Well here we are. It’s 34 degrees outside, it’s supposed to snow next Tuesday, and another NESCAC football season has come and gone. And what a season it was. Trinity was supposed to use the rest of the league as target practice, and for the most part they did. But the Mammoths stunned them in Week Seven, and gave us one of the more exciting final weekends in recent memory. We had an incredible senior class that gave us highlights galore all year, and they will all be missed. But there are also talented young players who have the league set up for the future, especially the first year QB crew of Williams’ Bobby Maimaron, Amherst’s Ollie Eberth and Bates’ Brendan Costa.
However, the biggest story of the season might not have to do with the players at all. 2017 was the first season in which the teams played a full nine game schedule, ensuring that everyone played everyone else. I don’t know what the readers think, but to me it was a roaring success. The biggest reason that the final weekend was so exciting was that head-to-head play was such a factor. Amherst could have clinched the title with a win over Williams because of their win over Trinity, which gave them the tiebreaker. And Middlebury’s win over Tufts mattered because the tie breakers they had with Wesleyan and Amherst would have allowed them to share the title had Trinity lost. In the past, there’s a chance Amherst and Trinity wouldn’t have even played. Count us in as big fans of the ninth game.
Speaking of Williams, the Ephs have to be the other biggest story of the season. Last year, Williams went 0-8 and were outscored on the season 99-263. In the Biggest Little Game in America 2016, Williams lost 28-3. Fast forward a year, and Williams beat Amherst 31-24 to finish at 6-3 keep their hated rivals from a NESCAC title. Credit for this incredible turnaround has to go to Head Coach Mark Raymond. Raymond vaporized the culture of losing that had permeated the Williams locker room in about five minutes, and created one of the tougher teams in the league. They had wins over two of the best teams in the league (Amherst and Middlebury) in the two most exciting games of the year, showing their knack for clutch play. The culture that Raymond that has established in such a short time is borderline unbelievable. Coach of the Year is his by a mile.
Of course, the next most credit has to go to the players. Despite having the youngest team in the league, Williams showed that they’re already one of the elite teams in the league. QB Bobby Maimaron ‘21 is a star, adjusting his game to fit the opponent. Against Middlebury, he matched Jared Lebowitz ‘18 throw for throw to pick apart Middlebury’s iffy secondary. And against the dominant Amherst defense, he kept it on the ground and ran for four touchdowns, including the game winner in OT. In an offseason that will see the departure of three elite quarterbacks, Maimaron is the next superstar. With other impressive first years like WR Frank Stola, RB T.J Dozier and LB T.J Rothman, Williams may well be the favorite to win the title next season. Imagine saying that two years ago.
As I said earlier, this was a season full of stellar seniors. Wesleyan’s tandem of QB Mark Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler put up video game numbers all year, and forced some record book re-writing. Breuler ended the season with 87 receptions and 1167 yards, both records, and Piccirillo finished the season with a 70.4% completion percentage, top five in the country. These two stars might be the top two contenders for POY, but they weren’t the only stars who will be leaving the NESCAC sky. Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ‘18 closed his career with back to back NESCAC titles, and picked apart Wesleyan in his final game to the tune of 228 yards and three touchdowns (2 passing one rushing.) Puzzo is one of the most successful QB’s in recent NESCAC history.
And then there’s Jared Lebowitz. I promised myself (and every other writer) that I wouldn’t write this whole article about him, but just a few words. When he went down against Bates, he was having one of the best QB seasons in recent NESCAC history, with 18 touchdowns against just two interceptions. His matchup with Puzzo and Trinity is one of the great “what-ifs” of the season, as if he had played it might have been an all-time classic. No matter what, Lebowitz will go down as maybe the best of the Middlebury quarterback dynasty, and one of the best on any team. I may still vote for him as the Second Team QB (I kid, I kid.)
There’s one more, considerably less athletic graduating senior to mention; me. This will be my last season covering NESCAC football for this blog. I’m in the library and crying is frowned upon so I won’t write too much, but just know that this blog has been the best choice I’ve made in my college career. I got my start with football, and getting to write about the teams that I’ve grown up loving (Middlebury) and loathing (Amherst) is an incredible pleasure. To all the players, parents and fans, you’re the reason we do it, thank you for reading.
In the words of Bill Belichick, we’re on to basketball.
As always, make sure you check out Matt’s excellent piece on the Game of the Week, Amherst @ Williams. But that is far from the only good game here on the last weekend of the season. Middlebury @ Tufts has major championship implications, as does, of course, Trinity vs Wesleyan. And the other games feature young teams battling it out for pride and confidence, which can often produce the best games. This is how the season ends, not with a whimper, but with a bang.
Middlebury (6-2) @ Tufts (5-3), 12:30 PM, Medford, MA
It would take a good deal of help from Wesleyan and Williams for this game to have championship ramifications but it could. If Wesleyan beats Trinity, Williams beats Amherst, and Middlebury beats Tufts, then the Panthers would be one of four teams (Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst and them) who finish at 7-2. Additionally, Middlebury would have the head to head tiebreaker over Wesleyan and Amherst. There’s a lot of moving parts to that equation, but all of them are very possible, so Middlebury has quite a bit to play for in this game. Tufts has no championship hopes, but they;d love to play spoiler and grab a win over an elite team.
As has been the case for Middlebury for the last two weeks, the big key is the play of Jack Meservy ‘19. He got knocked around by Trinity (the best secondary in the league) and did some knocking of his own against Hamilton (arguably the worst.) Against the Continentals he flashed a nice touch on deep balls, throwing two deep touchdowns to speed merchant Jimmy Martinez ‘19. Tufts ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of NESCAC secondaries (with Hamilton and Trinity as the two ends.) Tim Preston ‘18 is a threat, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help this year, and Tufts defensive numbers are middling at best. A good showing here could cement Meservy’s spot as next year’s starter… or Lebowitz could come back. We shall see.
Middlebury’s defense has been really excellent since Lebowitz went down, allowing the offense many chances to put it together. But they haven’t faced an attack quite like Tufts yet. Ryan McDonald ‘19 challenges defenses with his legs even more than Puzzo and Maimaron, two quarterbacks whom Middlebury often allowed to escape the pocket and move the chains through scrambling. And plus, the Jumbos’ run game is starting to look more like last year’s albeit without one star. In their last three weeks, which feature a win over Williams and an impressive loss to amherst (31-26,) Tufts has used a committee of talented backs to beat teams on the ground and set up play action throws on the run for McDonald. It’s hard to predict which back will be the lead, but Mike Pedrini ‘21 and Andrew Sanders have both played well. Run defense has killed Middlebury in both of their losses, particularly containing quarterbacks. I think it hurts them again this week.
This classic offense-defense matchup features Trinity fighting to keep the solo championship which was all but guaranteed for much of the season. They’ll need help from Williams, of course, but nothing happens unless they win here. And boy do they have their work cut out for them. Wesleyan may well have played the best all-around game of any team this season last week, pasting Williams 35-0. They held the Ephs to just 127 total yards, and phenom QB Bobby Maimaron to just 51, with two interceptions. And on the other side of the ball, QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 stuck his namely firmly at the front of the POY race. He has now not thrown an interception in three games after throwing seven in the first five, and has five passing touchdowns in the last two. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the year (with no fumbles in the last five games) and is in the top five in the country in completion percentage at over 70%. With Lebowitz possibly done, Piccirillo is the best QB in the conference, and a win over the Bantams would cement his legacy and secure his hardware.
Trinity has to be pretty steamed following a pretty severe beatdown at the hands of the Mammoths. The final score of 28-20 is misleading–Amherst dominated the whole way, and the Bantams scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left to make it more respectable. Much of Trinity’s offense is created by their defense; takeaways set them up in great field position and force opposing defense back onto the field quickly tiring them out and allowing Max Chipouras ‘19 to find the holes. Amherst didn’t turn the ball over once, and as such was able to dominate time of possession 36:22 to 23:07. As I said above, Wesleyan has not been turning the ball over at all lately. Piccirillo has cleaned it up, and they have a pen of sure-handed running backs, like Sean Penney ‘21 and Glenn Smith ‘21, who hold onto the ball and can run out the clock or set up Piccirillo scrambles. Trinity has to force turnovers in this game, and they may have to look outside of Dominique Seagears ‘18, who will have his hands full with Mike Breuler ‘18. The linebacking corps of Dago Picon-Roura ‘19, Liam Kenneally ‘18 and Carty Campbell ‘18 may make the difference. If they can pick of a slant pass or force a fumble from one of those young running backs, Trinity is back in business.
