Panthers move into first place in MASCAC
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – In its most important regular season football game in recent history, freshman Jeremy Martin (Charlton, Mass.) kicked a game-winning 22-yard field goal in overtime to give Plymouth State University a 16-13 win over previously unbeaten Framingham State University in a key Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) game at Currier Field on Saturday afternoon.
It was a true test for the Plymouth State defense, as the Framingham State offense entered the contest averaging over 30 points per game this fall. It was PSU's first win over the Rams since joining the MASCAC in 2013 and the high-scoring FSU offense had averaged over 38 points per game in those four previous meetings. With the victory the Panthers improve to 6-1 overall (4-1 MASCAC), while moving a half-game ahead of Framingham State (5-1, 3-1 MASCAC) for first place in the MASCAC.
It was a match-up of the two lowest scoring defenses in the league, and they were on full display Saturday afternoon. Plymouth was forced to punt on its opening drive, and the Panther defense made its first statement of the game on the first Framingham drive. After a nine-yard completion, Stephen Beahn (Spencer, Mass.) had the ball stripped by PSU graduate student Zach Ziemba (Manchester, N.H.). The play gave Plymouth terrific field position at the FSU 42, but the Rams defense forced a three-and-out.
Both teams traded punts until the end of the first quarter. With Framingham State driving, Rams senior quarterback Zak Walker (Ayer, Mass.) was forced out of the pocket and senior defensive lineman Joe Esposito (Hackettstown, N.J.) poked the ball free of his grasp. The turnover resulted in the first score of the game. PSU junior quarterback Zack Edwards (Brookfield, Mass.) hooked up with senior Chris Kelly (Belmont, Mass.) for a 25-yard touchdown. After a missed extra point, the Panthers led 6-0.
Framingham had an opportunity to respond in the second quarter. The Rams offense marched 39 yards on 12 plays, but a 40-yard field goal attempt from freshman Ryan Clifford (Brockton, Mass.) was blocked by Ziemba.
Plymouth was forced to punt in their ensuing drive, and the Rams followed with an even better scoring opportunity. After nine plays and 54 yards, Framingham found themselves inside the red zone. Plymouth's defensive line held strong, though, and faced with 4th-and-two, Walker's intended pass was broken up and the Rams turned the ball over on downs.
The Rams had one more opportunity to score in the first half, but Clifford missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right. The Panthers took over on their own 23-yard line, and ran the clock out to end the half.
Framingham finally found the scoreboard on its second possession of the third quarter, following the Rams' best looking drive of the afternoon. After moving the ball 72 yards, Walker connected with senior Khaneil Bruce (Cambridge, Mass.) in the end zone on a play-action pass. The extra point gave the Rams a 7-6 lead.
The Panthers responded on their next drive. Junior Brad Rhodes (Epsom, N.H.) gave PSU great field position after a 38-yard kickoff return, then the PSU offense marched 62 yards over seven plays and Edwards found Kelly in the end zone for his second TD of the afternoon. The extra point extended the Panthers' lead to 13-7.
Framingham punched in the equalizer late in the fourth quarter. Following a PSU three-and-out, the Rams drove down the field. With just over six minutes left in the game, sophomore Rufus Rushins (Lynn, Mass.) capped the 15-play, 60-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Rushins converted on two third-and-short situations during the drive, as well as picking up a first down following a fourth-and-one. The Panther special teams made a huge play, though, when the point after was blocked, keeping the score at 13-13.
Neither team was able to get additional points on the board and the game headed to overtime. Plymouth State won the coin toss and elected to defend first.
The Rams went three-and-out in their first possession, bringing on the field goal unit, but Ziemba got around the edge to block Clifford's 40-yard attempt. It was Ziemba's second blocked kick of the game.
After being contained all afternoon, junior Mitch Banuskevich (Milford, N.H.) busted through a hole for a 14-yard gain. A pair of short completions, followed by a carry by Banuskevich set Martin up for a 22-yard field goal attempt, and he split the uprights to give the Panthers the win.
Walker had an outstanding day for the Rams in the loss, going 34-47 for 258 yards. Senior receiver Mike Calicchio (Chelmsford, Mass.) pulled in 14 receptions for 116 yards, and the team totaled 366 yards in their first loss of the season.
Kelly finished with three catches for 47 yards, including the two touchdowns, while Banuskevich finished with 39 yards on 20 carries. The Framingham defense limited the Panthers to just 179 total yards.
Plymouth State, known equally for its defense, turned the Rams over twice, blocked two blocked kicks and forced a turnover on downs inside the red zone.
The Panthers are on the road next Saturday (Oct. 21), as they take on Massachusetts Maritime Academy at 1:00 p.m.
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