October 12, 2010

Framingham on a high

More news about: Framingham State

Winning never gets old. Just ask the people at Mount Union or those associated with any perennial power.

But when it's new, it can be downright intoxicating. There's no feeling like arriving at the high-rent district for the first time.

That's the way it is at SUNY-Maritime where the Privateers are running the triple option to perfection at 6-0. They are playing with poise, precision and emotion.

Much of the emotion comes from playing for coach Clayton Kendrick-Holmes who will be deployed to Afghanistan after the season.

And it's also the best start ever at Western New England where the Golden Bears are 5-1 and 3-0 in the Boyd Divison after stunning Curry 27-23.

But few people are appreciating winning more than the Framingham State players, coaches and fans.

The Rams endured a horrendous 4-41 stretch from 2002 through 2006.

Enter Tom Kelley. He took over the program in 2007 and committed himself and his staff to getting into the recruiting arena and changing the mentality "from intramurals to really getting after it."

"Players win games and coaches lose games. You have to have the players," Kelley said.

After beating Fitchburg State 42-28, the Rams find themselves on a five-game winning streak. They are 5-1 and 3-0 in the Bogan Division of the New England Football Conference for the first time.

The architect of the offense is a transfer from Division II Merrimack. Kurt Leone was the starter there, became injured and never did get his job back.

"He didn't see the door opening and the clock was ticking at Merrimack," Kelley said.

He just wanted to play and he knew Framingham ran a similar spread offense to the one he loved operating at Merrimack.

He riddled Fitchburg with 17 completions for 286 yards and five touchdowns. That hikes his season totals to 1,590 passing yards with 17 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Suffice to say, the transfer has worked out pretty well for Leone and the Rams.

The Rams were making progress before Leone's arrival, going 5-5 in 2008 and again in 2009. The 2009 campaign, Kelley felt, was a disappointment.

"We needed to upgrade at quarterback," Kelley said.

Leone has a good stable of receivers led by James McCarthy, who caught four TD passes against Fitchburg and five the previous week. He was injured early but has made up for the lost time with 34 catches for 573 yards and 11 touchdowns in just four games.

"He's a difference maker," Kelley said.

The Rams did it on the ground against the Falcons also with Melikke Van Alstyne collecting 253 yards on 27 carries.

"We have been pretty balanced," Kelley said. "We have thrown to set up the run and run to set up the throw."

This is the year Kelley and his staff have been pointing toward.

"This is the fourth recruiting class. This is when you should start reaping the benefits," he said.

This is Kelley's second stint as the Ram head man. He has been the athletic director all along and when a new president came aboard and saw the succession of losses, he told Kelley the program needed to be competitive.

Kelley relished the thought of an administration that cared.

"He is a big supporter of athletics," Kelley said.

When Kelley was asked to take the job in 2007, he went home and asked his wife about it.

"She was all for it," he said.

"I told her that our life would change and she said she didn't see me much now and that at least now she could go to the games," he said.

So Kelley became the man in charge of the football program again. He and his staff began a more vigorous push into the high schools and prep schools. The entire roster is made of players from either Massachusetts or Connecticut. They made a stronger push into the Nutmeg State than before.

"Connecticut kids don't have a lot of Division III options and it is a good football state," Kelley said.

The pool is also shrinking in Massachusetts. Colleges are adding football. Anna Maria is in its second year and others like Becker and Mount Ida are fairly new.

"And the population is not growing, that's for sure," Kelley said.

Kelley would like to push out further. Maybe even look to Florida the way some of the other small New England schools are doing.

But he said that with a thin staff where most of the coaches are part time, that's not practical.

But there is an edge gained by having all these players from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

"They all live so close together that a lot of them work out together during the summer. That's a big advantage," Kelley said.

Leone, one of the many Massachusetts products, was a perfect fit in every way. His skills meshed with the offense and his personality made him a hit with the players.

