WEST HAVEN, Conn. – Before a crowd of 3,291 fans at Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium, the University of New Haven football team was edged in its season opener, 35-30, by No. 10/11 nationally-ranked West Chester. Joey Bradley (Issaquah, Wash./Issaquah / University of North Dakota) went 32-for-48 for 311 yards with one touchdown in addition to a rushing touchdown in his first career start for the Chargers. The outing marked the first game at the helm for Head Coach Chris Pincince.
Chargers score a touchdown! (Photo by Erica Naugle / Charger Bulletin Photo)
Following the narrow defeat, the Blue and Gold start the 2014 campaign at 0-1. West Chester, which reached the NCAA National Semifinals last season and is picked by the conference’s coaches to win the PSAC East this fall, moves to 1-0. The Chargers maintain an 8-6-1 lead in the all-time series. Today’s contest was the ninth meeting between the two clubs to be decided by one possession (eight points or fewer).
The game also featured a 75-minute weather delay at the tail end of the third quarter as a severe storm passed through New Haven County.
Bradley’s 32 completions and 48 passing attempts are the most by a New Haven quarterback since Ryan Osiecki went 37-for-61 at Southern Connecticut State on Oct. 2, 2009. DeeJay White (Brooklyn, N.Y./Sheepshead Bay / Bowling Green State University) was the recipient of seven balls for 83 yards, while Henry Adegunle (Rockaway, N.Y./Channel View) reeled in six passes for 54 yards and a score. Also on the outside, Ty Headen (Newark, N.J./American History) snagged five passes of 44 yards.
Brandon Fowler (Prospect, Conn./Woodland Regional / Connecticut) added three receptions, and Isaiah Austin (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek) and Roshawn Wilson (Miami, Fla./Miami Southridge) each caught two. Rounding out the action for the receiving corps was Courtney Moshood (Miami, Fla./Miami Palmetto) with a 16-yard catch.
Out of the backfield, Andre Anderson (New Haven, Conn./James Hillhouse) and Trevor Officer (Monroe, N.Y./Monroe-Woodbury) had three grabs apiece for 34 and 30 yards, respectively. Officer was New Haven’s leading rusher with 42 yards and a touchdown, while Anderson picked up 32 yards and a score on the ground and Moshood scampered for 14 yards on an end around.
Defensively, three players making their New Haven debuts led the way. Matt Zakrzewski (Traverse City, Mich./Saint Francis / Indiana) made a team-best 10 tackles to go along with a fumble forced and recovered. Tarik Pusey (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln / Rhode Island) also pounced on a pivotal fumble in the fourth quarter, and Matt Olivo (Carteret, N.J./Saint Joseph) reeled in an interception.
Tyler Condit (Caldwell, N.J./James Caldwell) added eight tackles from the linebacker position, and Dave Calderon (Neptune, N.J./Neptune) picked up a sack.
For West Chester, quarterback Sean McCartney went 17-for-31 for 262 yards with four touchdowns to four different receivers. The Golden Rams’ defense was led by D2Football.com Preseason All-America Al-Hajj Shabazz, who had an interception, recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown and later blocked a second punt.
The Golden Rams got on the board first, opening a fast-paced first half with a six-play, 84-yard touchdown drive. McCartney hit Mike Doty with a 38-yard strike to stake the visitors to a 7-0 advantage.
The Chargers responded in kind with an eight-play, 61-yard march to paydirt. A Bradley screen to Anderson for 26 yards was the big play on the drive, which ended with Bradley sneaking the ball over the line from one yard out.
After New Haven came away with the first defensive stop of the contest, the Blue and Gold scored again for the first of six lead changes in the game. The Chargers stormed into the red zone once again but, after a holding call erased a touchdown, settled for three points as Anthony Greenfield (Bloomfield, N.J./Paramus Catholic / Wagner) split the uprights on a 32-yard field goal to put the Blue and Gold on top, 10-7, with 5:03 to play in the opening quarter.
