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Panthers edge Norwich in FFC opener, 14-9

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Junior Russ Massahos (Windham, NH) accounted for 116 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns Saturday, leading Plymouth State College to a 14-9 Freedom Football Conference victory over the Norwich Cadets at Currier Field.

The victory improves PSC to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the FFC, while Norwich, which was 3-0 for the first time since 1983, falls to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in FFC play.

Massahos scored on a two-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to help PSC to a 7-6 lead at intermission. He then added a third-quarter TD on a 32-yard reception from sophomore Matt Simpson (Auburn, Maine). Massahos completed his afternoon with 84 yards rushing on 31 carries, and the 32-yard catch.

"The score didn't show it, but I thought our offense played well," said Massahos. "We said before the game that we needed to get off to a good start in conference play. This win gives us a lot of confidence. It brought the offense together and got us back on track."

The PSC defense limited Norwich to 246 net yards (3.5 avg.), while the Panther offense generated 292 yards (4.2 vg.). Junior safety Mike Pelletier (Concord, NH) led Plymouth State with 15 tackles, including six unassisted.

"We thought maybe we were better than we were after beating RPI," said Pelletier, "but last week we were humbled by Brockport. Today we made the key plays, which proved our defense is back and playing well."

Norwich took a 6-0 lead seven minutes into the game when senior RB Zach Dyer (Mechanicsville, NY) scored on a seven-yard run. The Cadets failed on a two-point conversion, keeping it a six-point contest. Massahos' 2-yard plunge with 3:13 left in the second quarter tied the score, capping a 12-play, 68-yard drive, and junior Cory Skillin (Norwich, NY) added the extra point to five PSC a 7-6 advantage at the break.

After a scoreless third quarter, Massahos converted a screen pass into a 32-yard touchdown play, and Skillin's PAT made it a 14-6 game. Sophomore Kenny Hurren (Melbourne, Fla.) connected on a 38-yard field goal for Norwich with 9:47 to play to round out the scoring.

Norwich had two possessions in the closing minutes, but turned the ball over on its first possession, and came up short on fourth and three at the Plymouth State 39 with 41 seconds remaining. PSC missed a chance to seal the victory when Skillin's 19-yard field goal attempt with 4:16 remaining was blocked.

"We've had scoring opportunities in the red zone," said PSC head coach Chris Rorke, "but we had dropped balls, penalties, turnovers. That's prevented us from being more successful. We're moving the ball pretty well; we're just not capitalizing on it. Today was evidence of that."

Plymouth State plays three straight Freedom Football Conference games on the road, beginning next Saturday at defending FFC champion Western Connecticut (1 p.m.). Norwich returns home the next two Saturday's to host Coast Guard and WPI.