Predicted Score: Trinity 27, Wesleyan 20
Bates (2-6) @ Hamilton (2-6)
The “Best of the Rest” championship could actually be a pretty thrilling game. Both teams are high octane offenses with bad defenses. That’s the recipe for a lot of points, and in a hurry. Bates’ offense is more of a recent development. QB Brendan Costa ‘21 has found the easier half of the schedule to his liking, turning into ‘08 Madden Michael Vick before our eyes. He leads all NESCAC players in rushing yards over the last four weeks, and has made some big throws as well. Bates is inverting the NESCAC offensive trend of the season, by using passes as a change of pace for a run-heavy offense. Mickey Nichol, Brian Daly and Jaason Lopez are all receivers who can make big plays out of short, dump-off passes in between Costa’s electrifying runs. Against bad defenses, this offense is very fun to watch, and tremendously successful.
Hamilton is a more traditional offense, but can also light up weak defenses. QB Kenny Gray ‘20 is underrated, and he has legit set of weapons in Joe Schmidt ‘20, Christian Donohoe ‘20, and RB Mitch Bierman ‘21. Gray missed their game against Middlebury last week, and his status for this game is up in the air. If he doesn’t play, Bates should have an easy path to victory. But even if he does, the porous hamilton defense should let Costa do whatever he wants in leading the Bobcats to victory.
Predicted Score: Bates 35, Hamilton 28
Colby (0-8) @ Bowdoin (0-8), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME
If you remember Season Four of Friday Night Lights, the “Toilet Bowl” was a huge moment of team bonding for East Dillon Lions. It was their first win, and for a team that had to forfeit their home opener due to injury concerns, the importance of that win could not be overstated. For one of these teams, that will also be the case. Bowdoin has enjoyed some offensive success as of late. Promising first year QB Griff Stalcup played a great game against Wesleyan, but missed last week’s loss to Bates. But Noah Nelson ‘19 was able to step in against Bates and put up a very effective performance, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Bowdoin has the weapons to be an effective offense with consistent QB play. RB Nate Richam ‘18 is injured, but Gregory Olsen ‘21 looked like his NFL counterpart last week, catching two touchdowns. WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18 have long been underrated based on playing in Bowdoin. The Polar Bears have the offense to make this a laugher.
Colby doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of Bowdoin, but they have real difference-makers on defense. LB Sebastian Philemon ‘19 (69 tackles) and S Don Vivian ‘19 (3 INT) are legit All-League candidates. Against Bowdoin’s precariously good offense, the two of them should be real difference makers. Add in versatile RB Jake Schwern ‘19, who should get a ton of touches, and this really is anybody’s game. I’ll take the Polar Bears at home.
With Amherst knocking off Trinity last week in impressive fashion, a more dominant showing than the 28-20 final score would indicate, the Mammoths control their own destiny—win their final game and they are NESCAC champions. But that game is the 132nd installment of the Biggest Little Game in America, to be played out in Williamstown where the Ephs have a legitimate chance to defeat their archrival for the first time in a while. Led by a breakout freshmen class, Williams looks to have put their recent struggles in the past, and at 5-3 are certainly good enough to snap Amherst’s 6 game winning streak in the rivalry. With Amherst looking to clinch a championship, and Williams looking to send their seniors off in style and prevent any celebrating from being done on their own turf, this game is truly up for grabs.
Amherst couldn’t have been much happier with how they played last week, snapping Trinity’s 16 game win streak and leapfrogging over them to the top of the standings. While I admittedly did not give them much of a chance in last week’s preview, they did do all of the things I said they needed to do to knock off the Bants. They never let Max Chipouras ’19 get settled in for Trinity, which for him translated to 26 carries for “only” 92 yards and a touchdown. They forced Sonny Puzzo ’18 to beat them and he couldn’t, throwing for 172 yards and an interception. And Reece Foy ’18 hit James O’Regan ’20 for a 55 yard touchdown pass, which means we hit my keys to the game trifecta of:
1. Make someone other than Chipouras beat you
2. Force turnovers and short fields and
3. Hit a home run play on offense.
This Amherst team is legit. It may have taken 8 weeks and a lot of badgering from the Facebook comment sections to make us say that, but following their performance against Trinity they have truly proven themselves. Their lack of a superstar QB and the fact that Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 split carries for their dominant rushing attack mean that no one on their offense really jumps out at you, and they don’t have the depth of dangerous playmakers on defense that teams like Trinity and Tufts do, but they’re legit. They have the best offensive line in the league, the best linebacking corps in the league, and probably the best group of cover corners in the league as well.
But they will be tested in every which way by this Williams team. QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WR Frank Stola ’21, and the rest of the weapons on Coach Raymond’s offense can put points up in a hurry, and you just know they’ll have some tricks up their sleeve for this one. Their defensive line started out really strong, but has faded in recent weeks. If they can return to their early season form, and link up with their linebackers, who have been really good in their own right all year, this game is going to come down to the wire. This rivalry has been quite one-sided for more than half a decade now, but that’s not going to be the case on Saturday.
Amherst X-Factor: WR James O’Regan ’20
Their leading receiver in every statistical category except for the fact that he has one less reception than Bo Berluti ’19 (36), O’Regan ’20 might be the most under appreciated skill player in the NESCAC. His 18.7 yards per catch lead the league and his ability to stretch the field vertically is one of the factors that have gone into Hickey and Figueroa’s success on the ground. The weak spot in the Williams defense is their cornerbacks. They’ve combined for 1 interception, and it was a desperation heave to the back of the end zone against Hamilton. Four different Wesleyan receivers had receptions of 20+ yards, and if O’Regan can hit them for big plays like that, it’s going to be really hard for them to key in on the Amherst run game like they’re going to want to.
Fortunately for O’Regan, at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, he is going to have a huge advantage over whichever cornerback Williams chooses to throw at him. Desmond Butler ’19 is 5’11 and Amhyr Barber ’19 is 5’10. It doesn’t get any bigger at the safety position, so unless they plan on throwing a linebacker like 6’2″ 205 TJ Rothman ’21 on O’Regan in select packages and losing arguably their best run stopper, it is simply going to be an uphill battle for whoever matches up with O’Regan. Everything is set up for him to have a big day.
Williams X-Factor: DE Jameson DeMarco ’19
There were a lot of options for this pick, as is the case when you play a really good team. But beating Amherst begins and ends with stopping the run. TJ Rothman ’21 (3rd, 79), Jarrett Wesner ’21 (7th, 65), and Luke Apuzzi ’20 (9th, 63), all rank in the top ten in the league in tackles, but as those numbers indicate, there’s no doubt that they’ll bring it on Saturday. Instead, it’s the Williams defensive front that needs to really step it up, and DeMarco is going to need to lead that unit. DeMarco leads the team in sacks with 4.5 and is second on the team in tackles for loss, but a lot of those numbers came earlier in the year. This defense made a big splash in Week 3 when they held Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19 to just 80 yards on 28 carries, by far his most inefficient game of the season, and DeMarco was the main culprit behind that effort, going for 7 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss. Williams as a team hasn’t been tested against a traditional rushing attack really at all since they faced Trinity, being matched up against aerial threats like Middlebury’s Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo ’19, or dual threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19 at Tufts.
While it’s a small sample size, just one game, it was against the league’s best running back in Chipouras, and their performance against a smash mouth back like him should give them confidence in being able to stop Hickey and Figueroa. They have other playmakers on their D-Line such as DeMarco’s counterpart DE Austin Thomas ’19, and NT Chris Hattar ’18, that will be relied on to stop Amherst’s offense, but DeMarco has done it before and he needs to do it again on Saturday.
