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September 4, 2013

Plymouth State opens 44th varsity football season

Panthers begin new era in inaugural MASCAC campaign

GAME #1:  Castleton State College (0-0) at Plymouth State University (0-0)
  Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 1:00 p.m., Currier Field, Plymouth, N.H.

                                  

   

         PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The 44th season of varsity football at Plymouth State University begins this Saturday as the Panthers host Castleton State College in a non-conference affair.

            The Panthers and Spartans will kick off Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at Currier Field in Plymouth.  PSU is looking to bounce back from a 2-8 record last season under head coach Paul Castonia, who is now in his 11th season with the Panthers.  The team returns six starters on offense and four on defense and welcomes what the PSU coaching staff thinks is a solid recruiting class.  PSU opens the season with two non-conference games before beginning its first season as a member of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) after many years and two stints in the New England Football Conference.

            Castleton returns seven starters on both offense and defense from a squad that finished with a 7-4 overall record in 2012 and earned an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) post-season berth under head coach Marc Klatt.  The Spartans shared the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) title with Mount Ida College, each with 6-1 marks.  Castleton averaged nearly 32 points a game last year and ranked third in the nation in passing yardage.  The Spartans return senior receiver Brandon Boyle, who caught 96 passes for 1,533 yards and 18 touchdowns.

            Saturday begins just the fifth season of varsity football for the visiting Spartans, who are looking for their second straight win over the Panthers to even the career series between the two schools.  Castleton captured last season's opener in Vermont, 35-7, after PSU won season debuts over the Spartans in 2010 (16-14) and 2011 (28-20).

            The 2013 season marks the beginning of football in the MASCAC.  The gridiron conference will include six core MASCAC institutions (Bridgewater, Framingham, Fitchburg, Mass. Maritime, Westfield, Worcester) along with Plymouth State, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and Western Connecticut State University.  The teams will play a round-robin schedule, and after the mandatory three-year wait, the champion will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III championship tournament.

            "It's going to be a very competitive and challenging league, just like the NEFC was," said PSU 11th-year head coach Paul Castonia.  "It's also good to be playing a whole new group of schools on our schedule, something different for the guys who've been here a couple years. We're looking forward to it."

Plymouth State Football   ----  2013 Outlook

             With three freshmen slated for the opening day line-up, and 14 freshmen and eight sophomores on the two-deep, Coach Castonia says that youth and lack of experience are factors on this year's team.

            "We'll be as young and inexperienced a group as we've probably ever been," said Castonia.  "We'll try to put them in as many situations as possible to be successful, and see what we can do.  We'll keep working hard and try to continue with what we do best." 

OFFENSE

            A strong running game behind a solid offensive line has been the Panther style the past decade, and this year could continue in that fashion.  The Panthers have four returning starters on the offensive line as well as the return of its top two ground-gainers.

            Senior Andrew Foglia (Montauk, N.Y./East Hampton) is the top returning running back, gaining more than 800 yards in each of the past two seasons, while classmate Jake Tyler (Maynard, Mass./Maynard) rushed for 289 yards last year in his first season as the Panther starting quarterback.  Junior Mark Hennessey (Westford, Mass./Westford Academy), who started at linebacker the past two seasons, has moved to fullback and will be joined by sophomore Andrew Vollaro (Higganum, Conn./Haddam-Killingworth) to bolster the running game.

            "Foglia has been a solid player for us the past two years," said Castonia.  "Those were his first two years at running back, as he was a linebacker as a freshman, and we think he can continue to improve.  Jake did a nice job back there in his first year as a quarterback, and we think the Hennessy-Vollaro combination gives us a strength at fullback."

            Senior Zac Iovanella (North Andover, Mass./North Andover) returns as leading the leading receiver from last year, when he caught 30 passes for 360 yards and a touchdown.  He has been very reliable, according to Castonia, catching any ball that comes near him. The Panthers could look to junior tight end Ian Bures (Prospect, Conn./Woodland Regional) but Castonia admits that several other receiving jobs are wide open entering fall camp.

            Senior Xander Fuccillo (East Falmouth, Mass./Falmouth) leads the group of returning offensive linemen.  Fuccillo was a three-year starter before sitting out last season as a medical hardship.  Senior Gregg Callanan (North Waterboro, Maine/Massabesic) started every game last season at right guard and junior Jake Harris (Braintree, Mass./Braintree) has been a starter when healthy.

