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Panthers seeking FFC title in finale at WPI

GAME #10: Plymouth State College (6-3, 4-1 LEC) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (4-5, 3-2 LEC) Sat., Nov. 10, 2001, 1:00 p.m., Alumni Field, Worcester, Mass

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College can capture at least a share of the 2001 Freedom Football Conference Championship this Saturday with a victory in the regular season finale at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The Panthers and Engineers will kick-off Saturday at 1:00 p.m. on the turf at WPI's Alumni Field in Worcester, Mass. Both teams are eyeing a possible piece of the FFC crown.

Plymouth State, 6-3 overall and 4-1 in FFC games, is tied for first with Western Connecticut, which is 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the FFC and finishes its season Saturday at Norwich. WPI, 4-5 overall and 3-2 in FFC play, can still earn a share of the title if both PSC and Western Conn are defeated.

PSC can earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a victory combined with a Western Conn loss. If PSC and WCSU both win and finish with identical 5-1 conference records, the teams would be declared co-champions, the Colonials would win the tiebreaker based on head-to-head play, and would receive the FFC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. A three-way tie with PSC, WCSU and WPI all at 4-2 is also possible, and WPI would win the tiebreaker in that scenario.

Plymouth State has won four of its last five games under third-year head coach Chris Rorke, including last Saturday's 43-13 non-conference victory at Mount Ida College. PSC is seeking its first FFC championship since winning consecutive titles in 1994 and 1995.

The Panthers are also eyeing a potential spot in an ECAC Championship game. With a possible conference co-championship and one of the toughest non-league schedules in the region (PSC's four non-league opponents are a combined 22-12), PSC could be looking at a post-season berth for the fourth time in the last five years. Plymouth State played in three straight ECAC Championship games from 1997-99 after finishing 7-3 in the regular season.

WPI would like nothing more than to knock off the Panthers in its final home game to finish the season at .500 and possibly earn part of the Freedom Conference title. The Engineers have also played a rugged non-conference schedule, and have picked up FFC wins the last two weeks over Western Connecticut and Coast Guard.

SERIES HISTORY: PSC and WPI have played 10 times before, including the last nine as the regular season finale in the Freedom Conference. The Panthers have won seven times, including the last three and six of the last seven. Plymouth State took last year's contest at Currier Field, 49-19. PSC is 3-2 in games in Worcester, including a 21-0 victory two years ago but a loss in the 1997 finale on the final play of the game on a snow-covered field, 9-7.

NEW ENGLAND POLL: Westfield State (9-0) takes over the top spot in the ECAC New England Division III poll after its victory over previous No. 1 Worcester State. Unbeatens Amherst (7-0) and Williams (7-0) take up the next two spots, and once-beaten Worcester State (9-1), Curry (9-1) and Western Connecticut (6-1) are fourth through sixth. PSC (6-3) remains seventh, followed by Tufts (5-2), Nichols (6-3) and UMass Dartmouth (6-3). Amherst and Williams face each other this Saturday, while Westfield State meets Nichols in the NEFC Championship game and PSC and WCSU battle for the title in the FFC.

FFC LEADERS: Several Panthers are ranked among the FFC statistical leaders. Senior RB Russ Massahos is leading the league in scoring (12 TDs, 8.0 points/game) and ranks second in rushing (95.8 yards/game). Senior TE John Walters is ranked third in receiving yards (60.0/game) and sixth in receptions (4.33/game). Defensively, senior LB Chris Kelliher is the FFC leader in tackles (10.0 per game) and senior LB Brian Chaplain is second in sacks (7), third in tackles for loss (13) and the leader in fumbles forced (4). Senior DB Mike Pelletier is tied for third in interceptions (3) and passes defended (9) and eighth in tackles (7.7 per game).

FFC HONORS: Plymouth State had four individuals earn weekly honors from the FFC after the Mount Ida game. RB Mike Bicchieri was named FFC Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging almost 40 yards on three kick-off returns, and RB Russ Massahos, TE John Walters and LB Chris Kelliher were all selected the FFC Weekly Honor Roll.

3,000-YARD MAN: PSC RB Russ Massahos continues to move up on the New England Division III career rushing list. He became the 22nd player in history to rush for over 3,000 yards on Oct. 27th, and he enters the WPI game 19th on the New England career rushing list with 3,223 yards. He is second on the PSC career rushing list, trailing Joe Dudek's 5,560 yards from 1982-85.