GAME #11: ECAC Division III Northeast Football Championship
#1 Salve Regina University (8-2, 8-0 NEFC) at #2 Plymouth State College (7-3, FFC 4-2)
Sat., Nov. 20, 1999, 12:00 p.m., Currier Field, Plymouth, N.H.
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Powered by a four-game winning streak and three consecutive shutouts, the Plymouth State College football team earned the respect of the ECAC post-season football selection committee, and the Panthers made out in the end.
Plymouth State will make a record 11th appearance in the ECAC football playoffs this Saturday when Salve Regina University visits Currier Field at 12 noon for the Division III Northeast Championship game. PSC completed a 7-3 regular season for the third straight year and will be representing the Freedom Football Conference in the game, while Salve will make its third postseason appearance in the last four years after an 8-2 regular season and a share of the New England Football Conference title.
The game will be the third meeting in the last calendar year between PSC and Salve. The two schools played the 1998 ECAC Northeast Championship in Newport, RI, last Nov. 21st, with the Seahawks prevailing 36-6, and then opened the 1999 campaign at Currier Field, with Plymouth State coming out on top, 16-7.
PSC, the No. 2 seed from New England, has come on like gangbusters under first-year head coach Chris Rorke, shutting out its last three opponents by a combined 103 points. The Panthers have a veteran defense, led by eight All-Conference selections and Defensive Player of the Year Colt Meredith (Saugus, Mass.). 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 offense has provided four 100-yard rushing efforts in the last three weeks, two each by Russ Massahos (Windham, NH) and Eric Taylor (Saratoga Springs, NY). The passing game has thrown for 12 TDs and only three interceptions since the third game of the year, when freshman and FFC Rookie of the Year Matt Simpson (Auburn, Maine) took over at quarterback.
The No. 1 seed from New England, Salve won its last eight games after losses to two postseason participants (PSC and NCAA-bound Bridgewater State, 39-28). The Seahawks feature the nation’s 12th best rushing offense (258.5 ypg), led by senior Mark DeBiasio, who rushed 208 times for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Seahawk defense, led by veterans Marc Romano, Greg Lafontaine, Nick Siravo and Ben Jarvis, limited opponents to 210 yards and 14.3 points per game.
SERIES HISTORY (TIED 1-1): In the first meeting at last year’s ECAC Championship, it was all Salve as the Seahawks romped 36-6. PSC managed only 79 yards of offense while Salve gained 327. Ross Ruggiero led a ferocious Seahawk defense with nine tackles, four sacks and a 15-yard recovered fumble return for a touchdown. Mark DeBiasio rushed 29 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns to anchor the offense. The teams played a rematch at Currier Field in this year’s season opener, and PSC evened the series with a 16-7 triumph. The Panthers used several defensive stands in the second half, the special teams registered a field goal and a blocked punt by Colt Meredith that accounted for a John McLaughlin touchdown, and the offense had two pass plays of more than 50 yards, including a third-quarter strike from Justin Connors to Charlie Schubert that went for a score.
POST-SEASON HISTORY: Plymouth State is making an unprecedented 11th ECAC post-season football appearance, along with three NCAA Tournament invitations (1984, 1994, 1995). The Panthers defeated Mass. Maritime in the first ECAC New England Championship in 1983, and upset Ithaca College in the snow in the 1987 ECAC North Championship, 13-12, but have come out on the short end eight times – 33-21 to Albany in 1985, 30-3 to Alfred in 1986, 31-14 to Coast Guard in 1988, 33-19 to Union in 1990, 21-6 to Cortland in 1991, 13-0 to RPI in 1993, 21-17 to Buffalo State in 1997, and 36-6 to Salve last season.
VICTORY NO. 200: Last Saturday’s 21-0 victory over WPI was more than just another page in PSC’s 30-year football history book. It was the third straight shutout for the Plymouth State defense, the most since the 1982 Panthers set an NCAA record with six straight shutouts. Perhaps more significantly, it was the 200th career victory in Plymouth State’s record book. The program with the highest winning percentage among all NCAA Division III teams (with at least 25 years on the gridiron), Plymouth State is now 200-83-7 for a 70.2 winning percentage. The next school, entering the season, was Wisconsin-Lacrosse, which had a .696 winning percentage in 74 years of football (456-188-40).
ECAC PLAYOFFS: The PSC-Salve match-up is one of four ECAC post-season football games this Saturday. In the other three meetings, Union hosts Ithaca in the Northwest Championship, Wilkes entertains FDU-Madison in the Southeast Championship, and Frostburg State hosts Carnegie Mellon in the Southwest Championship.
FFC PICTURE: Western Connecticut completed an inconceivable regular season, posting a 10-0 overall record and earning its first FFC title with a 6-0 mark. The Colonials, who had never been 3-0 in a season before, were the first team in the nation to qualify in this first year of automatic NCAA bids. Plymouth State (7-3, 4-2) and Springfield (4-6, 4-2) share second place, and WPI (5-4, 3-3) finishes alone in fourth. Rounding out the bottom of the conference is Kings Point (3-7, 2-4), Norwich (4-6, 1-5) and Coast Guard (1-9, 1-5). Western Connecticut is the sixth school to win or share the FFC title since the conference was formed in 1992, joining WPI (1992, 1993), Plymouth State (1994, 1995), Kings Point (1994), Springfield (1996, 1998) and Coast Guard (1996, 1997).
PSC AT CURRIER FIELD: Plymouth State has had outstanding success over the years at Currier Field. PSC has an all-time home record of 110-34-3 for a .759 winning percentage. The Panthers are 25-7 at home the last five years, and 37-13-1 in the ‘90s.
ACADEMIC HONORS: Two PSC football players have accomplished more than what they do on the football field. Junior Chris Belmont, a physical education major, and sophomore Chris Kelliher, a business management major, were named this week to the GTE Academic All-District I College Division Football Team by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America. They are now eligible for selection to the national GTE Academic All-America squad to be announced December 7. Belmont also received the honor in 1998.