GAME #1: Plymouth State College (0-0) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (0-0)
Sat., Sept. 9, 2000, 1:30 p.m., ‘86 Field, Troy, N.Y.
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The 31st season of varsity football at Plymouth State College begins this Saturday when the Panthers travel to Troy, N.Y., to face Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the season opener for both schools.
The Panthers and Engineers will meet in a non-conference encounter at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at’86 Field, the first of a 10-game schedule for PSC (five home games, five on the road). PSC will play six Freedom Football Conference contests, beginning with Norwich University on Sept. 23rd. The home opener at Currier Field is Saturday, Sept. 15th, against SUNY Brockport (12 noon).
Led by second-year head coach Chris Rorke, Plymouth State will be seeking its fourth consecutive post-season berth in 2000. The Panthers are coming off a successful campaign in 1999, finishing 8-3 overall and claiming victory in the ECAC Northeast Championship game.
Rorke helped maintain the winning tradition at PSC, guiding the Panthers to a record 12th ECAC play-off game, and improving PSC’s NCAA Division III all-time best record to 201-83-7 (.703).
PSC will have its hands full at Rensselaer. The Engineers participated in the NCAA Tournament last season and finished with a 9-1 overall record.
The Panther offense returns a 1,000-yard back, two different starting quarterbacks and the majority of the interior line, while the defense brings back six starters, including the ECAC Northeast Championship Game MVP, from a unit that posted three straight shutouts last fall.
“I think we could be very good,” says Rorke. “We have a lot of returnees on offense with a lot of experience. Overall, we have much better depth than last year. Defensively, we’re very talented but we have to replace some great players. We’ll have to play well early, and not make rookie mistakes. ”
The Panthers will be in search of their first Freedom Football Conference title and NCAA Championship berth since 1995. PSC tied for second in the FFC last fall with a 4-2 mark.
“I think the FFC race is very difficult to predict,” says Rorke. “There are probably four teams that have the talent to win the conference, and basically whoever can stay healthy and avoid making mistakes against the wrong opponents will end up on top. I wouldn’t say we’re the most talented team on paper, but we have the ability to beat any team and we think we will challenge for the title.”
2000 PSC Football Preview
The anchor of the offensive unit should be junior HB Russ Massahos (Windham, NH), who rushed for 1,042 yards (5.0 avg.) and 12 TDs in a terrific sophomore campaign. He also caught 16 passes for 113 yards and a TD, and made headlines with a six-touchdown performance against Coast Guard in Week 8.
“Russ is the cornerstone of our offense,” says Rorke. “The great thing about Russ is he’s an all-around back, capable of doing everything you need a running back to do. He can make big plays with his speed. At the same time he’s strong enough to run between the tackles and/or stay in and block, and he’s a good receiver out of the backfield. There might be people who do certain things better than him, but I don’t think there’s a better all-around back in New England.”
Four of the five starters return to the offensive line, led by senior C Chris Belmont (Campton, NH), a two-time All-New England and All-Conference selection. Junior RT Chad Zibolis (Nashua, NH) also earned All-FFC honors last season, and is joined by junior Ryan Van Gerena (Northwood, NH) and sophomore Tim Boothroyd (Amesbury, Mass.)
A big question entering the season is who will play quarterback? Sophomore Matt Simpson (Auburn, Maine) is coming off a terrific freshman campaign in 1999 (103-of-205, 50.2%, 1,490 yards, 12 TD, 3 INT), starting PSC’s last eight games and earning FFC Rookie of the Year honors. Junior Zach Matthews (Sanford, Maine) started nine of PSC’s 11 games in 1998 (89-of-183, 48.6%, 1,117 yards, 6 TD, 12 INT), but missed the entire 1999 season with mononucleosis.
“It will be interesting to see who wins the job,” says Rorke, a former college quarterback at Dartmouth. “I have confidence in both of them, and so do our players. It’s a good situation for us to have two experienced guys at that position.”
The top receiver from 1999, two-time all-star Charlie Schubert, is now on the sidelines as an assistant coach. PSC’s key receivers for the fall likely include junior WR Shaun Spaulding (Everett, Mass.), UMaine transfer Nate Sergent (Gardiner, Maine), and junior TE John Walters (Wells, Maine).
PSC lost five All-Conference selections from the defense, including First Team All-East Region picks SS Colt Meredith and DE Sean Murphy, also a Panther assistant coach. Meredith was a Honorable Mention All-American and FFC Defensive Player of the Year. Other All-FFC picks now gone include DBs Jeff Beyer, John McLaughlin and LB Sans Milbury.
“How do you replace five guys like that all at once?” says Rorke. “That’s pretty tough. While we have some physically talented players, they don’t have the game experience. That will be the thing we have to overcome.”
Leading the group of veterans is senior SS Jason Marcell (Stoughton, Mass.) The only returnee in the defensive backfield, Marcell was a First Team All-Conference pick and was selected MVP of the ECAC Championship game last fall. Junior LB Chris Kelliher (Goffstown, NH) led the team in tackles (85) and earned All-FFC Second Team honors. Senior DE Clint Medas (Taunton, Mass.), a Second Team All-Conference pick last fall, anchors the interior line.
The special teams should be stable. Senior Bob Maylone (Manchester, NH), who averaged 36.6 yards a boot as the starting punter in 1998, returns after a year off. Sophomore Jay Zinis (Manchester, NH) and junior Cory Skillin (Norwich, NY) will handle placekicking duties.
“We’re still a very young team,” says Rorke. “That’s the exciting thing about it. We have the ability to be good this year, but because we have a lot of underclassmen, I think we’re also a program on the rise.”
TEAM CAPTAINS: Plymouth State has elected three seniors and a junior to serve as team captains in 2000: senior C Chris Belmont, senior S Jason Marcell, junior HB Russ Massahos, and senior DE Clint Medas.
FFC PRE-SEASON POLL: Defending Freedom Football Conference champion Western Connecticut was picked to repeat its title in the annual FFC pre-season coaches poll, receiving four of seven first-place votes. Springfield got the other three top votes and was picked second, followed by PSC in third, Kings Point in fourth, WPI and Norwich tied for fifth, and Coast Guard in seventh.
ALL-TIME SUCCESS: The Panthers enter the 2000 season as the winningest Division III football program in the NCAA with at least 25 years on the gridiron. PSC has an all-time winning percentage of .703 with an overall record of 201-83-7, just ahead of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, which has a .695 winning percentage in 75 years of football (463-192-40).