Saturday, Sept. 13, 2003, 1:00 p.m., Currier Field, Plymouth, N.H.
PLYMOUTH, N.H. - There are a lot of changes in the Plymouth State Football program.
First, the school has a new name. It's now Plymouth State University instead of Plymouth State College. Next, there's a new head coach. Paul Castonia has taken over from Chris Rorke. From there, there's a new batch of players, and the returning veterans have a new attitude. And everyone is also hoping, and expecting, an about-face in the won-loss column.
Those changes will be on display for the first time this season when the Panthers host the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth this Saturday, opening the 34th season of varsity football at Plymouth State. The Panthers and Corsairs will kick off at 1:00 p.m. in the non-conference contest at Currier Field, the first of six home games for Plymouth State this season.
Castonia takes over as the 11th head coach in PSU's football program, and he hopes to rebuild the Panthers to the team that has recorded the third-highest winning percentage in NCAA Division III history (.675). He's planning on making last year's winless season a distant memory in the Panther record books, and is determined to return the Panthers to the kind of team that shared the Freedom Football Conference Championship in 2001 and captured an ECAC Championship in 1999.
Saturday's game will be just the fifth encounter on the gridiron between Plymouth State and UMass Dartmouth, with PSU maintaining a 3-1 advantage in the series. The Panthers dominated the first two meetings in 1994 and 1995, winning 35-0 and 33-0, and made in three in a row in 2001 with a 34-20 victory at Currier Field. UMD earned its first victory in the series last year with a decisive 44-14 decision over the Panthers.
The opening game of the year has not always been kind to Plymouth State, as the Panthers are just 13-17-3 in the first game of the season. There were seven straight season-opening wins from 1994-2000 to make the opening-day record respectable. Plymouth State has fared much better in home openers, going 21-10-2 in the Currier Field debut. The Panthers were 8-2 in the first home game in the ‘80s and 9-1 in the ‘90s but have dropped their last three Currier Field openers. Overall, Plymouth State has an all-time home record of 118-41-3 for a sparkling .738 winning percentage.
2003 Plymouth State Football Preview
The Panthers have more than 20 players returning who have seen significant playing time over the last two seasons, including the FFC championship campaign of 2001. Castonia hopes to blend the experience of the veterans and the enthusiasm of the newcomers with his own formula.
"Ideally we will have a good balance between offense, defense and special teams," says Castonia. "There's just a lot of question marks for us entering the season, and we may have to adjust as time goes on. With a new system and new coaching staff, there's going to be a period of transition for everyone, but I've been encouraged so far with the response from the returning players."
The offense is looking for a new signal-caller to emerge after the loss of four-year starter Matt Simpson, who threw for 6,538 yards and 48 touchdowns. The top returnee is senior Ryan Diamond (Plymouth, N.H.), a part-time starter the past two years who has completed over 50 percent of his passes (38-of-68, 508 yards, 6 TD, 4 INT) and also rushed for 268 yards and three TDs.
Senior Jay Zinis (Manchester, N.H./West), leads the group of returning receivers. He was second on the team last year with 31 receptions for 493 yards (15.9 avg.) and one of the FFC leaders with six touchdown catches. Seniors Harold Roy (East Boston, Mass.) and Matt Coddaire (Chelmsford, Mass.) could also figure into PSU's receiving plans.
Seniors Jason Bordas (Elmore, Vt.) and Jeff Robinson (White River Jct., Vt.) are the top returnees in the Panther backfield. Bordas has averaged 5.6 yards a carry over his career (104 att., 582 yards, 3 TD), but has played in only nine games the past two seasons due to injuries. Robinson has done more blocking than running and gives the Panthers a veteran presence in the backfield.
The offensive interior has plenty of familiar faces returning, including five players who've started in the past two years. Seniors Chad Cleary (South Glastonbury, Conn.) and Dave Feeley (Brick, N.J.) and juniors Vaughn Beckwith (Canaan, Maine) and Justin Powers (Milton, N.H./ Spaulding) will sort themselves out for playing time, and Castonia is encouraged with so many veterans on the line.
Senior linebacker Tim Boothroyd (Amesbury, Mass.) returns as the anchor to the defense. Boothroyd blossomed last season, leading the conference with 100 tackles and earning All-FFC and All-ECAC post-season honors. Senior Joe Erwin (Middleboro, Mass.) and juniors Scott Viscardi (East Bridgewater, Mass.) and Joe Iannelli (Billerica, Mass.) have seen playing time the last couple of years and will need to step up.
The top returnees in the PSU defensive backfield include junior Matt Trombley (Londonderry, N.H.) and sophomore Brian Francis (Plymouth, N.H.). Trombley was third on the team with 55 tackles last season, and had three interceptions and eight pass break-ups, both team-highs. Francis came on in the second half, finishing fifth on the team with 37 tackles to go along with two INTs. Senior Erik Stanley (Jay, Maine) could see action in the backfield.
Plymouth State will have to replace the entire defensive line. The top candidates are seniors Doug Martin (Manchester, N.H./West), who missed all of last season with a knee injury, Eric Lawless (Plymouth, Mass./South), who had 24 tackles last season, or Chris Venn (Sauus, Mass.).
The special teams jobs will go mostly to Zinis, the starting punter and kick returner last season who has also done some place-kicking.
"We want to be competitive in all of our games," said Castonia. "At this point, we're going to take it week by week, and see how things turn out. We want to make sure we don't beat ourselves, and we want to do everything to give ourselves the best chance possible to be successful every week."
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