A six-pack of stories

Trinity senior Darrien Myers returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown agasint Wesleyan, helping the Bantams to an undefeated season.
Trinity athletics photo

Husson, Bridgewater State and Western New England will dominate the region's D-III landscape the rest of the season, their hard-earned playoff berths in front of them as they look to negotiate the Road to Salem. It will be all Eagles, Bears and Golden Bears from here on.

But it doesn't seem right to leave behind some good stories involving other teams that are done for the season. One more tailgate party for the rest of the Northeast. Open a six pack -- Diet Coke is my beverage of choice -- and let's talk about the guys we won't be talking about until August. Here's a six-pack of stories:

1. The resurgence of Plymouth and Nichols

These two programs had been starved for success, any kind of success, for too long. A succession of seasons that were either winless or produced only a victory or two were becoming all too common.

Their 6-4 seasons were feel-good stories, for sure. Not a lot of people saw them coming. They might have known that a foundation was being put in place for a better future, but few saw these teams winning six games apiece in 2016. Check the preseason polls.

"It's certainly an improvement," Plymouth coach Paul Castonia said Sunday morning, already in his office making sure the Panthers can build on the success in 2017.

"The only game we were not in was the Framingham game. They were on top of their game, and we laid an egg."

The Panthers took the region by surprise, getting off to a 4-0 start.

Then they were 4-4.

"I told the kids that it was not time to pout or point fingers," Castonia  said. "We were three plays away from being 7-1. The kids responded. They practiced hard and practiced well the last two weeks."

When they defeated Fitchburg State 23-6 in the season finale, it pushed the record to 6-4. It was close to being even better. There were games that came down to the last play including an overtime loss to MASCAC champion Bridgewater.

"I knew we would be better, I didn't know how much better," Castonia said. "We had some pleasant surprises from newcomers."

They included freshmen offensive linemen Brandt O'Hara and Mick Cusano who played every game. There was freshman Matt Shea making a big impact at safety.

There was the emergence of freshman Prince Gbaley. He was rotating in, but when he began playing full time near the end of the year he was a wrecking crew on defense. He had two interceptions against Fitchburg, returning one for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble and blocked a kick in the game.

Nichols also did it with freshmen as a large piece of the turn-around with coach Dale Olmsted continuing to recruit hard.

They ended the season by edging MIT 36-35 in overtime. Freshman Chris Mullins ran for the touchdown in overtime and then threw to another freshman Tony Martignoli for the two points. Mullins had a mammoth game, passing for 436 yards and two scores and rushing for three touchdowns.

Matt McEvilly had 18 tackles for the Bison and Brett McEvoy 16.

2. Trinity's perfect season

Unlike unbeaten WNE, Trinity is all dressed up with no place to go.

The Bantams finished 8-0 with a convincing 45-21 win on the road against a Wesleyan team that came into the game with only one loss.

It was a special season for a team that dominated whenever they came up against a team that was regarded as the top challenge. That included a 49-13 thumping of Middlebury in a game that was a matchup of 5-0 teams.

Bryan Viera had two touchdown catches and Liam Kenneally keyed the defensive effort against Wesleyan with 10 tackles and an interception.

3.  Tom Kelley's story

Tom Kelley has taken Framingham State from a program that almost never won to a perennial power. This year's 7-3 mark was a disappointment, but only by Framingham standards.

Kelley is a coach who cares deeply about his players and coaches. He is in their lives as students and people as much as players. That is true long after they turn their tassel.

He touches hundreds and hundreds of lives in a positive way.

He also might have saved one. Or who knows how many more? An official coming off the field told Kelley that he had read his story about a bout with prostate cancer and got checked because of it. He had it, but it was detected early.

I have spoken with Kelley periodically over 10 years and only recently learned of his battle by coming across a story written by Lenny Megliola in the MetroWest Daily News.

Kelley had surgery but the cancer reappeared in two years. Then, he had radiation daily for nine weeks.

Fourteen years out from all that, things look great. He's beaten the toughest of opponents.

