New Hampshire Football Report

Plymouth State drops opener

CASTLETON Vt. – Junior Evan Wilson (Derry, N.H.) made a career-high 18 tackles, including 15 solo stops, and classmate Willie Lombard (Bridgewater, Mass.) had 194 all-purpose yards and two rushing touchdowns, but Vermont State University Castleton overcame a 14-0 deficit to rally past Plymouth State University, 25-21, in a non-conference football game at Dave Wolk Stadium on Saturday afternoon.


The Panthers struck first with a 60-yard TD drive on the first possession of the season. Junior Braden Lynn (Littleton, Mass.) threw for 49 yards and graduate student Jake Donahue (Hudson, N.H.) made three grabs, including the 10-yard TD catch, for an early lead.

PSU doubled the margin with 6:40 left in the half when Lombard cut left and trotted into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.

The Spartans regrouped after halftime scoring on two of their first three drives. A missed extra point and failed two-point conversion left PSU in front, 14-12, and the Panthers answered right back with Lombard finding paydirt from 25 yards out in the final minute of the third for a 21-12 lead.

Castleton made it a two-point game with a score early in the final frame and the hosts went up on a short run with 1:38 left on the clock.

Facing a second-and-26 on the ensuing possession, Lynn flipped a screen pass to Lombard, who dodged tacklers up the left sideline to the Castleton 44-yard line for a 24-yard gain, but PSU was unable to convert on fourth-and-two as the Spartans held on for the win.

Plymouth State slipped to 0-1 and will host the University of New England at Panther Field next Saturday (Sept. 9) at noon. The Spartans start the year 1-0.

The Basics:

  • Plymouth State 21, Castleton 25
    • Plymouth State (0-1)
    • Castleton (1-0)

How it Happened:

  • The Panthers came out firing after Lombard ran the opening kickoff back 34 yards to the PSU 40-yard line. Lynn picked up 14 yards on a pass up the left sideline to Donahue on the game’s first play from scrimmage, and three plays later added back-to-back 11-yard completions to senior Nikos Bouzakis (Farmington, Conn.) to get into the red zone. Two plays later Donahue made a leaping grab across the middle and waltzed into the endzone for the lead just 3:33 into the game.
  • Castleton picked up chunks of yardage on its first two plays, but Wilson made a key tackle on fourth-and-4 at the PSU 31-yard line to get the ball back for the Panthers.
  • PSU had an opportunity to add to the lead midway through the opening frame when junior Emmanuel Ughu (Milford, N.H.) jarred the ball loose and classmate Josh Crosswhite (Littleton, Mass.) recovered in Castleton territory. The Spartans’ defense came up with a pair of big plays, though, pushing Plymouth State backwards to keep it a one-score game.
  • With Castleton inching towards the red zone early in the second quarter, sophomore Jake Dreyfus (Weymouth, Mass.) made a diving play to break up a would-be first down completion on fourth-and-10 to give the Panthers the ball. On the ensuing drive, Lynn went deep downfield to graduate student Bryan Warren (Pine Bush, N.Y.) for a 39-yard completion to get deep into Spartan territory. Graduate student Manny Sanchez (Hartford, Conn.) ripped off a pair of strong runs and Donahue added a 13-yard catch with a defender on his back to set up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line and one play later Lombard dashed into the end zone to double the lead with 6:40 left in the half.
  • With just over two minutes before halftime, Lynn fired deep downfield off a play-action fake and Donahue climbed the ladder to make the catch for a 33-yard game to the Spartans’ 47-yard line, but the Castleton defense forced a fumble on the next play. The Spartans used a couple of big plays through the air to move to the PSU 37-yard line, but Wilson came up with a big 9-yard sack and two plays later senior Luc Normandeau (Dover, N.H.) hauled in an errant pass and the Panthers ran out the clock.
  • The hosts cut into the margin on the opening possession of the third quarter, using a long rush to set up a 10-yard TD pass, but the extra point went wide left to keep the score 14-6 with 11:56 left in the third.
  • Midway through the frame the Spartans got into the end zone again, this time courtesy of a 21-yard run, but the PSU defense denied the two-point conversion to maintain a 14-12 lead with just under six minutes left in the quarter.
  • PSU answered right back, using the ground game to get the ball to midfield before completions to Donahue (10 yards) and Warren (14 yards) set up a first down at the Castleton 25-yard line. Lombard took advantage of a key block by senior Kyle Baker (Pelham, N.H.) to get into the end zone with only 55 seconds left to make it 21-12.
  • The hosts wouldn’t back down, though, marching 57 yards on 11 plays to pull within 21-19 with ten minutes left to play.
  • After a PSU three-and-out, the Spartans took advantage of a penalty to convert on third-and-long and two plays later moved to the PSU 33-yard line. Senior Collin Crowe (Simsbury, Conn.) popped the ball loose on a rush up the middle, though, and junior Alex Flynn (Walpole, N.H.) jumped on the loose ball to give the Panthers the ball back with 6:48 left on the clock.
  • The Panthers went three-and-out again, though, and Castleton surged 66 yards in six plays, using a two-yard run to leapfrog into the lead, 25-21, with just 1:38 left on the clock.
  • Plymouth State moved the ball quickly to midfield, but the Spartans’ defense came up with a huge sack to set up a second-and-26. Lynn flipped a screen pass to Lombard, who weaved through tacklers up the left sideline for 24 yards before finally being brought down, setting up third and short at the Castleton 44-yard line. PSU spiked the ball to stop the clock, but the Spartans’ defense held strong on fourth-and-2 to preserve the win.

By the Numbers:

  • Lynn finished 19-of-27 for 223 yards and a touchdown, completing passes to five receivers.
  • Lombard had ten carries for 61 yards and two TDs on the ground, added a pair of catches for 25 yards and also racked up 107 yards in kick returns. He has enjoyed facing the Castleton defense, scoring twice on the ground in last year’s meeting as well.
  • Bouzakis caught a team-high seven balls for 50 yards, while Warren had two catches for 53 yards. Donahue finished with 83 yards on six catches with his seventh career TD reception.
  • Wilson was all over the field with his career-high 18 tackles (15 solo). He added three tackles for loss, including a 9-yard sack. Normandeau chipped in nine tackles, two pass breakups and an interception.
  • Plymouth State went 5-of-12 on third downs, while the Spartans were 6-of-13.
  • The PSU defense forced three turnovers.
  • The Panthers maintain a slight 7-6 edge in the all-time series but have dropped each of the last two games at Dave Wolk Stadium.
  • This was the final non-conference matchup between the teams. Castleton joins the MASCAC starting next fall.

Up Next:

  • Plymouth State hosts UNE next Saturday (Sept. 9) at noon. Plymouth State will honor its NCAA participants from the 2022-23 year during a halftime ceremony.


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