The anguish was all over Plymouth State center Xander Fuccillo's face as he came off Currier Field on Saturday. The Panthers had lost to Castleton State 35-31 in a game where they had a 28-14 lead.
It was a bitter loss before a large home crowd in this season opener, yet the look on Fuccillo's face masked his delight of being back on the field. This day was not all bad.
Fuccillo missed all of last season as the result of back surgery. Six months after the surgery he got in a car accident, his vehicle rolling over four times and leaving him with a broken collarbone and broken ribs.
"I didn't know then if I was going to be able to play again," Fuccillo said. "My father is my inspiration. He said that tough things happen but tough people go on."
His father Dave Fuccillo was himself a Plymouth State lineman. (So was his brother Nick, the subject of a 2010 column.)
Still in the middle of the field, trying to come to grips with the loss, a smile finally came to Fuccillo's face when asked what it felt like to be back on the field.
"It's the greatest thing in the world," he said.
Fuccillo led a blocking effort that enabled standout tailback Andrew Foglia to pile up 173 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
"I am excited about what we can do. We can get better," Fuccillo said.
"He wasn't supposed to play. I am proud of him. He's wearing my number (77)," Dave Fuccillo said.
Castleton graduate assistant Adam Chicoine can identify with Fuccillo and his feelings. Chicoine was a sophomore captain for Castleton in 2010, a hybrid lining up at defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the situation.
After the season, he was hurting.
"I had pain shooting down my leg," he said this week.
He and his mother Sue went to a "big-time doctor" at Boston Childrens' Hospital. He had cracked vertebrae and two compressed vertebrae.
"The doctor said to me, 'I would highly advise you not to play football.' "
A second opinion gave the same message.
"That was all I needed to hear. I was very devastated," Chicoine said.
Coach Marc Klatt knew Chicoine's passion for the game and asked him to stay with the team as a student coach.
He graduated in December and now is a graduate assistant.
Today he looks at the diagnosis as bittersweet. Bitter because it ended a playing career that was beginning to take off. The sweet that it gave an early start to a coaching career, something he aspired to even before getting the news from the doctor.
"I am very excited. When I am 25 I will have my masters and four years of coaching football. That's pretty big," Chicoine said. "My mother was more devastated than I was. Now, she still goes to all my games and still tailgates."
Mark Comstock was at the other end of the field from Fuccillo. The happier end. He had caught eight passes for 164 yards and a touchdown for the Spartans.
Fuccillo had missed a season. Comstock had missed four of them. He is a recent Castleton graduate who had played basketball where he was a North Atlantic Conference Player of the year reaching the 1,000-point milestone while he was still a junior.
Now a graduate student, he had a year of eligibility so decided to play a season of football. And he was a difference-maker against the Panthers.
"No. 17 beat us. He is some athlete," David Fuccillo said of Comstock.
Comstock, an outstanding high school football player, said it never felt like he had been away. "Brandon Boyle (eight catches, 156 yards and a TD) asked me how my first college catch felt. I said it just felt natural,'" Comstock said.
But he is feeling the same euphoria as Fuccillo and Chicoine about being back in the game.
"I have a greater appreciation for football and for being a part of something greater than myself," Comstock said. "Castleton football is a family and it is being a part of the school and the community."
Fuccillo said he was so excited when he got onto the field last month for the scrimmage against Norwich that he forgot about technique and other relevant factors.
"My head wasn't right when I first got out there. I was just so excited," he said.
Fuccillo's emotions were a bit different than the ones harbored by Comstock and Chicoine. The scoreboard has a way of doing that.
But there was a common thread uniting the three of them. Adversity and absence from the game deepens the appreciation for it.
Brothers Todd and Ryan Bonheyo scored two touchdowns apiece in leading Gallaudet to a 31-20 victory over Shenandoah.
Paul Maynard played for Norwich. Saturday, he saw his son Jessie Maynard come off the bench for RPI and throw a touchdown pass and run for another to spark the Engineers to a 20-7 victory over his alma mater.
MIT flew all the way to California where the Cambridge, Mass., school has a large concentration of alumni. The Engineers made every mile count, beating Pomona-Pitzer 28-26 as Peter Williams threw for 288 yards and Justin Wallace rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
While MIT was playing a foe on the other coast, Western New England was finally playing the guy next door. The Battle of Springfield was the first meeting between Springfield College and WNE, schools 2.5 miles apart. Springfield won it, 49-40. WNE coach Keith Emery said he expects his quarterback John Krafick to step up and have a banner year. He gave every indication he will do just that as he threw for four touchdowns and accounted for 342 total yards.
Robert Baker is another veteran quarterback primed for a big year. He threw four touchdown passes to lead Becker to a 35-33 win over Fitchburg State.
Kevin Fruwirth also threw four TD passes, but it was not enough as Curry fell 48-24 to WPI.
Curry coach Skip Bandini is looking for Richard Johnson to help fill the void left by the graduation of receiver Robert Bambini. Johnson caught 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Mount Ida and Castleton are two of the teams in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference that are starting over for the first time in four years at quarterback. Castleton's Shane Brozowski and Ida's Scott Drosendahl won't be easy to replace but George Busharis and Jawad Yatim are certainly off to a great start.
Busharis was 25-of-40 for 463 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the victory over Plymouth. Yatim passed for 135 yards and rushed for 47. Yatim also ran for both scores in the second half as Ida overcame a 12-0 deficit and defeated UMass-Dartmouth 21-20.
But Jovan Wilkins was as instrumental as anyone in Ida's victory. The defensive back had seven tackles, two interceptions, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.
Perhaps the two most impressive victories in the openers, given the quality of the opponent, were the ones by Framingham State and Salve Regina.
Salve whipped the highly touted Bridgewater State team 36-7 as Dan Buonocore rushed for three touchdowns. Kudos to a great Seahawk defensive effort in shutting down Bridgewater's heralded running game.
Framingham took down Endicott 35-23. Making it all the more impressive is that the Rams did it on the road after being down 14-0. Melikke Van Alstyne ran as advertised, amassing 214 yards on 38 carries and Matt Silva threw for four touchdowns.
Kevin Bumpus set a Worcester State record by throwing for 427 yards. He had four TD passes as part of his big day as the Lancers defeated nearby Anna Maria 34-6. Casey Hippert is a big target and a weapon. Bumpus used him effectively as Hippert had five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Bryan Narcisse was the man on the other side of the ball for the Lancers with 13 tackles and four sacks.
Coast Guard lost a tough one, falling 21-17 to St. Lawrence and the second Gabby Price era opened with Husson's 33-7 loss to Hartwick.
SUNY-Maritime travels to Mass. Maritime to open its season in the sixth annual Chowder Bowl. ECFC foes will be eager to see how the Privateers fare in this one. Will they revert to their form of a couple of years ago and be a contender in the league? Mass. Maritime has never won the Chowder Bowl.
The margin of Salve Regina's victory over Bridgewater State had wow factor to it. What does it mean for each team? They will be playing respected opponents so it will be interesting to see of the Seahawks can carry the momentum of the big win on the road against Montclair State. Bridgewater's performance at home against William Paterson might provide some answers about the Bears.
Framingham State has done very little in the way of playing outside its only little corner of the world. The Rams are a team you want carrying the banner for New England and now they get their chance. They make the trip to New Jersey to play Rowan.
And then there is the Battle of Worcester between 1-0 teams when WPI visits Worcester State.