This is going to be a really fun one. The biggest Division III rivalry in the country, and one of the biggest in all of collegiate sports, two exciting, talented teams, and a championship on the line. While College Gameday isn’t going to be in Williamstown this week, this is probably the most exciting installment of this rivalry to take place in the Berkshires since Chris, Lee, and Herbie came to town in 2007. This time last year Williams was 0-7 and Amherst was 3-4. But now the two teams find themselves in much different, better places. Williams has turned 0-7 into 5-3 with some new young stars, and Amherst, after flying under the radar all season, finds itself needing to win one game to win a league title, with the chance to celebrate it on their hated nemesis’s field.
Like any football game really, all eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks. With it being both Amherst’s Ollie Eberth ’20 and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron ’21’s first experience under center in this rivalry, it will be interesting to see how they handle the nerves that come with it. But Eberth ’20 has impressed week in and week out, passing every test along the way, and Maimaron has rarely looked like a freshman this fall. I think both young quarterbacks, and both teams really, will come out and play their best games. Both teams are well coached and in the last week of the season, should be the most prepared they’ve been all year.
This game will probably be decided by something as simple as who takes care of the ball better and commits less turnovers. There is enough playmaking on both teams that any of 8-10 guys could be the hero in what will be an otherwise pretty even game (Amherst has the better offensive line and secondary, but it’s just about a wash everywhere else). I may be biased, but if Pete was doing this preview he’d find a way for Middlebury to win the game so I’ll survive (Editor’s Note: Actually if Williams wins this game, Middlebury has a chance to tie for the league title, so Middlebury could actually be won of the winners in this one.) Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his favorite target, classmate Frank Stola ’21, will end their explosive freshman seasons in style, conjuring up the same late game magic they brought to Midd in Week 5, and the Ephs will eke one out in the 30 degree weather on Homecoming, ending a 6 game win streak and Amherst’s title hopes in style.
What a weekend! Here we go, headed into the first ever Week Nine with the NESCAC championship hanging in the balance. After Amherst’s 28-20 victory over the previously undefeated Trinity Bantams, the Mammoths are in first place and in control of their own destiny. However, Amherst has no easy task in their game against Williams, who surprisingly got blown out by Wesleyan 35-0. Middlebury knocked off Hamilton (41-20), and Tufts routed Colby easily (28-14), each showing a bit more fight than expected. Bates was able to defeat Bowdoin 24-17, winning the CBB for the fourth straight year. There is a lot in store for this coming weekend, with lots of potential tiebreakers on the table, but these rankings focus on where teams are now. Heading into the last week with a leapfrog at the top of the standings, this is how things shake out:
I didn’t expect to see another team other than Trinity in this spot all year, let alone Amherst. When I wrote off Amherst earlier in the season, I considered only their lack of a superstar at QB, making it difficult to win the league. While Ollie Eberth is solid, teetering on elite, he is not as good as Trinity’s Sonny Puzzo. With the NESCAC being a QB centric league, a team at the top of the standings without the best QB is a bit puzzling. With their victory over Trinity, the Mammoths proved that defense can rule all as this team’s ability to stop the run puts them over the top. Andrew Yamin and John Callahan had big games on Saturday, collecting a sack and five tackles for a loss between them, limiting RB Max Chipouras to just 3.5 yards per carry. Amherst has a stellar defense, QB depth, a solid receiving group, and a top back in Jack Hickey. It’s there for the taking; bring it home, Mammoths.
Let’s be clear—Trinity is not far below Amherst. A one possession loss as their only slip up as the entire season is not exactly a cause for drastic distance in these ranks. Chipouras struggled but is still the best RB in the league and won’t be stopped this weekend. Sonny Puzzo is still one of the top three QBs in the NESCAC despite an INT. Trinity’s defense is still by and large the best in the league, but matched up poorly against the deep Amherst rushing attack. Amherst has a better rush D, but Trinity still has the best secondary and has allowed the fewest points all year—the main goal for defenses. They were bested on Saturday by two Jack Hickey rushing TDs, one Eberth rushing TD, and a Reece Foy passing TD. Trinity could still win it all with a win against a hot Wesleyan team and an Amherst loss, but they are second this week. Let it sink in, folks, the winning streak is over.
I was quite critical of Wesleyan after their poor offensive performance in their 21-10 victory against Bowdoin in week seven. They really proved me wrong. Like really, really did the opposite of what I thought. And that’s one of the reasons why college football is so great and why I don’t get paid. QB Mark Piccirillo flipped the switch in their 35-0 trouncing of a great Williams team, winning NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week and accounting for four TDs (two throwing, two rushing). The Cardinal defense also picked off Bobby Maimaron twice, big steps if they are to have a chance against Trinity this week. Sans Dario Highsmith, their offense proved that it is not to be trifled with, beating a much better defense than that of the Polar Bears who they struggled against. They made adjustments, kept the ball in Piccirillo’s hands more and trusting his decision-making. They should do the same in their finale against Trinity, he’s proven himself.
While Colby (0-8) is not good at football, Tufts (5-3) had some bright spots in their 28-14 win. Ryan McDonald looked a little bit iffy, but still ran the ball well, accumulating 65 yards, giving way to Ryan Hagfeldt later in the game. Mike Pedrini was a work horse in the game, rushing 31 times for 135 yards. His development into a more established and reliable back for the Jumbos should make 2018 very interesting. The Tufts secondary, namely Alex LaPiana (INT), Brett Phillips (INT) , and Tim Preston (two INTs) were on fire against the Mules, giving hope for a final win against Midd this weekend. They have been a bit inconsistent this season, putting up some duds, but also beating Williams—so what they bring to the table is a bit up in the air. They look to have a top tier QB, a true starting RB, decent receivers, and a good secondary—a recipe for success against the current Midd team.
You might be thinking how could a three loss team (Tufts) possibly be above a two loss team (Midd is now 6-2 after beating Hamilton)? Well for one, it’s boring to just rank teams off of their overall records—if that’s how it was then you wouldn’t need rankings and could just look at the standings. Secondly, these rankings are about where team are now not where they were earlier in the season and what their aggregate season totals are. Jack Merservy would be in the ‘Stock Up’ category if this was a stock report, but it isn’t. He is still unproven—Hamilton isn’t good—and Tufts’ Ryan McDonald is proven. The run game for the Panthers just isn’t there. Diego Meritus finally had a solid game in an injury hampered season, but they still are comparably weaker to the other top teams. Their receivers are still awesome, but their defense performed weakly against a first time Continental QB and a below average RB in Mitch Bierman. Crazily enough, they still could win a share of the NESCAC title if they beat Tufts, Trinity loses to Wesleyan, and Amherst loses to Williams. Of course, that share of the title would be based on their past successes and not how good they are right now without Jared Lebowitz.
This ranking wasn’t too difficult and it looks as if the Ephs are locked into their sixth place spot for the season. A 35-0 defining loss to Wesleyan surely spells the end of the magic for this young and coming team. They have dropped 2-3 games to teams that they were favorites against (Tufts and Wesleyan) and sit at 5-3 after a blistering start to the season. QB Bobby Maimaron had his first collegiate football hiccups after throwing two picks and for just 51 yards and zero points. It was bad all around for the Ephs and they looked as bad as they did last year in week eight. Let’s hope that they salvage their morale and promise for next season with a solid closing performance against Amherst.
The Bobcats and Hamilton are essentially tied for this seventh spot, but Bates (2-6) takes the cake with the hot hand. They really embodied their offensive style against Bowdoin, totally giving up on throwing and dominating the ground for a 24-17 win. Part of that was surely a factor of the score of the game and weakness of their opponent, but it’s cool to see such dynamic rushers getting high volumes of chances. They attempted five passes and 51 rushes, accumulating 367 yards of offense, 344 from the rush. Brendan Costa ’21, a wildcat, RB in QB form, elusive player, showed the Polar Bears what he’s made of with 170 of those yards. While they didn’t see another up and coming QB in Griff Stalcup—a huge bummer as a 2021 QB matchup would’ve been pretty sweet—they still shut down the more experienced Noah Nelson. The final week will settle this battle with Hamilton in the rankings as it will decide, truly, who is the best of the rest.
