GAME #3: Plymouth State College (1-1, FFC 0-0) at Norwich University (2-1, FFC 0-1)
Sat., Sept. 25, 1999, 1:30 p.m., Sabine Field, Northfield, VT
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The first step on the challenging road to a Freedom Football Conference championship begins Saturday for Plymouth State College when the Panthers travel to Northfield, Vt., for a 1:30 p.m. battle against the Cadets of Norwich University.
Since the beginning of the FFC in 1992, Plymouth State has opened the conference slate against Norwich in September, and PSC has won all seven contests. The Panthers have actually won eight in a row over the Cadets, and own a 10-4 overall record versus Norwich in the career series which dates back to 1975. PSC rallied to win last year’s game in Plymouth, 20-17.
PSC is off to a 1-1 start in its first two non-conference games this season, a 16-7 victory over defending ECAC Northeast Champion Salve Regina, and a tough 13-10 setback last Saturday at SUNY Brockport. The loss to Brockport dropped PSC to sixth in the ECAC New England Division III Poll under first-year head coach Chris Rorke.
The Cadets, led by third-year head coach Mike Yesalonia, are off to a 2-1 start, sandwiching a pair of solid non-conference victories over Curry (27-7) and St. John Fisher (23-3) around a last-minute, heartbreaking loss to perennial FFC power Kings Point (21-20). Norwich, which finished 4-6 overall last season, is ranked eighth in the New England poll.
The Panthers have displayed a terrific defensive unit this fall, and lead the conference in passing, scoring and overall team defense. PSC allowed Brockport just 113 total yards on 52 plays (2.2 avg.), surrendered only five first downs, and intercepted one pass. Sophomore Chris Kelliher (Goffstown, NH) led the way with a team-high 13 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage, and picked off his first pass of the season.
The offense got a touchdown pass for the second straight week from sophomore Justin Connors (Andover, Mass.) to senior Charlie Schubert (Manchester, NH). Schubert caught a career-high nine passes for 89 yards, including a 10-yard, first quarter toss for a score. The special teams got a FFC and PSC record 50-yard field goal from senior Jesse Elderkin (Concord, NH).
BELMONT NAMED TO GOOD WORKS TEAM: For the second straight year, junior center Chris Belmont (Campton, NH) has been selected to the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, which honors student-athletes for their dedication and commitment to community service. Belmont is vice president of the Teaching For Understanding Club that researches, applies and presents different teaching styles. He has volunteered as a Big Brother, and he recruited volunteers to assist with the local Pop Warner Football State Championship. Belmont has worked with a local blood drive, and volunteered with the Plymouth Senior Center.
WEEKLY FFC HONORS: PSC has received the FFC Rookie of the Week award the first two weeks of the season, once by a sophomore and once by a senior. Sophomore QB Justin Connors (Andover, Mass.) was named FFC Rookie of the Week after PSC’s win over Salve, and senior Jesse Elderkin (Concord, NH), a former All-New England soccer player for PSC, is the current FFC Rookie of the Week after kicking the first 50-yard field goal in PSC and FFC history. Sophomore LB Chris Kelliher (Goffstown, NH) and senior WR Charlie Schubert (Manchester, NH) were FFC Honor Roll selections.
FFC LEADERS: Schubert has turned into Connors’ favorite receiver, and he leads the FFC in receptions (6.5 per game) and ranks fourth in the receiving yards (83.0 per game). He is also seventh in punt returns and eighth in all-purpose yards and scoring. Sophomore Russ Massahos (Windham, NH) is ranked fifth in the conference in rushing with 76.5 yards per game, and Connors is fifth in pass efficiency with a 101.27 rating.
GREEN WALL: Known over the years for an outstanding defense, PSC’s Green Wall is alive and well this season. The Panthers have turned in a solid group effort, with several players making big plays. Senior LB Sans Milbury (Danvers, Mass.) led the team with 14 tackles in the opener, and sophomore LB Chris Kelliher (Goffstown, NH) has the overall team lead (23 tackles) after making 13 stops at Brockport. Senior captain and pre-season All-American safety Colt Meredith (Saugus, Mass.) anchors a veteran defensive backfield with 15 tackles and four pass breakups.
THE HEAD COACH: A 1989 graduate of Dartmouth, PSC head coach Chris Rorke joined the Panther staff last summer from Illinois Wesleyan, where he spent the past five seasons as an assistant. A native of Andover, Mass., Rorke was an assistant at Georgia Tech for two years, including the national championship season of 1990, and returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach from 1991-94 before moving to Illinois Wesleyan in 1994.
TEAM CAPTAINS: Plymouth State has elected a pair of seniors to serve as team captains in ’98: fullback Dan DeMuth of LeMars, Iowa, and safety Colt Meredith of Saugus, Mass.
PRE-SEASON HONORS: Two Plymouth State players earned pre-season All-America honors by usafootball.com — senior safety Colt Meredith (Saugus, MA) and junior center Chris Belmont (Campton, NH). Both players earned All-FFC, All-New England and All-East Region honors last fall.
A LOOK AT THE PANTHERS: PSC is coming off back-to-back ECAC Championship appearances the last two seasons, and return 25 veterans from last year’s varsity squad. The Panthers finished the 1998 regular season with a 7-3 overall record, and tied for second in the Freedom Football Conference with a 4-2 mark. The Green Wall defense returns eight starters from last year’s squad, while the offense has six players with starting experience.
PSC AT CURRIER FIELD: Plymouth State has had tremendous success over the years at Currier Field. PSC has an all-time home record of 108-32-3 for a .766 winning percentage. The Panthers are 26-6 at home the last five years, and 35-11-1 in the ‘90s.
ALL-TIME SUCCESS: The Panthers enter the 1999 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 .702 with an overall record of 193-80-7, just ahead of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, which has a .696 winning percentage in 74 years of football (456-188-40).
FFC PRE-SEASON POLL: Defending Freedom Football Conference champion Springfield was picked to repeat its title in the annual FFC pre-season coaches poll. Kings Point edged out Plymouth State for second, with the Panthers finishing third and followed in order by Western Connecticut, Norwich, WPI, and Coast Guard.
A LOOK AHEAD: After two straight road games, PSC returns home for the next three Saturdays to face the meat of the FFC schedule. The Panthers host Western Connecticut next Saturday (Oct. 2), Kings Point on Oct. 9, and Springfield on Homecoming on Oct. 16 (WMUR-TV). All of PSC’s remaining home games begin at 12 noon.