"Kurt is a charismatic kid. He's that leader that took the bull by the horns," Kelley said. "He's 6-foot-3 and has a great work ethic. He demands respect."

Football matters now at Framingham State. There was a huge homecoming crowd a couple of weeks ago and people are talking about the Rams on campus and in the community.

"Now, when you walk across campus, people ask how recruiting is going. It went from being the big joke on campus to everybody being fired up," Kelley said. "This is fun."

This week Kelley knows his Rams are an underdog as the prolific Maine Maritime rushing attack comes to town.

"We' have our hands full," he said.

But so what. We're in Week 7 and the Rams are playing a game that really matters. That's big news in Framingham.

And for SUNY-Maritime, the beat went on. The Privateers rushed for 400 yards and finally limited Castleton State's outstanding quarterback Shane Brozowski. Brozowski had thrown for 413 and 461 yards the two previous weeks, but the Privateers were able to pressure him in the 41-28 victory. They sacked him five times and hurried him the rest of the time. Jason Burry had two of the sacks.

"It was all 11 players doing their assignments on defense," New York Maritime linebacker Pat Lasher said. "Their receivers were covered so he couldn't find anyone open and we had the pass rush on him. All 11 players were doing what they were supposed to."

The Privateers got permission from ECFC Commissioner Julie Muller and Castleton officials to wear their red jerseys even though Castleton was in its home green.

The jerseys were a gift from alumni and the team was surprised with them before the game against U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

They have values printed on the back like "Family," "Character," "Work Ethic" and "Accountability."

"It's a special season," said Kendrick-Holmes' wife Johanna at midfield after the game.

Very special. And very emotional.

Kendrick-Holmes was recognized for his service to the country before the game during the coin flip and received a big ovation from the Castleton fans.

And special is a word to describe the feeling in Springfield, Mass., where Western New England is 5-1, 3-0 in the Boyd Division and has the distinction of having won 10 of it last 11 games.

And what's more, the Golden Bears beat Curry on the road, a rare event.

WNEC quarterback Bryce Brown threw for a touchdown and ran for another and Jake Field kicked field goals of 24 and 35 yards. Field was named the NEFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Endicott still rolling
Endicott, like SUNY-Maritime, WNEC and Framingham, has reached unprecedented heights in the program. The Gulls spanked Nichols 30-10 to run their record to 5-1 and 3-0 in the Boyd.

Phil Konopka threw three touchdown passes and Peter Kallas was a defensive force with 14 tackles and a forced fumble.

Husson breaks through
The Eagles' 53-38 win over Anna Maria might be just what Husson needed. It was their first win against five losses. Anna Maria, 0-6, and in its second year is still looking for that elusive first win in the program's history.

New kids on the block
The freshmen did it for Bridgewater State. Chris Constantine caught the TD pass from freshman classmate Mike McCarthy in the second overtime as the Bears defeated Coast Guard 32-25, McCarthy threw for three touchdowns and was NEFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Jeffs on a tear; McKillop sets record
Middlebury's Donald McKillop went wild, completing a school-record 47 passes in 62 attempts for 421 yards and it wasn't enough. The Amherst Lord Jeffs won their 11th consecutive game by outgunning the Panthers 38-31.

McKillop threw two touchdown passes, but Amherst quarterback Alex Vetras threw for two scores and ran for another.

Amherst trailed 9-0 at halftime and scored 24 point in the third quarter.

McKillop became New England Division III's all-time leader in career completions with 666, eclipsing the standard of 628 set by Western Connecticut's James Williams.

What makes McKillop's record mind-boggling is that Middlebury and the other New England Small College Athletic Conference teams play only eight games each season with no postseason play allowed. McKillop also missed two games one year.

Panthers on the prowl
Plymouth State extended its record to 5-1 and kept its first-place standing in the NEFC Boyd Division at 3-0 by topping MIT 20-7.

