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Panthers open season Friday night at UMD

GAME #1: Plymouth State College (0-0) at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (1-0) Friday, Sept. 13, 2002, 7:00 p.m., Bishop Stang H.S. Field, Dartmouth, Mass.

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The 33rd season of varsity football at Plymouth State College begins this Friday night when the Panthers travel to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for a non-conference affair.

The Panthers and Corsairs will meet at 7:00 at Bishop Stang High School in Dartmouth, Mass., as UMD's football field is under construction. It is the first in a 10-game schedule for Plymouth State, while UMass Dartmouth got its season started last Saturday with a New England Football Conference victory over Fitchburg State.

The defending Freedom Football Conference co-champions, Plymouth State is looking for its 15th post-season berth in the last 20 years. The Panthers finished 7-3 overall in 2001, and shared the FFC title with Western Connecticut, both with 5-1 conference records.

Led by fourth-year head coach Chris Rorke, PSC lost seven starters on defense and five starters from the offensive unit. Rorke is comfortable and confident with the team the Panthers will put on the field, which includes a mix of experienced veterans and inexperienced underclassmen who are ready to take over for the loss of 21 seniors.

Despite the fact that these two schools play each other in most other sports as members of the Little East Conference, this will be just the fourth meeting on the gridiron, with PSC having captured the first three contests. PSC won the first two in 1994 and 1995 by a combined sore of 68-0. The Corsairs were very respectable in last year's contest, but the Panthers came away with a 34-20 victory.

PSC has had plenty of success over the years at Currier Field, capturing more than three-quarters of the contests. Plymouth State now has an all-time home record of 118-37-3 for a .756 winning percentage. The Panthers are 36-11 (.766) at home the last nine years.

The Panthers also enter the 2002 season as the winningest Division III football program in the NCAA with at least 25 years on the gridiron. PSC has an all-time winning percentage of .696 with an overall record of 213-91-7, just ahead of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, which has a .691 winning percentage in 77 years of football (474-201-40).

2002 PSC Football Preview

"We will be talented, but young and inexperienced," said Rorke. "We have a lot of question marks entering the season, but we have excellent people to step in and replace what we lost."

The Panthers will have to replace seven starters on defense, but welcome back several top-notch defenders. The starting front line is back - junior nose guard Shawn McGowan (Londonderry, N.H.), senior tackle Shawn Boyle (Bedford, N.H./West H.S.) and junior tackle Rich Collins (Exeter, N.H.). McGowan earned FFC and East Region All-Star honors last season, and Collins is the team's leading returning tackler. Boyle, one of PSC's tri-captains this fall, can play both on the line and at linebacker.

The linebacking unit will be entirely new, with the graduation loss of five seniors, including veteran stars Chris Kelliher and Brian Chaplain. Rorke feels confident, though, with the likes of Boyle, senior Tim Boothroyd (Amesbury, Mass.), sophomore Chris Stevens (Londonderry, N.H.), and some others, but admits they lack experience.

The defensive backfield also lost three starters, but will rely on seniors Justin Falite (Saugus, Mass.) and Jamey Funk (Wayland, Mass.) and sophomore Josh Doyle (Seabrook, N.H.) to lead the 2002 cast. Falite, a tri-captain and the only returning starter, will anchor the unit, while Funk has five career interceptions. Rorke will also look to inexperienced players like sophomores Jose Baez (Lawrence, Mass.) and Matt Trombley (Londonderry, N.H.) and seniors Erik Stanley (Jay, Maine) and Joe Erwin (Middleboro, Mass.) to help fill the void.

The offense will be without star halfback Russ Massahos for the first time in four years. Massahos rushed for over 3,200 yards and scored 36 touchdowns in his career, finishing in the top 20 among all-time New England Division III backs. The Panthers should be in good shape though, with the return of seniors Mike Bicchieri (Londonderry, N.H.) and Jason Bordas (Elmore, Vt.). Bicchieri rushed for 481 yards (4.9 avg.) and five TDs last season, while Bordas, a tri-captain this fall, has rushed for 477 yards (5.7 avg.) and three TDs the last two years. Veteran fullbacks Jeff Robinson (White River Jct., Vt.) and Duane Godfrey (Peru, N.Y.) are also back in the mix.

Senior Matt Simpson (Auburn, Maine) returns as the starting quarterback, although junior Ryan Diamond (Plymouth, N.H.) will likely see action again this season. The 1999 FFC Rookie of the Year, Simpson has started the majority of the games in his first three years, passing for 4,816 yards and 37 TDs (29 INT) and earning All-FFC Second Team honors last season. Diamond gives the Panthers a presence off the bench (five TD passes) and presents problems for opponents with his running ability (180 yards, 1 TD).

The Panthers lost their top three past-catchers from last year, including All-American tight end John Walters, the team's leading receiver (44 receptions, 729 yards, 4 TDs). The top returning wideouts are seniors Chris Holton (Bellows Falls, Vt.), who had 13 catches for 204 yards last year, and Jay Zinis (Manchester, N.H.), who made 11 receptions for 216 yards.

Three-time All-Conference performer and Aztec Bowl participant Chad Zibolis is gone from the offensive line, where only two starters return - senior All-Star Chad Cleary (South Glastonbury, Conn.) and junior David Feely (Brick, N.J.). Among those expected to challenge for starting roles are sophomores Vaughn Beckwith (Canaan, Maine), Justin Powers (Rochester, N.H.), Matt Dame (Standish, Maine) and Jeremy Bullock (Randolph, Maine).

Junior Eric Calderwood (Merrimac, Mass.) returns as the placekicker after taking over as starter last season. Versatile senior Jay Zinis (Manchester, N.H.) will handle the punting duties, and he can back up Calderwood as well. The kick and punt returners will come from a group that includes Zinis, Bicchieri, Bordas and Baez.

"If everything goes our way and we get all the right bounces, I think we can compete for the conference championship, even with all of our losses," said Rorke. "We need to stay healthy, and then it's a matter of how quickly we come together and gel as a team."

2002 PSC Football Roster 2002 PSC Football Schedule