DARTMOUTH, Mass. -- Junior quarterback Stephen Gacioch (Tiverton, R.I.) amassed 409 yards of total offense and accounted for all three touchdowns, as UMass Dartmouth used a key fourth quarter goal-line stand to post a 21-14 victory over Plymouth State in a battle of Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference football unbeatens Saturday afternoon at Cressy Field.
The host Corsairs, who improve to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in MASCAC play while continuing their best start in 16 years, took advantage of a short field and grabbed a 7-0 lead with 6:35 remaining in the first quarter on Gacioch’s three-yard touchdown run, but the visiting Panthers (3-1, 1-1 MASCAC) evened matters after sophomore quarterback Brett Lavanchy (Walpole, Mass.) connected with senior David Hamilton (West Deptford, N.J.) on a 17-yard scoring strike less than four minutes later.
UMass Dartmouth took the lead for good on the final play of the opening frame when Gacioch found junior Pedro DelToro (Chelsea, Mass.) from five yards out, and the hosts extended that margin to 21-7 with 5:48 remaining in the second stanza when senior Jeremy Jackson (Middletown, R.I.) capped an 18-play, 84-yard drive by hauling in a three-yard strike from Gacioch. Lavanchy responded with a nine-play, 46-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown connection to sophomore Gavin Moody (Warner, N.H.) and sliced Plymouth State’s deficit to seven with 1:12 remaining in the half, but that would prove to be the final scoring play of the contest, as the final 30 minutes settled into a defensive tussle defined by a key series early in the fourth quarter.
After a punt block by senior Matt Shea (Atkinson, N.H.) set the Panthers up first and goal at the Corsair 1-yard line with 10:58 remaining, the hosts stuffed the visitors on four straight running plays, including on fourth and goal when Hamilton was stopped by junior Chris Gomes (Taunton, Mass.) on the two. UMass Dartmouth would never give the ball back over the final 8:51 of action, as Gacioch rushed for 39 yards on nine plays on the drive and sealed the triumph with a third down conversion with 1:41 remaining.
Gacioch completed 32-of-45 pass attempts for 305 yards and added 104 rushing yards on 22 carries for the Corsairs, as he accounted for all but 24 yards of the hosts’ 433 yards of total offense. Senior Jacen Hudson (Hudson, N.H.) and junior DJ Machado (Swansea, Mass.) combined for 15 receptions and 124 yards for UMass Dartmouth, which converted 69 percent (9-13) of its third down opportunities.
Lavanchy threw for 85 yards in the setback for Plymouth State, which received 51 rushing yards from Hamilton but was held to just 115 yards of total offense as a team. Senior Connor Russ (Middletown, R.I.) registered nine total tackles (six solo) to lead the way defensively for the Corsairs, who recorded five sacks and 12 total tackles for losses of 57 yards. Gomes added seven tackles (six solo) for the hosts, who received six stops and 2 ½ tackles for loss from senior Tony Slaughter (Springfield, Mass.).
Shea notched a game-high 15 total tackles (including 11 solo stops) to go with his punt block for the Panthers, who received eight tackles from freshman Joey Cassella (North Yarmouth, Maine) along with a sack from sophomore Gabe Boro (Calverton, N.Y.).
UMass Dartmouth heads to Framingham, Mass. next Saturday afternoon to square off with Framingham State in a Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference matchup that kicks off at Noon, while Plymouth State hosts Fitchburg State in a MASCAC outing next Saturday afternoon in Plymouth, N.H. that kicks off at 1:00 pm.