Ziemba voted Defensive Player of the Year; Castonia wins Coach of the Year
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Eight members of the Plymouth State University football program were among those earning Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) post-season honors for 2017 the conference office announced today.
Highlighting the award winners were graduate student Zach Ziemba (Manchester, N.H.), the Panthers' top defensive back, who was named MASCAC Defensive Player of the Year, and PSU head coach Paul Castonia, who was voted the Champion's Choice Coach of the Year for the second straight season.
The Panthers also had three players named to the All-Conference First Team Defense – Ziemba, senior defensive back Blair Zentek (Simsbury, Conn.) and senior defensive lineman Joe Esposito (Hackettstown, N.J.); and four players who earned All-Conference Second Team Offense honors – junior offensive lineman Andrew Romeo (Salem, Mass.), junior running back Mitch Banuskevich (Milford, N.H.), junior quarterback Zack Edwards (Brookfield, Mass.) and freshman place kicker Jeremy Martin (Charlton, Mass.). Martin was a double-honoree, also being named All-Conference Second Team Defense as a punter.
The All-Conference teams are selected by a vote of the league's nine head coaches. The eight all-conference winners is the most for Plymouth State since joining the MASCAC in 2013, and the most for the program since the 2009 squad had 12 members recognized by the New England Football Conference (NEFC).
The honors come after PSU finished 7-1 atop the MASCAC, earning the regular season crown and the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers had been picked to finish fifth in the Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Ziemba anchored the backfield of the conference's best scoring defense. He finished the regular season with 46 tackles, including 27 solo tackles, and was second in the MASCAC with two fumble recoveries. Ziemba added a pair of interceptions and two blocked kicks, including one in the team's 16-13 overtime win against Framingham State, which ended up securing the MASCAC title for the Panthers.
Zentek led the league with three blocked kicks, and was sixth in the MASCAC with seven pass breakups. His 36 solo tackles were the second most on the team, while his 49 total tackles were third best. He also came away with a fumble recovery and interception in PSU's 17-0 blanking of Westfield State on Oct. 28.
Esposito was a force on the defensive line. He led the Panthers with 3.5 sacks, eighth most in the MASCAC, and tackles for a loss (11), which was seventh best in the conference. He came up big in the win over Framingham, totaling eight tackles, including three for a loss of 18 yards, while forcing a fumble in FSU territory that set up the Panthers' first touchdown.
Martin finished the regular season with a 71% field goal conversion mark, highest in the league among kickers with at least five field goal attempts, and was 18-of-21 in PAT attempts. As a punter, Martin led the league with a 36.9 yards per punt average. Thirteen of his punts were downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Romeo, primarily used at left tackle, anchored an offensive line that allowed just four sacks all year. His pass protection and blocking helped the Panthers lead the MASCAC in third-down conversion rate (62-of-141 for 44%) and finish third in the conference in red zone scoring (21-of-27 for 78%).
Banuskevich was a two-headed monster, filling the role of pass-catching back. He led the Panthers with career-highs of 660 yards on 158 carries and an 82.5 yards/game average, despite missing two games early in the season. He added another 34.6 yards/game receiving and his 117.1 all-purpose yards per game were the eighth most in the MASCAC.
Edwards led the PSU offense from behind center throwing for nearly 1,500 yards. His 146.6 yards per game average was fourth highest in the league, while his 18 touchdowns were third most among MASCAC quarterbacks. He finished the regular season 115-of-217 (53.0%) with a 131.6 passer efficiency.
Now in his 15th season on the sidelines, Castonia is the program's all-time winningest coach sporting 68 wins. He has guided a Panther team that is among the most disciplined in the country, averaging just 3.7 penalties per game – the fourth lowest average in the nation. The team also ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense (9.8 points/game).
The Panthers will travel to Brockport, N.Y. for the first round of the 2017 NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday. PSU (9-1) will face SUNY Brockport (10-0), who earned an automatic berth after winning the Empire 8 Conference. Kick-off at Bob Boozer Field is set for 12:00 p.m.
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