GAME #11: New England Football Conference Championship Game
Plymouth State University (9-1, 7-0) at Maine Maritime Academy (7-3, 6-1)
Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008, 12:00 p.m., Ritchie Stadium, Castine, Maine
PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The New England Football Conference will crown its 2008 champion this Saturday when Boyd Division winner Plymouth State University visits Bogan Division representative Maine Maritime Academy for the NEFC Championship game.
The Panthers and Mariners will kick off at 12 noon this Saturday at Ritchie Stadium in Castine, Maine. PSU, 9-1 overall, earned the right to play for the NEFC title by going 7-0 in the Boyd Division, while MMA, 7-3 overall, checked its ticket to the big game by finishing 6-1 in the Bogan Division and winning the tiebreaker over Bridgewater State, which also went 6-1.
Plymouth State is looking for its first NEFC championship since winning or sharing nine NEFC titles in 10 years from 1981-90, including eight straight from 1981-88. PSU also won Freedom Football Conference championships in 1994, 1995 and 2001. Maine Maritime is seeking its ninth NEFC championship since claiming the first one in 1965. The Mariners won or tied for three titles in the 1990s, winning it outright in 1993 and sharing the crown in 1994 and 1998.
The NEFC will have a new champion for the first time since 2003, as Curry College claimed the last five titles. PSU dethroned Curry with a regular season win last month, 28-17, snapping the Colonels' 37-game NEFC winning streak. The winner of this Saturday's title game will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.
Plymouth State has won eight games in a row, is ranked second in the New England Division III poll and has been receiving votes in the national top-25 polls. PSU features the top defense in the league, allowing only 15 points per game and 271 yards per outing, including an average of 105 yards rushing. The Panther offense runs the ball almost 90 percent of the time and features a 1,500-yard running back and a veteran offensive line. The Panthers gain 300 of their 355 yards per game on the ground, where they have scored 38 of their 42 touchdowns.
Maine Maritime brings a four-game winning streak into the game and the No. 6 spot in this week's New England poll. The Mariners are like the Panthers in that they run the ball almost 90 percent of the time and rush for an average of 383 yards per contest. They also lead the NEFC in scoring, averaging more than 40 points a game.
SERIES HISTORY: This Saturday will mark the 28th career meeting between Plymouth State and Maine Maritime, with PSU holding a 20-7 lead in the series. The teams haven't played since 1998, when the Panthers won for the fourth time in a row by lopsided scores, although MMA won three straight from 1991-93. The Mariners won the first meeting, 14-6, back in 1971.
CLUTCH PERFORMERS: The Panthers have been terrific when it counts, ranking among the NEFC leaders in both red-zone offense (87.8 percent, scoring on 36 of 41 attempts) and red-zone defense (55.9 percent, allowing points on 19 of 34 chances).
NCAA HOPES: Plymouth State will be seeking its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance. The Panthers made their NCAA debut in 1984 under coach Jay Cottone and were led by a running back named Joe Dudek. It was decade before the Panthers returned, but Plymouth State made back-to-back appearances in 1994 and 1995 under coach Don Brown. PSU won its only NCAA Tournament game in 1994 with a dramatic 19-18 win over the Merchant Marine Academy.
MACK ATTACK: The PSU ground game is led by senior Jeff Mack, who ranks eighth in the nation in rushing with 1,540 yards and 18th in the nation in scoring with 18 touchdowns. He has four 200-yard rushing performances and another 197-yard effort. Mack has moved into second place on PSU's single-season rushing list, trailing only Joe Dudek's senior season of 1,615 yards and 24 TDs in 1985. Mack is second to Dudek in Plymouth State career rushing as well, Mack with 3,705 yards (5.7 avg.) and 41 touchdowns and Dudek with 5,560 yards (7.1 avg.) and 76 scores from 1982-85.
NEFC HONORS: Panther players have been regulars on the weekly list of NEFC honors. Sophomore RB Steve Campbell (Northborough, Mass.), who was a Defensive honoree twice in October, was on the Offensive Honor Roll last week after switching to running back and rushing for 177 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Salve Regina. Senior DL Jim Sestito (Foxborough, Mass.), who has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks all season, was honored after making four tackles and two sacks in the win over Salve. Here are the Panthers who have received NEFC weekly honors this season:
Sept. 8 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Honor Roll), DL Matt MacLean (NEFC Honor Roll)
Sept. 15 None
Sept. 22 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Honor Roll), DB Kevin Whalen (NEFC Honor Roll)
Sept. 29 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Honor Roll), DB Zach Parsons (NEFC Honor Roll)
Oct. 6 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Co-Offensive Player/Week), LB Steve Campbell (NEFC Honor Roll)
Oct. 13 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Co-Offensive Player/Week)
Oct. 20 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Honor Roll), DB Kevin Whalen (NEFC Honor Roll)
Oct. 27 WR J.J. Brooks (NEFC Honor Roll), LB Steve Campbell (NEFC Co-Defensive Player/Week)
Nov. 3 RB Jeff Mack (NEFC Honor Roll), DB Dan Kelly (NEFC Honor Roll)
Nov. 10 RB Steve Campbell (NEFC Honor Roll), DL Jim Sestito (NEFC Honor Roll)
PSU FOOTBALL HISTORY: 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 12th-highest career winning percentage (.636) among all NCAA Division III football programs.
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