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Plymouth State Football opens 2011 season

PSU hosts Castleton in debut at Currier Field

GAME #1:  Castleton State College (0-0) at Plymouth State University (0-0)
  Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, 1:00 p.m., Currier Field, Plymouth, N.H.

 

 

            PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The 42nd varsity football season for Plymouth State University kicks off this Saturday as the Panthers host the Spartans of Castleton State College in a non-conference match-up. 

            The Panthers and Spartans will kick off the season Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at Currier Field.  Look for new faces on the Panther side of the ball as PSU lost 17 seniors from last year's squad, including 13 starters.  Castleton begins its third year as a varsity football program, and look for familiar faces in the Spartan uniforms, with nine returning starters on both sides of the ball, including its all-star quarterback.

 
  Head Coach Paul Castonia
   

            PSU posted its fourth straight winning season last year, finishing 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the New England Football Conference (NEFC).  The Panthers have had one of the strongest running games in the nation the past four years, and with four returning starters on the offensive line, that trend could continue.  The Panther defense ranked in the top 20 in the nation last year in scoring defense (18th), passing defense (13th) and total defense (6th), but has a lot of question marks entering this season as the seniors took much of the playing time away from the underclassmen last fall. PSU, led by eighth-year head coach Paul Castonia, will be looking to get off to a good start with three of its first four games on home turf.

            After posting a winning season in just its second year of existence, Castleton is hoping to continue its progress toward playing in the postseason. The Spartans finished 5-4 overall last season and tied for second place in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) with a 5-2 mark. Castleton's offense begins with junior quarterback and 2010 ECFC Co-Offensive Player of the Year Shane Borzowski, who accounted for 28 touchdowns (16 throwing, 12 rushing) last year and ranked second in the nation in passing yards (3,043). Perhaps taken for granted by many a season ago, Castleton will not be sneaking up on anyone this year and will look to its depth and experience as a strength under first-year head coach Marc Klatt.

            Saturday's game marks the second meeting in football between Plymouth State and Castleton, with the Panthers winning last year's series debut in Castleton, Vt., 16-14.  The Spartans took a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, but PSU kicked a field goal with six minutes remaining and held off two late Castleton rallies.

            The NEFC Boyd Division schedule begins Saturday, Sept. 24, with PSU hosting UMass Dartmouth, and wraps up with the Panthers visiting Curry College on the final Saturday of the season on Nov. 5.  The Boyd Division champion will travel to the Bogan Division winner on Nov. 12 for the NEFC championship and automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. 

Plymouth State Football   ----  2011 Outlook

            There will be many new faces on the football field for the Panthers this fall, after graduation claimed 17 seniors from last year's team, including eight starters on defense.  It's the highest turnover of Panther players in several years, but don't mention the 'r' word around head coach Paul Castonia.

            "I hate to use the word 'rebuilding'," said Castonia, who is now in his ninth season at PSU, longer than any coach in the program's history.  "The best way to approach it is that we're going to be very young, both in terms of age and experience.  We have some promising young guys who can step in there; we just have to find out if they can do it on a weekly basis for a whole season."

            The good news is that PSU returns four starters on the offensive line, along with a couple of veterans at skill positions.  Only three starters are back on the defensive side of the ball, but Castonia says the team has been working hard in the off-season and he is confident some top players will emerge.

            "We did some different things during pre-season camp, but there's no substitute for game experience.  We're going to try to put them in a position where they can take advantage of their strengths and learn quickly from their mistakes." 

OFFENSE

            The Panthers have had one of the strongest running games in the nation the past four years, and with four returning starters on the offensive line, all juniors, that trend could continue.  Xander Fuccillo is a two-year starter, and Dave Button started every game last season.  Mike Miller and Craig Carrier also have quality starting experience.

            "We've had success is recent years because of the solid foundation we've been able to have on the O-line," said Castonia.  "We will look to these guys to lead us this year while we sort out the skill positions."

            Senior Joel Mignault is the top returnee among the receivers; he was second on the team last year with 11 catches.  Classmates James Liddel and Justin Kane also gained experience at tight end and could be solid contributors, says Castonia.

            PSU will have a new signal-caller in 2011 following the graduation to two-year starter J.J. Brooks.  Sophomore Josh Morgan has the most experience among the returnees, but Castonia says one or two newcomers could also be a factor.