Another decent offensive performance against a top team and another loss, 41-20. It’s been a tough season for this team (2-6) in that they have looked like they are ready to pull off an upset but can never really get over the hump to win against a team not named Bowdoin or Colby. They were never in the game against Midd, but at least scored some garbage time points. Their defense is their biggest weakness, as 41 straight Panther points spelled a quick doom for the Continentals. Sam Foley made his first start of the year and did alright, finding Joe Schmidt and Connor Cates frequently, collecting a TD and 276 yards in the air. The second and third tiers of their defense—linebackers and DBs—stood no chance against the Midd receivers. While they beat Bowdoin and Colby just like Bates, they haven’t been able to limit opposing offenses and could easily let Costa run all over them.
While I am uncertain about the nature of Griff Stalcup’s absence from their week eight loss, it’s easy to say even without him, the Polar Bears are better than Colby. Finally, one of these teams will get into the win column, and if Stalcup is playing, it will likely be Bowdoin. Bowdoin consistently puts up double digit points regardless of their opponent, and has manageable if not good receivers. In what is Bryan Porter’s and Nick Vailas’ last games, whoever throws the ball will throw to them. They are the playmakers putting Bowdoin over Colby and should take them into the 1-8 promise land.
This has been a season of despair for a team that represented a guaranteed win for all other NESCAC teams in 2017. Jack O’Brien tried to make a push towards a mid-tier QB level, but threw too many picks to do so. Jake Schwern tried to establish himself as a reliable back but lacked the efficiency. LB Sebastien Philemon and DB Don Vivian tried to tackle every single opponent and pick off every pass, but had zero help. They didn’t have depth, consistency, playmakers, or hope. Sorry, Mule fans, start hoping for a good class of 2022 and strong recoveries for the injured offensive linemen in your football futures as this program needs to rebuild.
After what seemed like an eternity, Week 8 in the NESCAC awoke us from what had been a 7 week snooze fest. Trinity finally fell, Amherst roared to the front, and everything in the middle is really starting to shape up. With a champion still yet to be crowned, however, and a lot of spots to be settled in the standings, let’s see who’s playing their best football at the right time.
I don’t know at what point over my two decades of being a Patriots fan I realized that Bill Belichick was a genius and some sort of football savant, but I’ve never felt more confident in that opinion than after Saturday afternoon in Middletown. Following a visit from the legendary head coach during practice in the lead up to the game, Wesleyan absolutely trounced Williams 35-0. Bill Belichick has done some truly exceptional things in his football career, famous for turning late round draft picks and free agent cast offs into stars, but motivating this Wesleyan defense to pitch a shutout against a standout and prolific Williams offense, holding them to just 127 (127!) yards of total offense, as well as rallying Mark Picarillo ’19 to turn in his best game of the season, 26-32 for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as 69 more yards and two more touchdowns with his feet, all without starting running back Dario Highsmith ’20, might be his most impressive.
Great to have Wes Alum Coach Belichick come talk to the team before big game against Williams! #ChooseGreatness#RollCards pic.twitter.com/EnhnxPjG4a
Trinity had a chance to clinch the league at Pratt Field on Saturday, but Amherst showed up in a big way to snap their 16 game win streak. Instead, Amherst finds itself holding the head to head tiebreaker between the two 7-1 teams. Now the league championship will be settled in Williamstown on Saturday, where Amherst and Williams will play what should be their most exciting game in years. If Amherst wins, they’ll be league champs. If Trinity wins and Amherst loses, then everyone will lose their minds trying to figure out tiebreakers between potentially 4 two loss teams. Either way, the league being decided in its most famous rivalry is a whole lot better than Trinity having already locked it up. Amherst @ Williams and Trinity @ Wesleyan will be must watch games.
Tufts’ Balance Heading into 2018
Sitting at 5-3 and mathematically eliminated from championship contention, Tufts has begun looking forward towards next year, and they should have a lot to be excited about. Understandably so, they may never fill the hole Chance Brady ’17 left in their backfield, but following RB Mike Pedrini ’21’s 135 yard and 3 TD performance against Colby, they can see that it is slowly being repaired. If Pedrini can continue to produce like he has of late, the idea of the Jumbos returning dual-threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19, Pedrini, and top WR Jack Dolan ’19 for 2018 should project them to be one of, if not the, top offense in the league next year.
Bates’ 24-17 victory over Bowdoin clinched their 4th straight CBB title, as the Bates senior class became the first class in the 123 year history of Bates football to go a combined 8-0 against Bowdoin and Colby. Things have been bleak in Lewiston for most of the year, but I would imagine this has to feel pretty good.
Morale in Williamstown
I think a lot of people thought this year’s matchup against Wesleyan was going to go differently than last year’s, a 59-14 final that would have been a lot worse had Wesleyan Head Coach Dan DiCenzo not called off the dogs at 56-14, which was the score at halftime. Williams’ rapid turnaround under second year Coach Mark Raymond, and the breakthrough of QB Bobby Maimaron ’21 and the rest of their stud freshman class (way too many to name, seriously) has been one of the stories of this season, but they were certainly brought down to Earth after a 35-0 drubbing. They need to turn things around in a hurry to give their senior class a legitimate chance (which they have) to beat Amherst for the first time in their careers, and 6-3 sounds a whole lot better than 5-4.
It’s coming to an end, folks. Just one more week in what has turned out to be quite a season in the NESCAC. Winter sports have started up and pretty soon all the pristine turf fields around New England’s elite small colleges will be draped in snow. As mentioned earlier, this is shaping up to be quite the finale, so enjoy it while you can.
There is another championship caliber game this week in Trinity @ Amherst, which has its own separate preview, but there are still a number of interesting games with pride on the line. The final nine positions in the standings are still up for grabs, and while that might not mean much to some, many programs will benefit in morale, momentum, and recruiting (which obviously doesn’t happen in the NESCAC for our readers from admissions offices) for future seasons. Bates and Bowdoin have the battle for Maine, Williams and Wesleyan are tied in the standings with Williams looking to jump even higher up the ladder from 2016, Midd needs to put up or shut up, Hamilton could still put up a respectable record, and Tufts is in danger of falling to .500. Sorry to Colby Mule fans, there isn’t much going on for you this week other than a potential for a monstrous defeat. Lots to watch this weekend and here is what to expect:
Bowdoin (0-7) @ Bates (1-6), 12:30 PM, Lewiston, ME
Two promising first year QBs for struggling teams in this game. Is this the future of the NESCAC? The next two teams to make a Williams/Bobby Maimaron-esque jump to the top in 2018? Only time will tell how each young signal caller turns out and how their teams develop with them, but for now, Griff Stalcup ’21 and Brendan Costa ’21 should provide an intense matchup in their first of four career head to head battles. Stalcup struggled mightily against Trinity (63-14 loss), looking like he was in danger of losing his job, but knocked it out of the park in a 21-10 loss to Wesleyan. He threw for 317 yards, a TD, and didn’t turn the ball over. Despite a loss, the two possession difference against Wesleyan is a positive for this struggling Polar Bear squad. With Nate Richam ’18 out, the Bowdoin running game is much weaker, but they adjusted from the Trinity to Wesleyan games, making a stab at a late comeback. They also resorted to a more pass oriented offense as Robert Kollmer isn’t nearly as dangerous as Richam. While Richam and Kollmer are both young and promising for the Bowdoin future, without Richam, the passing game will once again be on display. Defense has been a big issue for the Polar Bears, holding off the Cardinals’ running attack, although they were without lead back Dario Highsmith ’20. Their passing defense isn’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern against a run-heavy Bobcat offense. Their senior receivers Nick Vailas and Bryan Porter should be open for Stalcup, but their key will be stopping the rush. They have a shot, but Costa might be too much to handle.
