Lines will be key to NEFC title hopes

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Nick Molinari and the Endicott offensive line will have their hands full on Saturday.
Endicott photo by Spartan Sportshots

Cloaked in anonymity, they push and pound all day, helping more heralded teammates achieve big numbers and lots of glory. More importantly, they help their team win games.

The offensive lines at Maine Maritime and Endicott have done their job well enough to help take their teams to division titles in the New England Football Conference. Saturday, they will have plenty to say about which team wins the NEFC Championship Game and gets the NCAA berth that goes with it.

Maine Maritime's offensive line boasts four players who have been starting together for three years: Dan Weamer, Mike Secord, Andrew McCanna and Mike Durrell. They are the glue of the unit.

Endicott has a rotation that sees Mike Zupkosky, Nick Molinari, Ian Suter, Pat McMenimen, Andrew Fellini, Sean Gaffney and Mark Ledbetter all getting plenty of time on the field.

They did their job well enough to help Mike Lane rush for 222 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries as Endicott pasted MIT 38-7 to hike its record to 8-2 and 6-1 in the Boyd Division.

"I knew I had five guys with experience," said Endicott head coach J.B. Wells, who also coaches the offensive line. "But we had some guys really step up so that now we rotate seven guys in and we have eight or nine who could play."

Maine' Maritime's numbers in their win last week could be called absurd, except for the fact that they are the kind of numbers they achieve every week. The Mariners rushed for 619 yards in the 63-47 win over Coast Guard with fullback Jim Bower leading the way with 218 yards and four touchdowns. Bower is third nationally averaging 164 yards rushing a game.

But the Mariners have a "Big Three." Quarterback Matt Rende piled up 185 rushing yards with a touchdown in the game and Matt Bourassa added 125 more with a touchdown.

Those are the names that are written and spoken about each week.

But Mariner coach Chris McKenney knows his line is a big part of that success and that the four guys who have sweat and hit in the trenches side-by-side the last three seasons are leading the way.

Maine Maritime hit an unexpected road block in just the third game of the season. They were upset on the road by Fitchburg State.

"The guys knew we didn't have a good game," McKenney said. "I didn't have to say much. They refocused and we played well the rest of the way."

They haven’t lost again.

This is Rende's first year as a starter although he got game expeience his first two years when starting quarterback Tyler Angell missed time with ann injury.

"He was a skinny kid when he got here, probably weighed a buck-50," McKenney said. "But he got in the weight room."

Then, McKenney did what he has been doing in his 10 years at the helm here. He took an athlete and taught him the system, making him an option quarterback.

He learned the intricacies of the triple option well and now makes the reads that enables the Mariners to put up those eye-popping numbers. Along with some help from some very good friends, of course. The offensive line does not go unappreciated in Castine.

The NEFC title game is a matchup of teams not familiar with one another.

"We've played most teams on the other side of the conference, but we have never met Maine Maritine," Wells said.

They also have not faced any other triple option team.

So it's all new territory for the Gulls: first time against MMA, first time against a triple option and first time ever in the NEFC title game.

"When you play a team like that, you have to play assignment football and not make any mistakes," Wells said.

"We've played great defense all year and if you give our staff and our kids a week to prepare I think we can stop any offense.

"We have played against teams like Plymouth and Western New England that run the ball extremely well, but the triple option is unique. Usually you don't see the fullback (Bower) get all those yards because people try to stop him. He's very good.

"I am not fazed about this being our first time in this game. We just have to approach it like any other game and worry about what we can do and not our opponent."

That is the approach that has served them well.

The Gulls are balanced. Phil Konopka has had an outstanding year throwing the ball and they can run it with Lane and other good backs.

"They have a good offense, they are well coached and their side of the conference is very good," McKenney said.

And while Lane, Konopka and company have moved the ball, Wells never forgets about those big guys he works with every day.

"I am probably hard on them as a coach and I don't give them enough credit," Wells said.

"The offensive line is a bunch of fun guys to be around.

"They have played very well but they haven't reached their potential yet."

He knows there would be no better time for that than Saturday.

The Mariners have gone through more this year than any team should have to go through. They lost defensive secondary coach Richard Dykas in a car accident a few weeks ago.

"He did a great job," McKenney said. "He was well liked by the players and by everyone on campus. He was just a good coach and a good person.

"I am very proud of our kids for the way they have handled everything."

Something gives, and it's not Trinity
Something had to give in Hartford. Amherst came into the game with a 14-game winning streak and Trinity with a 38-game home winning streak.

Now, Williams is the only unbeaten team in the New England Small College Athletic Conference and the Bantams are strutting around as proud owners of a 39-game win skein at Jessee-Miller Field.

They say freshmen are no longer freshmen this time of the year. Evan Bunker never played like one all season. This time he led the Bantams by rushing for 211 yards and a touchdown and threw the game-winning touchdown.

Trinity scored three tiimes in the final 6:02.

The home winning streak looked to be in jeopardy when the Bantams trailed 13-7 late in the third quarter while backed up on their own 3-yard line.

Ryan Burgess threw for two scores for Trinity.

While the Lord Jeffs were losing, rival Williams was winning and winning big. The Ephs pounded Wesleyan 45-7 behind Pat Moffitt. He threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns.

It was homecoming for the Ephs, but last year's coach Mike Whalen couldn't enjoy it. He is at the helm of Wesleyan.

Moffitt's prime targets were Jon Carroll, who caught two TD passes and J.C. Stickney with 122 yards worth of receptions.

Rockin' and kickin'
Middlebury won the Old Rocking Chair in its annual battle with Hamilton and Anthony Kuchar's foot made the difference. He nailed three field goals.

