards of offense and allowed the Seahawks to convert of only four of their 14 third-down situations. However, Nichols turned the ball over three times, the first of which led to the game's only points.
Facing a third-and-seven from their own 10-yard line, Nichols senior quarterback Justin Nelson (Oceanside, Calif.) rushed up the middle and was stripped by junior Carlos Santos (Trumbull, Conn.) at the line of scrimmage. Junior Jeff Bartek (North Haven, Conn.) pounced on the loose ball, setting up first-and-10 Seahawks from the Nichols 13-yard line. On the next play, Dargan came around on a reverse and raced into the left corner of the endzone to give the Seahawks the only points they would need.
"Anytime you can shutout an opponent, it's a good thing, but you have to give a lot of credit to Nichols," said Salve Regina first-year head coach Bob Chesney. "They were very well prepared and limited our aggressiveness on defense by running so many draws and screen passes. Offensively, I thought we were going to be able to run the ball quite a bit, and that wasn't the case. When they were able to stop the run and force us to throw, we didn't have a lot of success. We dropped a couple of balls in crucial moments."
Nichols wasn't without scoring opportunities on the afternoon. They put together a 14-play, 79-drive to start the second quarter that resulted in a missed field goal from 35 yards out. In the third, the Bison took their second possession of the half and marched all the way down the SRU four-yard line in 10 plays, but saw sophomore Cody Jankins' (West Brookfield, Mass.) 21-yard field goal attempt blocked by sophomore William Regan (Amesbury, Mass.). After that, the Bison never got inside the Seahawks 40-yard line.
Junior Shane Lange (Branford, Conn.) - who entered the game second in the nation in sacks - was held without one but managed seven tackles on the afternoon (five solo), including one for loss, for the Seahawks. Classmate A.J. Albert (Franklin Park, N.J.) matched Lange with seven tackles of his own and 1.5 tackles for loss while senior C.J. Hein (East Sandwich, Mass.) and sophomore Ryan Mannion (Danbury, Conn.) each recoded an interception, giving the Seahawks a +14 in turnover margin to end the season. They entered the game leading the NEFC with a +11.
Senior linebacker Evan Greathead (Pepperell, Mass.) led the Bison with a game-high 15 tackles (eight solo), including 1.5 tackles for loss. Junior defensive end Mike Mainero (Bridgeport, Conn.) notched a game-high four sacks and finished the afternoon with seven tackles. Offensively, junior Mathew Bryson (Pawtucket, R.I.) rushed for 58 yards on 16 carries while Nelson tallied 42 yards on the ground. Through the air, Nelson finished 13-of-22 for 72 yards and one interception. Freshman Cory Crownover (Port St.Lucie, Fla.) was credited with the second pick of the day for the Bison as he took the second part of a double reverse and chucked a pass down the right sideline that Mannion snared on the opening drive of the second half.
Prior to the start of the game, the Seahawks honored 10 senior members of their football program - Hein, Nick Jentz (Little Ferry, N.J.), Nick Piscitelli (North Haven, Conn.), Mitch Roshong (Verona, N.J.), Jonathan Norman (Brooklyn, Conn.), Chris Kopiske (Saint James, N.Y.), Mitch Jenness (Harrisville, R.I.), David Guerriero (Quincy, Mass.), Dustin Weisel (Milford Square, Pa.), and John Fall (Brooklyn, N.Y.). LaRiviere-Tougas missed last season due to injury and will return next season to use his final year of eligibility.
"I want to thank the seniors for standing behind us as we began to lay the foundation for the future of the program," said Chesney. "They really listened and echoed our voice throughout the season, and without them, we wouldn't be where we are."
Salve Regina established a pair of defensive records in 2010 and also cracked the top five in several other categories. The Seahawks 76 tackles for loss and eight blocked kicks both established new school records while their 13 forced fumbles is the second-highest mark in SRU history. The team also racked up 33 sacks and 13 interceptions, both of which stand as the fourth-highest totals in program history.
"A 6-4 mark is not going to be considered a success for us," added Chesney. "Until we're going into the final game of the season with a playoff berth on the line or already sewn up, this is fine, but it's not where we want to be and it's not where we're going, either."