Salve Regina topped Endicott last season, but the Gulls were able to bounce back by winning its final two contests against Nichols College and the University of New England.
Western New England earned a third-place projection and one first-place vote while Husson University and UNE rounded out the top five, checking-in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Nichols secured the sixth position and Curry College placed seventh.
If the Gulls are to defend their conference crown from last season, they will need to rely on some key returners, including wide receiver Shane Aylward, who led the squad in receptions (65), receiving yards (712), and touchdowns (five). Aylward will certainly be a go-to target for quarterback Mike Ingraffia, who competed in nine contests last season – the Kings Park, New York native completed 128 of 209 passes for 1,531 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Tyler Davis (defensive back) and Colin Meropoulos (defensive line) will anchor a defense that limited Endicott’s 2021 opponents to 19.5 points per game.
Last fall, Endicott College captured its first conference crown in eight seasons by winning the Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC) league with an 8-2 record.
The Gulls, which advanced to the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament, saw their run toward a national title conclude with a 20-14 setback to RPI.
Despite ending their season with a six-point setback to the Engineers, Endicott should once again be in the mix for the conference crown. But the same could be said for a few other teams in the CCC, which will be ready to challenge the Gulls for some hardware.
Here are five teams that I believe can win the Commonwealth Coast Football league this year.
Endicott: I believe the Gulls can win their second-straight title, but their path to their fourth conference crown in program history won’t be easy.
For the Gulls to enjoy another successful campaign, they will need a similar effort this fall from quarterback Mike Ingraffia, who capped his sophomore season with career-highs in passing yards (1,531) and touchdowns (15).
Ingraffia is just one of many student-athletes to watch on the Gulls this fall, specifically its offense, but the same could be said for classmate and wide Shane Aylward, who ended the 2021 season as the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Aylward ranked fifth in the conference in receiving yards (712) while finishing tied for sixth with five touchdown receptions.
Colin Meropoulos was named the CCC Defensive Rookie of the Year and will be tasked with leading a defense that limited its opponents to 19.5 points per game.
Husson University: One should never count out coach Nat Clark’s Eagles, which concluded its 2021 campaign with a 7-3 record.
For the Eagles to enjoy another successful campaign, they will need some key members of last year’s squad to step up this year, including wide receiver Jon Bell, who concluded the 2021 season with career-bests in receptions (49), receiving yards (753), and touchdowns (four). Bell will most likely be targeted a few more times this fall by quarterback Nic Visser, who led the conference in passing yards (2,598).
Linebacker Tucker Buzzell will be the player to watch on defense after leading Husson with 85 total tackles last fall.
Salve Regina University: For the first time since 2016, the Seahawks ended its season with eight wins, thanks to an impressive opening month that saw Salve Regina win four straight non-conference contests, including an epic come-from-behind win over Rowan University.
The team’s early-season momentum came to an end in early October with a 41-3 setback to Western New England.
Salve Regina would bounce back by winning four of their final five contests.
The biggest question facing this year’s squad is who will return this fall? Salve Regina’s roster featured eight graduate students last fall, along with 21 seniors, including halfback Joey Mauriello, but one player that will return this year – and is someone to watch – is linebacker Zachary Ludemann. The Howell, New Jersey native placed 11th in the conference in total tackles (69.0).
Western New England: For the second-straight season, the Golden Bears won five of six conference contests. But their lone setback to Endicott resulted in Western New England missing the national postseason for the first time in two years.
Will the loss to the Gulls be this year’s motivation for the Yellow and Blue?
Endicott and Western New England are scheduled to compete at the end of the season, so perhaps the final game could determine the conference’s winner.
The Golden Bears featured three different quarterbacks last fall, including Bryce Karstetter and Conrad Swanson, who will likely compete for the starting job this summer. But in addition to the team’s quarterback battle, keep an eye on the wide receivers and tight ends. Steven Fedorchak and Adam Razza have graduated, which means we could see Greg Perry and Ryan Larson become the squad’s top two receivers.
No matter the make-up of this year’s Golden Bears, the expectation is coach Jason Lebeau’s squad will be ready to contend for its fourth CCC title.
University of New England: For the second-straight season, the Nor’easters won four games, including a pair of league tilts.
Can they double that win total this fall?
Perhaps they can, but for UNE to do that, they will need to play some of its best football early on.
UNE ended its 2021 season with a wild victory over Curry College, which highlighted a few players to watch this fall.
