Rivalry Week: Williams @ Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

#11 Williams (12-3, 3-1) @ #16 Middlebury (11-3, 3-1), Saturday, January 20, 3:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Overview:

The Ephs and the Panthers have become the NESCAC equivalent of the Cavs and Warriors in recent years. The teams met three times last season, including for the NESCAC Championship and in the NCAA Elite Eight. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, beating Middlebury in Pepin Gymnasium to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have carried over that success into this season. They are each ranked in the top 20 in the country, and have battled it out for the top spot in the league all season, along with Wesleyan and Hamilton.

However, both teams are far from unbeatable. Williams is without their star player, Kyle Scadlock ’19, for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Middlebury’s shooting struggles are starting to become incredibly worrying. Middlebury’s NESCAC loss is to Wesleyan, whom Williams beat for their best win. And Williams’ lone NESCAC loss is to Tufts, whom Middlebury just beat handily at home for their best win. All this is to say that both these teams are again tremendously evenly matched, and this game should have huge ramifications for league standings and the playoff picture overall.

Middlebury X-Factor: G Max Bosco ’21

Max Bosco ’21
(Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

At first glance, this pick might seem to be coming out of left field. Bosco has played fewer minutes than his fellow first year guards Jack Farrell ’21 and Griffin Kornacker ’21, primarily due to his smaller stature and struggles to create shots for others off the dribble. Farrell and Kornacker are both miles ahead of Bosco defensively at this point, and Joey Leighton ’20 is certainly more confident offensively. But Bosco can really shoot the ball. He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances yet, but his stroke is as sweet as anyone’s. Middlebury is the worst three point shooting team in the league, and second worst overall from the field. The clutch heroics of Jack Daly and excellent team defense will not be able to save the Panthers against Williams; they have to hit some outside shots to match Williams’ three point heavy attack. Bosco is capable of doing so. Additionally, his defensive struggles will not be as pronounced against the Ephs. Bobby Casey ’20 and Mike Greenman ’18, and even Cole Teal ’18, are an excellent group of players, but they are not large. Casey and Teal will be handled by Daly and Hilal Dahleh ’19, leaving Bosco matched with the 5’8″ Greenman. Bosco has a great opportunity this game to do what he does best; hit shots.

Williams X-Factor: F Matt Karpowicz ’20

We gave Karpowicz a lot of love in the stock report earlier this week, and that’s not just because he wrote some average football articles for us in the fall. Karpowicz is often unstoppable on the block, shooting 73% from the field, almost all in the paint. He splits time with Michael Kempton ’19, another very large person. As longtime reader Howard Herman pointed out, the two players offer very different looks for the offense. Kempton is a distributor, averaging 2 assists per game despite only playing 15 minutes. However, he is not a scoring threat, only shooting 42% from the field. Karpowicz is a game-changing scorer, and draws a lot of attention on the block, freeing up dominant shooters like Casey and James Heskett ’19. Indeed, in Williams’ closer games he ends up playing most of the crunch time minutes. I expect Middlebury to get a far heavier dose of Karpowicz than Kempton. Middlebury’s Nick Tarantino ’18 is a great athlete, but struggles with strong post scorers who can back him down and neutralize his length and leaping ability. And Adisa Majors ’18 is simply undersized, no matter which big man Williams has in. This means that Eric McCord ’19 is the guy, and has to avoid the foul trouble that hurt him against Albertus Magnus. In a game in which Middlebury must game plan heavily for Casey and Heskett, Karpowicz is the guy for whom Middlebury has no answer for on their roster.

Expect Matt Karpowicz to far exceed is 15 minutes per game on Saturday.

Final Thoughts:

James Heskett is certainly on the short list for Player of the Year, along with his teammate Bobby Casey, Jack Daly and Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour. He’s very long, with a gorgeous jump shot and incredible quickness for his size. Indeed, he’s been arguably the best shooter in the league this season, hitting 51% from the field and 43% from three. Luckily for Middlebury, however, they have one of the only players in the league who can match his skill set, if not his efficiency, in Matt Folger ’20. Along with the rest of the Panthers, Folger’s shooting numbers have taken a hit of late, but he is still a deadly scorer inside and out. And more importantly for this match up, he is miles ahead of Heskett defensively. Heskett’s skill set and athleticism have not yet translated to that end, as he averages just 0.3 blocks per game and 0.9 steals. Even more jarring is that he averages just 3.8 rebounds a night, despite being 6’8.” Folger, on the other end, has clearly focused on the defensive side of the ball. He is second in the league in blocks at 2.4, and grabs 8.1 rebounds a night. If Folger can outscore Heskett, Middlebury has a good chance to win.

