The NESCAC Gap: Football Stock Report 10/2

Similar to last week, week 3 produced results that continue to show the polarized hierarchy that is NESCAC football. Four teams won via the blowout (Middlebury, Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan), so only one game had any semblance of competition (Trinity toppled Williams 17-9). The abundance of blowouts, however, means that some players put up some eye-popping statistics. Jared Lebowitz ’18 continued his impressive season (28-52, 389 yards, 3 touchdowns), Amherst’s Jack Hickey ’19 rushed 13 times for 118 yards, and Hamilton’s Cole Burchill ’19 racked up 16 total tackles against a prolific Wesleyan offense. This weekend did very little to affect the NESCAC standings, but the Williams-Trinity game was low-key fascinating. Let’s get into some of the emerging storylines.

Stock Up

The ‘Rebounding’ Middlebury Offense

This seems like a storyline as old as time. Earlier this season, we wrote on how the Middlebury receiving corps had a long way to come after graduating 2 perennial studs. In the past two weeks, the Panthers have silenced those doubts in a dramatic fashion. Against Bowdoin last week, junior wideout Conrado Banky ‘19 torched the Polar Bears for 101 yards on 5 receptions, averaging 20.2 yards per catch. Tanner Contois ‘18 also added 3 deep catches that exposed the Bowdoin secondary. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury put up 34 unanswered points, thanks in large part to 6 Panthers hauling in at least 40 receiving yards. This offensive explosion was led by Banky, who tallied 136 yards on 9 receptions, and Jimmy Martinez ’19, who ran back another punt 61 yards for a touchdown, his second of the season already. He has become the most dangerous return man in recent NESCAC memory, and also added three catches for 48 yards. Middlebury has proved that it still has plenty of weapons, and are the most dangerous offense in the league.

Conrado Banky ’19 finally exploded last week, catching 9 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns.

Williams’s Resurgence

Despite the loss on Saturday, the Williams team had a lot of positive takeaways. The Ephs were able to put up 9 points against a daunting Trinity defense that had yet to allow a point in its first two games this season. The offense had 19 first downs, 9 more than what Trinity could muster. The Williams defense was solid too: the only points it let up were the result of turnovers, and a 46-yard field goal by one of the best kickers in NESCAC history. Though this loss was the first blemish on an otherwise perfect start to a season, I believe this game further proves that Williams is on the rise. This game, maybe more so than their two wins, should send a message to future opponents. Look for Williams to take care of business next week against a struggling Bates team.

Stock Down

Amherst Doubters

In the first three weeks of the season, Amherst has silenced all skeptics that have claimed that the Mammoths no longer belongs atop the NESCAC leaderboards. It is unclear what Reece Foy’s ‘18 role will be going forward, as he is returning from a knee injury but playing very few snaps. Regardless, QB Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in nicely, and he lit up Bowdoin for 254 yards on Saturday, That said, Amherst’s three impressive wins have come against the dredges of the NESCAC (Bates, Hamilton, Bowdoin). Amherst will be tested in the next few weeks, and a win next weekend against the formidable Middlebury team will further prove that the Mammoths are still a force to be reckoned with.

Ollie Eberth’20 has grabbed the reins at Amherst and will not let them go.

Competitive Games

The objective of any professional league should be to create competitive balance among its teams, so as to keep all fans engaged and to grow the league’s brand. That being said, it’s a good thing the NESCAC isn’t a professional league. None of the games in week 3 were particularly close, and, as a desperate fan of Bowdoin football, this season has been a struggle. The prevalent storyline this season has been Amherst, Middlebury, and Trinity beating up on the rest of the league, while Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton have fruitlessly tried to get into the win column. As a fan of the sport, it would be nice to see some weekly unpredictability in these games, but that just hasn’t happened yet. It’s been most interesting to follow Williams’s strong start to the season, and to watch some individual players put on showcases week after week. Going forward, though, I hope to see a little less polarization, and a little more parity.

Special Editor’s Stock Down: Trinity’s Undefeated Chances

I know this is one of the needlessly alarmist “hot takes” that has made sports talk shows totally unlistenable (except for Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed.) But I didn’t think I’d get to write anything about Trinity other than “they’re the best” all season, so hear me out. Trinity had nine fewer first downs than Williams that weekend, and couldn’t generate any offense that didn’t come off of turnovers by a jittery, young Eph offense. Williams stuffed the running game, keeping Max Chipouras ’19 to 2.8 yards per carry, and locked up the receivers, keeping Sonny Puzzo ’18 to 163 yards. This says a great deal about Williams’ defense; it may well be the best in the league, and they have a real chance of finishing 6-2 or even 7-1. And of course, the Bantams still won, and used their own elite defense to make huge plays at the right time. But the Ephs laid down a formula to slay Trinity. Stuff the run and force Puzzo to make tough throws to a depleted receiving core (that is Trinity’s greatest weakness, they don’t have an elite weapon in the passing game.) If a team with a more consistent offense (like Middlebury or Wesleyan) can follow this defensive formula, this season could get a lot more interesting.

New Field, Same Approach, Different Results? 2017 Bowdoin Football Preview

Editor’s Note: Connor is a new writer joining us from Bowdoin College. He is a rising senior, and just wishes that everyone in the world could just get along and have fun.

