Noontime’s ‘What If’ D3 Football Conference Champion Predictions

Bobby Maimaron and the Williams College football team would have been one of our teams to watch this fall. (PHOTO COURTESY: Kris Dufour/Williams College)

By Matt Noonan

Like many of our fans and friends, I miss New England D-III football. But as an optimist, I believe we’ll see our favorite teams and student-athletes back on the gridiron at this time next year vying for conference crowns, along with at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.

And speaking of conference crowns – and yes, the national postseason, too – I thought it would be fun to produce a special Noontime’s ‘What If‘ post on which teams I believe would have won their respective conference this fall.

As expected, these predictions were not easy as there are a slew of teams and programs capable of winning their respective conference, but here are my predictions. And as usual, you can share your thoughts with me on social media, as well as send a note to MattNoonan@noontimesports.com.

Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC): Western New England

For the past few seasons, the Golden Bears have been the team to watch and beat in this conference. And once again, Western New England would be the squad to watch in the CCC this fall. They would most likely enter their final game of the regular season with two important wins against Endicott College and Salve Regina University. And like most teams highlighted in this post, the 2020 Golden Bears would look a bit different than previous years, especially on offense as they would have a new quarterback, but their defense would be be a unit to watch – it would be led by linebacker Erich Keutmann, who was named a D3Football.com Preseason All-America second-teamer in September.

Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC): Dean College

The Bulldogs captured their first-ever conference crown last season, thanks to quarterback Terrell Watts, who was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, along with wide receiver Errol Breaux and safety Tyzohn Poole. Of course, there would be other student-athletes to watch as the season progressed, but at this point of the 2020 season, the Bulldogs would have claimed some important wins against Castleton University and SUNY Maritime. They would have also beaten a new D-III football team: Keystone College.

Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC): Framingham State University

Like Western New England, it is hard to pick against the Rams, which would be starting a new chapter in its program history with first-year coach Aynsley Rosenbaum, who spent the past 12 seasons overseeing the Framingham State offense. But like prior years, this would be the team to watch in the MASCAC. Sure, they would look a bit different on offense without quarterback Adam Wojenski, who graduated last spring, but the Rams would welcome back some key pieces from that unit, including halfback Devaun Ford, who was named the 2019 MASCAC Rookie of the Year. Framingham State would be challenged for the top spot by Bridgewater State, UMass Dartmouth, and Western Connecticut.

New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC): Williams College

The Ephs of Williams College suffered just two setbacks last season, including an opening day loss to Middlebury College, which would be a game circled on their calendar this season. Williams would somehow find a way to beat the Panthers at home, along with Wesleyan University, which tripped up the Ephs prior to their season-ending win over Amherst College last November. But for the Ephs to win the NESCAC, they would not only need to beat Amherst, Middlebury, and Wesleyan, but also Trinity College and Tufts University. Additionally, let’s not overlook Colby College and Hamilton College, which would challenge the Purple and Yellow, but in the end, quarterback Bobby Maimaron, along with the rest of the Ephs would make just a few more plays in all nine contests to secure the NESCAC title.

New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC): Springfield College

Sure, MIT maybe the favorite after winning the NEWMAC crown the past two years, but it would be hard to overlook Springfield College, which would be led by halfback Hunter Belzo and linebacker AJ Smith. The Pride, which finished with six wins last year, would win at least seven, maybe eight games this season, but their most important victory would occur during the final weekend of the regular season against the Engineers in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Football Friday: Revisiting Framingham State’s 2012 Campaign

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Framingham State’s Melikke Van Alstyne chases Endicott College’s PJ Bandini after an interception in the second half. (Photo Credit: Matt Noonan/NoontimeSports.com)

By Matt Noonan 

Happy Friday, everyone!

And welcome to our second installment of ‘Football Friday,’ a post where we revisit stories, teams, coaches, and student-athletes that we have covered over the past decade.

Today, we’re jumping back to 2012 to highlight a Framingham State University football team that not only won the New England Football Conference (NEFC) championship against Salve Regina University but also advanced to its first-ever NCAA D-III Tournament.

