Tartans blitz by Brockport in ECAC Asa S. Bushnell Bowl
By: Liam Hoffmann
PITTSBURGH, PA-- The Brockport Golden Eagles season came to an end at the hands of the Carnegie Mellon Tartans, losing the ECAC Asa S. Bushnell Bowl. The Tartans' lead had reached 30 points by the halftime break after a slew of early penalties and turnovers put the Golden Eagles in a hole.
After recent offensive struggles, it was freshman Jake Ritts, rather than freshman Ben Gocella who got the start at quarterback for Brockport. Ritts was able to put the ball in some great spots but intense pressure by the Tartans front made a passing rhythm hard to find for the Golden Eagles.
The Tartans established opening momentum that they'd carry for 60 minutes. A couple of Brockport penalties extended the drive for Carnegie Mellon and allowed Joey McGinnis IV to punch it in from a yard out, scoring his first of two touchdowns on the night. Quarterback Ben Mills was precise from start to finish on the night, completing three passes for 43 yards to his favorite target Ethan Reifer on the opening drive.
Brockport's first offensive series was cut short after on third and short Ritts was pressured by Thor Truelson and couldn't find Alex Card. On the following play, Robert Coury blocked Dan Giangrasso's punt, setting up the Tartans with great field position. McGinnis IV finished the ensuing drive with another one-yard score to get Carnegie Mellon out to a 14-0 advantage.
The short pass game was working well in the early stages for Brockport. Ritts was able to connect with Card and Brian Caldwell Jr. twice each on their second drive. However, the Tartans' pass rush ended the drive prematurely, which grew to be a theme as the game continued. Brothers Thomas and Robert Coury poured in, frequently hurrying Ritts and forcing him out of the pocket. Hurting the Golden Eagles' pass protection was the second-quarter loss of Scott Ochsner to injury. Ochsner was selected to the Empire 8 all-conference first team earlier this week.
"All the guys you came in with freshman year, you know, it means a lot to just go out there one last season," James Altenburger said.
The passing attack of Carnegie Mellon never slowed down. Phenomenal pass protection and a game plan that exploited Brockport's off-coverage style were the catalysts. Mills often threw in the direction of Malik Kelly, while Raylens Boutin's side of the field was seldom thrown at.
After Isaiah Simmons fumbled on a kick return, Mills tossed his first touchdown pass of the night to Dominic Voiland. Additionally, three second-quarter field goals from Justin Caputo helped to put the Tartans handily in the driver's seat heading into the halftime break leading 30-0.
"You play a sport since you're in kindergarten or first grade," Altenburger said. "All of a sudden it's done. All the life lessons, all the friends, all the bonds, it means a lot more than any plays you make on the field."
To start half number two, again a Brockport drive came to an abrupt ending. After 5:34 and 11 plays, the Golden Eagles failed on fourth down and remained scoreless. Carnegie Mellon answered back with an 81-yard march that culminated in Mills' second touchdown pass. This time, Brian Stacy was on the receiving end.
Before the third quarter expired, Simmons found pay dirt from sixteen yards out for the first time for Brockport. The freshman pair of Simmons and Cam Mesh, alongside Gino Fontanarosa returning from injury next season, leaves the Brockport backfield in prime position moving forward, even in light of Jala Coad now graduating from the team.
"Just keep going," Altenburger said. "I mean, now there won't be a single person, I think, on the team that has won a conference championship. We were the last group to do it. They're gonna have to kind of reset and put a lot of work in the offseason."
Carnegie Mellon did not punt until quarter four. When they did, however, Brockport committed a roughing the punter penalty that extended the Tartans series. Four plays later, punter Kaveh Wojtowich did boot it away for Carnegie Mellon.
Neither offense got much more going the rest of the way. Ritts was constantly forced to play out of structure as the pass protection struggled to handle the Tartans' defensive front. The Golden Eagles finish their season 8-3 and the Carnegie Mellon Tartans finished theirs with an ECAC bowl trophy and a 10-1 record.