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College Football: Plymouth State braces for big Saturday

Special for the Union Leader

October 12. 2017 11:14PM
Plymouth State relies heavily on its Manchester West connection, Prince Gbaley, left, and Zach Ziemba. (TOM HERZIG PHOTO)

PLYMOUTH — The Plymouth State University football team faces a tough Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference showdown at home Saturday against the Framingham State Rams, who are 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the latest New England Division III Football poll. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Currier Field.

Plymouth State, 5-1 and 3-1 in conference play, has risen to a tie for sixth place in the New England Division III standings after last week’s 17-7 win over Bridgewater State.

Two former Granite State high school standouts — sophomore Prince Gbaley (Manchester West) and junior Mitch Banuskevich (Milford) were named to the MASCAC’s weekly honor roll for their contributions in the Bridgewater State victory.

Gbaley intercepted two passes and returned a punt for touchdown. Banuskevich ran for a career-high 168 yards and a touchdown.

“Mitch has done very well,” praised PSU coach Paul Castonia.

Plymouth’s starting quarterback, junior Zack Edwards, has sparked the Panthers offense by throwing for 1,028 yards and 13 TDs. His favorite targets are Concord High School alum Jacob Szulc, who has 23 receptions for 490 yards and 11 TDs, and Banuskevich.

“They (the Rams) play a lot of man-to-man,” Castonia said. “I’m sure they’re well aware of Szulc. He has made some big plays.”

When putting the ball in the air, Plymouth is going to have to be wary of Framingham senior defensive back Jaquan Harris. He tied an NCAA Division III single game record with five interceptions last week against Fitchburg State.

“Framingham has been the MASCAC champion in six of the last seven years,” Castonia noted. “They have one of the top 20 offenses (currently 14th) in the country. They run the ball well. They have weapons all over the field.”

The Rams have run the ball 70 percent of the time. Their ground game features Rufus Rushins, at 6-1, 280 pounds, and Quron Wright, at 5-5, 160 pounds, dubbed “Thunder and Lightning” by Framingham coach Tom Kelley. Wright averages 6.3 yards per carry.

Plymouth State's Prince Gbaley, of Manchester, intercepts a pass during action earlier this season. (COURTESY PLYMOUTH STATE)

“We have a lot of younger guys playing key roles,” Castonia said. “We’ve been a steady group. We try to run the ball. We try to tackle. We try to have guys in the right place.”

Senior Joe Esposito anchors the Panthers’ defensive line. Free safety Zach Ziemba, a graduate student from Manchester West and an All-New England selection last season, plays an important role defensively. “He’s the guy,” Castonia said. Senior Blair Sentek and Gbaley are both interception threats.

Linemen Andrew Romeo, Brandt O’Hara and Nick Cusano are keys to pass protection and an effective ground game.

Bridgewater State is the one common opponent the two teams have had this season. Framingham State defeated Bridgewater State in mid-September, 19-13.

“We’re going to do what we do and try to get better at it,” Castonia said. “We’ve had pretty good crowds and the school’s done a lot to support us.”

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