Kelley has that appreciation for family hat is deepened by such an experience.

The story resonated with me because I, too, had a cancer diagnosis back in 1997. Surgery, a colostomy, along with radiation and chemotherapy.

My family was also supportive. That includes the football family. I received a letter from a St. Lawrence University lineman who also had a colostomy. He wore a protective device over it, went back to school and became SLU's Lineman of the Year.

I knew his story before I received his letter. In fact, I recall when I got the news on the examination table, one of the first thoughts in my head was, if Kevin can play the game with that thing, I sure as hell can write about it.

Family and football. A lot to reflect on this Thanksgiving season.

4. Rivalry games

There is something special about rivalry games in football. That Rocking Chair that Middlebury and Hamilton fight over or the Maple Sap Bucket that Norwich and Castleton clash over means every bit as much as Paul Bunyan's Axe does to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The pageantry and feeling of hoisting the trophy with a win over a rival is precious.

Bridgewater got the Scoop in the Cranberry Bowl but you know Mass. Maritime was happy to have something to play for in the finale.

Malik Garrett seems to be doing more things on the field than Gordy Lockbaum did. Garrett was named MVP of the game. The versatile Bridgewater standout ran for 61 yards and a touchdown, caught seven passes including one for a score and completed the two passes he attempted.

Norwich took back the Maple Sap Bucket after Castleton had won it the previous two season. The Cadets did it with a relentless ground game as Patrick Brown, Philippe Bazinet and Aaron Conner averaged 100 yards rushing apiece.

Amherst beat Williams 28-3 in the biggest rivalry of all as Nick Morales threw three touchdown passes.  

5. The George Commo story

George Commo is a gamer. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease after last season, he continues to broadcast Norwich football and hockey games over the radio and co-host an Internet sports talk show, putting as much time into the endeavor as he ever did.

Commo, a multiple-time winner of the Vermont Sportscaster of the Year award, was inducted into the Norwich Hall of Fame earlier this year.

He will continue to add color to the Cadet sports scene for years to come.

6. UNE is on the way

It is always exciting to have a new program on the horizon. Mike Lichten, the first University of New England football coach, is putting in the work to get his team ready for its first varsity season in 2018. First game: At Coast Guard.

The Nor'easters will be members of the new Commonwealth Coast Conference.

Lichten quickly built Becker into a contender in the ECFC and that, of course, was one of the things that caught the eye of the folks who did the hiring at the Biddeford school.

The landscape changes as teams hop to new conferences. UNE will be a special part of the new look and especially exciting for fans in Maine is the agreement between UNE and Husson for a nonconference series.

Quick kicks: Becker toppled Anna Maria 31-7 as Jacob Holmes kicked a field goal and ran for 97 yards with a touchdown. ... Matt Murphy kicked a field goal and sent three of his five kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks to help SUNY-Maritime to its 31-28 win over Gallaudet. Joseph Butterworth had three touchdown passes. ... Cory Brandon fired five touchdown passes as Husson beat Mount Ida 54-20. ... Chance Brady ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns to lead Tufts past Middlebury, 48-35. Middlebury's Jared Lebowitz threw for 411 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 29 TD passes this season. ... Marcus Gutierrez rushed for two touchdowns as Hamilton trimmed Bates 24-7. ... Trevon Offley rushed for 161 yards and three scores to lead Framingham State past Worcester State, 42-34. ... Endicott outgunned Curry 49-33. ... Salve Regina whipped Maine Maritime 45-12 with Sam Pascale rushing for 137 yards and three touchdown on just 11 carries. His sidekick James Dawson also got plenty out of his 11 carries, 124 yards and a touchdown. ... Workhorse Nick Connell had 30 carries and 188 yards with two scores in help Western New England finish off its perfect regular season with a 36-29 win over Coast Guard.

Best wishes to everyone on the Road to Salem and in the inaugural New England Bowl.

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. He has been D3football.com's Around the Northeast columnist since 2007.

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