The Rams’ run toward a national championship, unfortunately, concluded in the opening round against SUNY Cortland – the Red Dragons edged Framingham State, 20-19, despite a fourth-quarter rally by the Black and Gold.

Yet, despite a one-point setback in the national tournament, the 2012 season was quite a memorable one for the Rams, which captured the program’s first and only NEFC title, while four members of the squad, including coach Tom Kelley, garnered major postseason awards from the conference. Additionally, Framingham State won 10 games for the first time in program history and only lost once in the regular season to Endicott College, which defeated the 2011 NEFC Bogan Division and Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) champions on the opening day of the 2012 season.

Endicott’s defense shined in its week one victory against the Rams as the unit finished the contest with five interceptions, five tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery, and a trio of pass break-ups.

“We stuffed them on first down (and) forced them (into) long second downs (and) that really got them out of their groove,” Endicott’s Andrew Holfinger said following his team’s initial win of its 2012 campaign.

Luckily, the loss to the Gulls was quickly forgotten six days later when Framingham State scored its first win of the 2012 season against Nichols College.

The Rams, who defeated the Bison by a score of 34-6, leaned on its ground game as both Matthew Mangano and Melikke Van Alstyne combined for four touchdowns and 393 rushing yards.

The victory over the Bison seemed to provide the Rams with a ton of momentum as they would go onto capture its next nine contests, including a 16-0 win over rival Bridgewater State University followed by an exciting overtime victory against Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Not only did the Framingham State offense shine throughout the 2012 season, but so did  the defense, which limited its numerous foes to 12.8 points per game, along with 63.0 rushing yards per contest.

After registering just seven points in the opening week, the Rams concluded seven contests with 30 points or more. But during the team’s final regular-season contest against Worcester State University, all three units – offense, defense, and special teams – collaborated to produce a season-high 65 points.

The 65-21 win over the Lancers allowed the Rams to clinch its second-straight NEFC Bogan Division crown, as well as secure a spot in the conference’s championship round one week later against Salve Regina.

“We’re certainly going to be tested,” Kelley said when previewing his team’s contest against the Seahawks at the New England Football Writers’ Gridiron Club of Greater Boston luncheon, which was held at Harvard University.

Salve Regina entered the contest with an identical 9-1 record. The Seahawks averaged nearly 400 yards of offense while the defense limited opponents to roughly two touchdowns per game.

But despite scoring the first points of the 2012 NEFC title game, Salve Regina struggled to contain both Melikke Van Alstyne and Matthew Silva, who combined for three rushing touchdowns. 

James Muirhead led the Rams defense with eight total tackles, including three stops for a loss of 17 yards and one forced fumble.

Salve Regina, which trailed Framingham State by four points (14-10) at the break, attempted to mount a late comeback during the final minutes of the fourth quarter but saw its rally dashed when the Rams recovered its onside kick.

Moments after the final kickoff of the game was recorded, the Rams celebrated a hard-fought championship, which Muirhead considered “so surreal.”

“All the hard work paid off,” said Muirhead, who was named the Bull Mottola Championship Game Most Valuable Player Award following the final whistle.

“I don’t really have any words to explain it,” he would add.

The 28-16 win over the Seahawks was a culmination of the Rams’ commitment of hard work and determination that was fueled by an overtime setback one year earlier in the same contest to Western New England. And while the victory over the Seahawks did not spark a deep postseason run, it was certainly the beginning of many more conference titles and postseason appearances for a squad that has maintained its success over the past few years.

Watching – and yes, covering – this team truly made me fall in love more with small college football. The 2012 season truly marked the beginning of my tenure of producing content on various New England D-III athletic teams and programs, and I am thankful for the time both Tom Kelley and the players provided me throughout this exciting and historic campaign.

Catching Up With Mass. Maritime Academy’s Kyle Johnston

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Massachusetts Maritime Academy senior Kyle Johnston was recently named the MASCAC Men’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year. (PHOTO COURTESY: Mass. Maritime Academy Athletics)

By NoontimeSports.com 

Last week, Kyle Johnston received some exciting news.

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy senior, who has been spotted on the gridiron for the past four years, was named the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Scholar-Athlete of the YearFramingham State University senior Mary Kate O’Day was also honored by the conference, being named the female scholar-athlete of the year.

