By Matt Noonan
Eight small college football teams remain in the mix for the ultimate prize: an NCAA Division III championship.
Perhaps next year one of those eight teams will be a squad from New England.
Never say never, right?
As we slowly say goodbye – and yes, farewell – to another season of New England small college football coverage, let’s highlight five teams I’ll be keeping an eye on next fall.
Curry College: The Colonels exceeded our expectations this fall.
Coach Todd Parsons guided the Purple and White to three wins, matching the team’s total from a year ago, thanks to first-year halfback Montie Quinn, who rushed for a team-high 1,165 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Quinn has the potential to produce more rushing yards and touchdowns next fall – heck, he might be able to duplicate Raphael Zammit‘s success, which could help Curry contend for a Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) crown. Zammit currently holds multiple single-season (and career) records, including the most yards recorded in a single season (1,587).
In addition to Quinn, Parsons could welcome back some upperclassmen from this year’s team that might have an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, a few players could transfer to Curry, providing the team with an additional boost heading into next summer’s camp.
Parsons should be able to build off his initial season with the Purple and White, which saw Curry score its first home win against Salve Regina University in 13 years.
Unfortunately, the 17-point victory over the Seahawks did not result in more wins, but there is a sense of optimism surrounding this program that better days are ahead.
Dean College: Give it time, but these Bulldogs are heading in the right direction.
Despite finishing the 2022 season with just one win, coach Andrae Murphy’s unit exhibited their resiliency on a weekly basis, which helped the Maroon and White score an exciting late October win over Alfred State in overtime.
The win over the Pioneers was certainly a turning point for Dean, which had dropped some heartbreakers earlier this fall, including a 26-23 setback to Gallaudet University.
Dean was competitive in its final three contests but did lose all three games. Their final outing with Keystone College, a one-point setback, could provide Murphy’s unit with some additional motivation heading into the offseason.
The Bulldog’s roster will feature some new student-athletes next summer, along with some key members of this year’s squad, including Mozes Mooney, a wide receiver turned quarterback that registered 14 touchdowns this fall, including two on the ground.
Mooney’s best outing occurred in the final week of the regular season when he tossed four touchdowns while rushing for a season-high 46 yards against Keystone.
Endicott College: The Gulls are inching closer to winning their first postseason contest.
Sure, Endicott’s season did not conclude the way many imagined with the Blue and Green suffering its fourth postseason setback in program history. Yet, before their 10-game winning streak was snapped by Springfield College, the Gulls posted their first-ever undefeated season in program history, thanks to a defense that yielded 6.5 points per game, as well as pitched four shutouts.
Endicott has produced seven wins or more under coach Paul McGonagle. Additionally, they have won back-to-back conference crowns while establishing a successful blueprint that should eventually result in a playoff victory.
Expect the Gulls to lean on its defense again next fall, thanks to some key returners, including Hector Johnson, Zachariah Twardosky, and Matthew Licciardi.
Quarterback Clayton Marengi, a junior quarterback from Lynnfield, Massachusetts, will also be a player to watch on offense next season after tallying 15 passing touchdowns to go with eight rushing scores.
Middlebury College: It was not an ideal ending for coach Bob Ritter.
Ritter’s final game with his alma mater concluded with the Panthers surrendering a season-high 65 points to Tufts University, which scored its second-straight win against Middlebury. Had the Panthers beat the Jumbos, they would have finished their campaign with eight wins – additionally, they could have shared the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) crown with Trinity College had the Bantams lost their season finale to Wesleyan University (the Bantams beat the Cardinals to clinch their first-ever 9-0 season in program history).
Sure, losing the final game of a season is never easy, but the Panthers looked much better than they did a year ago when they concluded the 2021 season with three wins and six losses.
Wide receiver Donovan Wood was one of many players to watch this fall – he led the Navy Blue and White receiving core with 54 receptions for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. Additionally, quarterback Cole Kennon was impressive – the junior signal-caller threw for 1,854 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Both players should help the Panthers contend for a conference crown next season.
Salve Regina University: It was hard to get a gauge on this year’s Seahawks, which finished their 2022 campaign with six wins and four losses.
Salve Regina concluded its season with an impressive win over Husson University, which should provide Salve Regina with some much-needed momentum heading into a new conference next fall.
The Seahawks will compete as a full-time member in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) next school year and will certainly need some of their underclassmen to step up, especially when competing against Merchant Marine, MIT, and Springfield College.
Coach Kevin Gilmartin’s squad leaned on some players not named Jack Maguire or Joey Mauriello this fall, including quarterback Jake Stack, who concluded his sophomore season by completing 104 of 240 passes for 1,394 yards and 15 touchdowns.
First-year tailback Justan Luzzi was the team’s second-leading rusher, tallying 357 yards on 82 carries and two touchdowns while Zachary Ludemann, a junior linebacker, led the Seahawks’ defense with 107.0 total tackles.
All three student-athletes, along with others, of course, will be tasked with leading the Seahawks to victory next fall.