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PSU Football opens season on Sept. 9 at Mount Ida

GAME #1: Plymouth State University (0-0) at Mount Ida College (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006, 1:00 p.m., Mount Ida Field, Newton, Mass.

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - A new era of Plymouth State University football begins this weekend when the Panthers open the 2006 season as members of the New England Football Conference.

The Panthers will kick off the 37th season of varsity football at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, with a non-conference contest at Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass. It will be the second straight contest between the two schools, as they battled in the final encounter of the 2005 season, with PSU winning, 31-20.

PSU, which played an independent schedule the past two seasons after 12 years in the Freedom Football Conference, has played improved football since the arrival of head coach Paul Castonia (left) in 2003, and is hoping to build on the progress from last year, when they won three of their last five games.

Coming off a 6-2 record in 2004, Mount Ida had high hopes for last season, but limped home with a 1-9 mark. The Mustangs' only win came over Becker in late September. Mount Ida dropped its 2006 opener last Saturday at Norwich, 49-25.

The opener will be the fifth career meeting between the two schools, with Plymouth State holding a 3-1 lead. The Panthers coasted to easy victories in 2000 (47-8) and 2001 (43-13), and Mount Ida ran away with a 28-14 win in 2004 in Newton, Mass.

Following the Mount Ida game, it will be NEFC opponents the rest of the way for Plymouth State. PSU faces Coast Guard, the other new member of the NEFC, on Saturday, Sept. 16, followed by the seven Boyd Division games vs. UMass Dartmouth, Western New England College, Endicott College, Nichols College, Curry College, MIT, and Salve Regina University. The home opener at Currier Field is Sept. 23 vs. UMass Dartmouth.

The NEFC has 16 teams in two divisions in 2006. The regular season includes one game against each member of its own division and one contest against a team in the other division. PSU and Coast Guard play each other in the cross over game in 2006 and 2007.

The NEFC concludes the regular season with a championship game between the first-place teams from each division, this year on Nov. 11. The winner of that game receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.

After beginning its football program in 1970, Plymouth State was a member of the NEFC from 1971-91, winning or sharing nine titles in those 21 seasons. The Panthers won or shared eight straight NEFC championships from 1981-88. PSU has the 11th-highest career winning percentage (.633) among all NCAA Division III programs.

Plymouth State Football ---- 2006 Outlook

There's an unknown factor for Plymouth State entering the 2006 season, as seven of the nine opponents are new to the PSU slate.

"We're going to rely on the experience of our seniors," says Castonia. "They have been here throughout the rebuilding and have been keys to our improvement. If we can stay healthy and if the ball bounces our way, we should be able to continue our progress as a team."

The Panthers have 10 starters returning on the offense, but it's the defense that Castonia is more comfortable with. PSU has six starters back on the defensive side of the ball, led by senior safety Dan Fallon (Manchester, N.H./Central). He has been the team's leading tackler the past three years, and earned Football Gazette pre-season All-America honors in 2006. The backfield also has one other returning starter in sophomore Jermaine Jordan (Bellingham, Mass./Bellingham).

PSU has had strong linebackers for years and this season is no exception. Seniors Tim Butler (Concord, Mass./Concord-Carlisle) and John DiPasquale (Wilmington, Mass.) have been among the team's leading tacklers the past two seasons and provide solid anchors, while classmates Ryan Puck (Fair Haven, N.J./Rumson-Fair Haven) and Matt Whalen (Merrimack, N.H.) will also be looked to as playmakers and leaders. Junior returning starters Jeff Ethier (North Attleboro, Mass./Bishop Feehan) and Aaron Ellston (Sandown, N.H./Timberlane) are back to spearhead the defensive line; Ethier finished second on the team in tackles (56) last season, including a team-best five sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore Ryan Harrington (Hampton, N.H./Winnacunnet) could also help out.

"Our defense has been our strength," says Castonia. "We have a lot of depth, and we have strong players at key areas with Fallon, Ethier and that group of linebackers."

Castonia hopes to use a balanced offense, with a solid mix of running and passing. PSU has three running backs who rushed for 100 yards in a game last season - senior TB Kyle Clark (Bradford, N.H./Cushing Academy), junior TB Brent Gallant (Byron, Maine/Mountain Valley) and junior FB John DeMarco (Milford, N.H./Milford). Clark had his most productive season to date in 2005 with 388 yards rushing and should repeat the performance if he can stay healthy again. Gallant and DeMarco were impressive in their first year in a Panther uniform; Gallant averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored three TDs, coming on strong late in the season, while DeMarco led the team in rushing with 415 yards and five TDs and finished second on the squad with 22 receptions.

Senior QB Tye Seastedt (Danville, N.H./Timberlane) returns for a fourth season behind center. He has thrown for 1,623 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, and cut down to just five interceptions last season. His favorite targets are all back, including DeMarco, junior TE Adam Long (Plymouth, Mass./Plymouth South), and junior WR Brad Largy (Litchfield, N.H./Campbell). Long has led the team in receptions the past two seasons, collecting 51 catches for 476 yards, while Largy has hauled in 36 balls for 576 yards (16.0 avg.) and four touchdowns. Seastedt could also look for sophomore tight end Tim Nicholson (Franklin, Mass./Franklin) or junior WR Drew Richardson (Newburgh, ME/Hampden Academy).

PSU lost only one starter on the offensive line, and returns six veterans with quality experience. The group is led by a pair of seniors and three-year starters Joe Fellini (Walpole, Mass.) and Dana Flanders (Rochester, N.H./Spaulding). Fellini moved to right tackle last season after two years at right guard, while Flanders moved to left guard after two seasons at center. Sophomore RG Joe Duval (Dover, N.H./Dover) is a returning starter, while junior Craig Baird (Worcester, Mass./Holy Name) and sophomore Aaron Ashburner (Barrington, N.H./Dover) also have starting experience.

"This is the strongest and deepest line we've had since I've been here," says Castonia. "If there's an area of concern on offense, it's a lack of depth at receiver."

With a new slate of opponents and a new conference championship to shoot for, it should be an exciting season for Plymouth State Football.

CO-CAPTAINS: The Panthers have four co-captains this season -- senior LB John DiPasquale (Wilmington, Mass.), junior DL Jeff Ethier (North Attleboro, Mass./Bishop Feehan), senior DB Dan Fallon (Manchester, N.H./Central), and senior OL Joe Fellini (Walpole, Mass.) DiPasquale, Fallon and Fellini were also captains last season.

COACHING STAFF: PSU head coach Paul Castonia is in his fourth season in charge of the Panthers, and he has five veteran assistants returning - Lou Desloges (defensive line), Mike McLaughlin (Def. Coordinator/Def. Backs), Tom Pabst (Offensive Line), Jeremy Roberts (Running Backs).and Devin Zeman (Linebackers/Special Teams). The new members of the staff include Paul Hickey (Defensive Line Assst.) and Jason McDermott (Receivers).

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