James Heskett and Matt Folger are the crucial matchup to watch.

Rebounding may well be the key to Middlebury’s chances in this game. The Panthers are a bona fide dominant team on the glass. Their numbers are skewed by pulling down a ridiculous 70 against Tufts, but they still lead the league in total rebounds, offensive rebounds, and are second in rebounding margin. Williams is towards the bottom of the league in all of those categories. For a team that struggles shooting like Middlebury does, offensive rebounds are a must have statistic, and were what kept them in the game against Tufts until they pulled away in the second half. Williams is a team Middlebury can bully on the glass, creating second chances if shots aren’t falling.

Last thing: this could be a huge game for Jack Daly. He historically raises his game against Williams, but this isn’t just his already covered “clutch gene.” Williams doesn’t really have an answer for his strength at the guard spots. Greenman is far too small, and Bobby Casey isn’t particularly strong  defensively. In fact, Williams doesn’t have a single player averaging more than one steal per game. Even their big men are occaisionally timid inside, with the notable exception of Karpowicz. This means that Daly is usually able to get to the basket easily against the Ephs. He’ll draw attention to the paint, and he’s the best in the country at finding open players once he gets around the basket. The key will be how many shots those players can hit.

Writer’s Prediction: 

No longtime readers will be surprised by this, but I think Middlebury, on the backs of Jack Daly and an assuredly raucous home crowd, pulls this one out.

Middlebury 75, Williams 71

Perfection on the Line: Men’s Basketball Game of the Week

#14 Wesleyan (10-2, 1-1) @ #18 Hamilton (12-o, 1-0), 7:00 PM, Clinton, NY

And as we dive into the second weekend of NESCAC play there is already a game that will test two teams’ long term capabilities. Hamilton and Wesleyan are due to square off in this marquee matchup on Friday January 12th in Clinton, NY. The home team, Hamilton, has dominated their non-conference schedule and carried that momentum into their first NESCAC game against Trinity, and Wesleyan conquered the mighty Middlebury Panthers and nearly toppled Williams in an OT loss last weekend. In what has been an obscure first conference weekend in terms of power rankings (although you can read all about how Cameron deciphered last weekend’s results in the 1/10 rankings here:) this game should help clear up what the tumultuous beginning has left unclear, and be our best evidence yet as to whether or not Hamilton is legit.

Wesleyan relies on a dominant defense and timely scoring from players like Kevin O’Brien ’19.

Overview:

Wesleyan sits at 14th and Hamilton at 18th in the national poll. One year removed from being a disappointing last seed in the NESCAC playoffs, the Continentals are living up to their incredible talent this season. With versatile scorers like Michael Grassey ’19 and Peter Hoffmann ’19 surrounding stud Kena Gilmour ’20, Hamilton has, on paper, the strongest starting five in the league. Wesleyan, who was more expected to succeed in 2018, is also deep with experienced talent and their position in 2017 as a NESCAC semifinalist and NCAA tournament team would’ve favored them in this game a month ago. However, following losses in two of the Cardinals’ last three games, the home Hamilton squad can hardly be considered an underdog. After returning all of their 2017 starters, the system is in place for Hamilton’s continued success and it shows in their balanced stat sheet and in their win over Trinity last weekend 78-55. And Trinity beat Amherst the previous day 69-63, proving that they weren’t going to just roll over. Wesleyan has weapons on all parts of the floor too, although Jordan Bonner ’19 has seemed to have lost a bit of accuracy shooting lately. Hamilton averages almost 95 points per game, but they should be limited by Wesleyan’s defense, ranking third in rebounds, turnovers, and points allowed per game (64.5) in the conference. 

Wesleyan X-Factor: G Jordan Bonner ’19

Jordan Bonner
Jodan Bonner ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

I’m not trying to pick on Bonner here, as we already did that a little bit in our most recent stock report, but in the last five games (Wesleyan is 3-2 in that span, including their only losses), his shooting totals have fallen off of the table. The stock report discusses his ridiculous 10-33 performance, looking like Kobe during his retirement tour, but that isn’t the only blemish. Cumulatively in the last five games, Bonner is 22-71 from the field (31%) and 10-40 from beyond the arc (25%). He started off the year hot and owns respectable numbers from the entire season (40% FG; 33.8% 3 PT), but the league is littered with players who started off hot and then fell off the face of the earth once league play began and defenses adjusted. Sure, Wesleyan has Kevin O’Brien ’19, Nathan Krill ’18, and Austin Hutcherson ’21 who are having solid seasons, but Bonner still leads the team in points at 16.9 PPG, and if he doesn’t improve his shooting given the pure volume of attempts he takes, Hamilton’s offense will be too much to overcome.