Quarterback Donnie McKillop threw for 359 yards and two scores.

Kuchar was not the only kicker prominent on this day. Curry's Matt Alksninis had a game-winning field goal in overtime as the Colonels outlasted Plymouth State 24-21. But he did much more than that in earning the NEFC Special Teams Player of the Week accolade. He punted eight times for a 41.6 yards average and three times pinned the Panthers inside the 20.

Kevin McCarthy made a game-saving tackle on fourth down in the overtime. That was just a small slice of what he did. McCarthy had 22 tackles.

Harold Rose threw two TD strikes to Robert Bambini as Curry finished with three straight wins and a 6-4 record.

Mules kick at the end
Colby outgunned Tufts 42-41 as Nick Kmetz tossed a 1-yard TD pass tto Spencer Merwin and David Bendit kicked the point with no time left.

Kmetz went 40 of 53 for 392 yards and Connor Tidgwell complemented him by rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a program record 608 yards of total offense for Colby. They also had 40 first downs, breaking a 38-year-old school record.

White flash
Quarterback Grant White prepped last year at Kimball Union Academy where his head coach was former Dartmouth head man John Lyons, who also has considerable coaching experience in NFL Europe.

White took his lessons from KUA to Bowdoin where his head coach is Dave Caputi, a former quarterback.

He applied his lessons when given a chance in a 21-20 win over Bates. White, a freshman, went in and completed 8 of 10 passes for 92 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Cadets keep the bucket
Norwich won the Maple Sap Bucket for the second year, but it was far from easy. They trailed Castleton 28-13 but roared back with 20 unanswered points on the way to a 50-41 victory.

Norwich quarterback Kris Sabourin ran for three touchdowns and Andrew Fulford went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season by running for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Castleton quarterback Shane Brozowski is making a habit of throwing for 400 yards in a game and he did it again, this time passing for 409 yards and four touchdowns, completing 40 of his 69 throws. Evan Cassidy caught 15 of them for 151 yards and a touchdown.

Norwich is 8-2 and will be hoping for an ECAC Bowl bid. If it is awarded one, it will be the Cadets first bowl appearance since 2004 when they lost to Alfred in the ECAC Northeast Bowl.

Castleton, a two-year program, took a big step this season and finished 5-4.

Next year, Norwich, Castleton and their Eastern Collegiate Football Conference brethren will have the automatic qualifier.

Still looking
Anna Maria is still looking for the program's first win. The second-year AmCats fell to Mount Ida 69-18.

Scott Drosendahl threw five touchdown passes for the Mustangs and Nick Lynch caught four of them. Lynch broke the school record for receptions in a season with 61.

Ida's six wins ties a program record and they will try to break it this week at Hartwick.

Perfect Privateers
SUNY-Maritime wrapped up its perfect season going to 10-0. It was a 21-14 victory at Gallaudet that puts the Privateers in position to be selected for a berth in the NCAA playoffs.

Jamie Spanopoulos ran in for the winning score with 1:14 remaining.

Pat Lasher and Keith Barnes were again outstanding with 11 and nine tackles, respectively.

Owls finish .500
Westfield State fijished at 5-5 by edging Fitchburg State 17-14 behind Evan Berneche's 127 yards rushing with two touchdowns.

Thomas Pearson scored from two yards out with 28 seconds left to lift Becker to a 27-23 win over Husson.

Rams put exclamation point on banner season
The Framingham State Rams can revel in a season that saw them post a best-ever 8-2 record and finish 6-1 in the Bogan Division of the NEFC. They did it with a 42-21 win over Worcester State.

Kurt Leone threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and his favorite target had another big day. James McCarthy caught both TD passes. Melikke Van Alstyne became the second Ram ever to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark in a season.

Salve can't wait
Salve Regina can't wait for next season to start. The Seahawks put together their best record in a decade, going 6-4 and 5-2 in the Boyd. They blanked Nichols 6-0 as Michael Dargen scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter and then the defense made it stand up. That defense was led by Shane Lange. He entered the game second in the nation in sacks. He did not get one in this game, but he did have seven tackles as did teammate A.J. Albert.

While the Seahawks fashioned their best record since 2000, Mass. Maritime won its first Cranberry Bowl in 14 years, trimming Bridgewater State 23-7. Matt White won't soon forget his Cranberry Bowl win. He had a career-high 151 yards on 25 carries and ran for two touchdowns.

Both teams finished 5-5.

And Western New England set a new standard for its program. The Golden Bears put together a best-ever 8-2 record and were 6-1 in the Boyd, the lone loss coming there to Endicott.

The Bears also finished 5-0 at home.

Mike Graham started everything by returning the opening kickoff 89 yards to the end zone and WNEC rolled from there, beating UMass-Dartmouth 37-14. Quarterback Bryce Brown ran for 165 yards and two scores.

The Big Games
It doesn't get any bigger than the one in Castine. Endicott and Maine Maritime clash for the big prize, hearing their name on the NCAA selection show Sunday.

Nobody has really stopped MMA's triple option. The Gulls hope to slow it enough to be able to outscore them.

No NCAA berth on the line when 6-1 Amherst meets 7-0 Williams. None needed. NESCAC teams don't go to the playoffs, but they have “The Biggest Little Game in America” and this is it. Aptly named, it will draw somewhere around 12,000 fans.

Back in August, Colby coach Ed Mestieri said one of his team's goals was to win the CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) Trophy outright, something they have not done in four years.

Now, they have a chance to do that and earn a winning season as they bring a 4-3 record into the game against Bates.