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College Football: Plymouth State heads to N.Y. to open D-III tournament

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 16. 2017 3:06AM

Although the Plymouth State offense has gone up against some good defenses this season, it hasn’t faced anything like it will see Saturday. That’s when the Panthers will open the NCAA Division III tournament at Brockport (N.Y.). The opening kickoff is scheduled for noon.

Brockport has the 11th-ranked defense in Division III (235.5 yards per game). The Golden Eagles are allowing an average of 26.9 yards rushing per game, and 1.06 yards rushing per play. Brockport also leads Division III is sacks per game (4.80).

It’ll be a challenge for the Panthers (9-1), who ranked last among Massachusetts State Athletic Conference teams in offense (269.8).

“I think their strength is their defense,” Plymouth State coach Paul Castonia said. “They’re stout. We’ll have to be good on special teams, control field position and protect the ball.

Brockport (10-0) completed the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Empire 8 Conference in both offense (37.2 points per game) and defense (11.8).

Plymouth State has been winning with defense and special teams, and getting just enough from its offense. The Panthers have allowed 98 points in their 10 games and finished second in the MASCAC in yards allowed per game (300.5).

Manchester West graduate Zack Ziemba, a free safety, has been the leader of that unit. Ziemba was named the MASCAC Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday.

“He’s as good a (Division III) player as there is in New England,” Castonia said. “Having him back there makes everybody better.”

Plymouth State quarterback Zack Edwards is averaging 146.6 yards passing per game and has thrown for 18 touchdowns this year. The Plymouth State offense took a hit when Jacob Szulc, a wide receiver from Concord, suffered a foot injury that forced him to miss the team’s last three games. Castonia said Szulc, who caught 11 touchdown passes in his first five games this season, is questionable for Saturday’s game.

“When he was healthy Szulc was our guy,” Castonia said. “For the most part (Edwards) has protected the ball. He doesn’t have the stats because that’s not who we are. When you see this team (Plymouth State) they add up to more than the sum of their parts. They play well together.”

Milford’s Mitch Banuskevich leads the Panthers in rushing (660 yards on 158 carries) and all-purpose yardage (937 yards).

This is the first time Plymouth State advanced to the Division III tournament since 2008, when it lost to Cortland State in the opening round. The Panthers also played in the Division III tournament in 1984, 1994 and 1995, and have a 1-4 record in NCAA tournament games. The victory came in 1994, when Plymouth State beat Kings Point 19-18 in the first round before it lost to Ithaca in the quarterfinals.

The 32-team tournament will conclude with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, Division III’s championship game, in Salem, Va. on Dec. 15. That game will be televised by ESPNU.

“We can’t give them opportunities because they’re good enough to take advantage of turnovers,” Castonia said. “At this point the mistakes are magnified.”

College Plymouth