NEW BRITAIN - Coming into Saturdayâ€™s game against St. Francis (PA), the Central Connecticut State football team knew it wasnâ€™t going to be an easy task coming out of the bye week against the 5-3 Red Flash.
But the Blue Devils did what had made them successful during their five-game win streak before the bye - they relied on their running game and most importantly against St. Francis, their defense.
CCSUâ€™s defensive unit had one of its best performances of the season, allowing just 10 points and forcing four turnovers in the 28-10 victory.
The win Saturday gave the Blue Devils their sixth straight victory, guaranteeing the program its first winning season since 2010.
More importantly, it keeps CCSU (6-3, 4-0) tied atop the Northeast Conference with Duquesne (7-2, 4-0). The Blue Devils will meet the Dukes next week.
â€śGoing into this game we knew weâ€™d have the opportunities to get turnovers,â€ť CCSU defensive back Carlton Nash said after the win. â€ś[St. Francis] likes to throw the ball deep and put the ball all around [the field] so we knew weâ€™d have the chance and we did that.â€ť
It all started on the first drive for St. Francis after the Red Flash got the ball following a blocked field goal.
But after St. Francis was called for a false start, CCSU linebacker Kenneth Keen got to quarterback Bear Fenimore with an edge rush and stripped the ball away and was recovered by Chad Woodfine.
And as was the case with all of the turnovers the Blue Devils came up with, CCSU capitalized.
The Blue Devils took over at the Red Flash 10-yard line and running back Drew Jean-Guillaume delivered with a 6-yard touchdown run with 6:58 left on the clock in the first quarter.
It was then set up and repeat.
On the third possession for the Red Flash, Fenimore was intercepted by Najae Brown from the 15-yard line and he returned it down to the St. Francis 47. CCSU then engineered nine-play drive capped off on an 11-yard touchdown run by Cameron Nash to put the Blue Devils up 14-0.
By the end of first quarter, CCSU was +2 in the turnover column and +1 after the first half. But it wasnâ€™t done quite yet.
In the second half, Blue Devils quarterback Jacob Dolegala threw his second interception of the game. The CCSU defense, however, backed him throughout.
Right after Dolegalaâ€™s pick, Mike Mushaw caused a Fenimore fumble that was recovered by Tre Jones to hand the ball right back to the offense.
Dolegala (15-for-22, 131 yards) didnâ€™t miss this time and delivered the 7-yard touchdown strike to Guillaume to give the Blue Devils a 21-10 lead.
With the big lead and the time winding down, the defense put an exclamation mark on its performance with a touchdown of its own. With the Red Flash backed up on their own goal line, quarterback Bear Fenimore threw a swing pass to tailback Joel Denley that originally looked to be a safety before Carlton Nash ripped the ball out of his hands to force a fumble that was recovered by Najae Brown.
With that defensive score, the Blue Devils went up 28-10.
The four turnovers were the highlight of the afternoon for CCSU, but the defense had an all-around strong performance. The defensive line sacked Fenimore five times, while secondary shut down one of the best receivers in the league in Kamron Lewis, who was held to a season low 26 yards on four catches.
â€śWe did a good job of playing physical at the line of scrimmage,â€ť Blue Devils head coach Pete Rossomando said. â€śIf you let that guy just go off the line, heâ€™s got 400-meter speed and heâ€™s going to run right by you so you got to get up in his face and disrupt him and we were able to do that and get after the passer.â€ť
And with the big game against Duquesne coming up, this was an important performance for CCSU.
â€śThis is huge,â€ť said Cameron Nash, who finished with 93 yards on 21 carries. â€śYou donâ€™t want to come out of a bye week flat and to show that youâ€™re still on the right track after the bye week, it means a lot. It felt like I havenâ€™t played football in so long. Weâ€™re not going to celebrate too much because we know we have a tough opponent [next] Saturday and thatâ€™s a playoff game for us.â€ť
Dan Orencole can be reached atÂ 860-973-1811 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan