WESTFIELD, Mass. – 'Why did the football coach go to the corner store?' goes the old joke. 'To get his quarterback.'
Westfield State head coach Pete Kowalski has repurposed that trope, moving senior Jake Cassidy (Salem, Mass./Lawrence Academy), the Owls starting QB for the past two years, to cornerback to help bolster the pass defense, and inserting senior Andrew Peltier (Holyoke, Mass.) to the starting lineup on offense.
The switch helped propel Westfield State to a 26-7 victory at Fitchburg State for the Owls' first win of the season, and has injected some energy into the Owls as they head into their final two games, facing Worcester State and UMass-Dartmouth at home.
"For us, it's all about how do you measure the degree of difference with each player at quarterback, and with our options at cornerback," said Kowalski. "The idea has been lingering with me since the spring."
"I texted coach K this summer about playing two ways," said Cassidy. "The only response I got was 'interesting' and then I never heard any more about it," he laughed. "We started to have some injuries in the secondary, so I talked to the coaches after one of our games. I figured I would speak up and ask if I could help out. Next thing you know they gave me a blue practice jersey and said 'go have fun'."
"Coach Lett (offensive coordinator Dan Letteriello) called me on a Sunday and said 'I think you're going to be leaving me.' Then Coach K called and I was ready to go."
"Jake was 100 percent in on it right from the start," said Kowalski.
"I worked on learning all the plays with O.B. (defensive backs coach Sean O'Brien) and (senior CB) Jack Buckley," said Cassidy. "It's been fun being able to jump around to different positions. Not many people get to do that as a senior."
"We tell our players in the first meeting of the year, we want to put the best 11 players on the field, and put those players in a position to be successful," said Kowalski. "We want players who are 'team first' and our kids have really exemplified that in supporting the change."
"Jake wants to play cornerback," said Peltier. "He's the biggest leader I know. He just wants to win. He played some defensive back at St. Anselm and knows that it gives us the best chance to win."
Peltier has started the last three games for the Owls, piloting the win at Fitchburg State.
"It's been a long time coming," said Peltier on getting the chance to start midway through his senior year. "I've been working every day. At college, I'm trying to grow as a person, and football is just a bonus," said the business and finance major.
"Peltier has been ready to go as a QB since he got here," said Cassidy.
"We're pretty close," said Peltier. "We're always helping each other out."
"We try to make each other better," said Cassidy. "I'm glad he has gotten an opportunity to start. He deserves it and works hard. We look out for each other and we will still talk on the sideline during games about what's going on. All the QB's are really close to each other."
"Andrew isn't as dynamic when the play breaks down, with Jake's ability to scramble," said Kowalski. "But Andrew knows where the pressure is coming from, he steps up in the pocket, and he is able to maintain his downfield vision and deliver the ball downfield with accuracy under duress."
Meanwhile in practice, after a couple of years working together, they now work on opposite sides of the ball.
"I'm learning his tendencies," said Peltier of Cassidy. "He's a good corner. The first time he picked me off in practice I heard about it a little bit."
"I'm not allowed to look at the signals on the sideline," said Cassidy. "Sometimes I'll turn and look at Coach Lett and put my hand over my face."
The duo's efforts will have a big say in the Owls success for the remainder of the season.
"Clearly he's putting his body out there on defense," said Peltier.
"I hadn't hit someone in a while," said Cassidy, who forced fumble on a goal-line stand against Plymouth State in some of his first action on defense. "It's nice to be on the other side of the ball. More relaxing. You have one job, try to get the ball out, and there weren't many expectations for me."
"I definitely want to get an interception," said Cassidy, who appeared to pick off a pass with a diving play against Fitchburg, but the official waved off the play calling the ball incomplete. "All the DB's were getting turnovers, I want to get one so I can join the group. The DB's are killing it – I'm just trying to fit in."
Regardless of positioning, winning is on both player's minds.
"Win out," said Peltier when asked his goals for the rest of the year. "We know what we need to do. One game at a time."
"Finish with a couple wins, said Cassidy. "I want to find a way to contribute any place I can. I'll jump around wherever I am needed. Maybe wide receiver next, I can get some passes from Peltier. That'd be cool. I want to do everything I can on the field."
Will Cassidy get a chance to catch a pass?
"You never know," grinned Kowalski. "He's cut from a different bolt of cloth. He's a throwback. He can kick it too!"
Westfield State hosts Worcester State at Noon on Saturday, November 9 at high noon.