A run oriented offense against a weak rush defense (actually, the worst rush defense, allowing 205.7 yards per game). This is a recipe for success for Brendan Costa and the slot-receivers of Bates football. Coming off of a rather ugly win against Colby (27-24, we must not forget that Bates could still easily be 0-7 and in search for their first win. I mean, looking at the matchup and how Costa played, they are the favorite here, but they shouldn’t be by much. If it weren’t for the perfect opponent for this offense, there’s no way the Bobcats could be projected to win. They allow the most pass yards per game (273) and points per game (40.6!) in the NESCAC. Granted Bowdoin, as previously mentioned, allows the most rush yards per game and also the second most points per game (34.7). This is a recipe for Costa to find some success to Mickoy Nichol, and for him, Nichol, and Frank Williams to find some room on the ground. This game should be a defensive nightmare, but will also be a mano-a-mano battle of the new guy QBs for bragging rights in Maine.
Predicted Score: Bates 31, Bowdoin 28
Williams (5-2) @ Wesleyan (5-2), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT
Another exciting game between two top teams who are just barely out of it, still feeling the sting of Trinity’s dominance. Pride is on the line for both, while Williams looks to one up another top team who dominated them a year ago. With such a young team, each high intensity game gives them an edge for next year when they face the Bantams again. With Williams’ depth, they should be the favorites as without Dario Highsmith, injured against Bowdoin, Wesleyan is not nearly as dangerous offensively. Connor Harris has been the lead back all year, but TJ Dozier has really come on the past three games, putting a hurting on Hamilton last game with 112 yards in their 24-6 win. With Bobby Maimaron at the helm, Rashad Morrison, Harris, and Dozier on the ground, and Frank Stola, Justin Nelson, and Adam Regensburg on the hands team, the Eph offense is scary good. Their only real flawed game was against Tufts in a 21-13 loss where they were vulnerable in the secondary. S Luke Apuzzi, LB Jarrett Wesner, and LB TJ Rothman will need to be strong in the second and third tiers of the defense helping the DBs in order to limit Piccirillo.
Without Dario Highsmith, QB Mark Piccirillo will need to step up in a big way if Wesleyan is to better their 6-2 record from 2016. Piccirillo looked good against Bowdoin, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen because of how weak their defense is. Therefore, recently, Piccirillo has struggled mightily. Besides the Bowdoin and Amherst games, he has thrown INTs in every game (including games against Hamilton, Bates, AND Colby). In the game he didn’t throw one against the Mammoths, he got absolutely abused, sacked nine times for 51 yards. Even against Bowdoin he was sacked four times. So maybe, he is just learning to go to the ground and not make late passes when he is being bore down upon by defensive linemen. The Cardinals offensive line is clearly a factor here as their RB Highsmith is injured and Piccirillo is getting hit at an incredible rate, spelling trouble against a strong Williams defense (fourth in the NESCAC with 20 sacks). Williams has a good secondary to boot, so Piccirillo has a tough test here. Now, I am critical of Piccirillo because of how one bad decision could easily change the course of this game. He still leads the NESCAC in passing yards, passing TDs (18), and has the best receiver in the league in Mike Breuler. This is going to have to be a two man show for the Cardinals, and unless Piccirillo learns how to scramble a bit better, he might be in for some trouble. Can he take care of the ball enough to get it to Breuler two times or more? Possible, but unlikely.
Predicted Score: Williams 27, Wesleyan 17
Hamilton (2-5) @ Middlebury (5-2), 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT
Sadly, Middlebury must now prepare for life post-Lebowitz three games earlier than expected. Jack Meservy ’19 is the heir apparent, and this game is critical for his development. He got knocked around big time by Trinity, but impressed many with his perseverance and arm strength. Middlebury is a quarterback factory, and he has all the tools to succeed. A choice matchup with Hamilton is a great opportunity for Meservy to gain some confidence going into a tough final game at Tufts, and then his senior season.
Against Trinity, Middlebury tried to take some pressure off Meservy by establishing the run, never an easy thing to do against the Bantams. It didn’t work. Middlebury only averaged 3.1 yards per carry against Trinity, down from their season average. Middlebury isn’t built to run the ball, as their entire offense has been set up around Lebowitz’ elite arm. Against Hamilton, they should be free to use much more of the original playbook, as the Continentals give up the third most passing yards per game. Look for Middlebury to get back to their high-flying ways, and potentially use this game as an audition of sorts for Meservy as the starter of the future.
As much as this game is an opportunity for Middlebury, it is far more of one for Hamilton. They will NEVER get as good a chance to knock off a top tier team as this one, and a win against Middlebury would give their various young stars a huge confidence boost. To do this they need to vary their offense. Middlebury’s defense played a fabulous game against Trinity despite getting virtually no rest; they held Sonny Puzzo to his lowest completion percentage and fewest yards of the season. The odds are that they can do the same to Kenny Gray ’20. Middlebury has a plethora of excellent athletes in the secondary to throw at Joe Schmidt ’21, so the run game is the key this week for the Continentals. Mitch Bierman ’21 has been largely ineffective since a breakout against Bowdoin two weeks (and as always, offensive performances against Bowdoin don’t count,) but Marcus Gutierrez ’18 has been running well lately. Look for both of them to get more carries than usual to try and set up Gray’s big play ability. Hamilton will try to seize this opportunity to take down the Panthers, but I think they still fall short.
Predicted Score: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 17
Tufts (4-3) @ Colby (0-7), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME
The only one-sided game on paper this weekend features a Tufts team that is struggling to remain on the upper crust of the league. They have one quality win; a 21-13 victory over Williams two weeks ago, but other than that they have lost all three of their games against teams with winning records. It is turnovers that have been their downfall. Each of their losses has been decided by one possession and they have 13 turnovers in 7 games. You’re not going to beat Trinity or even Wesleyan if you give them free possessions. QB Ryan McDonald has 11 of those turnovers, keeping him out of the POY conversation even though he is electrifying to watch. McDonald should use this game as an exercise in taking care of the ball, as their Week Nine game with Middlebury will be another golden chance to beat a top tier team.
Luckily for the Jumbos, Colby’s offense is likely not good enough to make them pay if they do turn the ball over. But it’s an improvement to even say likely. After not scoring more than seven points in any of the first five games of the season, they have scored 24 points in each of the last two. This is largely the result of lesser competition; Colby finally reached the other lower tier teams part of the schedule. But they have also finally worked out some QB issues. Jack O’Brian ’20 has found success in the read option, using his legs to create Colby’s best scoring chances of the season. It won’t matter against Tufts, but Colby has enough pride to make this a game if Tufts takes it too lightly.
As Pete mentioned last week, and as we have really mentioned all fall, the pros that come with the incredibly backloaded NESCAC schedule this season—the one that gave us about 3 games worth watching through October, is that there is always a really big game down the stretch that decides the league champion. From the get go, Trinity and Middlebury’s Week 7 matchup was always slated to be this matchup as they flexed their muscles through the first 6 games of the season. But this year’s lopsided schedule means that we have been gifted with a second unofficial championship game this Saturday, when undefeated Trinity travels once again to face a one loss team, this time in the form of Amherst at Pratt Field.
Have we run out of things to say about Trinity? It certainly feels like it. Every week they just chug along and take care of their business. Jared Lebowitz ’18’s absence for Middlebury took almost all the fun out of that game, as it was as ugly as the 27-5 scoreline would indicate, but the Bantams continue to impress. They passed a tough road test against a Tufts team that is much better than their 4-3 record would indicate, and although we didn’t know it at the time, their 17-9 win against Williams in Week 2 was indicative of their ability to do whatever it takes to win. There isn’t really much else to add: they’re the reigning league champs, winners of 16 in a row, with the best offense and best defense in the league. They are a great football team, and it is going to be really hard to beat them on Saturday.
