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3 from north of Boston excel at college football

By Jeff Powalisz
Globe Correspondence / November 17, 2011

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Jeff Devanney knew what he had witnessed on the field the previous Saturday, and his sessions in the film room only reaffirmed in his mind the greatness of Walter Fallas.

In six years as the head football coach at Trinity College, Devanney has directed the Bantams to a 41-7 mark (they have won 42 straight games at home). Perennially, the program fields one of the top defensive units in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, with five players earning NESCAC Defensive Players of the Year honors in the last eight seasons.

But Fallas, a senior linebacker from Everett, was playing at a level few players have reached.

“It’s just these over-the-top plays; he’ll blow up a fullback in the backfield, run offensive linemen over, or jump over the running back,’’ said Devanney.

“There’s a lot of times when you try to attack an opponent’s weakness. With us having Walter, a lot of the time we just blitzed. We didn’t even know what the offense was doing or what the protection was. But we knew Walter was going to make a play.’’

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Fallas made his mark at Everett before heading to Hartford, earning Globe All-Scholastic honors anchoring a Crimson Tide defensive unit that was the second-best in the state his senior season.

“What stood out about Everett was that regardless of where you were on the depth chart, you were expected to work as hard as everyone else,’’ Fallas said. “It trained you mentally as well. That really helped me get ready for college.’’

That readiness earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors in the NESCAC last season, as well as twice being placed on the all-conference first team. This season, with Fallas (4.5 sacks) the anchor, Trinity led Division 3 in rushing defense and started the season with seven straight wins before falling to unbeaten Amherst in Week 7. The Bantams capped a 7-1 finish with their fourth shutout of the year, a 27-0 win over Wesleyan on Saturday.

“I’m biased as his coach, but there have also been a couple of coaches in this league that think he’s the best defensive player in the league in the last 10 to 15 years,’’ Devanney said. “He just makes plays that you don’t expect him to make.’’

Bunker goes out in style

Eric Bunker’s last game in an Amherst uniform could not have been scripted any better. The Masconomet Regional grad from Topsfield registered 107 yards on 27 rushes - his sixth 100-yard performance of the season - as the Lord Jeffs capped their second 8-0 season in three years with a 31-18 win at Williams. Bunker scored his 12th touchdown of the season, a single-season school record, and shared the NESCAC rushing title (106.6 yards per game) with his brother Evan, a sophomore tailback at Trinity.

“Anything he’s accomplished has never surprised me,’’ Amherst coach E.J. Mills said. “He’s just one of those guys that has an unbelievable desire to be successful. He was relentless as a running back, and a leader for our program.’’

His lasting memory will be defeating Williams in his final college game.

“It’s something where you realize how many people are involved,’’ Bunker said of the Amherst-Williams rivalry, the Biggest Little Game in America.

“You have alumni e-mailing you, 10 or 15 thousand watching, and you realize how much it means and how big of a tradition it is. I can’t picture having gone anywhere else.’’

One more for Fulford

While Fallas and Bunker have played their last game, Andrew Fulford has at least one more at Norwich.

A four-year letter winner at Gloucester High, Fulford has never let his less-than-imposing physical frame or time in the 40-yard dash stop him from reaching the top of the Cadets’ depth chart.

The 5-8, 199-pound senior back helped Norwich reach the first NCAA Division 3 playoff game in school history, Saturday at Delaware Valley.

“I think of Andrew as a gamer,’’ said Norwich first-year coach Mark Murnyack.

“When the chips are on the line, he wants the football in his hands. And his toughness and his vision - he makes good cuts and reads - has spilled over to his teammates.’’

After an 0-3 start, Norwich ripped off seven straight wins, including a 16-9 victory at SUNY-Maritime, to capture the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference title. Fulford was a key cog in the clincher, delivering 119 yards on 25 carries.

He has been a relied-upon offensive force dating back to his sophomore year, when he played in all 11 games and ran for a team-high 703 yards while scoring nine touchdowns.

In 2010, he again led the team in rushing (147 carries for 1,065 yards, eight touchdowns).

“Andrew made a decision to really embrace the process of winning, and what that takes on a daily basis,’’ Murnyack said.

For Fulford, Saturday’s contest is a culmination of the countless hours he’s put in. And not just for himself, but for his teammates too.

“I knew we had a core of guys here that were focused and ready for the season,’’ he said. “And I knew we’d grow closer together. I wanted to show them how to conduct themselves, both on and off the field.’’