November 12, 2013

Booker, Porcelli make names for themselves

Melvin Booker has spent a lot of time not just looking into the backfield, but living there.
Becker athletics photo

It was an incredible weekend on the Northeast landscape. It's hard to know where to start. Gallaudet clinched its first NCAA playoff berth and the Bison are 9-0 with an 11-game winning streak. Trinity won its 51st straight home game and denied rival Wesleyan a perfect season in the finale. McCallum Foote threw a school record seven touchdown passes in a 52-10 win over Tufts to give the Panthers a share of the NESCAC championship along with Amherst and Wesleyan. Bowdoin beat Colby 32-22 in one of the wildest finishes ever. The score was 20-20 with 31 seconds left, something that should test your imagination. Salve Regina and Endicott won to set up the high-stakes finale where the conference championship is on the line.

Why then do we start with a game between two teams that were trying to end seven-game losing streaks?

That's because Becker's Melvin Booker and Castleton's Anthony Porcelli have two of the most compelling stories in the game. Stories that have to be told.

Booker might well have played the best defensive game in the five-year history of Castleton's Spartan Stadium. All he did was pile up 18 tackles. Seven were for a loss. He had 4.5 sacks. He was a factor in some fashion on nearly every play as the Hawks defeated Castleton 20-3.

"He is easily the most underrated and unappreciated linebacker in the country," Becker coach Mike Lichten said. "He is an All-America caliber player."

The senior was already the program's all-time leading tackler before the season began.

"I was just trying to help my team win a game," the soft-spoken Booker said. "Castleton has a young quarterback but a very talented quarterback with the most talented group of receivers in the league. We had to put a lot of pressure on him."

The Hawks put pressure on Tyler Higley and a ton of it came from Booker in the form of the 4.5 sacks plus a quarterback hurry. With a total of seven tackles for a loss, you have a 6-1, 225-pound linebacker living in your backfield.

But Booker's story is as much about where he came from as it is what he has done.

"Melvin is the greatest success story I have ever coached," Lichten said. "He came from a place where he had no parental support. He was in a lot of trouble.

"He decided to become a good person and what he has done is very special. I am proud of him."

Lichten said Booker's impact will be felt at Becker after he leaves.

"He has done a lot in the way of bringing kids into the program and holding them to a standard."

Booker would love to beat rival Anna Maria this week.

"To go out with two wins would mean the world," Booker said. "Coach always says never waste a day. Win the day."

Booker was in a place not so long ago where he could have wasted his life. He chose not to and he and the Hawks are the better for it.

Porcelli recovered a fumble on special teams against Becker but he made a much bigger play than that a week ago. One that took place off campus, seven miles from Spartan Stadium.

The Spartans had just finished their walk-through on a Friday and would be leaving on Saturday morning for Anna Maria. Porcelli, a freshman, and freshman teammates Christian Procida, John Jweid and Vince Sorce jumped in a car to go get something to eat.

A car went by them at a high rate of speed. It began swerving wildly.

"We just knew something bad was going to happen," Porcelli said.

Someone else had the same feeling. Another vehicle driven by "an older man" according to Porcelli tried to stay in contact with the out-of-control car.

Then, the young woman's car left the road and flipped over.

Jweid was driving and his teammates told him to pull over. The older man did the same.

"The older man called the police and ambulance," Porcelli said.

The Spartans went to work at trying to get the woman out of the car. One of them attempted to break the window unsuccessfully.

Porcelli found a folding chair and smashed the window with that. He was then able to unlock the door from the inside.

"I jumped in. It was very smoky and she was screaming for help," Porcelli said.

Porcellli said she did not seem to be badly hurt, only noticing a cut on her neck. But he feared where there was smoke there might be fire and he pulled her out of the car.

Porcelli said, "I didn't think it was that big of a deal."

That, in fact, is what I like most about this story. There was no grandstanding. Nobody was trumpeting it. I only found out about it from overhearing a conversation by two students.

Castleton coach Marc Klatt felt it was a big deal.

"I am very proud of their actions," Klatt said. "There are so many bystanders who just let things happen and they chose to help. I am very proud of those guys."

There is a sign on the inside of the door of the Castleton football locker room. It begins, 'When You Leave Here' and then lists several items. One of them is 'Help and Support Others.'

"I'm glad they took that to heart," Klatt said.

Porcelli somehow found his way to Castleton from Brooklyn. I had plenty of boyhood heroes from Brooklyn. They had names like Campanella, Furillo, Snider, Robinson and Hodges.

Now, I think I have another, although Porcelli would be very uncomfortable with the term 'hero.'

It is an overused word in sports. There were Wounded Warriors down on the field of the Becker-Castleton game being honored at halftime. They are heroes.

But in their own way, Melvin Booker and Anthony Porcelli can also don that mantle.

NESCAC excitement

The final week of NESCAC play could not have been more exciting.

A few years before he died W,C. Heinz, regarded by many as the finest sportswriter of the past century, told me a story about how he sneaked out of the infirmary to cover a Middlebury football game while working on the college newspaper.

He would have found this latest group of Panthers worth getting out of a sick bed for.

The Panthers defeated Tufts to finish at 7-1 for the second straight year. Foote threw his seven touchdown passes to give him 77 for his career, the most in program history. Matt Minno and William Sadik-Khan were a big slice of this piece of history with three TD grabs apiece against the Jumbos.

