By Matt Noonan
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.