Enough about Trinity. Everyone is sick of hearing about Trinity. In fact, everyone is so sick of hearing about Trinity that people want to hear about Amherst, which might be the Bantams’ most impressive accomplishment of the year. Amherst has gotten absolutely no love from everyone all year, and I would put myself at the top of that list. Two weeks ago I had them at 5th in the Power Rankings, citing the fact that their 4 wins at the time were against the four worst teams in the league, and writing that they could be “anywhere from a 4-5 team to an 8-1 team”. Well following statement wins at home versus Wesleyan, and on the road at Tufts, it’s safe to say they have much more 8-1 in them than 4-5. They have flown under the radar week after week, but this week they share the spotlight with a chance to take the wheel in the race for the NESCAC championship. They have a defense with the potential to give Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 fits, and a balanced offense that is right behind Trinity’s with 33 points per game. They don’t have any one or two go to guys on offense to rely on that most of the top NESCAC offenses have, i.e. a Puzzo and Chipouras, or Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo and Mike Breuler, and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron and Frank Stola, but they have consistently put points up on the board, only scoring less than 31 points in a gritty 21-17 win against Wesleyan. They have the guys to hang with Trinity for 60 minutes, but will they?
X-Factor for Trinity: QB Sonny Puzzo ’18
Not exactly taking a big leap here—for Trinity to win, especially in a game of this magnitude, their quarterback has to play well. Puzzo has had a bit of a weird season. He’s only 6th in the league in passing yards per game with 208, and tied for 3rd in touchdowns with 13, which isn’t as good as it sounds when you consider there are only really 6 quarterbacks in the league capable of airing it out, but only Jared Lebowitz ’18 has thrown less interceptions amongst starting QBs. He also just turned in arguably the worst passing game of his career, completely just 9 of 20 passes for 114 yards against Middlebury, but he picked up 76 yards and 2 touchdowns with his feet, showing the balance that makes him so dangerous.
Max Chipouras is going to show up on Saturday, and that is just a cold, hard fact. Amherst has spent all week game planning and scheming for him, but he’s still going to produce because that is all he has done all year. His “worst” statistical game of the season was 80 yards and a TD against Williams, and the only game all year he hasn’t found the end zone was last week against Middlebury and he rushed for 182 yards. A dominant performance from him is already penciled in as a given for this week, which is what makes Puzzo’s game all that much more important. If Puzzo can be his normal self, which means having success in obvious passing situations, extending plays and converting short yardage plays with his feet, and taking care of the ball, which are three things he has done excellently all year, there really isn’t a lot Amherst can do in this game. If Puzzo and Chipouras are clicking, then there probably isn’t a high probability of them pulling the upset, as it’s going to have to be a low scoring game (if you’re counting on Amherst winning 45-38 you should probably check a couple of Trinity defensive box scores first).
X-Factor for Amherst: LBs Andrew Sommer ’19 and Andrew Yamin ’19
Again, in a big game, the stars need to shine. Pete highlighted Aaron Slodowitz ’18 and the rest of the Middlebury linebacking corps’ importance in their game against Trinity, and their ability to tackle—a somewhat important skill when it comes to facing the best running back in the league. I’m choosing Sommer ’19 and Yamin ’19 for slightly similar but ultimately different reasons this week. These two have traded off monster weeks the last two Saturdays. Yamin’s 11 tackle, 5.5 sack performance against Wesleyan is still fresh in everyone’s (especially Mark Picarillo’s ) minds, and Sommer ’19’s 10 tackles and 2 sacks against Ryan McDonald ’19 and Tufts would’ve earned him DPOTW honors from me, but they’re going to have to find a way to do it at the same time this week.
As indicated by Sommer’s team lead in tackles and Yamin’s team (and league) lead in sacks, they play two different styles of linebacker, and that is why I think they have a chance to really disrupt Trinity. Their best chance of stopping them will be not by stopping Max Chipouras’ 19, because like I said I find that a little unrealistic, but by getting the ball out of his hands. If they can put Trinity in a lot of 2nd and 8-11 situations and 3rd and 5+, the Bantams might be forced to pass more than they want. A combination of Sommer ’19 stopping the run early and Yamin ’19 getting to Puzzo is how they neutralize Chipouras. This Trinity offense is legit, no doubt about that. But if Amherst can put them in longer yardage situations and keep Puzzo in the pocket, they’ll take their chances against Koby Schofer ’20 and an otherwise below average group of receivers. It will be difficult, and quite frankly, unlikely, but if they’re going to limit Trinity, this is how it’s going to have to happen, and it starts with these two.
A lot of things need to happen for Amherst to win this game, and they’ll need to do a lot of things they haven’t done much of this year. I could sit here and write about their top ranked rushing duo of Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18, how Ollie Eberth ’20 is really coming into his own, or how Amherst’s home-field advantage could play a huge role (it won’t—Trinity went on the road to both Tufts and Middlebury and came away just fine, they’re used to it at this point). But I’m not going to lie to you and talk you into Amherst winning this game, because Trinity is the better football team, and they’ve been on the receiving end of the entire league’s best effort every week for almost three years now, yet they continue to win. If Amherst wants to win this game, they are going to need to force turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, and hit a couple of home run plays on offense. The logic is the same for both of these factors—Trinity will have the better offense and the better defense in this game, the longer a drive lasts, the more opportunities for them to show this. While Amherst relies on their running attack, they can’t expect to have any 14 play, 85 yard, 8 minute drives on this Trinity defense.
They can’t hope to survive many of those drives from Trinity either. The more touches for Chipouras, the more chances to break one open. They’ve turned teams over 9 teams in 6 games, and all of WR James O’Regan ’20, WR Craig Carmilani,, and RB Hasani Figueroa ’18 have broken plays for 75 yards or more. A big play like that early would force Trinity to play from behind and rely on Puzzo more than Chipouras, and forcing turnovers would supply them with a short field more conducive to their running game. It could happen if Amherst can do the aforementioned, all of which they’ve done before. But you wouldn’t get very rich betting against Trinity, and I’m not going to start trying now.
The Middlebury-Trinity game fell flat due to Jared Lebowitz’ injury against Bates. This has thrown the league for something of a loop, but it doesn’t really change the top that much. Trinity and Amherst play this weekend in the game that decides the league championship. If Trinity wins, no one can catch them, as they’d have the tie-breaker with Amherst even if they happened to lose in the final week of the season (unlikely.) There are several other terrific games this weekend with huge implications for the final standings. Let’s take a look at where those standings are at before those games.
1) Trinity (7-0)
The Bantams face their final challenger this weekend when they travel to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. Last weekend they easily dispatched the Lebowitz-less Panthers, forcing backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 into three turnovers (two picks and a fumble.) It was another dominant defensive performance, and LB Dago Picon-Roura ‘2 picked up the Defensive Player of the Week award on the strength of an amazing one handed interception. The run game was also dominant, as Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 combined for 258 yards on their own, with Puzzo scrambling in for two touchdowns. This defensive, pounding gameplan made up for a very poor effort from Puzzo through the air. He was only 9-20 throwing the ball for 120 yards, and had several throws that should have been intercepted by the Middlebury secondary. Amherst’s offense should be able to give their defense more of a rest than Middlebury’s did, so Puzzo will have to play better this weekend.
2) Amherst (6-1)
We may owe Ollie Eberth ’20 a small apology. For much of this season we’ve been talking about Amherst’s “QB uncertainty.” Eberth had been playing all year with the spectre of Reece Foy ’18 behind him. And indeed, even last week Foy threw a touchdown pass in his four attempt. But Eberth is clearly the guy, and he showed it against Tufts. He managed the game masterfully and took care of the ball, throwing for 250 yards and no interceptions. And he was dynamic with his legs, rushing for two scores. on his way to his first Offensive Player of the Week honor. Eberth will get an even bigger test against Trinity, a defense that turns people over better than anyone. He should get a lot of help from his defense. Andrew Yamin ’19 has 11.5 sacks this season and eats offensive linemen like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs. Amherst is the team most suited to beat Trinity, and they have their chance at home.
3) Williams (5-2)
We have yet another first year star in Williamstown. After Connor Harris ’18 went down with an injury, it was TJ Dozier ‘s (’21) time to step up. And that he has, getting more and more confident every week leading up to their game with Hamilton last Saturday. And against the Continentals (admittedly porous) defense, he broke out, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. The speedy back is proving he can be a workhorse, which is important for the Williams offense. They like to run a lot of play action and read plays to take advantage of Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his quick feet, but to do that you need a running back that scares the other enough to make them buy the fake. Williams has another suspect defensive matchup this weekend in Wesleyan, but the Cardinals offense should offer much more of a fight than Hamilton’s did. Dozier and the other young Ephs will get another chance to prove themselves as the future of the league.