Hamilton X-Factor: G Kena Gilmour ‘20

Kena Gilmour
Kena Gilmour ’20 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Albeit not a particularly exciting pick, Gilmour completes the matchup to watch of this game. Likely to guard Bonner for at least part of the contest, the Continental scoring leader should have his hands full if he is to help limit the Wesleyan offense. With two blocks and eight rebounds against Trinity last weekend, Gilmour is nearly as much of a defensive force as an offensive one, leading his team with 18.5 PPG. In this breakout season, his shooting numbers have been excellent, at 37% 3 PT on the season and over 50% from the field, he is nearly a lock to score over 20 points, tipping the scales in favor of the home team. Gilmour is the catalyst of the offense that ranks ninth in the nation in points per game and will see his toughest test this weekend against a strong Wesleyan defense. This matchup should reveal just how legit Hamilton’s offense is, and if Gilmour rolls on, the team will too.

Final Thoughts:

Despite being one of only four undefeated teams remaining in all of Division 3 basketball, Hamilton still has not joined the teams that are considered the ‘real deal.’ The Continentals are top-10 in the nation in two statistical categories, including the aforementioned points, along with scoring margin (8th). And yet, they still have to prove themselves in league play. This is their chance, and boy do they have the tools. They play as a unit, and after developing together for a season, now that all of their starters are back for a second season, they should be able to maintain this success into at least a top-4 NESCAC finish. I’ve been on the Hamilton train since the beginning of the 2017 season–showing that I was a bit premature with my support–and am a believer that they are a force to be reckoned with. However, they will be heavily tested by the best teams in the conference.

While I have talked plenty about Hamilton’s hot start, I need not forget that Wesleyan knocked off former national #2 Middlebury, and came dang close to doing the same against Williams. Kevin O’Brien is the most dynamic player on the court for either side in this game, averaging over six assists and rebounds per game, while also shooting at a 61.7 clip. Despite only averaging 8.4 PPG, he is certainly capable of scoring more, showing in 16 and 18 point performances earlier this year against Mitchell and Nichols, respectively, settling into a more pass happy role ever since. If Bonner continues to struggle with accuracy, look for O’Brien to pick up the intensity and bear some of the scoring burden. The Cardinals have undoubtedly played a harder schedule thus far, but despite their opponents, their 78.9 PPG average doesn’t quite keep up with the 94.8 PPG of Hamilton. So, two questions remain: Will Wesleyan’s defense be able to stifle the Hamilton offense? Do Hamilton fans understand how hot their team has started off and how to give them an edge in their home gym (this is a challenge)? I say no, and yes.

Writer’s Pick: Hamilton 86-83

Hot Seat/Cool Throne: Women’s Basketball 1/12

Hot Seat:

1). Non-League Games: I remember every high school baseball season we would play a few 4:45 non-league games against a teams that weren’t in our league, so they basically had nothing to lose. To this day I question why we would play these games; the 4:45 start time was later than most of our games were, and we would start pitchers who could barely touch seventy-five in order to save our best for the league games. I know coaches schedule these games for more competition, but the talent gap is normally large in either direction. Amherst defeated Lehman College on Saturday by a score of 79-26. Why schedule this game? For Amherst, the only gain is giving bench players some time against some sub par competition (I apologize for possibly offending any Lehman College alumni). However, Amherst’s starters are so good that the best competition for the bench players stems from scrimmages against starters in practice. It just seems like a complete waste of time to play a game that yielded a fifty-three point differential. I know there’s a need for non-league games, but there has to be a smaller talent gap in these contests because it doesn’t seem like anything’s being accomplished with such blowouts. Amherst versus Lehman is only one of the many examples of non-league demolitions this season.

 

2). League Competition: The impending arrival of NESCAC games brought excitement to me, and the entire sports community. I expected close games with juggernauts such Tufts, Bowdoin, and Amherst. I was wrong. The first weekend provided less than stellar competition. There was only one game with a five point or fewer score differential. Williams versus Wesleyan finished 69-64 in the Ephs’ favor. I have two confessions here: first, I wrote in power rankings last week that Williams wasn’t playing very well. To my credit, they weren’t. Like I wrote, when the going gets tough, Williams always pulls through; it’s inevitable. Williams’ bench dominated Wesleyan’s—outscoring them 20-6. Championship teams have great benches, and Williams has proven that they’re here for the long haul. My second confession is I thought once NESCAC games began, we’d see more nail-biters. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet, but hopefully we will this weekend  (Game of the Week will appear later in the article).

