CASTLETON, Vt. – The Castleton University football team dropped its season-opening contest Saturday afternoon, falling to Plymouth State 23-17 at Dave Wolk Stadium.
The Spartans fell to 0-1 in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people as they carried a tied game into the fourth quarter against the Panthers (1-0). Plymouth outgained Castleton by a narrow margin, 306-287, but dominated on the ground with 182 yards rushing. Castleton rushed for 104 yards as a team while passing for 183 yards. Each team was 5-of-13 on third down with a pair of fourth-down conversions, and Plymouth picked up 20 first downs to Castleton's 18.
Jacob McCarthy completed 22-of-31 passes for 183 yards in the first game of the year, while Simon Davis Jr. carried the ball 23 times for 90 yards and a touchdown. Matthew Hesford had three carries for 14 yards and a touchdown, and Anthony Martinez reeled in seven catches for 84 yards.
On defense, Nick Reca piled up eight tackles while Spencer Kozlak and Chris Rice had seven tackles apiece. Rice added two tackles for a loss and a sack with three quarterback hurries as he often found himself in the opponents' backfield. Andrew Genier and Kyle Buckley added sacks of their own, while Seth Gewanter and Nick Fecteau teamed up for a tackle for a loss.
The Panther offense was led by a two-headed running attack of David Hamilton and Nick Lancia, as Hamilton amassed 146 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries and Lancia racked up 44 yards on 13 carries. Zach Swanson pulled in five passes for 36 yards to lead the team, while Gavin Moody reeled in two catches for 34 yards, including a pivotal fourth-and-long catch in the fourth quarter.
Matt Shea was all over the field for the Panthers, racking up 11 tackles and a pass breakup while Elijah Bussell tallied eight stops. David Salazar had three tackles and two pass breakups, while Derrick Terrazzano and Trevor Hnyda had sacks.
Castleton earned the first score of the opening campaign, marching 90 yards down the field in 11 plays, capped off by a seven-yard touchdown run by Davis Jr. The drive started with a seven-yard carry by Davis Jr. before McCarthy completed passes to Jared Brockway, Davis Jr. and Martinez to march the ball forward into Panther territory. After a 20-yard completion to Martinez put the ball on the 22-yard line, Davis Jr. picked up four yards before an 11-yard strike to Zachary Licata gave Castleton the ball inside the 10. Davis Jr. capped off the drive, diving into the end zone for the opening score.
The Panthers tied the score on the next drive, marching down the field methodically, taking 7:28 off the clock while running 13 plays to cover 52 yards. After converting a fourth-and-two situation at the five-yard line, Hamilton pushed the pile for a two-yard score to level the game at 7-7.
After each team had drives sputter out, Castleton regained the lead on a field goal from Andy Kenosh. The kick capped a 15-play, 41-yard drive that covered nearly eight minutes of action. Davis Jr. kept the drive alive early with a fourth-down conversion before McCarthy found Martinez on a fourth-and-five to convert. After a one-yard run and a pair of incomplete passes in goal-to-go situations, the Spartans settled for the 19-yard chip shot to take a 10-7 lead.
Plymouth State matched the score once more on their next drive, covering 31 yards in eight plays and 2:04 before settling for a 32-yard field goal from Dan Carey. With the Panthers facing fourth-and-10 at the Spartans' 35-yard line, Brett Lavanchy lofted up a ball to the sideline that fell incomplete, however Castleton was flagged for roughing the passer to keep the drive alive. The Panthers managed just five more yards, but it was enough to get in Carey's range as he knocked through the 32-yard attempt.
Plymouth received the second-half kick-off and took advantage, cruising 68 yards down the field in just four plays as Hamilton ripped off a pair of long gains. He opened the drive with a 34 yard tote across midfield to the Castleton 39, before adding on another 22 yards the very next play. After a Panther timeout, Lavanchy connected with Moody near the far-side pylon for a 17-yard score to put the Panthers ahead 17-10.
Castleton pulled level once more two drives later, using 15 plays to cover 73 yards before Hesford found the end zone. Castleton moved the ball quickly early in the drive as McCarthy connected on back-to-back passes to Martinez and Brockway. Davis Jr. picked up a first down before Martinez again reeled in a catch on first down. After a sack gave Castleton a third-and-seven look, McCarthy connected with Licata for 12 yards and a first down inside the Panthers' 25-yard line. Hesford ripped off seven yards on third down to convert, before McCarthy found Martinez for 12 yards on a third-and-12 situation to give Castleton a first-and-goal. Hesford punched it in on the next play, making it 17-17.
After forcing a three-and-out of the Panthers, Castleton itself went three-and-out, giving Plymouth State the ball with 12:45 to play in the contest. The Panthers took advantage of a short field, going 51 yards in 10 plays while using nearly six minutes of clock. Lavanchy found Zach Caffrey for 19 yards on third-and-three early in the drive, before making the game-changing play late in the drive. Facing a fourth-and-13, Lavanchy lofted the ball into double coverage over the middle where Moody came down with it for 17 yards and a Plymouth State first down. Three plays later, Hamilton found the end zone to give the Panthers a 23-17 lead following a missed point after.
Castleton's final drive sputtered at midfield, as a 16-yard run by Davis Jr. was called back due to a hold. Three incompletions forced a punt, and Plymouth ran the remaining 4:21 off the clock, running 10 plays and chewing up 59 yards before taking a knee to end the game.
Castleton returns to the gridiron next Saturday, September 14, at Fitchburg State. Kick-off is slated for 2 p.m.