            The running back position is up in the air.  The leading rusher from the past two seasons, junior Ty Long, is out after off-season injuries.  Castonia will be looking for one or two newcomers to step up. 

DEFENSE

            PSU ranked in the top 20 in the nation last year in scoring defense (18th), passing defense (13th) and total defense (6th), but has a lot of question marks entering this season.  The seniors took much of the playing time away from the underclassmen.

            "We're not looking for any sympathy from anyone, but the fact is we lost a lot of guys," said Castonia, "and many of them were multiple-year starters.  The underclassmen have been waiting their turn, and now is their chance.  We'll have to find some guys who can step in and do the job."

            Junior cornerback Ray Boulay is the only returning starter in the Panther defensive backfield; he made 34 tackles along with one interception last year.  Some freshmen may have to step in, says Castonia, and another possibility includes senior Christian Mulcahy, who played DB before shifting to wide receiver last year.

            PSU's top four linebackers last season were all seniors, so it will be an entirely new crew this year. The returnees along the interior line include junior Matt Fiore and senior Nicolas Keene, and junior Peter LaBreck could also help out on the defensive or offensive line.

 SPECIAL TEAMS

            Versatile kicker/returner Christian Mulcahy contributes to the Panther special teams in several areas, averaging more than 23 yards per kick-off return, nearly 37 yards per punt, and converting 11-of-18 career field goal tries and 52-of-61 PAT kicks.  Most of the other key special teams positions are wide open, heading into the season. 

OUTLOOK

            The NEFC Boyd Division title has been claimed by three different teams the past three years – PSU in 2008, Curry in 2009 and Endicott in 2010.  Castonia says Endicott will likely be the team to beat this season.

            "Endicott won the NEFC title last year and they return a lot of guys," said Castonia.  "Western New England and Salve Regina also have a lot of returnees.  Curry always has the potential to be very strong, so we will have our hands full each week.  The one thing we know is that we'll work hard every day, and be ready to go on Saturdays." 

NEFC PRE-SEASON POLL:  The Panthers were picked to finish fifth in the Boyd Division in the 2011 NEFC preseason coaches' poll.  Defending champion Endicott College was the preseason favorite in both the Boyd Division as well as the NEFC overall.  Western New England College was runner-up in the Boyd Division voting, with Salve Regina University third, Curry College fourth, and PSU fifth.  Rounding out the divisional poll are UMass Dartmouth, MIT and Nichols.  Defending champ Maine Maritime is the favorite to win the Bogan Division, with Framingham State second and Bridgewater State third.  

COACHING STAFF:  Head coach Paul Castonia (Trinity '86) is in his ninth season in charge of the Panthers, with a PSU coaching record of 42-39.  He has four assistants returning from last year – Devin Zeman (Associate Head Coach/Def. Coordinator/Linebackers), Lou Desloges (Running Backs), Tom Pabst (Offensive Line), and Eric McCarthy (Tight Ends). Mike McLaughlin (Associate Head Coach/Def. Backs/Special Teams Coordinator), who was an assistant at PSU from 2003-07, in back after three years at Alfred, and new members of the Panther staff include Tom Bolio (Defensive Line) and Chris Pittman (Receivers). 

PANTHERS AT CURRIER FIELD:  PSU was undefeated at Currier Field from 2007-09, including 6-0 in '09, before stumbling to a 2-3 record at home last season. The Panthers had their 17-game home winning streak snapped in the home opener last year against Mount Ida. Plymouth State is 24-6 at home since 2005 and has an all-time home record of 143-57-3 for a .712 winning percentage. 

PSU FOOTBALL HISTORY:  PSU enters the 2011 campaign with the 11th-highest career winning percentage (.643) among NCAA Division III football programs. 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, led by former Heisman Trophy candidate and Sports Illustrated cover man Joe Dudek.  PSU was also a member of the now-defunct Freedom Football Conference from 1992-2003, winning FFC Championships in 1994, 1995 and 2001. PSU rejoined the NEFC in 2006 and won its 10th NEFC title in 2008. 

A LOOK AHEAD:  Plymouth State makes its first road trip of the season next weekend with a visit to Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass.  The Panthers will be back at Currier Field the last two Saturdays of the month, hosting Bridgewater State in the NEFC crossover game and UMass Dartmouth in the Boyd Division opener

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