3). Road Teams: The road teams during the kickoff weekend for NESCAC women’s basketball posted a stellar 2-8 record. The average fan might wonder why this is the case.  It’s not like teams are playing against the Seahawks’ 12th man, or facing the diehard, rabid Tampa Bay Rays fan base (please note my sarcasm). But as any high school or college athlete understands that playing on the road affects his or her routine. The bus ride has an effect; the visitors’ locker room feels different; the playing condition inevitably is alien. The two road victors were Connecticut College over Williams and Tufts over Colby. The Tufts’ win shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Jumbos shot 45% to Colby’s 28%. Jac Knapp, who shot 100% from the field, set the tone  capitalizing off of Mule turnovers. The squad scored twenty-two points from Colby turnovers. Conn’s victory over Williams is more of a shocker. I think Conn could be poised to make a playoff run with a conference record of 1-1, and should be in the mix for the long haul because of its mental toughness from winning in enemy territory.

Conn College pulled out a very impressive road win last weekend, knocking off Trinity 74-63.

Cool Throne:

1). Must-Wins This Early in the Season (Game of the Week): Williams at Tufts should be an intriguing matchup this weekend. Williams really has nothing to lose in this one. They’re traveling to face a favored Tufts team. I don’t think many people expect Williams to win especially on the road. Tufts, on the other hand, symbolically can’t afford to lose this game. Coming off a beat down at the hands of the Bowdoin Polar Bears, the Jumbos come into this weekend with a 1-1 conference record. What has to concern Tufts head coach Carla Berube is the lack of points scored in the paint. Bowdoin outscored Tufts 32-16 in the paint, which shows that Tufts needs to get better at driving to the basket, and converting high percentage shots. A loss this weekend— causing the Jumbos to move to 1-2 in the conference— would lengthen the gap between the second and third seed in the conference. Tufts plays Middlebury the following day, so the ‘Bos have a lot to prove going into this weekend.

Coach Berube should be able to use her experience at UCONN under Geno himself to keep Tufts dominant. Click this image for a link to a great ESPN article on the connection.

2). Bowdoin’s Clutch Gene: Bowdoin dominated the entire second half against Tufts last weekend. The first half was close, but Bowdoin really pulled away in the second. I wrote last week that Bowdoin strives to break into the upper tier of the league with Tufts and Amherst. The second half of the game proved to me that Bowdoin has the clutch gene. I don’t know in years past if Bowdoin could’ve put Tufts away in the second half. Just mentally facing squads like Tufts and Amherst is daunting, but Bowdoin proved they can not only compete, but win at the highest level. They’re now the team that has the NBC Sunday Night Football time slot; they’re primetime. Bowdoin will visit Amherst on January 27th. Bowdoin’s insane eighty-six points per game is obviously an impressive stat (more points are generally better in basketball) but it also raises a red flag for me. Bowdoin is used to playing fast, so if Amherst slows the game down and controls the tempo, Bowdoin will have a lot of trouble adjusting. There’s a lot of time between now and the 27th, however, so we’ll see if Bowdoin and Amherst remain undefeated in the league.

 

Here at Last: Wesleyan vs. Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

Ah we’re finally here – the start of conference games. Despite there only being one remaining unblemished team in the NESCAC, we see four schools in the top 25, with several others just outside. Although there are only two games this weekend (Wesleyan competing in both) that feature both teams within the top 25, there are some huge games between schools traditionally viewed as “bottom-tier” looking to climb the totem pole. Getting off to a good start is vital in a conference where everyone only plays each other once, and these early season games will start to give some shape to the standings. It’s never easy to pick a game-of-the-week because they’re all  important, but the matchup between Wesleyan and Middlebury on Saturday is about as big an opening-weekend game as they come. The Cardinals play the host this time, seeking their first win over the Panthers in 13 years. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the battle for the most average mascot in the NESCAC (and the top spot in the league:)

Overview

Wesleyan enters this game at 14th in the latest national poll, despite a tough

Kevin O’Brien ’19 and Jordan Bonner ’19, seen here apparently judging someone for their shoe choice, are responsible for much of Wesleyan’s offense.