“I feel grateful to be honored,” said Johnston, who was nominated for the award by Mike Kelley, who is the director of athletics at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

“It is a great honor and I am grateful for it. And I am glad I can represent Massachusetts Maritime Academy.”

Johnston became the first Buccaneer to receive this award since Jonathan White, who played soccer at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, in 2011.

For student-athletes to receive this honor, they must be nominated by their school’s director of athletics, be a senior, and achieve at least a 3.2 cumulative grade point average. Recipients are selected by the MASCAC Athletic Directors.

Johnston enjoyed a successful senior season with the Buccaneers, registering career-bests in total tackles (57.0), solo stops (37), sacks (12.5), and tackles for a loss (19.5). Additionally, he recorded a career-high three forced fumbles along with two break-ups. The 12.5 sacks were the most recorded by a defender in the conference – it was also the fifth-highest total in Division III.

Noontime Sports recently spoke with Johnston about his career with the Buccaneers, as well as where he is headed after graduation next month.


When you look back to your playing days with the Massachusetts Maritime Academy football program, what will you remember most? 

The guys. I made some of my best friends through this program.

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy football program consists of some great all-around guys and they deserve to get awards like this too because they are just as competitive and just as good as I am to receive this (type) of honor, if not, better.

My position coach for my first three seasons with the Buccaneers – Odell Jones, who currently oversees the defensive line at Assumption College – was probably one of the best coaches I ever had in my career. He pushed me to my limits and I give him full credit with how successful I am in football today. But I will definitely remember the people the most (because) those are the memories that will last the most for me.

You and your teammates enjoyed a successful 2019 campaign. Do you feel the team (and program) took a step forward this past season?  

Yeah, absolutely. I think it was a total success. My graduating class may have featured the most seniors this program has had in a while, but we stuck together through the ups and downs, and I give all credit to the players, including the grades below us.

I am hopeful the team can continue to build on what they did last year and continue to get better.

Your team competes in a few rivalry games each season. Which one is your favorite and why? 

The (rivalry) we have with both Maine Maritime Academy and Maritime (N.Y.) are important to us and they go through the same stuff we go through (during game weeks). But our rivalry with Framingham State is important – it is always a big game and so is Bridgewater State. Unfortunately, we did not beat Bridgewater State this past year, but I always feel we put forth a good effort against them, as well as Framingham State.

Where will you be headed after graduation next month? 

I just accepted a full-time position earlier this month with Travelers in Braintree, Massachusetts. I will be working in the ocean marine underwriters department.

Finally, do you plan to return to campus hopefully later this year or in the future to cheer on the Buccaneers? 

Absolutely. I would love to come back and cheer on my teammates.

Noontime’s Senior Salute: Nicole Pacheco (Framingham State)

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Nichole Pacheco recorded 144 points with the Framingham State women’s lacrosse program in 60 contests. (PHOTO COURTESY: Framingham State University Athletics)

By NoontimeSports.com

Before her final season with the Framingham State University women’s lacrosse program concluded earlier this year, Nicole Pacheco celebrated a special milestone by netting her 100th goal during her team’s 23-13 victory against Johnson & Wales University.

The goal itself was a fitting ending for Pacheco, who has helped the Rams enjoy a great deal of success these past few years while vying for the team’s initial conference tournament championship.

With Pacheco at midfield, the Rams became a team to watch in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) – Framingham State won last season’s regular-season crown while making back-to-back appearances in the league’s tournament title game in 2018 and 2019.

Pacheco played 60 games for the Rams, recording 144 points on 101 goals and 43 assists while winning 121 draw controls. After registering 44 points in her first season, Pacheco enjoyed an impressive sophomore year, tallying career-highs in goals (38), assists (19), points (57), and draws (51). She also finished her career with 102 caused turnovers and 207 shots, including 156 shots on net.

We recently caught up with Nicole Pacheco to discuss her time with the Rams, as well as her future plans beyond graduation this spring.


Was there a game (or two) that you will remember most from either your senior season or the past three years? If so, which game(s) are they?