Peter LaBreck keyed the Panthers defensive effort by making nine tackles and forcing a fumble that he returned 48 yards for a score.

Salve ends skid
Salve Regina ended a four-game losing streak with a stout defensive effort, shutting down UMass-Dartmouth 28-6, Then again, defense has been a consistent bright spot for the Seahawks, even in every loss. They held the Corsairs to 137 yards.

They'll run you over
Maine Maritime continued to display its incredible triple option attack. This time the victim was Westfield State as the Mariners rolled to a 42-21 win.

Maine Maritime is the No. 1 scoring team in the country and this marks the fifth time they have surpassed 40 points.

Nick Bourassa ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns, but the toast of Castine was Jim Bower who became the third Mariner in the storied history of the program to go over 5,000 career rushing yards. He had 146 yards and two touchdowns.

It wasn't all about offense. The Mariners tied a school record with six interceptions and Chris Brawn had two of them that he returned for a total of 61 yards.

Maritime's triple crown
Massachusetts Maritime joined SUNY-Maritime and Maine Maritime as winners. Mass. Maritime's victory came at the expense of Worcester State, 21-13, as Mike Stanton led the way by throwing for two touchdowns.

Mass. Maritime's Walter Butler earned NEFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. His work included 14 tackles, a sack and a blocked field goal that set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Worcester State's Tyler Russell's numbers were off the charts. He had 27 tackles and already has over 100 this season.

Ruining the party
The Bates Bobcats were dedicating their beautiful new digs, a refurbished Garcelon Field. But Williams ruined the party by romping 41-0 as Pat Moffitt threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns.

A Jumbo record, a Bowdoin win
Tufts quarterback Anthony Fucillo set a program record with 356 yards passing but Bowdoin earbned a 22-15 win.

Bantams breeze
Craig Drusbosky played sparingly, but he was sharp while he was on the field, completing of nine of 13 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns as Trinity made it look easy, dismantling Hamilton 44-7.

What'll he do for an encore
Wesleyan's Shea Dwyer broke the school record he just set by rushing for 255 yards in a 27-20 win over Colby. Dwyer had 161 yards on just 12 carries in the first half.

More records fall
School records also fell at Mount Ida as the Mustangs cruised to a 41-6 victory over Becker in an ECFC game. Johrone Bunch rushed for six touchdowns and then took down another record when he collected his 34th career touchdown, breaking the Ida mark of 31 held by Antwan Harris.

Bunch and Harris both came by way of Connecticut. Didn't someone say that was a good football state?

Cadets march on
Norwich stayed on the heels of SUNY-Maritime in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference by getting past Gallaudet 31-23. Andrew Fulford rushed for 136 yards and two scores as the Cadets went to 5-1 and 2-1 in the league on homecoming.

The small world ECFC
The Eastern Collegiate Football Conference is a sprawling network of teams from Bangor, Maine, all the way down to D.C. But it can be a pretty small world. When is the last time two triple option teams from the same conference woundn up staying in the same hotel? Gallaudet and SUNY-Maritime found themselves staying at the same Vermont hotel on Friday night. Gallaudet actually practiced with Castleton on Friday.

The Big Games
The big ones in the NEFC just jump out at you this week. In the Boyd Division it's Endicott at Plymouth State in the showdown for first place. Both teams are 3-0 and 5-1 overall. Currier Field has had a lot of big games over the years and this one takes its place with them.

The marquee Bogan Division contest has 2-1 Maine Maritime going to 3-0 Framingham.

"We're definitely the underdog," Framingham coach Tom Kelley said.

Despite the records, he's right.

MMA has been in these games before. It's new territory for the Rams.

But the Rams do have them at home.

"You don't see the triple option and you can't simulate it in practice," Kelley said. "You can't give them a crack. We'll have our hands full."

In the NESCAC, Amherst looks to extend that winning streak to a dozen against a dangerous Colby team.

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter.

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