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PSU Football opens season at home on Sept. 8 vs. Mount Ida

GAME #1: Mount Ida College (0-1) at Plymouth State University (0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007, 1:30 p.m., Currier Field, Plymouth, N.H.

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The 38th season of varsity football at Plymouth State University begins next Saturday, Sept. 8, when the Panthers host Mount Ida College in a non-conference match-up at Currier Field.

The Panthers and Mustangs are set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. on the Panthers' home field. It is PSU's only non-conference encounter before completing the season with eight New England Football Conference Boyd Division contests. The Mount Ida Mustangs, visiting from Newton, Mass., are in their ninth season as a Division III Independent.

Plymouth State, led by fifth-year head coach Paul Castonia (left), is coming off a 2006 campaign that ended with a 4-5 overall record, and a 4-3 mark in the NEFC Boyd Division, tied for third place. It was PSU's first year back in the NEFC after a 14-year hiatus. The Panthers gave league-champion Curry College one of its toughest tests of the season, and will be looking to challenge Curry, runner-up Endicott, and the rest of the Boyd schools for this year's division crown.

Mount Ida rebounded from a dismal 1-9 season in 2005 to put together a respectable 5-4 record last season. The Mustangs opened their 2007 campaign last Saturday at home with a 27-17 loss to Norwich University.

Saturday's affair will be the sixth career meeting between Plymouth State and Mount Ida, with PSU winning three of the first five encounters. The Panthers coasted to easy victories in 2000 (47-8) and 2001 (43-13), and pulled out a 31-20 decision in 2005. Mount Ida ran away with a 28-14 win in 2004 in Newton, Mass., and won last year's contest at home, 19-14.

Following the Mount Ida game, it will be NEFC opponents the rest of the way for Plymouth State. PSU faces Coast Guard, defending Bogan Division champions, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 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 NEFC concludes the regular season with a championship game between the first-place teams from each division, this year on Nov. 10. 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 15th-highest career winning percentage (.628) among all NCAA Division III football programs.

Plymouth State Football ---- 2007 Outlook

Coach Castonia welcomes back plenty of experience on offense, including seven starters and a handful of others who have seen key playing time, while the defense will have to rebuild a little, with just five starters returning, four on the interior line.

"Running backs and receivers is where we have the most experience on offense," says Castonia. "We also return a decent amount on the offensive line. Hopefully we'll be more balanced this year, and will be more successful in the passing game."

The Panthers, who gained nearly 70 percent of their offense on the ground last year, return their top three running backs in senior tailback Jeff Mack (Milford, N.H./Milford), junior fullback Brandon Clough (Gonic, N.H./Spaulding) and junior fullback/quarterback John DeMarco (Milford, N.H./Milford). Mack (580 yards, 6 TD last year) and Clough (405 yards, 3 TD) should both get plenty of carries, while DeMarco, who has rushed for 800 yards and 12 TDs over the past two years and passed for 339 yards and five scores last season, will shift to quarterback.

PSU has its top three receivers back in senior wideouts Brad Largy (Litchfield, N.H./Campbell) and Drew Richardson (Newburgh, ME/Hampden Academy) and senior tight end Adam Long (Plymouth, Mass./Plymouth South). Largy has 47 career receptions for 767 yards (16.3 avg.) and six touchdowns, and Long 62 catches for 562 yards (9.1 avg.) and three scores. Richardson was a Second Team All-NEFC selection last year after leading the team with 29 receptions.

Senior center Craig Baird (Worcester, Mass./Holy Name) and junior guard Joe Duval (Dover, N.H./Dover) top the group of returnees on the offensive line. Junior Miralem Mulabegovic (Milford, N.H.) also has starting experience. PSU will have to fill the gap left by the graduation of right tackle Joe Fellini, the NEFC Boyd Division Offensive Lineman of the Year.

The strength of the Panther defense will be at the line of scrimmage, where all four starters return. The leader of the group is senior co-captain Jeff Ethier (North Attleboro, Mass./Bishop Feehan), a First Team All-Conference selection at defensive tackle and four-year starter.

Senior DE Aaron Ellston (Sandown, N.H./Timberlane) is a three-year starter, and senior DE Donny Lewis (Merrimack, N.H./Marrimack) and junior DT Ryan Harrington (Hampton, N.H./Winnacunnet) held down starting spots a year ago. Junior Justin Jarvis (Surry, N.H./Monadnock), a Second Team All-Conference pick, senior Justin Smith (Merrimack, N.H./Marrimack) and sophomore Alex Battaglino (Avon, Conn./Avon) are also returning veterans who should be solid contributors.

PSU lost all of its starting linebackers to graduation, along with three of its four starters in the secondary, giving the Panthers their biggest turnover on defense in several years. The only other returning starter is junior Mike Lannon (Sharon, Mass./Sharon), who led the team with 54 tackles and three fumble recoveries after moving from running back to safety.

Castonia says the defense will be in fine shape.

"We've moved some guys around to different positions," says Castonia. "We haven't been in this position before where we've lost so much in one year; not just on defense, but special teams, too. The good news is that we have more depth than ever, and we're confident the new guys will fill in well for the ones they're replacing."

Some of the players seeing new positions include senior Brent Gallant (Byron, Maine/Mountain Valley), who moved from the offensive backfield to the defensive secondary, and junior Tim Nicholson (Franklin, Mass./Franklin), who switched from tight end to linebacker. Junior defensive back Mike Chartrand (Ashburnham, Mass./Oakmont Regional) also returns after taking a year off.

PSU finished with a 4-3 record in the NEFC Boyd Division in 2006, behind Curry and Endicott and tied with UMass Dartmouth and Nichols. The Panthers will at least know what to expect from their opponents, an advantage they didn't have last year when they were new to the NEFC.

"We know Curry is the team to beat," says Castonia, "and all of the other teams continue to get better and better. We know that just about anybody can beat anybody on a given Saturday, so we'll have to be ready for every game."

CO-CAPTAINS: The Panthers have four senior co-captains this season -- center Craig Baird (Worcester, Mass./Holy Name, DE/LB Jeff Ethier (North Attleboro, Mass./Bishop Feehan), WR Brad Largy (Litchfield, N.H./Campbell) and TE Adam Long (Plymouth, Mass./Plymouth South).

COACHING STAFF: PSU head coach Paul Castonia is in his fifth season in charge of the Panthers, and he has five veteran assistants returning - Lou Desloges (running backs), Mike McLaughlin (Def. Coordinator/Def. Backs), Devin Zeman (Linebackers/Special Teams), Tom Pabst (Offensive Line), and Jason McDermott (Defensive Line). The new member of the staff is former Panther captain and All-Star safety Dan Fallon (Receivers).

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