BEVERLY — Revenge can be a strong motivator on the football field. But like the Endicott College football team will tell you, it fails in comparison to a team-wide aspiration for season-long success.
At Endicott Stadium Saturday, Framingham State looked to avenge last year's triple-overtime loss to coach J.B. Wells' club. But the host Gulls viewed the Rams as any other opponent — one they dispatched with a 33-13 win.
It was the first step on the Gulls' journey that they hope ends with their second straight NECF title.
"The key to our success has been to never focus on the opponent, (but) to focus on ourselves," noted Wells. "The guys have bought into being introspective and looking at what we need to do to get better. If you focus on yourself, you can sustain through the adversity of the game."
Endicott sputtered offensively in the first quarter, but big hits on defense — including one from senior captain Bill Hickey — and some bone-crushing, crack-back blocks really set the tone early.
"Intensity was huge. (FSU) came in thinking it would be a shootout like last year," noted defensive lineman Andrew Zani, who had four solo and three assisted tackles. "But we came out hard — that's how we do it around here."
Senior split end Ryan Carino helped the Gulls distance themselves from FSU in the second quarter with a pair of spectacular touchdown catches after Endicott fell behind early, 7-6. Carino, who is quarterback Phil Konopka's (271 yards and three TD passes) roommate, showed his ability to adjust after the ball is in the air. Konopka found the wideout on a 17-yard TD strike after Carino left the FSU corner in his dust, and then on a 34-yard pass in which Carino came back to rip the ball away from Rams corner Ony Ramos as the two rolled over the goal line.
"That second catch was amazing. I didn't think he'd come down with it, but he's great receiver," Endicott running back Mike Lane (25 carries, 78 yards) said of Carino.
Konopka's prettiest pass of the afternoon came in the third quarter. After the FSU safety bit hard on a play action fake, junior Mike Murphy got open on a post and hauled in a beautiful 37-yard bomb from Konopka for a TD.
The Endicott running game wasn't overly dominant, but did find success on the outside thanks to some great blocking. Andy Fellini, Sean Gaffney and Mark Ledbetter did an outstanding job on the line while Taylor Allen (tight end) and fullbacks Justin Burl and Izzy Abraham did an excellent job sealing the defensive ends and kicking out the backs. The entire wide receiving core was essential to opening up the Gulls running game as well.
"We put in new schemes this camp. Our wide receivers are some pretty tough kids, so we can do crack blocks and different things with them as blockers. It gets them angles so they can tee off and get a big hit, which is good," said Wells.
"We have a lot of toys; now we have to find out which toys are the most fun to play with, I guess."
Jason Silva led the defense with a pair of interceptions with Hickey adding a pick of his own. Fellow defensive back Matt Schafer helped bring his physical presence early, finishing with a total of six solo tackles — three for a loss — and a sack.
Gulls kicker Dylan Rushe was 3-for-3 on field goals for the afternoon, with his last kick connecting from 45 yards.
"He's the best (Division 3) kicker in the country," said Wells. "There isn't a better kicker anywhere in my opinion. He is money,"
Framingham State only found the end zone twice, once in the first quarter on a Tyrone Figueroa 8-yard reception from Dino Mancinelli and then in the fourth on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Mancinelli to Michael Richwein.