One of those players to watch in 2022 is quarterback Jarrett Henault, a Goffstown, New Hampshire native that threw for a career and season-high five touchdowns in his team’s win over the Colonels. Henault appeared in eight contests last season and will be tasked with leading an offense that will feature Mikey Brennan, Jakob Rivers, and Shane LaPorte this fall.
While the offense has a chance to improve from one year ago, the same could be said for the Nor’easter defense, which will be led by David Hutchison, a defensive lineman from St Johnsbury, Vermont.
UNE might be a longshot to win the CCC, but they certainly proved last season that they can contend with some of the best teams in the conference.
Another season of New England college football — and yes, preps and high schools, too — are slowly ending. But the 2021 season is still on my mind.
After not seeing so many local teams compete last fall due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was an amazing feeling to pace the sidelines these last few months and watch numerous student-athletes compete on the gridiron.
There were some of the “usual suspects” that either won or were in the mix for their respective conference title to some new teams, especially in NCAA Division III that deserve our attention going forward.
Before we officially say so long and farewell to a fun season of coverage, allow me to revisit a few stories that I certainly will remember from this season.
Holy Cross not only won its third-straight Patriot League title, including two in the same year, thanks to a shortened spring season to go with their first postseason victory in program history. And despite losing on Friday in the second round of the NCAA FCS playoffs to the University of Villanova, the future is very bright for coach Bob Chesney’s squad.
Harvard University captured their 137th meeting with Yale University last month, thanks to a game-winning touchdown pass from Luke Emge to Kym Wimberly. The 34-31 victory by the Crimson clinched their first eight-win season since 2015.
Sacred Heart University made its second-straight appearance in the NCAA FCS Tournament, but came up short to Holy Cross, which edged the Pioneers in the opening round by a score of 13-10. The Red and White will graduate some key pieces from this year’s squad, but will attempt to win their third-straight Northeast Conference crown next fall.
Bentley University and the University of New Haven were two teams to watch in New England NCAA Division II.
Both teams met twice last month, including in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Tournament. Two weeks earlier, the Falcons and Chargers squared-off in an early November contest with New Haven not only winning the game, but also securing their first Northeast-10 Conference (NE10) crown since 2012.
The Chargers lost to Kutztown University last weekend in the second round of the playoffs, but they will certainly be a team to watch next season — the same could be said for the Falcons.
Bentley’s Stephen Sturm was one of a few NE10 signal-callers to watch this fall as he concluded the season with a league-high 23 touchdown passes.
Saint Anselm’s Drew Willoughby, who was named the league’s Rookie of the Year, threw for a league-high 2,803 passing yards to go with 22 touchdowns. He averaged 311.4 passing yards per game.
Anna Maria College won its first-ever Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) title with seven wins, which is the most victories any AMCATs squad has recorded in a single season. And despite losing to Delaware Valley in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament, coach Dan Mulrooney’s squad will certainly be a team to watch next fall, both in and outside of the ECFC.
The 2021 Williams College football team made history by becoming the first squad to win nine games in a single season.
The Ephs capped their campaign with three impressive wins over Amherst College (24-19), Trinity College (42-3), and Wesleyan University (25-0) to clinch a 9-0 record, their first perfect season since 2010.
Colby College could be a team to watch next fall as they matched their 2013 squad with four wins.
The Mules captured their second-straight Colby-Bates-Bowdoin (CBB) crown with a pair of victories over Bates College (10-2) and Bowdoin College (21-10).
Tom Kelley and the Framingham State University football team won their third-straight Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) crown outright. The Rams concluded their season with an 8-3 overall record for the third consecutive season, as well as posted a perfect 8-0 league mark for the second-straight year.
The Rams will continue to be the team to watch (and yes, follow) in 2022, but will certainly be challenged by a slew of teams in the MASCAC.
Endicott College captured its first conference crown since 2013, as well as hosted its first-ever NCAA playoff game.
Coach Paul McGonagle’s Gulls will certainly be a team to watch next fall — the Green and White are young and will return a slew of talent from this year’s squad on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Mike Ingraffia and wide receiver Shane Aylward.
After starting its season with a 1-3 record, Springfield College bounced back with six-straight wins to capture its second New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) crown. The Pride ended their season with three important wins against Catholic University (28-14), MIT (17-7), and the United States Merchant Marine Academy (28-23).
NCAA D-III Football Teams to Watch in 2022: Bridgewater State, Husson University, Salve Regina University, Plymouth State, Trinity College, Tufts University, UMass Dartmouth, University of New England, and WesternConnecticut.
With the win, the Engineers secured a date with SUNY Cortland, which fended off a late rally by Springfield College in its opening round contest.
