September 6, 2011

Hoopin' it up on the gridiron

More news about: Mass-Dartmouth | Mount Ida
Johrone Bunch ran for 171 yards in Mount Ida's season opener. He initially played both football and basketball at the school.
Mount Ida athletics photo 

Mount Ida's Johrone Bunch is a big man on the Mount Ida campus, a two-sport athlete who does great things on the football field after coming to campus as a basketball player as well. He did big things again on Saturday, rushing for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries.

But UMass-Darmouth had its own basketball player. And the Corsairs' Alex Kershaw is just a freshman. The linebacker made 16 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble in the 24-21 victory over Mount Ida.

Sixteen tackles. That's a Tyler Russell-type number. Russell made a mind-boggling 167 tackles last season for Worcester State.

Russell is gone and you can't anoint a freshman the next Tyler Russell off one game, but he has given the Corsairs reason to be excited.

"He is a recruited basketball player and a big, old athletic kid," UMD coach Mark Robichaud said. "We are very, very happy to have him."

Teams such as Salve Regina, Western New England and Endicott had success in sexier openers that received much more hype, but nobody's victory was more important to the program than the one achieved by Mass-Dartmouth.

That's because the Corsairs were coming off a 1-8 season and have endured a 4-15 record over the past two years.

"This was huge for our program and for our morale," Robichaud said. "It was a great win. Mount Ida is a formidable opponent."

And over at Worcester State, there is life after Tyler Russell. Plenty of it. The Lancers got a school-record five touchdown passes from Tony Tokarz in outgunning nearby rival Anna Maria 55-30. Kenny Russell and AJ Scerra caught two each.

The Lancers have most players returning on each side of the ball and hopes are high as Brien Cullen's team expects to contend in the New England Football Conference and get a chance to measure itself against another neighboring rival this week as they host WPI.

Getting a kick out of Mississippi
Salve Regina got a 49-yard field goal from Mark Moore of Hattiesburg, Miss., to beat the Liberty League's Union Dutchmen, 25-22.

"He was a player we had interest in him from a year ago," Salve coach Bob Chesney said. "We knew we had to improve our kicking game. We lost two games last year with missed extra points.

"We were looking at him, another from Georgia and another from California. They visited our campus and he was at the top of our board."

Georgia, California and Mississippi? To Little Rhody?

"It's our proximity to the airport (Providence)," Chesney said. "We have a good freshman receiver from Arizona and players from Texas and Tennessee."

Last season the Seahawks had a rock solid defense. The offense struggled. But 25 points against a quality defense and 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Richie Edwards was a good start for improvement.

Gulls still soaring
Endicott coach J.B. Wells believes the fans have not forgotten the 9-3 season that earned the Gulls an NCAA playoff berth.

"School was not in session yet, but even with the students not back we had full stands. I think there is some juice or buzz from last year," Wells said.

And they did what they could to keep it going, beating a Framingham State team that also played in the postseason, beating Norwich in an ECAC bowl game.

Not surprisingly, the combination Gulls fans have become accustomed to seeing doing big things, had success again. Phil Konopka threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns and Ryan Carino caught two of them in the 33-13 victory.

"Those two are a great story," Wells said. "They grew up a town apart in Connecticut, played at different high schools but wound up in the same high school all-star game. They have been roommates for four years and have great chemistry. They are inseparable. They finish each other's sentences.

"And Ryan is just such a competitor. He is great at going into the air and getting the ball. I thought there was a ball that was an interception, but he just yanked it away. It was a physical play that you usually don't see from a wide receiver."

They were losses, but ...
Moral victories aren't worth a used mouth guard.

Or are they?

Some teams had losses they really can take something away from.

Nichols won but a single game last year and the Bison haven't had any success to speak of in some time.

But under first-year coach Kevin Loney they just might have served notice that something is being built in Dudley, Mass., in a 21-20 loss to Westfield State.

Joey Shisler had to block a PAT late in the game to preserve the win for the Owls.

Linebacker Peter Curto had a monster game for Westfield, with 13 tackles and also returned a fumble 94 yards, tying a school record.

Gallaudet got the the attention of its Eastern Collegiate Football Conference opponents by playing highly-regarded Otterbein from the Ohio Athletic Conference very tough before falling 28-27 in overtime. Otterbein was 23-8 over the previous three seasons and trimmed the ECFC's Husson last year 38-0. 

And Becker's season-opening loss could signal the fact new coach Mike Lichten is breathing new life into that program. The Hawks were 2-8 in 2010 and I thought were the worst team I saw.

They fell 30-24 to Fitchburg State and can feel good about their quest to move up in the ECFC.

A golden start in Springfield
Last year Western New England lost its opener to Norwich, but went on to have the best record in school history, going 9-2.

This time they beat Norwich, 28-24, behind quarterback Bryce Brown. All he did was throw for 248 yards and two touchdowns and rush for 145 yards and another two scores.

"He brings us to a different level,' Western New England coach Keith Emery said.

Freshman Kareem Hines caught the first touchdown pass from Brown, a play covering 68 yards just 1:25 into the game.

"Kareem the Dream. He impressed us the first two or three days he was in camp," Emery said.

Castleton State's Marc Klatt made his head coaching debut as the Spartans fell 28-20 to Plymouth State. The Panthers built a 28-7 lead by halftime.

Tough starts 
SUNY-Maritime had a dream 10-0 season in 2010. But the Privateers finally lost a regular season game, finding the step up against Division II competiton a tough way to open, losing 50-3 to Bentley.

Husson lost the intersection battle to Adrian, 77-7.

The big games
Western New England puts its 1-0 record on the line at Massachusetts Maritime. The Bucs are opening the season with high hopes after having one of its best campaign (5-5) in several years.

"Our scrimmage was at home this year so a road trip will be something new. It's a lot different playing in Buzzards Bay than at Golden Bear Stadium," Emery said.

Salve Regina takes its season-opening win and measures itself against ranked Montclair State.

Endicott and Westfield State have a first-time meeting in a game pitting 1-0 teams.

Wells and Westfield coach Steve Marino have been talking the last couple of years about trying to get on one another's schedule.

And in a great showcase, service academies Coast Guard and Merchant Marine meet with the Secretaries' Cup on the line.

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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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