PLYMOUTH, N.H. - After winning the New England Football Conference championship on Saturday afternoon, Plymouth State University learned its NCAA playoff first-round opponent on Sunday: the State University of New York at Cortland.
PSU will travel to Cortland this Saturday, Nov. 22, for a 12 noon kickoff in the opening round of the 32-team NCAA Division III playoffs. The Panthers (10-1) captured the automatic bid from the NEFC by defeating Maine Maritime, 46-16, in the league's championship game. The Red Dragons (9-1) earned an automatic berth into the tournament after winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title with a 9-0 record.
Cortland is seeded third and Plymouth is seeded sixth in one of four eight-team NCAA tournament brackets. The Cortland-Plymouth State winner will face either second-seeded Ithaca College or seventh-seeded Curry College (Mass.) in the second round on Nov. 29 at the higher seed.
"We're obviously delighted with the opportunity to compete in the NCAA playoffs," said PSU head coach Paul Castonia. "It is a tribute to all the hard work our guys did throughout the off season and all year. We don't know much about Cortland, but we know they won a very strong conference and they have a strong history and we will have our hands full. We will work hard this week like we have every week, and will come ready to compete on Saturday."
Other first-round matchups in the PSU-Cortland bracket feature top-seeded Mount Union College (Ohio) hosting eighth-seeded Randolph-Macon College (Va.) and fourth-seeded Hobart College hosting fifth-seeded Lycoming College (Pa.). The tournament continues through Dec. 20, when the Division III national championship "Stagg Bowl" will be held in Salem, Va.
Cortland and Plymouth State have met one time previously - the Red Dragons defeated the Panthers, 21-6, in the 1991 ECAC Division III Northwest Championship game at Cortland.
PSU is making its fourth appearance in the NCAA playoffs, and first since 1995. Plymouth State made its NCAA debut in 1984 under coach Jay Cottone and was led by a running back named Joe Dudek, but lost to Union College, 26-14. It was decade before the Panthers returned, but Plymouth State made back-to-back appearances in 1994 and 1995 under coach Don Brown (now the head coach at the University of Massachusetts). PSU won its only NCAA Tournament game in 1994 with a dramatic 19-18 win over the Merchant Marine Academy before losing to Ithaca 22-7, and dropped a 24-7 decision to Union in 1995.
Cortland, led by 12th-year head coach Dan MacNeill, is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance overall and third under MacNeill. The Red Dragons lost at Hobart, 23-22, in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. The other four appearances occurred when the NCAA playoffs included only 16 teams. Cortland was 1-1 in 1988 and 0-1 in 1989, 1990 and 1997.
Cortland is hosting an NCAA game for the third time in school history. The Red Dragons defeated Hofstra, 32-27, in the 1988 first round and lost to The College of New Jersey, 34-30, in the 1997 first round in MacNeill's first season.
Plymouth State captured its 10th NEFC championship last Saturday, and first since winning nine titles in 10 years from 1981-90. It is also the Panthers' first conference title of any kind since sharing the Freedom Football Conference championship in 2001.
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