GAME #12: NCAA Division III Championships - First Round Game
Plymouth State (N.H.) (10-1, 7-0 NEFC) at Cortland State (N.Y.) (9-1, 9-0 NJAC)
Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, 12:00 p.m., SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, Cortland, N.Y.
PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State University will make its fourth appearance in the NCAA Division III Football Championship Tournament this Saturday when the Panthers visit the State University of New York College at Cortland for a first-round game.
The Panthers (10-1) and Red Dragons (9-1) will kick off at 12 noon Saturday at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex. Both teams earned automatic bids in the NCAA Tournament, Plymouth State by winning the New England Football Conference Championship and Cortland State by capturing the New Jersey Athletic Conference title. PSU went 7-0 in the NEFC Boyd Division and knocked off Bogan Division winner Maine Maritime in the conference championship game last Saturday, 46-16, while Cortland posted a perfect 9-0 mark in the NJAC to claim the title before losing to rival Ithaca College in a non-conference game last Saturday, 35-13.
Plymouth State is riding a nine-game winning streak, capped off by last Saturday's NEFC victory over Maine Maritime. Also in the streak was a 28-17 victory over Curry College on Oct. 25, snapping the Colonels' 37-game NEFC unbeaten streak and ending Curry's five-year reign atop the NEFC. PSU captured 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. The Panthers are ranked #2 in New England behind Trinity College, and have been receiving votes in both Division III national polls.
Led by the top defense in the league, PSU has allowed only 15 points per game and 268 yards per outing, including an average of 115 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 almost 300 of their 356 yards per game on the ground, where they have scored 45 of their 49 touchdowns.
Saturday will mark just the second career meeting in football between Plymouth State and Cortland State. The Red Dragons defeated the Panthers, 21-6, in the 1991 ECAC Division III Northwest Championship game at Cortland.
NCAA HISTORY: This is PSU's first NCAA Football appearance since earning back-to-back berths in 1994 and 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, in Schenectady, N.Y. It was decade before the Panthers returned, but Plymouth State made back-to-back appearances at home 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.
1984 Union 26, Plymouth State 14 (at Schenectady, N.Y.)
1994 Plymouth State 19, Kings Point 18 (at Plymouth, N.H.)
Ithaca 22, Plymouth State 7 (at Plymouth, N.H.)
1995 Union 24, Plymouth State 7 (at Plymouth, N.H.)
CLUTCH PERFORMERS: The Panthers have been terrific when it counts, leading the NEFC in red-zone offense (89.1 percent, scoring on 41 of 46 attempts) and ranking second among the 16 teams in red-zone defense (56.8 percent, allowing points on 21 of 37 chances).
MACK ATTACK: The PSU ground game is led by senior Jeff Mack, who ranks eighth in the nation in rushing with 1,679 yards and 17th in the nation in scoring with 20 touchdowns. He has four 200-yard rushing performances and another 197-yard effort. Mack set the PSU single-season rushing mark last week, breaking Joe Dudek's senior season of 1,615 yards and 24 TDs in 1985. Mack is second to Dudek in Plymouth State career rushing, Mack with 3,844 yards (5.6 avg.) and 43 touchdowns and Dudek with 5,560 yards (7.1 avg.) and 76 scores from 1982-85. Mack has moved up to 13th on the all-time New England Division III career rushing list.
GOLD HELMET: Senior RB Jeff Mack became the only player in New England to win the prestigious Boston Globe Gold Helmet Award twice this season. The awards (one for Division I, one for Division II/III) are presented weekly by the New England Football Writers Association at a luncheon at Harvard University. Mack won the award after PSU's season-opening win over Saint Anselm College, when he rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns, and he earned the award again this week after his MVP performance (139 yards, two TDs) in the NEFC Championship game. He is the first PSU player to win a Gold Helmet since Russ Massahos rushed for six touchdowns against Coast Guard in 1999.
NEFC HONORS: Plymouth State players have been regulars on the weekly list of NEFC honors. 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)
Nov. 15 RB Jeff Mack (William Mattola/NEFC Championship Game MVP Award)
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 entered the 2008 season with the 12th-highest career winning percentage (.636) among all NCAA Division III football programs.
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