New Britain, CT – It had been seven years since Sacred Heart knocked off Northeast Conference rival Central Connecticut State but that came to an end Saturday afternoon as the Pioneers used a spectacular second half to defeat the Blue Devils, 37-24. Sacred Heart forced five turnovers in the game and finished the contest with 16 unanswered points. Greg Moore (Newark, NJ) racked up 100 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns with dynamic open field running to spark the SHU offense.
"This is a big win for us," commented Moore after the win. "We haven't beat this team in some years, this is a big win, I'm speechless right now."
Central Connecticut State (2-3, 1-2 NEC) jumped out to a 14-0 advantage, punching in touchdowns in back-to-back drives to start the game. The Blue Devil defense was stingy in the opening stanza as the Pioneers netted just eight yards in the first 15 minutes of play.
Sacred Heart (2-2, 1-1 NEC) got rolling in the second quarter, capping a 12 play drive with a 16 yard touchdown pass from Tim Little (Egg Harbor Twp., NJ) to Moore. The Blue Devils next possession ended with a missed field goal from 26 yards out, giving the Pioneers the ball with 5:50 remaining in the half. But Central Connecticut forced the only SHU turnover of the day, a Keshaudas Spence (Dorchester, MA) fumble, to regain the momentum. The home team scored on the next play as Darius Lee found a hole up the middle for an 11 yard touchdown run.
The Pioneers answered with another 10 play drive, this time chewing up 63 yards and 4:51 to cut the deficit back to 21-14. Moore had the last two carries of the scoring march, finding his way across the goal line on a nine yard scamper. The touchdown energized the Pioneers as the two sides went into the locker room for halftime with CCSU holding onto a 21-14 edge.
The Blue Devils had won 37 straight games since 2004 when holding a lead at the intermission, another streak that Sacred Heart would be able to snap Saturday afternoon.
The field position battle of the third quarter came to an end as the Pioneer special team unit came up with a big play. CCSU punter Steven Calitri faced heavy pressure and only managed a 13 yard punt to give SHU the ball on the Blue Devil 32 yard line. The Pioneers knotted the score line at 21-21 on the next play as Little fired a perfect strike to Rich Rossi (Moosic, PA) who hauled in his second TD grab of the season.
Central Connecticut State went back on top, 24-21, on its next possession as Juan Duque snuck a 42 yard field goal over the crossbar with 1:04 left in the third quarter.
The Sacred Heart offense orchestrated another quick scoring drive to take its first lead of the game, 28-24, in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. Robert Dim (Sicklerville, NJ) held onto a completion over the middle and stayed on his feet after getting drilled by two CCSU defenders. The rookie wide-out sprinted up the field with no Blue Devil left standing to register his first career touchdown.
The next CCSU possession came to a speedy end as Niko Sierra (Longmeadow, MA) delivered a huge hit, flipping the ball carrier and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Vinny Branchini (Longmeadow, MA). The Pioneer defense dominated throughout the second half, forcing four turnovers in the final thirty minutes. Chris Mandas (Mission Viejo, CA) led the unit with 12 tackles and a forced fumble. Sacred Heart capitalized on a CCSU turnover to take a 31-24 cushion following a 34 yard field goal form Chris Rogers (Cazenovia, NY).
The Pioneers continued to control the field position down the stretch, aided by a solid performance by punter Robert Shepherd (Groton, CT). Shepherd launched seven punts on the day, including a long of 52 yards, and pinned the Blue Devils inside the 20 yard line four times and inside the five yard line twice.
Spence atoned for his fumble earlier in the game with tough running in the Pioneers final drive. The reigning NEC rookie of the week crossed the goal line on a one yard score to all but seal the win for SHU, 37-24. Sierra intercepted a Gunnar Jespersen pass to cap the second half surge and secure the Pioneers first league win of 2011.
Little finished the game with 189 yards and three touchdown passes while the offensive line did not allow the rookie quarterback to be sacked.
The Pioneers return to action next Saturday for the final non-conference game of the season, traveling to New York City to square-off with Columbia.