By Matt Williams Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — During his days running over and around defenders at Walt Roberts Field, Topsfield’s Evan Bunker was one of the best running backs in Eastern Mass.
These days, he’s one of the best running backs in New England. Now a junior at Trinity College, Bunker leads the prestigious NESCAC in rushing with 644 yards in four games and his Bantams are 4-0 in the thick of the NESCAC title race.
Trinity is ranked No. 2 in Division 3 football in New England. Bunker is on pace to become the Bantams’ all-time leading rusher and could set a school and conference record for rushing yards in a season as well.
Bunker, a first-team All-NESCAC selection in 2011, entered the season with 1,791 yards rushing over his first two seasons. Through four games, his career total is now 2,435 — placing his fifth on Trinity’s career list. The former Masconomet runner is chasing David Kiarsis’ Trinity record 2,949 yards set in 1970, so Bunker needs just 514 more yards over a season and a half.
The NESCAC single season rushing record is 1,370, a number Bunker could pass this year as well. The Bantams have one of the most formidable rushing duos in the nation for Division 3, as Bunker’s teammate Ben Crick is sixth in the league with 309 yards on the season.
Bunker, who helped Masconomet reach the Division 2A Super Bowl as a senior, has four touchdowns this fall. He has 14 career rushing TDs while the Trinity record is held by former Everett standout Genaro Leo with 26.
Former Pingree quarterback Brendan Oliver, who is from Danvers, shifted to tight end at Trinity and has started all four games for the Bantams.
Speaking of the NESCAC, there are two other North Shore products in the league’s top-10 for rushing. Pingree graduate Pat George, who calls Gloucester home, had 224 yards on the season and ranks ninth. He has three TDs and one of his lead blockers is Peabody’s Larry Guinee, who played his high school football at Malden Catholic.
Beverly’s Greg Pierce, now playing for Bowdoin, is eighth in the league with 224 yards and two TDs. Ipswich’s Griffin Cardew, who played at St. John’s Prep, is Bowdoin’s leading tackler on the season and ranks third in the NESCAC with 41 stops.
Chris Splinter, now a junior playing defensive back at Harvard, made the first two interceptions of his career over the last two weeks. Splinter, who was Salem News football Player of the Year and Student Athlete of the Year as a senior at Masconomet, has the Crimson lead in interceptions and has half of his team’s four picks.
Undefeated Harvard (5-0) is the defending Ivy League champs and checks in at No. 22 in the latest Sports Newtork FCS (I-AA) poll. The way Boston College and Massachusetts are struggling, the Crimson may be the best college football team in Massachusetts.
Best in New England, however, likely belongs to perrenial FCS playoff contender New Hampshire. The Wildcats are No. 12 in the Sports Network poll with help from a few faces local fans will recognize. Beverly’s George Kallas, a redshirt freshman, is the ‘Cats back-up center and former Winthrop standout Chris Beranger has started four games at free safety. Manchester’s Brian Ciccone has appeared in every game at tight end for UNH, which defends the fables Brice-Cowell Musket against Maine on Saturday.
Who but Salem’s Melikke Van Alstyne would be leading the New England Football Conference in rushing? Van Alstyne is already Framingham State’s all-time leading rusher and won the NEFC rushing title last season. He’s back at it for the Rams, ranked No. 3 in Division 3 in New England, in 2012 with 890 yards and 10 TDs in nine games.
Van Alstyne also owns Salem High’s all-time mark and is working on a remarkable sixth straight 1,000 yard rushing campaign. He topped 1,000 three times as a Witch, then ran for 1,156 as a freshman at FSU and 1,579 a year ago. With a season and a half left in his college career, the shifty Van Alstyne has run for 3,625 yards.
The Rams’ defense has some local flavor in Swampscott’s Chris Blydell, who has 33 tackles and six passes defensed, and Beverly’s Mark Giles, who has appeared in all seven games at linebacker. Swamspcott’s Randall Kelleher is tied for the Rams’ lead in touchdown catches with three and has 112 receiving yards in last weekend’s win over Maine Maritime.
Peabody’s Sean Wlasuk is handling the kick-off duties for FSU, averaging 55 yards a boot with three touchbacks.
Former Bishop Fenwick all-star Bobby Tarr is in the midst of his final season running for Bentley and leads the Falcons with 267 yards on the ground and three TDs. Tarr’s heir in the Bentley backfield may well be former St. John’s Prep standout Tyler Coppola, who scored his first collegiate touchdown earlier this season.
The Falcons have to be one of the only colleges that have had two players that ran for over 2,000 yards in a season for a North Shore high school on the same roster.
Salem’s Zach Gilbert continues to be a fixture on the offensive line at Merrimack. The All-Northeast-10 selection in 2011 has started every Warriors game since his sophomore season. Marblehead’s Nick Broughton (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) is looking to break into a spot on the Warriors’ line as a sophomore.
Peabody’s Nick Hiou has become a reliable possession receiver at UMass-Dartmouth. Hiou, who was a running back for the Tanners and began his college career as a defensive back, has 15 grabs for 117 yards for the Corsairs and also received the ECAC’s Robbins Male Athlete of the Year last spring, an award that honors student-athletes for performance in the classroom.
Danvers’ Nick Valles is spending the season as a post-grad at Milford Academy. The former Falcon has 163 rushing yards and two TDs, including an 80-yard scoring run against Yale’s jayvee squad.