Western New England is the place to be for championship football on Saturday. Yes, it’s Division III, but I doubt you will find more appealing matchups than Salve Regina and Western New England in Springfield for the New England Football Championship and Amherst and Williams in Williamstown for the Little Three title and, for Amherst, sole possession of the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship.
Salve Regina (7-1, 5-1) and Western New England (9-0, 6-0) met in the regular season finale last year. WNEC won on QB Tyler Ward’s 16-yard scramble for a TD with 1:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
SRU coach Kevin Gilmartin lost 26 seniors from that team and welcomed only five starters to camp this year. They formed the nucleus of a team picked to finish fifth in the NEFC but has become one of the most balanced teams in the D-III nation, Top 25 in offense and defense. The Seahawks can run and throw and stymie teams from doing so. Running back Sam Pascale, a junior, needs 40 yards to break Mark DiBiasio’s single-season record of 1,461 set in 1998. He leads the league in rushing and in touchdowns Quarterback Brandon Brasil leads the league in passing (244.1 yards per game and 25 touchdowns), and receiver Alex Hulme needs two receiving yards to break the school record of 944 in a season.
Ward is back for WNEC and is second behind Brasil is passing yards and TDs. Nick Connell is the second-leading rusher behind Pascale, and Mark Dietrich is third in the league with six TD receptions. The Golden Gophers also are in the Top 25 in offense and defense and are going for their first undefeated regular season.
This game is a bargain at $5 a ticket. Gilmartin told me Thursday that his Seahawks have come a long way since their one-point loss to Coast Guard in the third game of the season. I sure hope so. WNEC routed CG last week, 51-0.
The Pick: Salve Regina
AMHERST AT WILLIAMS
COLBY AT BOWDOIN
WESLEYAN AT TRINITY
This is rivalry weekend in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which plays an eight-game schedule and, like the Ivy League, does not allow its champion to participate in the NCAA tournament. Amherst and Williams will meet for the 130th time, the longest rivalry in Division III and the fourth-longest in NCAA history. Williams (2-5) holds a 71-53-5 edge but Amherst (7-0) has won the last four, 18 in a row overall and has already secured a share of the NESCAC title. A victory will also give the Lord Jeffs the Little Three (Williams, Wesleyan, Amherst) championship. An upset will salvage the season for Williams, which used to dominate the league. This classic will draw one of the biggest crowds in New England this weekend.
Maine archrivals Colby (1-6) and Bowdoin (1-6) will play for second place in the CBB Series behind champion Bates (2-5). Connecticut foes Trinity (6-1) and Wesleyan (5-2) each lost to Amherst by nine points so this could be one of those whoever-has-the-ball-last games. Wesleyan also lost to Middlebury.
The Picks: Amherst, Colby, Trinity
DARTMOUTH AT BROWN
Brown needs a case of Gorilla Glue. This season the Bears have fumbled 20 times and lost 13. They have also thrown 12 interceptions. Winning is tough enough, but when you turn the ball over 25 times in eight games? Almost impossible.
The Pick: Dartmouth
SACRED HEART AT BRYANT
Talk about having something to play for, if the 5-4 Bulldogs beat the 4-5 Pioneers on Senior Day and 3-6 Robert Morris next week, they win the Northeast Conference and advance to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. It’s that simple.
The Pick: Bryant
STONY BROOK AT URI
Kudos to the 23 seniors who have stayed with the program, 10 of them for five years, during the longest seasons in URI football history. A victory in their final home game is improbable -- they have one victory, Stony Brook three -- but the improbable is possible. Thirty years ago this weekend, Tom Ehrhardt passed for 566 yards and eight touchdowns in URI’s 56-42 victory over UConn at Meade Stadium that clinched an undefeated Yankee Conference record. URI trailed 42-28 at the half. That four-touchdown rally by the 1985 Rams should inspire the 2015 Rams. Now, if only someone would tell them the story.
The Pick: Stony Brook
Last week, 4-1. Season, 31-9