Gacioch, Burkhead Sweep MASCAC Rookie of the Year Honors

Gacioch, Burkhead Sweep MASCAC Rookie of the Year Honors

WESTFIELD, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth football program placed 10 on the 2017 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) postseason awards list on Wednesday, highlighted by freshman Stephen Gacioch (Tiverton, R.I.) and Jacob Burkhead (Plymouth, Mass.) earning the program’s first-ever MASCAC Rookie of the Year accolades.

Gacioch was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and Burkhead Defensive Rookie of the Year, with the trio of senior Marvey Mathurin (Woburn, Mass.), junior Antonio Mitjans (Ashland, Mass.) and junior Abbi Bamgbose (Worcester, Mass.) earning spots on the MASCAC First Team.

Furthermore, UMass Dartmouth placed five on the Second Team, including Defensive recognition for seniors Raziel Pena-Vargas (Lynn, Mass.) and Scott Tupper (Holden, Mass.), along with junior Tony Slaughter (Springfield, Mass.). Offensive recognition was awarded to seniors DaVon Fuller (Washington, D.C.) and Mike Tinlin (Pembroke, Mass.).

In his first season as a Corsair, Gacioch put together a strong first season at facilitating the offense after being named the opening day quarterback, earning three MASCAC Rookie of the Week nods. In seven games, he averaged 123.6 total yards per game and threw seven touchdowns for a 120.9 pass efficiency. On Sept. 16 vs. Westfield State, Gacioch gathered four touchdowns for 264 total yards on an efficient 66.7% pass completion rate. The Tiverton, R.I. native also did a masterful job of taking matters into his own hands and running the ball himself, rushing for 213 yards. In UMass Dartmouth’s crucial win on Sept. 30 vs. Western Connecticut, Gacioch rushed for 87 yards, including a 33-yard dash in the fourth quarter that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown for a 14-13 Corsair lead.

On the defensive side of the ball, Burkhead accumulated 65 total tackles on the season, good for second on the UMass Dartmouth roster. The defensive back posted double-digit tackles in three contests, including a season-best 13 on Oct. 21 at Worcester State. In the same game, he also returned a kick for 20 yards. To go along with his two pass breakups, the freshman recovered a fumble and led the Corsairs with 10 tackles on Oct. 7 at Curry, earning MASCAC Rookie of the Week for his efforts.

Mathurin ends his four-year UMass Dartmouth career as one of the most consistent linebackers in program history, earning First Team after back-to-back years on the Second Team. He exits UMass Dartmouth as the career leader in tackles for loss (49), and is now ranked sixth all-time in tackles (284). In 2017, Mathurin re-set his own single season program record for tackles for loss, finishing with 17.5 to better 2016’s mark of 16. Earlier this fall, Mathurin set a new single-game career-high in total tackles, bringing down the opposition on 15 different occasions, including 12 solo tackles against Bridgewater State. Dating back to the beginning of his junior year, he posted at least half a tackle for loss in every remaining game of his career. The Woburn, Mass. native averaged 9.5 tackles per game and totaled five sacks on the year, each tied for third-most in the MASCAC.

Mitjans repeats as a First Team honoree at center in his junior season, with Tinlin repeating as a Second Team selection. The duo played key roles in protection for the Corsairs’ top-tier performing offense. The linemen helped pave the way for UMass Dartmouth to average 230.6 passing yards per game, third most in the conference, along with 164.4 rushing yards per game, ranked fifth in the league. The unit’s best performance came in the season finale, as the offense posted season-highs in total offense (523 yards) and rushing yards (278) en route to a 38-0 shutout of Fitchburg State. UMass Dartmouth registered a season-high 351 passing yards the week prior at Mass. Maritime, the most for a Corsair team since throwing for 489 on Sept. 19, 2015 at Westfield State.

Bamgbose was a consistent target for the Corsair quarterback staff and earns his debut on the First Team after taking Second Team honors last year. The junior set career-highs in receptions (51), total yards (933), and touchdowns (11), ranking second in the conference in receiving scores and third in receiving yards per game (93.3). The wide receiver reeled in a 77-yard pass this season against Bridgewater state to account for one of his two touchdowns on the evening. In the Corsairs’ 51-26 victory against Westfield State on Sept. 16, the junior racked up a season-high 198 receiving yards.  In 29 career games played, Bamgbose has caught 27 touchdowns, good for second all-time in the Corsair record books, and sits third in career reception yards (2,086) and fifth in receptions (118).

Cornerback Tupper wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers, amassing a career-high eight interceptions for 53 yards this season. That total is good for the second-most in a season in Corsair history, and ranked Tupper second in the MASCAC this season. In 37 career games, the Holden, Mass. native closes his career ranked second in program history with 12 career interceptions. He picked off a pair of passes in two separate games, including Oct. 7 at Curry and Nov. 11 at Fitchburg State. Tupper accounted for more than half of the team’s 15 total interceptions, in which the Corsairs rank tied for third in the conference. In addition, Tupper totaled a career-high 26 tackles and led his squad with seven pass breakups.

In his second season with the Corsairs, Slaughter repeated as a Second Team nod, filling up several categories on the stat sheet. He set career-highs in sacks (two), tackles for loss (nine), and pass breakups (nine). In the final contest of the season, the defensive back made eight tackles with four tackles for loss, setting Fitchburg State back 12 yards. The junior also recorded a safety in UMass Dartmouth’s 37-14 victory over Mass. Maritime on Nov. 4. Slaughter proved himself as a playmaker on Sept. 30 vs. Western Connecticut, recording a tackle for a loss of seven yards, recovering a fumble, and breaking up a pass on the Corsairs’ way to a 17-13 win.

Fuller debuts on the MASCAC All-Conference lists as a return specialist selection. With 21 kickoff and two punt returns on the season, he totaled 523 yards, averaging 24.9 yards per return to rank third in the MASCAC. Most notably, the senior returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for UMass Dartmouth’s 51-26 rout of Westfield State. Fuller additionally served as a strong defensive presence, manning the cornerback position. He finished the season with 25 tackles and five pass breakups, including a pair of interruptions on Oct. 28 vs Framingham State.

Senior Pena-Vargas registered a career year in 2017, recording 34 total tackles, three sacks and making 6.5 tackles for a loss of 20 total yards. The defensive lineman kept the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as his three sacks moved back the line of scrimmage for a cumulative 14 yards. Opposing running backs also saw their share of hardships when dealing with the Corsair defensive line, as other teams were limited to just 123.5 rushing yards per contest – third-best in the MASCAC. Furthermore, UMass Dartmouth restricted opposing offenses to 309.8 total yards per game, also good for third in the conference. As a unit, the team posted the second most sacks in the league with 23 total.    

In head coach Mark Robichaud’s 11th season, the 2017 Corsairs leaned on defensive prowess to remain competitive in each contest. Behind 23 sacks (second in MASCAC), 15 interceptions (tied-3rd) while permitting just 309.8 yards per game (third), UMass Dartmouth kept itself within striking distance. Offensively, the Corsairs posted 26.3 points per game on an average of 394.7 total yards per contest. Consecutive road wins against Mass. Maritime and Fitchburg State elevated the Corsairs’ overall record to 4-6, and leveled their conference record at 4-4. UMass Dartmouth’s four conference wins tie last year’s victory total, the program’s highest since the 2011 season.