4) Middlebury (5-2)
This ranking is based on where Middlebury is now, not where they’ll end up. The Lebowitz injury is devastating, not just to the Panthers but to the league as well. It ruined our best chance of not having to crown Amherst or Trinity as league champ, but more than that, it takes away one of the most electrifying players in recent NESCAC memory, and maybe the best of Middlebury QB dynasty. We’ll have a deeper career retrospective on Lebowitz coming out in the offseason, but we just wanted to acknowledge the impact he’s had on the league and on our hearts (okay too far, but I’m a homer.)
It’s hard to know where Middlebury will end up this season. Backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 made some impressive plays against Trinity, but he also had three turnovers and completed under 50% of his passes. And the defense made some big plays as well, despite having virtually no rest for the entire game. Middlebury still has the skeleton of an elite team. Conrado Banky ’19, Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 are an enviable set of weapons for Meservy to take over, and the senior linebacking trio of Slodowitz, John Jackson and Wesley Becton is as good as any in the league. But Lebowitz was the heart, and without him, it’s hard to know how they’ll do. A matchup at home with Hamilton is winnable, but also not a guaranteed win, and they close the year at Tufts in what is now a very tough game.
5) Wesleyan (5-2)
The Cardinals put up a fairly lackluster performance against Bowdoin, winning 21-10 and allowing 317 passing yards to Griff Stalcup ’21, who has improved every week but still has no business out throwing Mark Piccirillo ’18 by nearly 60 yards. Piccirillo-Mike Breuler ’18 is the best QB-WR connection in the league, and it accounted for all three of Wesleyan’s touchdowns (by the way, Breuler should be getting A LOT of POY hype. He’s unbelievable. More on that later.) But Wesleyan’s defense is becoming a problem. They have forced the fewest turnovers of any team in the league, and that includes the Maine teams. No one is scared of the Wesleyan defense, as Bowdoin proved, and Amherst should be licking their chops as they plan to triple team Breuler and throw the ball all over the field.
6) Tufts (4-3)
Tufts continues to stand outside the window looking in at the top tier teams like Lloyd in Say Anything. The biggest thing separating them from the elite is turnovers. Ryan McDonald ’19 is an unbelievable athlete, but he also has 11 giveaways all by himself this season. That is simply unacceptable. If he wants to sit at the table with Puzzo, Lebowitz, Piccirillo (and arguably Maimaron,) he has to take care of the ball. They also don’t really scare anyone on defense, giving up a middling 20 points per game and only forcing seven turnovers. They have a dominant pass rush, led by Micah Adickes ’18 and Zach Thomas ’18 (12.5 sacks between them) but once the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand it is usually completed. Luckily, they end the season with Colby and then Middlebury (probably) sans-Lebowitz. This is a golden chance to finish 6-3.
7) Hamilton (2-5)
Like Tufts, Hamilton has an unexpectedly good chance to finish the season 2-0 thanks to the Lebowitz injury. Before he got hurt, their game in Middlebury this weekend was a guaranteed blowout. But now, it’s a chance for a quality win before they close the season with Bates. To beat Middlebury they need to establish the run early and often. Marcus Gutierrez had good success against the excellent Williams front, putting up 77 yards on just 15 carries. He should have gotten 10 more carries at least in my opinion, as Kenny Gray ’20 completed under 50% of his passes with two interceptions. Hamilton should try to move to a more balanced offense, with a threatening running game setting up Gray to hook up with dynamic WR Joe Schmidt ’20. They will need to against Middlebury, who still has one of the better secondaries in the league.
8) Bates (1-6)
The Bates Second-Half Redemption Tour reached its apex last weekend with their first win of the season, a surprisingly exciting 27-24 thriller over Colby. And as has been the case for most of their recent improvement, QB Brendan Costa deserves much of the credit. Costa had his best game of the season, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another 155 yards and a TD. That’s the first game this season that a NESCAC QB has had 150 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and no turnovers. And to go along with Costa, the defense finally made some big plays, with two interceptions. Bates is having a feel-good end to the season, and they end the season with Bowdoin and Hamilton. A three game winning streak would take much of the sour taste left over from the 0-6 start out of the Bobcat’s mouths.
9) Bowdoin (0-7)
Bowdoin also got an encouraging performance from their young QB, as Griff Stalcup ’21 threw for a season high 317 yards against Wesleyan. Much of this came on an 85 yard throw to WR Nick Vailas ’18, but it’s still encouraging. Even more exciting than that is the defense. A week after giving up 63 (!!) points to Trinity, they held maybe the other best offense in the league reasonably in check, and came within 17 yards of out-gaining them in total yards (389-372.) This was mostly thanks to an impressive pass rush. They had four sacks on the day, two by DL Nat Deacon ’20. Their game with Bates this weekend may be a sneaky-exciting one.
10) Colby (0-7)
Colby has nearly tripled their season point total in the last two weeks. Coming into their game two weekends ago with Hamilton, they had only scored 27 points in five games, which is not ideal. But they have now scored 24 points in each of the last two games. Unfortunately, the teams they have played, Bates and Hamilton, have each scored 27. Colby hasn’t been able to take advantage of choice match-ups with other lower tier teams, and it’s hard to imagine them coming out of this season with a win. But they deserve a great deal of praise for continuing to work hard and improve despite an unimaginably difficult first half of the season.
And then there were two. With Jared Lebowitz’s absence, Middlebury pose no threat to Trinity, losing 27-5, making the NESCAC a two team race between the Bantams (7-0) and Amherst (6-1). With two games to go in the 2017 season, there is another championship game looming ahead for week eight. As Pete mistakenly predicted and deemed the Midd/Trinity game the quasi-NESCAC championship, Amherst took care of business against Tufts 31-26 and now put all their chips into this decisive week. The results from my weekend preview were as predicted except for an even smaller challenge from the underdogs than I thought there would be. With some competitive games the last few weeks, players’ true colors are showing and here’s the scoop:
The Bantams game against Middlebury showed the rest of the conference two things: 1. Trinity is not just a favorite for the championship on the season, but a dominant team, ripping the heads off of everything in their path. 2. In the presence of a red-hot Panther secondary, they adjusted and totally shifted to a ground heavy offense, letting Chipouras take over. Yes, Chipouras is the best back in the league right now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get better. He didn’t even score a touchdown, letting Sonny Puzzo put the final touches on two different drives, but 182 yards is ridiculous. He was a work horse last weekend, running the ball 33 times, an NFL caliber workload. While both Amherst and Trinity have challenging schedules for week nine (vs. Williams and Wesleyan, respectively), the rings should go to the winning team this weekend. On that note, Amherst’s rush defense is the biggest obstacle in Trinity’s undefeated quest, and Chipouras has what it takes to take them home to 8-0 after this week.
2018 Bobcat Football
Bates’ season was lost from the get go as their six game losing streak will define their year. However, they admirably play 100% week in and week out, and look to build momentum going into next season. What better way to do that than to win their Maine rivalry games and take the CBB Consortium home with them? They love to run the ball, and finally have a future QB who could take them to the promise land and follow their style at the same time. Brendan Costa is getting better from week to week, winning the job under center, and controlling the offense. His passing game is by far the weakest aspect of his skill set, although he did avoid any turnovers against Colby (0-7), bringing them to a 27-24 win and a 1-6 record on the season. He looked like a more ethical and humane version of Michael Vick (I’m sure he loves dogs—I wouldn’t suggest otherwise in a liberal arts audience), rushing for 155 yards on 26 attempts. Once he gets to be a more disciplined passer, this could turn into a dynamic offense.
