PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Sophomore quarterback George Busharis completed 25-of-40 passes for 463 yards and two touchdowns Saturday afternoon at Currier Field but Castleton needed a defensive stop in the final minute of the game to pull out a 35-31 victory over Plymouth State in the non-conference football season opener for both schools.
Castleton used a strong aerial attack to take a 14-0 lead just six minutes into the game, but PSU responded with 28 unanswered points over the next two quarters, taking a 28-14 lead by utilizing a strong running game and capitalizing on a first-quarter on-side kick.
Castleton came back to tie the game at 28-all by the end of the third quarter on the arm of Busharis, who was making his first career start.
PSU pulled back ahead 31-28 early in the final quarter on a 30-yard field goal, but Elias LaCount scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a four-yard run with nine minutes to play, taking a 35-31 lead. The Panther had two possessions in an attempt for another comeback, but a 12-play drive stalled just inside the Spartan 20-yard line with 2:34 remaining, and after the PSU defense forced a punt, PSU's Hail Mary pass was intercepted near the goal line by Boyle as time expired.
The Panthers got a strong rushing performance from senior Andrew Foglia, who carried the ball 29 times for 173 yards (6.0 avg.) and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Jake Tyler completed 12-of-16 passes for 194 yards but was sacked three times.
Castleton senior wide receivers Brandon Boyle and Mark Comstock each had big days against the Panther defense; Comstock caught eight passes for 164 yards and a touchdown while Boyle also hauled in eight passes for 156 yards and a score. The 463 passing yards by Busharis is the second most in program history.
The teams combined for 944 yards of offense, the visitors mostly through the air and the home team on the ground. Castleton gained 463 of its 493 yards on passing plays, while PSU got 257 of its 451 yards on running plays. Plymouth State kept the ball away from the Spartans' power passing game by controlling the ball for nearly 45 minutes of the contest.
Castleton scored on its first two possessions. LaCount ran one into the end zone from eight yards out after a 34-yard pass play from Busharis to Boyle set up the score. Then Boyle found the end zone on a 49-yard pass play from Busharis to put the visitors ahead 14-0 just 6:21 into the game.
PSU got on the board on its next possession on a nine-yard rush by junior Mark Hennessy, as PSU ran the ball on eight of its nine plays on the drive. The Panthers executed an on-side kick on the ensuing kickoff, recovering the ball at the Castleton 42-yard line. Eight plays later, Foglia ran it in from a yard out to tie the score at 14-all early in the second quarter.
There were only three more possessions the rest of the second quarter. An 11-play Castleton drive ended at the Panther six-yard line when Busharis' pass went incomplete on fourth-and-goal. PSU responded with a 14-play, 94-yard drive that elapsed nearly nine minutes, capped by Foglia's six-yard burst to put the home team up, 21-14. Castleton got the ball back with a minute to play in the half and went 63 yards on nine plays, but Busharis' pass on fourth down at the PSU 17 was incomplete, and PSU led 21-14 at the break.
Plymouth State extended its lead 28-14 in the third quarter when sophomore Bobby Whelan scored on a two-yard run. Castleton came right back on the second play of its next drive with a 72-yard strike from Busharis to Comstock down the left sideline for a touchdown. The Spartans tied the game at 28-all a couple minutes later when LaCount scored on a two-yard run after Busharis had completed four straight passes.
Junior Rob Giles booted a 30-yard field goal for PSU to put the home team ahead with 10:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Castleton came right back with the winning score, going 71 yards and LaCount going over the goal line from four yards out for the eventual game-winner.
Senior linebacker Mick Wong led the Spartan defense with 13 tackles (11 solo) and a sack, while classmate Andrew Pursell made 11 stops. Sophomore Jay Morgan was a force inside with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Both teams are back in action with non-conference games next Saturday at 1:00 p.m. as PSU visits Mount Ida College and Castleton hosts Endicott College in its home opener.