George Marinopoulos completed 18 of 27 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns with two scores landing in the hands of Vinnie McDonald, who led all receivers with seven grabs for 122 yards.
McDonald caught his team’s first and final score – the initial touchdown with 2:07 remaining in the first quarter provided the visiting Engineers with a lead that would expand to 14-0 early in the second quarter when Marinopoulos connected with Peter Lombardi for a four-yard score.
Endicott would respond on the ensuing possession with a 66-yard touchdown strike over the middle from Ingraffia to Geoffrey Ingrando to pull the hosts within one score (14-7) at the break.
RPI would push ahead, 20-7, midway through the third quarter when Marinopoulos located McDonald on a fade pattern in the end zone to provide the Engineers with a two-score cushion that would be reduced to a six-point lead when Ingraffia connected with Kobe Gaudette for a 20-yard touchdown with 2:50 remaining.
Endicott attempted an onside kick on the ensuing possession, which was quickly recovered by the RPI special teams.
RPI concluded the game with 338 yards of total offense on 74 plays while Endicott tallied 190 on 48 plays.
Saturday’s game marked the first time Endicott has hosted an NCAA Tournament game.
Degenhardt completed 8 of 11 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 38 yards on 11 carries and three scores.
New Haven’s Zach Mauro led all rushers with 119 yards on 33 carries while Dev Holmes recorded four catches for 104 yards and one touchdown.
The Chargers erased a 6-3 deficit late in the second quarter with a pair of touchdowns from Degenhardt that provided New Haven with a 17-6 lead at the break that would morph into a 24-6 advantage after three quarters.
Delaware Valley’s Daquan Bohannan and Casey Decker combined for three touchdown passes while Julian White rushed for a game-high 101 yards on four carries and one score.
Muhlenberg College 45, Framingham State 0: Michael Hnatkowsky completed 27 of 36 passes for 352 yards and four touchdowns as the Mules rolled past the Rams in the opening round of the postseason. Michael Brooks led Framingham State’s defense with nine total tackles, including eight solo stops.
We’re another day closer to the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament — 32 small college football teams will be competing for spots in the second round on Saturday, including Endicott College and RPI.
Endicott and RPI will meet for the first time in the postseason — additionally, Saturday’s first round matchup will mark the first time the Gulls and Engineers meet since RPI edged Endicott, 6-3, on September 11, 2010.
Let’s learn more about this particular matchup that features two teams that captured their respective conference crown.
Game Time & Location: Saturday’s matchup between the Gulls and Engineers will take place in Beverly, Massachusetts at Hempstead Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m.
RPI’s journey to the postseason: It’s been an exciting few weeks for these Engineers, who bounced back from a 10-9 setback to Hobart College with hard-fought wins over Ithaca College, St. Lawrence University, and Union College. Their come-from-behind win over Union last Saturday, which was highlighted by a game-winning field goal from Trevor Bisson, not only provided the squad with the Dutchman Shoes Trophy, but also the opportunity to represent the Liberty League (LL) in the national tournament.
Endicott’s journey to the postseason: After capping its last two seasons with appearances in the New England Bowl, the Gulls returned to the postseason by winning eight of 10 contests, including five of six Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) matchups. Endicott rebounded from a late October setback to Salve Regina University with a pair of end-of-season wins over the University of New England and Nichols College to secure its third trip in program history to the NCAA Tournament.
RPI’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament: The Engineers last appeared in the postseason in 2018 when they win a pair of games against Husson University and Brockport. Their quest for a national title would conclude on the first day of December when they lost to Johns Hopkins University by a score of 37-14.
Endicott’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament: Endicott’s last appearance in the national postseason occurred in 2013 — the Gulls won the New England Football Conference (NEFC) Championship against Salve Regina, but los their first postseason contest to Rowan University by a score of 24-0.
RPI’s NCAA Tournament history: The Engineers will be making their seventh appearance in the national postseason in program history with their first trip occurring in 1999. Saturday will mark the third time coach Ralph Isernia has guided RPI to the postseason.
Endicott’s NCAA Tournament history: Endicott is making its third appearance in the national postseason with their first two trips occurring in 2010 and 2013. This particular trip is Paul McGonagle’s first with the Gulls – he last was in the postseason in 2017 as an associate coach with Assumption College.
Players to Watch on RPI: George Marinopoulos (QB), Vinnie McDonald (WR), Peter Lombardi (WR/ATH), Josh Cohen (DL), Joe Deptula (LB), C.J. Lyons (DB), Zac Montrief (P), Conor Ahern (DL), Francis Perry (DB), and Sterling Walker-Sutton (Return Specialist).