I would say there were two games I’ll always remember. The first is when we beat Bridgewater State for the first time in program history in 2018. The game itself was intense.

The second game I’ll remember is when we beat Westfield State last spring in overtime. The game felt like a scene out of a movie. We fought so hard and it was our first win against the Owls in program history.

Both wins showed how far this program has come and what it is capable of doing in the future.

What have you enjoyed most about competing for the Framingham State women’s lacrosse program these past four years? What will you miss most after graduation? 

Friendships. It’s more than just lacrosse games and practices.

This team has always challenged one another to be better and get better, and I loved that our team fought and never gave up, especially when the odds were against us. I will miss walking down to the field together while stepping onto the turf for practices. 

I will also miss our team’s goal celebrations. Nothing was more electric than running, jumping, hitting sticks, and handshakes after my teammates or I scored a goal. The whole team would go nuts.

Do you hope to stay involved with your sport in the future? Any interest in being a coach? 

Yes, I would like to think that lacrosse will always be a part of my life, and I could potentially see myself in a coaching role in the future.

Tell me about your major. How did you choose it and what do you plan to do with it after graduation? 

I am a criminology major and plan to further my education by pursuing a master’s degree in one of the following subject matters: advanced counterterrorism or cybersecurity. After I conclude my time in the classroom, I plan to pursue a career in the criminal justice field.

Noontime’s Senior Salute: Grace Gamache (Framingham State)

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Framingham State senior Grace Gamache recorded 283 points in four seasons for the Rams. (PHOTO COURTESY: Framingham State Athletics)

By NoontimeSports.com

Since her initial season with the Framingham State University women’s lacrosse program, Grace Gamache has been a player to watch on offense.

The Dartmouth, Massachusetts native tallied 283 points in four seasons, including 22 points on 15 goals and seven assists in just four games this spring.

After registering 54 points in 13 games as a first-year in 2017, Gamache enjoyed a very successful sophomore season, recording career-highs in goals (55), assists (56), and points (111). Additionally, she snatched a career-best 114 draws while firing 114 shots, including 86 on net.

Gamache earned a trio of first-team honors with the Rams from the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) while leading her team to its first-ever regular-season title last April with a 17-5 win over Worcester State University.

We recently spoke with Grace Gamache about her four years with the Rams, as well as her future plans beyond graduation later this spring.


What will you remember most about your final season with the Rams? 

The friendships my teammates and I made these past few years. Getting to do what you love with your best friends every day has been an amazing experience. I have made lifelong friends here at Framingham State, and although we didn’t get to end our four-year career the way we wanted to, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Was there a game (or two) that you will remember most from either your senior season or the past three years? If so, which game(s) are they? 

I would say there were two games specifically that I’ll never forget. The first was my sophomore year against Bridgewater State. The Bears have always been tough competition and one of the top teams in our conference. We won by one goal and it was the program’s first win against Bridgewater State in ten meetings. Our hard work and preparation paid off and it was such a good feeling.

The second game was our overtime win against Westfield State my junior year. We had lost to them the prior year in our conference tournament championship so to be able to beat them, especially in overtime, was amazing.

What have you enjoyed most about competing for your team (and program) these past four years? What will you miss most after graduation? 

I think what I have enjoyed most about playing and competing for Framingham was being able to see the growth we made as a program. This program has come so far and to make an impact on the future of the team is something I feel is really exciting. I am definitely going to miss putting on that uniform every week and getting to play alongside such an amazing group of young women while playing for a great coaching staff. We have become family over these last four years and that is something I’ll cherish forever.

Do you hope to stay involved with your sport in the future? Any interest in being a coach? 

I definitely plan on staying involved with lacrosse after I graduate. I started a summer camp two years ago for local middle school and high school players and it has been a huge success. I have also had the opportunity to coach for a club team during the summer, as well, so I hope to continue doing that with the hope of eventually coaching a high school program.

Tell me about your major. How did you choose it and what do you plan to do with it after graduation? 

I am majoring in sociology with a minor in psychology. I have always enjoyed working with people and learning about different parts of society and how they all interact and work together. After graduation, I hope to get my master’s in special education.