WORCESTER, MA – WPI junior Matt Surette (Spencer, MA) tied the NCAA Division III record Saturday for receptions in a season by a tight end, but it was his record-tying 75th catch that meant far more than the previous 74.
With five seconds remaining in the game, Surette caught a two-yard TD pass on fourth-down-and-goal from the two yard-line, giving WPI a 9-7 Freedom Football Conference victory over Plymouth State College in the regular season finale for both schools. WPI finishes its season 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the FFC, while PSC still hopes for an ECAC post-season bid after wrapping up a 7-3 campaign, including a 4-2 mark in the FFC.
While Surette’s catch provided the margin of victory, the story of the game was the snow on Alumni Field. A blanket of 3-4 inches covered the astro-turf, as only the five-and 10-yard lines (5, 10, 15, 20, etc) were shoveled off. The two teams slipped and slid most of the afternoon, and the game remained scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter.
WPI got the first points of the game with 9:31 to play on a 27-yard field goal form Adam Clark (Jefferson, MA), which was set up by an interception by Adam Abrams (East Bridgewater, MA) at the PSC 49 yard line. That gave WPI a 3-0 lead, which looked at the time like all WPI would need.
But on the ensuing kickoff, PSC freshman Jeff Parker (Norwich, NY) returned the ball 47 yards to the Engineers’ 43. Senior Jose Raymond (Wakefield, MA), who finished with 96 yards rushing on 24 carries, carried three times for 18 yards, down to the 25 yard line. The Panther drive stalled the next three plays, but QB Josh Norse (Brattleboro, VT) hit TE John Andrewes (Gloucester, MA) on 4th and 10 for a 21-yard gain, down to the four yard line. Two plays later, Raymond scored his 12th touchdown of the season, and PSC appeared headed to victory with a 7-3 lead and just 3:50 left on the clock.
WPI engineered a superb scoring drive in the closing minutes. Reserve QB John Riccio (Southington, CT) completed 5-of-7 passes on the drive, and ran 13 yards for a first down, while Nicholas Fluet (Leominster, MA) added 21 yards on the ground before Riccio hit Surette on the game-winning score with five seconds remaining.
“I’m not one to make excuses,” said PSC head coach Mike Kemp, when asked how the field conditions affected his team. “WPI just played a little bit better than us today. The conditions were obviously not great, but we were not able to stop their last drive, and that was the key.”
“We’ve never played in snow before, so in a way, it was kind of fun,” said PSC defensive tackle Joe Attubato (Saugus, MA), who made eight tackles, a sack, and two pass break-ups. “It was difficult, but both teams had to do it. Those are the breaks of the game. We didn’t let up, but we were not able to stop Surette, and he made a big play.”
Surette finishes the season with 75 catches and 1287 yards, three yards short of the NCAA single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. The 6’4″, 225-pound junior caught seven passes Saturday for 70 yards, but none bigger than the game-winner with five seconds left.
“We took timeout right before the play,” said Kemp, “to let our defense catch its breath. We were winded after WPI had gone on that drive. We knew they would throw to Surette, but he made a great play in double coverage.”
Plymouth State will have to wait until Monday to find out if an ECAC post-season berth is in the cards.
“The conditions today took away from some of our plays, but we can’t make excuses,” said senior captain and offensive tackle Brian Arakelian (Hampton, NH). Our offensive line and defensive line played well. I thought our defense would stop that last drive, but they (WPI) made some key plays.”