WORCESTER, Mass. – With playoff hopes on the line, the Plymouth State College football team registered its third consecutive shutout Saturday, defeating Worcester Polytechnic Institute 21-0 in a Freedom Football Conference game at Alumni Field.
The Panthers complete the regular season for the third straight year with a 7-3 overall record, and move into a tie for second in the FFC with Springfield, both schools with 4-2 conference records. Plymouth State now awaits word from the ECAC playoff selection committee, which will announce its selections Monday.
The PSC defense registered its fourth consecutive dominating performance, limited the WPI rushing attack to a minus-nine yards on 16 carries and intercepting five WPI passes. The Panthers in the last four weeks have allowed their opponents a combined total of negative 16 yards rushing on 109 attempts, while picking off 14 passes.
The three straight shutouts for PSC is the most since the 1982 Panthers set the New England record with six consecutive white-outs. Led by first-year head coach Chris Rorke, the Panthers have won their last four games by a combined 120-12 margin.
“We have a nasty defense,” said PSC senior safety Colt Meredith (Saugus, Mass.), who led the Panthers with two interceptions. “We played this game like it was our last game. Whatever happens with tournament bids is out of our hands. We left it on the field because for a lot of us, there is no next year.”
The Panther offense was boosted by the running of senior reserve halfback Eric Taylor (Saratoga Springs, NY). Starting back Russ Massahos (Windham, NH) injured his hip after three carries and did not return to the game, but Taylor came off the bench to rush 36 times for 137 yards and one touchdown, marking his second 100-yard effort in the last three weeks.
“This was the definitely the biggest game of my career,” said Taylor. “We knew Russ was hurt prior to the game and I was ready to pick him up. I’ve waited for this opportunity all season. Russ and I root for each other, and that’s why we’ve been successful.”
“Eric is very good,” said Rorke. “In pre-season camp, our toughest competition was at tailback between him and Russ. He’s always been good enough, but Russ has been playing so well. When Eric has had playing time, he has produced.”
The first half was fairly even, with WPI gaining 165 yards and PSC 162. The only score was a 44-yard pass completion from freshman Matt Simpson (Auburn, Maine) to senior FB Dan DeMuth (LeMars, Iowa) two minutes into the second quarter.
Plymouth State extended its lead with a pair of third quarter scores. Taylor went into the end zone from three yards out after Simpson had hit senior Charlie Schubert (Manchester, NH) on a 30-yard completion to the WPI three. Later in the quarter, Simpson connected with senior TE John Andrewes (Gloucester, Mass.) on a 10-yard TD play after Mike Donahue (Bedford, NH) returned an interception to the WPI 32.
After PSC’s fourth quarter 45-yard field goal attempt by Jesse Elderkin (Concord, NH) was blocked, the Engineers drove the length of the field and had a first-and-goal at the Panther four yard line. But two incomplete passes and a WPI fumble on the next three plays dropped the Engineers back to the 16 yard line, and a fourth-down completion was stopped by PSC at the nine-yard line with 4:11 remaining, preserving the Panther shutout.
“When opposing teams get inside the 20,” said Meredith, “we look at each other and raise our play to another level.”
Plymouth State’s playoff hopes are in the hands of the ECAC Football Championship selection committee. The Panthers have participated in a record 10 ECAC Football title games, including the last two seasons under former coach Mike Kemp.