Springfield victory over Coast Guard comes down to ... defense
New London — It was a few moments after Coast Guard won last week's game on the final play in double overtime and head coach Bill George made a prediction in keeping with the narrow margins of the Bears' first five games this season: next week will be the same.
He was referring to Saturday's matchup with Springfield, the league's preseason favorite, and at first it seemed rather unlikely.
Springfield possessed the ball for 22 minutes, 11 seconds of the first half to 7:49 for Coast Guard, leading by two touchdowns.
Then suddenly, Coast Guard, defensively fervent, was in the fourth quarter and driving for a potential victory.
Springfield won 20-14, reigning in two interceptions on its own half of the field in the final moments, spoiling Coast Guard first downs and squashing what was certainly momentum on the part of the Bears.
"I was concerned. I shouldn't have been," George said of his thoughts at halftime. "They stick together. They fight. They try to make things happen."
Of the Springfield victory, clinched by interceptions from Pride linebacker DJ Brown, a freshman; and strong safety C.J. Lavery, a sophomore, George said:
"Things happen. They have a good team, too. They have a right to make things happen, too."
Coast Guard (4-2, 1-2 New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference) got the performance, perhaps of a lifetime, from its defense in the second half in what was the sixth straight game to start the season that was decided by 10 points or fewer.
After Springfield and its run-based triple-option had 288 yards offense in the first half, 234 yards rushing, Coast Guard held the Pride to 43 yards in the second half and one first down.
Cornerback Pat Crowley and middle linebacker Eugene Bizer each had 11 tackles and linebackers Zach Lukasik and RJ Robiskie combined for a sack.
"A lot of time, mentally, the score's got to be 0-0 (coming out after halftime)," Bizer said of the defensive approach. "You've just got to keep playing your game. Once we figured out what they're doing, once our D-line figured out what was going on ... I think we just got more confident. That's what it was supposed to look like the first half."
Coast Guard still trailed 20-7 after three quarters.
The Bears, however, launched a 12-play drive from their own 31-yard line, getting a clutch fourth-and-11 catch from Liam Middleton to the Springfield 21.
Jon Wagner ran for another first down to the Pride 9 and quarterback Ryan Jones got it to the 7 on a keeper before Jones rolled to his right and hit Damaso Jaime in the back right-hand corner of the end zone. Crowley's extra point made it 20-14 with 12:40 to play in the game.
Coast Guard's defense held, with Lukasik and Robiskie teaming for their sack on third down at the Springfield 29, and suddenly, the electricity was back in the air at Cadet Memorial Stadium.
Springfield (3-3, 2-1) couldn't muster field position, taking over drives on its own 20 on a touchback by Coast Guard punter Middleton, the 11 and the 9 on their final three possessions.
Coast Guard got the ball at the Springfield 49 with 3:50 to play and a facemask penalty on the first play of the series pushed the ball all the way to the Pride 34. Jones ran for a first down to the Springfield 17 before forcing a ball over the middle on the next play that was intercepted by a diving Brown.
The defense forced a three-and-out by Springfield, with Pride quarterback Chad Shade throwing on third down, a play broken up by the Bears' Mark Wicke.
Coast Guard took over with 1:46 to play and a 15-yard gain from Jones to Justin Moffatt gave the Bears a first down at Springfield's 43 at the 1:31 mark, but Jones' next attempt was picked off by Lavery, ending the Bears' comeback bid.
"A little bit," Springfield coach Mike Cerasulo said with a laugh, asked if he was nervous in the closing moments. "That's kind of the makeup of the team right now. That's a couple of our young kids that had those interceptions. The first kid was a freshman. Both sides of the ball are learning to grind it out."
Shade finished with 28 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown and threw for another touchdown for Springfield.
The Pride led 10-0 when Coast Guard drew within 10-7 on a 25-yard touchdown from Jones to Moffatt with 2:21 left in the first quarter. Springfield scored twice more before halftime, though, with Christian Hutra kicking his second field goal of the game and Shade scoring from a yard out with 32 seconds left in the second quarter.
Jones was 19-for-34 for 203 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and was sacked three times for Coast Guard. Moffatt made eight catches for 120 yards.
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