Story and photo courtesy of New Haven Athletics
WEST HAVEN, Conn. – The No. 3/5 University of New Haven football team won the inaugural Northeast-10 Conference Championship Game on Saturday, taking a 37-12 decision from American International at Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium. The win marks the Chargers’ third-consecutive Northeast-10 Championship.
New Haven, which entered the weekend ranked No. 3 in the NCAA East Region and as one of seven remaining unbeaten teams in Division II, stays perfect at 10-0 with its 17th-straight victory over a Northeast-10 opponent. The Chargers also defeated American International, 37-6, last weekend in Springfield to close out the regular season. The Yellow Jackets fall to 7-3.
Ryan Osiecki (Seymour, Conn./Seymour / Univ. of Louisville) led the Chargers’ offense with 240 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-25 passing en route to earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Mike DeCaro (Weston, Fla./Cypress Bay ) also landed on the All-Championship Team with 111 yards from scrimmage (game-high 78 rushing, 33 receiving) and a touchdown reception in addition to a 97-yard kickoff return for a score.
Ronnie Nelson (Stuart, Fla./South Fork ) added 56 rushing yards with a touchdown, and Victor Jones (Paterson, N.J./Passaic County Tech) scampered for 43 yards.
Jason Thompson (Indiantown, Fla./South Fork ) led all receivers with five catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Chris Ruffin (New York, N.Y./Phillip Randolph) caught four balls for 35 yards, and Demetrius Washington-Ellison (Rahway, N.J./Rahway / Univ. of Maine) reeled in three passes with a touchdown grab.
Representing the New Haven defense on the All-Championship Team were Tom Herd (Sparta, N.J./Sparta ), who had two sacks and four total tackles, and Bernard Risco (Philadelphia, Pa./James Hillhouse), who had a pair of interceptions in addition to five stops. Brent MacLeod (Winchester, Mass./Winchester) and Matthew Fallico (Syracuse, N.Y./Fayetteville Manlius / Hudson Valley) each had a sack, and Alex Dyer (Westbrook, Conn./Westbrook) made a pair of tackles-for-loss. Richard Long (New Rochelle, N.Y./New Rochelle / Iona College) had a team-best 10 tackles.
As a unit, the Chargers outgained AIC, 415-265, and earned 23 first downs to the visitors’ 18.
Quarterback Kevin Arduino was selected to the All-Championship Team for American International after leading the Yellow Jackets with 149 passing yards and 63 rushing yards. Offensive lineman George Grosz and linebacker Jaquawne Simpkins, who made a game-high 15 tackles, joined their signal caller on the All-Championship Team.
After an empty possession each way to open the game, the Chargers got on the board first. New Haven converted a 3rd-and-11 on a 19-yard pass to Thompson and a 4th-and-1 via a rush by Jones to get into field goal range. Chris Scifo (Coral Springs, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas / Central Connecticut State University) stuck the 36-yarder – his eighth three-pointer of the season – to give the Chargers an early 3-0 lead. The 17-play, 71-yard drive ate up 8:11 of the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets responded to with what was ultimately the offense’s only scoring drive of the game. Arduino rushed for 37 yards on the drive and gained 13 more through the air, and Anthony Enderle powered through the pile from two-yards out to break the plane and put American International on top, 6-3, after a failed two-point conversion.
The Chargers drove into AIC territory but stalled on their next drive, ceding possession back to the visitors just 48 seconds into the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets likewise marched into enemy territory before Risco came up with his first interception of the day to reclaim the ball for New Haven.
A 24-yard rush by DeCaro advanced the Chargers from the shadow of their own goal posts and started a 92-yard march to the end zone. Osiecki was 5-for-5 on the possession, capping the possession with a 27-yard connection to Thompson to put the Chargers on top, 10-6, following Scifo’s extra-point.
AIC moved the ball into the red zone again, driving to a first-and-goal situation at the two-yard line. After Sean Berglund (Wolcott, Conn./Wolcott) broke up a first-down play in the back field, Arduino moved the ball back to the two, bring up third-and-goal. The Yellow Jackets ran a misdirection play, opting for a halfback pass. Eddie Green’s toss floated into the end zone and was picked off by Risco – his second interception of the game – to quell the threat. The interception was also Risco’s fourth pick overall and his third in the end zone this season.
The Chargers got one first down on their next drive before Anthony Greenfield punted it away. AIC’s drive likewise stalled after moving the chains once, and the Yellow Jackets lined up to punt at the 40-yard line with 4 seconds left in the opening half. The snap on the punt sailed over the head of punter Daniel Backx and bounded all the way back into the end zone. Backx was able to knock the ball back into the field of play where Rodney Lanham (Bridgeport, Conn./Bridge Academy) fell on it to give the Chargers a golden opportunity to extend their lead just four yards from paydirt with 28 seconds to go.
It took just one play for new Haven to get into the end zone, as Nelson plunged straight up the middle on a keeper to run the Charger lead to 17-6 entering the intermission.
AIC appeared to have swung the momentum to open the second half, as Markell Rice returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-12. However, the celebration on the visitors’ sideline was short-lived as DeCaro fielded the ensuing kickoff at the three-yard line and took in back 97 yards for a score. After Scifo’s PAT, the Chargers had rebuilt a 24-12 advantage just 27 seconds into the third quarter.
A sack by MacLeod punctuated a three-and-out on AIC’s next possession, and the Chargers took over at the visitors’ 47-yard line. DeCaro ripped off two runs totaling 17 yards to start the drive and, on the third play of the possession, took off on a wheel route and brought down a perfectly-placed ball by Osiecki for the touchdown to extend the cushion to 30-12.
The Yellow Jackets’ next two drives both stalled courtesy of sacks by Herd, who ran his total to 10 sacks on the season. The Chargers would capitalize with an eight-yard strike from Osiecki to Washington-Ellison to cap an eight-play, 71 yard march and run the score to its eventual final of 37-12.
The Chargers will learn their postseason fate on Sunday at 5 p.m. on the NCAA Division II Football Selection Show, which is broadcast live on NCAA.com. Details will also be available on NewHavenChargers.com as soon as they are finalized.