Olivo’s interception squashed the ensuing West Chester drive, but New Haven went three-and-out on its next possession and the snap on the punt attempt sailed over Greenfield’s head to put the Golden Rams in business at the New Haven eight-yard line as the first quarter expired.
After the squads moved to the other end of the field, McCartney connected with Shawn Driggins for a four-yard touchdown to put the visitors back in front, 14-10.
Each offense would stall in its next three possessions before New Haven took the lead once again. This time the drive consumed 3:34, spanning 10 plays and 80 yards, as the Chargers picked up five first downs through the air before Anderson finished off the march on the ground from three yards out. The Chargers did not convert the extra point but remained in front, 16-14.
West Chester would take a lead into the locker room, however, as McCartney hit Tim Brown with a 31-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the half. At the whistle, the visitors held a 21-16 advantage.
New Haven went three-and-out to open the second half, and West Chester’s Jeremy Irving broke through the line and blocked the ensuing punt from the Chargers’ end zone. Shabazz fell on the loose ball and, following the extra point, West Chester held the contest’s largest lead at 28-16.
The Chargers were undaunted by the special teams miscue, as they immediately set off on a 75-yard drive to paydirt. Bradley completed his final five passing attempts of the march, capped by a 29-yard hookup with Adegunle for a touchdown.
West Chester appeared poised to return the favor, as a McCartney scrambled would have set the Golden Rams up with a first down inside the red zone. However, Zakrzewski stripped the ball from the West Chester signal caller and recovered it to give possession back to the Blue and Gold.
The New Haven offense capitalized on the turnover, as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the visitors at the end of the possession change. The Chargers would benefit from a second unsportsmanlike conduct flag and a 15-yard pass interference call on the march, capped by a three-yard plunge from Officer. After the extra point, New Haven grabbed a 30-28 lead with 2:41 to go in the third quarter.
The Golden Rams responded quickly on their next drive as a 44-yard McCartney bomb to Erick Brundidge put West Chester back in front, 35-30, with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
At that point, inclement weather halted the contest for 75 minutes.
Neither team would score again when action resumed, but the final 15 minutes of play were not lacking for drama. The period began with a Shabazz interception, but New Haven held on third-and-two from midfield to regain possession.
The Golden Rams, however, would get a stop and blocked another punt – this time with Shabazz getting his mitts on the ball – to set themselves up with a first down at the New Haven 21-yard line. West Chester would surge to a first-and-goal situation at the two-yard line before a big goal-line stand for the Chargers.
The defensive line stepped up to stifle Eddie Elliott in the backfield for a loss of three and, on the next play, Pusey jumped on an Adam Dempsey fumble to give New Haven another chance on offense.
The New Haven offense marched back down the field with 6:35 left and 94 yards away from paydirt. Bradley would connect on four straight passes to move toward midfield, but the Chargers soon faced a fourth-and-eight situation at their own 45-yard line. Adegunle was unable to haul in a ball dropped in between a trio of West Chester defenders, and the visitors reclaimed possession on downs.
The Chargers defense would hold on the next drive, using their timeouts and forcing a punt. The boot off the foot of Rich Bruno settled again at the six-yard line, forcing New Haven to once again drive 94 yards – and this time with just 69 seconds to play.
A series of short completions moved the Blue and Gold as far as their own 32-yard line before Drew Formica came up with a strip and recovery to end the drive with just 28 ticks left. West Chester took one snap in victory formation to escape DellaCamera Stadium with a 35-30 decision.
The Chargers return to the gridiron next Saturday, Sept. 13 to open the Northeast-10 Conference slate at LIU Post. The Pioneers also stand at 0-1 after ceding 20 unanswered points to fall to East Stroudsburg, 43-35, in their home and season opener this afternoon.
New Haven returns to the Blue and Gold turf on the following Saturday, Sept. 20, to welcome Assumption for a 1 p.m. kickoff.