            The question mark on offense entering training camp was at quarterback.  Tyler performed well at times last season, according to Castonia, converting from running back to a signal caller.  Castonia is confident with the group of newcomers who could challenge for the starting position.

            "We have a number of guys who fit the scheme of what we like to do," said Castonia, "which is to be athletic, run with the ball, and throw on the run.  We think there will be a good competition for the starting job."

DEFENSE

            PSU will have a lot of new faces on defense with the graduation of six starters, including three from the line, one linebacker and two defensive backs.  The Panthers do have their top returning defensive player back in senior Josh Morgan (Foster, R.I./Ponaganset), who flourished in his first season at linebacker; he led the team with 73 tackles and was named Second Team All-Conference.

            "Josh had a very good year at linebacker," said Castonia.  "He came to PSU as a quarterback and also played some fullback his first two years," said Castonia.  "He's such a good football player because he goes full speed all the time.  He makes plays and has a nose for the ball."

            Senior Jake Matthews (Windham, N.H./Salem) and junior Chris Smith (Merrimack, N.H./Merrimack) are returning starters in the defensive backfield, with several spots still up for grabs.  Senior Cory Gaff (Everett, Mass./Malden Catholic) has the most experience among the returnees along the interior line, with sophomore Zack Wilkins (West Simsbury, Conn./Simsbury) also gaining valuable experience.

            "We had a lot of seniors on the D-line and in the backfield," said Castonia, "so our younger guys didn't get as much playing time.  Now is their chance to get in there and show what they can do."

SPECIAL TEAMS

            The Panthers have most of their specialists back, although Castonia says the team is always looking to improve.  Senior Nick Cavallo (Salem, N.H./Salem) handles many of the kicking duties, averaging 37.2 yards a punt last year and converting 4-of-5 field goal attempts. Jake Matthews is the returning punt returner for the Panthers and Zac Iovanella is a valuable kick-off return man.

OUTLOOK

            The Panthers will open the season with non-conference opponents Castleton State College and Mount Ida College before diving into the inaugural MASCAC campaign.  The eight-game regular-season MASCAC slate will determine the conference champion, which will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Championships after the mandatory three-year waiting period.

            "The NEFC was a good conference, and well-balanced with six different champions the past six years," said Castonia.  "and the championship game format was nice. It was a big part of the history of Plymouth State Football, but we're looking forward to a new era in the MASCAC."

CO-CAPTAINS:  The Panthers have elected four captains who will lead the team in 2013, seniors Xander Fuccillo (#77), Zach Iovanella (#5), Jake Matthews (#11), and Josh Morgan (#15).

COACHING STAFF:  Head coach Paul Castonia has four assistants returning from last year – Devin Zeman (Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs), Lou Desloges (Defensive Line), Eric McCarthy (Quarterback), and Zach Parsons (Defensive Backs).  The new members of the staff include and Dustin Matthews (Running Backs), Tom Manley (Offensive Line) and Bill Lawrence (Linebackers).

MASCAC FOOTBALL:  The 2013 season marks the beginning of football in the MASCAC.  The conference will include six core MASCAC institutions (Bridgewater, Framingham, Fitchburg, Mass. Maritime, Westfield, Worcester) along with Plymouth State, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and Western Connecticut State University.  The teams will play a round-robin schedule, and after the mandatory three-year wait, the champion will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III championship tournament.

PANTHERS AT CURRIER FIELD:  PSU has posted an uncharacteristic 5-10 record on home turf over the last three years. The Panthers had a 17-game unbeaten streak at Currier Field from 2006-09, including 6-0 in '09, but went 2-3 at home in 2010 and 2011 and 1-4 last season.  Plymouth State is 27-13 at home since 2005 and has an all-time home record of 146-64-3 for a .692 winning percentage.

PSU FOOTBALL HISTORY:  PSU enters the 2013 campaign with the 18th-highest career winning percentage (.627) 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 before departing for the MASCAC after last season.

A LOOK AHEAD:  The Panther will make their first road trip of the season with a visit to Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass.  Mount Ida is coming off an 8-3 season that included a berth in the Division III NCAA Tournament.  PSU will then make its MASCAC debut on Sept. 21 at home against Western Connecticut.

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