Then, there was that incredible finish in Maine with three scores in the final 31 seconds. Mac Caputi helped lead Bowdoin to the win by throwing for 211 yards. Zach Donnarumma rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns and Joey Cleary keyed the defense with 13 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Trinity extended that incredible home winning streak, rolling past Wesleyan 40-10. Sonny Puzzo threw two touchdown passes and also caught one. Evan Bunker threw a touchdown pass and ran for another. Ben Crick rushed for 103 yards and a score as the Bantams had a whole lot of fun in a place where they never lose.

But nothing should take away from Wesleyan's season where the Cardinals went 7-1. Matt Long went to Wesleyan coach Mike Whalen this summert and offered to switch positions.

"He said, 'Coach, I want to do whatever I can to help us win.'" Whalen said.

The Cardinals were thin in the defensive line so they moved him from tight end.

Then again, what would you expect from a young man who underwent an operation to give his bone marrow to a stranger?

Bates defeated Hamilton 38-21 as Matt Cannone threw two touchdown passes and Andrew Kukesh had 11 tackles and two interceptions.

Amherst earned its part of the three-way championship of the league by beating Williams 20-7 in the Biggest Little Game in America that was televised live on NESN and watched at alumni gatherings throughout the world.

Let's fix this

The NESCAC is a 10-team league, yet plays only eight games. Wesleyan, Amherst and Middlebury shared the title with 7-1 records, yet Middlebury and Wesleyan never played one another.

Can't we add a ninth game so that everyone plays everyone else? C'mon, man.

History-making Bison rule ECFC

Gallaudet earned the first NCAA berth in its history by whipping Anna Maria 35-7 to clinch the ECFC title. Now, the Bison will try to complete the regular season at 10-0 by beating SUNY-Maritime.

Ryan Bonheyo and BJ Flores each ran for more than 100 yards.

Norwich's lone ECFC loss was to Gallaudet and the Cadets beat Husson 28-23 as Al Georgio ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

SUNY-Martime got a kick out of beating Mount Ida 16-7. Diego Dietrich nailed three field goals for the Privateers.

MASCAC madness

Mass. Maritime knows what is it like to be involved in a shootout. The Bucs have been in a few of them this year and this time they outscored Plymouth State 46-44. Mass. Maritime quarterback Mike Stanton threw for four touchdowns and accounted for five. Plymouth's Josh Morgan conjured up memories of Holy Cross two-way standout Gordie Lockbaum. Morgan ran for 139 yards and two scores on just six carries and made 11 tackles from his linebacker spot.

Framingham State continued to close in on its special season as the Rams defeated Bridgewater State 35-28 with a dramatic finish as Melikke Van Alstyne ran one in from 9 yards out with 29 seconds left. That was one of his three touchdowns as he collected 158 yards rushing. Matt Silva threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Westfield State beat Worcester State 38-20 with Brian Beauchemin running for 94 yards and two scores. Tim Rich passed for 208 yards and a touchdown.

Fitchburg State kept it going by edging UMass-Dartmouth 25-20. Steph'fon Teague had another big day for the Falcons. He had 182 yards rushing with a touchdown and also had a receiving TD. Garrett Dellechiaie, the 18-year-old freshman continues to grow. He threw three touchdown passes and Phillip Saint-Juste's 10th touchdown reception tied a program record. Four of the eight tackles made by Tony Louis were for a loss.

Collision course in NEFC

Salve Regina and Endicott stayed on course for their mammoth game this week. They will meet at Endicott with everything at stake.

Salve did its part by beating Coast Guard 25-14 as the league's top defense forced five turnovers.

Coast Guard felt the wrath of the Trumbull Tornadoes. Richie Edwards and Phil Terio, who hail from that Connecticut town, were the centerpiece of what happened on each side of the ball. Edwards ran for two scores and Terio had 13 tackles to go with three pass break-ups.

Endicott won its sixth in a row as Drew Frenette passed for 323 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-21 win over Western New England.

Peter Williams and Sam Calley had school records in their team's victories. Williams got his by passing for five touchdowns in leading MIT to a 56-36 win over Maine Maritime. Brian Goldsberry and Eric Gan had a hand in that history. Each had two of the touchdown catches.

Calley set the Curry record for sacks in a game with six as the Colonels toppled Nichols 34-13. Phil Bigelow added 134 yards on the ground.

The Big Games

The biggest is in Beverley, Mass. The Endicott Gulls and Salve Regina Seahawks bring 6-0 NEFC records into the game and the automatic NCAA berth is at stake. The Battle of the Birds should be played in a playoff atmosphere and essentially a playoff is what it is.

There will be plenty of emotion at Western Connecticut. It is Senior Day for the Colonials, but they will have to match Westfield State's emotion as the 5-4 Owls try to send longtime coach Steve Marino out with a victory.

Gallaudet has the NCAA berth wrapped up, but the Bison would love to complete the season at 10-0 by winning the battle of option attacks against SUNY-Maritime.

Maritime coach Clayton Kendrick-Holmes knows what it takes to go unbeaten. His team went 10-0 a few years ago. Now, his Privateers will try to deny the Bison the same accomplishment.

And, of course, there are always the rivalry games. It's a special anniversary for the Cranberry Bowl. Bridgewater State travels to Mass. Maritime for the 35th edition of the game.

Castleton hosts Norwich in the Maple Sap Bucket game. Castleton won the Bucket for the first time last year and the Cadets would love to get it back.

It has been a painful season for the Spartans who enter the game with an eight-game losing streak.

"That would soothe a lot of the pain," Klatt said of winning the Bucket game.

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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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