PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Rubber Game goes to the Panthers.
Facing Salve Regina University for the third time in the last calendar year, Plymouth State College captured the 1999 ECAC Division III Northeast Football Championship Saturday with a 13-7 triumph over the Seahawks Saturday at Currier Field.
The vaunted Panther defense bent but did not break. Salve outgained PSC 313-233 in total yards, owned the football for 38 of the game's 60 minutes, and scored the only offensive touchdown of the game, but the Panthers prevailed thanks to a pair of field goals and an 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Junior Jason Marcell (Stoughton, Mass.) anchored the PSC defense with 11 tackles, nine unassisted, and three pass breakups, and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Marcell's final breakup came in PSC territory in the closing minutes, preserving the victory for PSC.
"This defensive backfield has been together for a number of years," said Marcell of he and his teammates Colt Meredith (Saugus, Mass.), John McLaughlin (East Bridgewater, Mass.) and Jeff Beyer (Bedford, NH). "We're a close-knit family. It feels great to win this game, especially for the seniors who are not coming back. Today we made the plays when we needed to."
Salve had defeated PSC 36-6 in last season's ECAC Northeast Championship. The Panthers evened the score with a 16-7 victory in the '99 season opener on Sept. 11th, but Saturday's win was even sweeter for PSC.
"When we were 3-3," said Marcell, "we played every one of our last five games as a one-game play-off. We knew if we lost one game that we wouldn't have a chance to be in the play-offs."
The first half was fairly even, with PSC gaining 140 yards and Salve 132. The only scoring was a 26-yard field goal by PSC's Todd Waldrop (Smithfield, RI) and a seven-yard TD run by Salve's Luke Arnold (Westerly, RI). The Seahawks' touchdown was set up by a PSC pass interference penalty in the end zone that gave Salve a first down inside the Panther 10-yard line.
Plymouth State cut the deficit to 7-6 on its first possession of the third quarter when Waldrop connected on another 26-yard field goal. That was set up by a 66-yard burst by sophomore Russ Massahos (Windham, NH), who finished the game with 154 yards on 22 carries.
"We seemed to be one play away all day," said Massahos. "On that run, I cut back and saw some daylight and hit the hole. I hurt my hip last week, so I didn't have the same speed I had earlier this year."
The turning point in the game came on Salve's next possession. The Seahawks put together a 12-play drive, moving inside the PSC 10-yard line, but Salve's Spencer Ingram (White Plains, NY) fumbled, and PSC cornerback John McLaughlin (East Bridgewater, Mass.) picked up the loose ball and sprinted 88 yards into the end zone for a 13-7 Panther lead.
"The ball bounced right into my hands," said McLaughlin. "I looked up and saw the quarterback out of the corner of my eye, and then there was nothing but green."
The Seahawks drove into Panther territory on their next possession, but this time PSC sophomore LB Brian Chaplain (Hooksett, NH) tore the pass out of receiver Ingram's hands for the interception.
"We gave up a lot of yardage, and a few of my hairs" said head coach Chris Rorke, the first Panther football coach to win a post-season game in his first season at PSC. "We had them third and long many times, and they always seemed to make plays."
Salve refused to quit, taking the ball into Panther territory two more times in the fourth quarter. A 16-play drive was stopped on fourth-and-six at the PSC 10 yard line when Chaplain sacked Salve QB Jeff Wright (Wickford, RI), and the final drive stalled on a 14-yard completion on fourth and 15 with 1:02 to play.
"I knew coming into this season we had some talent and experience," said Rorke, "and I felt good about the returning defensive players. Our offense has matured as the season has gone along, but more importantly, this was a tremendous team with great chemistry. They set goals and worked hard to achieve them. It's satisfying to see them achieve those goals."
PSC improves to 3-8 in its record 11 ECAC Football Championship appearances. Salve Regina is now 1-2 in ECAC post-season games, all in the last four years.
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