New London - Coast Guard Academy finally met a defense it couldn't get past.
It didn't help that the Bears lost their top two available running backs in the first quarter - No. 1 back Tyler Hames is already out with an injury - and that, with minus-eight yards rushing in the first half, quarterback Jon Resch was forced to throw on just about every play.
That placed the target squarely on Resch.
And Bridgewater State's defensive line, as Coast Guard coach Bill George feared coming into the game, had pretty decent aim.
Bridgewater sacked Resch four times, equaling the number of sacks the Bears' offensive line had allowed all year, and intercepted him three times on the way to a 44-21 victory over Coast Guard in a New England Football Conference Bogan Division game before 3,300 fans at Cadet Memorial Field.
"I told the team last night, this is what you see in the first round of the NCAA tournament," George said of the caliber of the Bridgewater State defensive line, which even halted perennially tough Springfield College earlier in the season.
"No. 57 (defensive tackle Paul Melicharek) is the best I've seen, really the whole group of them. And we were limited in some things."
Melicharek had one of Bridgewater's sacks and end Stewart Lamberton had two of them.
"They didn't blitz, but they did a lot of timing the snap," Resch said. "It's tough when the defensive linemen get a jump."
Coast Guard led 7-3 with 5 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first quarter on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Resch to Pat Meggers, following a 32-yard pass to Collis Brown.
The Bears then trailed 10-7 with 10:46 remaining in the half when they had an opportunity to regain the lead. Bridgewater fumbled the ball away on its own 16-yard line, but Resch, who said he took too long to get on the field and thus rushed his first-down throw to Brown in the end zone, threw a costly interception.
Bridgewater promptly embarked on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that took seven and a half minutes off the clock and resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Mike McCarthy for a 17-7 lead. Bridgewater followed by sacking Resch twice on the next Coast Guard possession and scored again on a 35-yard strike to Matthew Green with 1:16 to go in the half.
Finally came the enduring image of the first half: Resch laying on the field in pain after being hit as he threw the ball on the Bears' final series. He had to be helped off the field and it seemed uncertain if he would return in the second half.
At the time, Coast Guard, minus starting running back Jake Wawrzyniak and backup Matt Monteilh, had 83 yards offense.
Resch did return from what he termed a hyperextended right knee, finishing 29-for-43 with 290 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Meggers finished with 11 catches for 99 yards and freshman running back Mike Clancy - who practiced with the defense all week, running the scout team - had nine catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Clancy also ran for a touchdown.
"That showed some tremendous leadership for Jon to bounce back after being banged up," George said. "And for a freshman to come in with no experience like that, seeing the job he did, I'm stunned."
Coast Guard (2-3, 1-2) won 59-0 against Fitchburg last week, making this week's loss more disappointing. Bridgewater is 5-1, 2-1.
"Any time you have a game like that and you think we're going to be in the fight for the conference championship, sure this is disappointing," George said.
Bridgewater's Lamberton, who played at Guilford High School, is in his first season competing in college after transferring this year from Southern Connecticut State University.
He led the defense with six tackles.
"He's quick," Lamberton said of chasing Resch. "We said all week they had a good offense and we had a good defense and we'd have to see what happened."
Dante Adams led the Coast Guard defense with 10 tackles.