I wrote Amherst off in the championship race after they lost to Midd, but they are still sticking around. Defensive touchdowns by Middlebury lost them that game, but their defense has been exceptional all season, even with a slightly below average performance against Tufts. Their ability to stop the run all season has been impressive, although slightly lacking last week. Their secondary played great against a strong Ryan McDonald, not too far off of Sonny Puzzo caliber. Jack Hickey and QB Ollie Eberth both found the end zone and significant running room, with their three top receivers all hauling in at least four catches for over 80 yards. Even Reece Foy got in on the action with a second quarter TD pass. They have the talent in all parts of the game to overtake Trinity in their one meet up, even if they are the underdogs. It will be particularly interesting to see how Foy is used against the Bantams, mixing up the style from Eberth and adding in lots of experience. They still have a shot to win it all, folks.
Full Hearts for Middlebury
I’m not quite sure how Coach Taylor of Dillon would feel about Middlebury’s performances against Trinity and Williams. They lost a heartbreaker to the Ephs, I’ll give them that, but they still had a ch
ance to go for the rings against the Bantams. In a situation where they lost senior star QB Jared Lebowitz to injury (aka the Jason Street of these Panthers), giving junior Jack Merservy (aka Matt Saracen) his chance to become the future QB, they came up way short. I’m not blaming Merservy, as he made some good plays even with his mistakes, but the fight in a win or go home game just wasn’t there. The rush defense went home early, dominated all game by both Puzzo and Chipouras. In their second straight year losing 2/3 games with championship hopes on the line, these last two weeks will show their true colors. They looked like they didn’t care for most of their final game against Tufts in 2016, coming out flat until a late comeback attempt that fell short. They should be able to beat Hamilton (2-5) even if they show up half asleep, but might be in for another final game trouncing by the Jumbos if they don’t get their priorities straight.
Tufts is free falling in the standings and now are only 4-3 on the season. While they aren’t in danger of falling below .500, only because playing Colby is an assured win, their defense looked really vulnerable against Amherst. They allowed three rushing TDs, over 300 passing yards, and didn’t force any turnovers. They only tallied one sack on the day and might come into week nine against Middlebury in a who-wants-to-lose-it-more matchup. They have been great at rushing the QB all season, second in sacks to Amherst with 26, showing how uncharacteristically poorly they played against the Mammoths. They really just didn’t show up, similarly to Middlebury’s defensive line, in a game that ultimately didn’t mean anything for them other than for pride. Lets hope they don’t embarrass themselves against Colby.
One of the results of the lack of parity in the NESCAC football (and of course the lack of a playoff system) is that every year there is a regular season game that serves as a de facto “Super Bowl” for the league. The two best teams in the league meet in a game that pretty much decides who will finish with the best record in the league. The 2017 iteration of that game is this weekend, when 6-0 Trinity travels down to Alumni Field to take on 5-1 Middlebury.
Trinity has spent the whole season as the best team in the league. They have gutted out defensive battles against the two high quality opponents they’ve played (Williams and Tufts) and have absolutely blasted lower tier teams, including a 63 point performance against Bowdoin last weekend. However, Williams was able to make their offense look very fallible. They did this by using a strong defensive front to shut down star RB Max Chipouras ’19. Chipouras only had 80 yards on 28 carries against the Ephs, by far his least efficient performance of the season. Shutting down Chipouras forces QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 to play more traditionally, instead of running outside the pocket and making big plays. Puzzo is easily good enough to do this and win (as Williams saw,) but it eliminates a huge part of their offense.
Unfortunately, the Trinity defense has yet to look fallible. They have forced 16 turnovers on the season, and have players all over the field who are threats to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. They don’t have any real statistical standouts on the defensive end–although that is in large part due to the fact that their starters rarely play fourth quarters–but LB Liam Kenneally ’18 is terrific in coverage and in stopping the run game. And more importantly for the match up with Jared Lebowitz ’18 and the pass-happy Panthers is their dominant secondary. Dominique Seagears ’18 is one of the most dangerous coverage men in the league, with two interception return touchdowns to his credit. He and Samier Madden ’19 form a duo that should give Lebowitz trouble like Lionel Richie would–all night long.
As dominant as Trinity has been, Middlebury has been equally so, except for a fatal five minute stretch in the fourth quarter against Williams. Middlebury’s offense is based around Lebowitz and his squadron of speedy, tall receivers, and it is a well oiled machine when all the pieces are healthy. Middlebury averages the second most points and yards per game (second to Trinity, but still,) and that is despite a mediocre rushing attack. That is also despite a schedule that has included Williams and Amherst, two of the three best defenses in the league by any statistical measure. Against Amherst, who leads the league in sacks and is second in yards per game, Lebowitz threw three touchdowns and was only sacked twice. That is what makes this game so exciting; these two teams are both best suited to beat each other. Just as it should be in the Super Bowl.
Key Player for Middlebury: LB Aaron Slodowitz ’18
This pick is a very optimistic one. Lebowitz left the Bates game halfway through with an ankle injury, forcing backup Jack Meservy ’19 to fill in, which he did admirably. If Lebowitz is out, Meservy immediately becomes the key, as Middlebury cannot win this game without a great QB performance. But on the assumption that Lebowitz will play, Slodowitz and the rest of the linebackers become the key. Much of Middlebury’s defensive success rests on the backs of the three star senior linebackers; Slodowitz, Wesley Becton ’18 and John Jackson ’18. Becton and Jackson are particularly valuable in coverage, leaving Slodowitz free to crush running backs. Which he does with aplomb. Having fully recovered from a knee injury last season, Slodowitz had 18 tackles against the run-dominant Bates and leads the team with 46 overall. He doesn’t get in the backfield much, with 0 sacks on the year, but Becton and DL Alex Norton ’20 handle that. Slodowitz simply tackles dudes, and as Williams showed the league, the way to hang with Trinity is tackle one dude; Max Chipouras.
Key Player for Trinity: WR Koby Schofer ’20
Assuming that Middlebury succeeds in slowing down Chipouras considerably, Trinity will have to throw the ball, especially to keep up with the Panthers breathless, pass-heavy scheme. This brings up the closest thing that Trinity has to a weakness; they really only have one weapon in the passing game, and that is Schofer. He is quite a weapon, however. Despite playing very little in the blowout of Bowdoin (as was the case with several Bantam starters,) Schofer is still fourth in the league in receptions with 35 and fifth in yards with 508. Schofer is actually quite similar to Middlebury WR Conrado Banky ’19. They are both smaller receivers who beat often larger defenders with quickness and terrific hands. The difference is that Middlebury has other receivers to pick up the slack from Banky (or replace him if he’s injured.) Schofer is so far and away Trinity’s best pass catcher that Middlebury will most likely double team him. In a game that is shaping up to be an aerial affair, Schofer is going to have to get around those double teams and give Puzzo a solid target.
Conrado Banky has missed two games in a row, and his status for this one is very much in doubt. If he misses the game, Middlebury will be again looking for big performances from Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19, two large, fast targets for Lebowitz. Additionally, TE Frank Cosolito ’20 will be a big part of the passing attack. Cosolito has improved every week, and has a knack for showing up in big games. He had six catches for 58 yards and TD against Amherst. If Banky does play, all these guys will be key supplementary targets, and the Middlebury offense may well be unstoppable.
Special teams are going to be a key part of this game. Trinity K Eric Sachse ’19 is one of the best in the league (5/8 FG and 26/28 XP,) giving their offense a dimension in close games that many other teams don’t have. Additionally, Colin Beaulieu ’21 is a dangerous return man whom Middlebury has to watch out for. Of course, he is nowhere near as dangerous as Jimmy Martinez. Martinez has two of the four return touchdowns in the whole league this year, and the only kickoff return touchdown. Even when he doesn’t score, Martinez is constantly putting Middlebury in terrific field position, either through returns or by forcing bad kicks due to teams trying to avoid him. On the other end, P/WR Maxwell Rye has a huge leg, and often pinned Williams deep in their own territory. He will have to do this against Trinity, as giving them a short field is a death sentence. This is the kind of game that should come down to a single play, and that play may well be on special teams. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited. I hope you all are as well.
Predicted Score:* Middlebury 27, Trinity 24
*This prediction is made with the assumption that Lebowitz is healthy and will play.