2016 Record: 0-8

2017 Projected Record: 2-7

Projected Offensive Starters: *Seven Returning

QB: Noah Nelson (‘19)*

RB: Nate Richam (‘20)*

WR: Nick Vailas (‘18)*

WR: Ejaaz Jiu (’19)*

WR: Chandler Gee (‘20)*

TE: Bryan Porter (‘18)*

OL: Elliot Borden (‘18)

OL: TBA

C: AJ Mansolillo (‘19)*

OL: TBA

OL: TBA

Projected Defensive Starters:  *Eight returning

LB: Tyler MacNeil (‘18)*

LB: Latif Armiyaw (*18)*

LB: Joe Gowetski (‘20)*

DL: Robert Caputo (‘19)*

DL: TBA

DL: TBA

DL: Jay Mobley (‘20)*

DB: Ryan Sanborn (‘18)*

DB: Nye Deskus (‘20)*

DB: Cameron Rondeau (‘19)*

DB: Henry Little (‘18)*

Projected Specialists: *Two returning

K: Andrew Sisti (‘18)*

P: Michael Chen (‘20)*

Noah Nelson
Noah Nelson ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Offensive MVP: QB Noah Nelson ‘19

If the Polar Bears are going to compete for more than a few wins this season, it will largely depend on the play of Nelson. Entering preseason as the undisputed starting quarterback, Nelson will to prove that he is capable of leading this offense in high-scoring affairs. Bowdoin ranked towards the bottom of the NESCAC last year in passing effectiveness and statistical output, but Nelson showed signs of an ability to create offense and move the chains down the field. Equally as important, the Bowdoin offensive line will need to show significant improvement from last year, to allow Nelson to survey the field on offensive drives. A major staple of the receiving corps graduated last Spring (Ford ‘17), but senior Nick Vailas ‘18 figures to handle a hefty portion of the receiving workload. In addition, Chandler Gee ‘20 had some success in the slot last year. The buzz coming from preseason practice has also indicated that some first-year wideouts will figure to contribute significantly this season. The pieces are in place for Nelson to make a major step forward as the Polar Bears’ play caller.

Defensive MVP: Joe Gowetski ‘20

Joe Gowetski
Joe Gowetski ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Gowetski came in and made an immediate impact for the Bowdoin defense last season. He was a beast from the linebacker position, racking up 52 tackles, as well as 1 sack. Those numbers led the league last year, and Gowetski has showed no signs of the proverbial ‘sophomore slump’ so far in practice. Gowetski figures to be a major stopper in the run defense, and his quickness and instincts make him effective in coverage as well. He has emerged as a team leader, and has put in the necessary work to be a major difference maker this season. Look for Gowetski’s name atop the NESCAC leaderboards again this season.

Biggest Game: @ Williams, September 16th

For the second year in a row, we’ve picked the first game on Bowdoin’s schedule as the most critical. After going winless last year, it is absolutely necessary that the Polar Bears show up for their first game this year. Although Bowdoin Coach JB Wells has an eye toward the future and has moved on from last year, fans of the program may not be so quick to do so. Wells has focused on improving his team day in and day out, and it must show on September 16th if Bowdoin is to rebound from a winless season. Whether or not you believe in sports momentum, the Polar Bears will certainly breathe a sigh of relief if they top Williams in week one.

Best Tweet:

So cute!

Summary:

This offseason and build-up to the first game has an air of ‘new beginnings’ for the Polar Bears. Bowdoin’s historic Whittier field is undergoing the final stages of a major renovation; it is set to open for their home opener (9/23 vs. Middlebury). Coach Wells and the rest of the football program is hopeful that this renovation will spur the team to hit the ground running this year (with the added security of the artificial turf, of course). More broadly, the team has let bygones be bygones, and has emphasized continual improvement and investment in the team’s goals. An 0-8 record last year definitely stings, but the Polar Bears are maintaining a positive outlook on their chances this year.

Bowdoin will benefit from its youth during this year’s elongated season: with a nine game schedule, durability and longevity will be key. Those are areas in which the Polar Bears are well equipped. A nice balance of experience and youth sets Bowdoin up to capitalize on the additional game, whereas some other teams might have trouble adjusting to the change.

Aside from the departure of Liam Ford ‘17 at wide receiver, the entire Bowdoin offense is returning and appear ready to capitalize on some bright spots from last year. Nate Richam ‘20 and CJ Markisz ‘20 figure to once again form a two-headed running attack, and the Bowdoin playcallers will rely on them to carry the workload. Chandler Gee ‘20 impressed with his speed and catching ability in the slot last year, and with the addition of some highly skilled freshman wideouts, the receiving corps looks ready to make a big impact. These new additions will complement consistent offensive presences WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18.  As previously mentioned, Noah Nelson ‘19 will need to step up in big fashion if Bowdoin is to outscore opponents on a weekly basis.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bowdoin will be anchored by linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘20, who, between them, have some serious athleticism and high football IQ. Similar to previous seasons, one of Bowdoin’s keys to victory will be stopping the run (Bowdoin allowed a league-worst 200.1 rushing yards per game last year). To make matters worse, Bowdoin also allowed the most passing yards per game last year with 242.9. Clearly, the returning defenders (and the incoming players) will need to show improvements if Bowdoin is to even be competitive this season.

All in all, Bowdoin has a long way to go before they are NESCAC title contenders. There were flashes of potential last year, but none of them persisted long enough for the Polar Bears to grab a win. With a brand new facility and positive outlook on the season, it would seem as though Bowdoin is poised to make some noise in the league this year. The team will need to be far more effective on defense, and capitalize on their offensive capabilities, if they are to turn their fortune around. Despite the positivity and experienced roster, Bowdoin is still in rebuilding mode. While I don’t think they go winless for the second straight year, it may be another season of woes for the Polar Bears.