loss last week to a good, yet struggling Springfield squad after a 9-0 start to the season. They square off with Williams on Friday night in a rematch of an epic battle from before the holiday break, so the result of that will certainly give us more indication of how the Cardinals will look for their showdown with Middlebury. The win over Williams was easily their biggest win of the season so far, being that it was on the road and pre-Scadlock injury. They haven’t had a particularly challenging schedule otherwise, but they have still looked very tough nonetheless. The Cardinals distribute their scoring fairly evenly, but they have found the star power they were searching for in Jordan Bonner ’19, who has been huge in filling the scoring void left by the graduation of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Harry Rafferty ’17. However, Coach Reilly’s squad really prides themselves on their defense, only allowing 62.8 points per game, good for first in the conference. This stingy defense will be crucial in stopping a high-powered offense like that of Middlebury, so look for the Cardinals to try and slow the game down, forcing the Panthers into half court sets and making them work for every basket.

Wesleyan X-Factor: G Kevin O’Brien ’19

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O’Brien ’19 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Being the fundamentally sound, defensive-minded team that they are, Kevin O’Brien ’19 is exactly what Coach Reilly could ask for. Despite only averaging 9 points per game, O’Brien shoots 63% from the field, which places him at 4th in the conference. This essentially means that he doesn’t shoot often, but when he does, it goes in. In order to keep up with an offense like Middlebury’s, he will have to continue this type of offensive efficiency. While he may not be a huge scorer, O’Brien fills out the stat sheet in nearly every other way possible. He comes in at 2nd in the NESCAC in assists per game (6.3), 8th in blocks per game (1.2), and he leads the league in steals per game (2.2). The focus for O’Brien will be on not turning the ball over, because he also leads the league with 4.4 turnovers per game. If he is able to control the ball, the efficiency that he provides will make the Cardinals very difficult to stop on the offensive end. On the other side of the ball, O’Brien’s 6’5”, 200lb frame makes him the ideal size to defend just about any position on the court. However, being one of the league’s premier defensive players, he will likely be given the task of dealing with Jack Daly, which is a very tall order. If he can stop or even slow down Daly, it will put Wesleyan in an excellent position to come out on top. A lot is going to be asked of Kevin O’Brien this weekend, but it is no secret that the Cardinals will only be able to fly as high as he can take them.

Middlebury X-Factor: F Nick Tarantino ’18

Nick Tarantino
Nick Tarantino ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

While both Wesleyan and Middlebury are led by stellar backcourts, it is the play of forward Nick Tarantino ’18 that will decide the game for the Panthers. Tarantino fills out his big man duties averaging 8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, but in order to take down the Cardinals on the road, more will be expected of him. His season average is 8.8 points per game, however he has given us glimpses of what he is capable of, putting up 17 points against Endicott and 20 versus Skidmore, both of whom were NCAA tournament teams from last season. The closest thing to a true big man that Wesleyan has is freshman Jordan James ’21, who is still learning the ins and outs of college basketball. At 6’7”, 205lbs, Tarantino isn’t considered a “center” per se, he will have to both bang around down low with James, and step outside on forward Nathan Krill ’18 who is capable of stepping back and knocking down threes. To this point, Tarantino has seen 20 minutes of action per game, but now that conference play has started, it will be important to see if he can get enough rest to play an efficient 25-30 minutes. If he can play good post defense, rebound, and score when he’s asked to in these extended minutes, it is hard to envision Wesleyan being able to slow down yet another outstanding Panther team.

Final Thoughts

This matchup will help us answer the age-old question that the Joker posed at the end of The Dark Knight – what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The contrasting styles of these two teams could not be more obvious: Wesleyan lives by the adage that defense wins championships, whereas Middlebury employs the run-and-gun strategy that has brought them so much success over the years. My guess is that this game will get a bit higher scoring than Wesleyan would like, and they will not get to enjoy their home-court advantage to its fullest extent with no students back on campus yet. Each of these teams has a game on Friday that will factor in, with Wesleyan hosting Williams and Middlebury traveling to New London to take on Conn College. The fact that Wesleyan has a much more difficult Friday night game plays heavily to the Panthers’ advantage, as they will look to get out to a big lead over the Camels, and rest up for the next day. I believe that the star power of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20 will prove to be too much for the Cardinals to handle, and Wesleyan will have to wait yet another year to try and take down the mighty Panthers.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury 82-75

The Last Football Show: Week 9 Weekend Preview

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.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is made to attack the Middlebury defense.

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.

Score Prediction

Tufts 20, Middlebury 15

Wesleyan (6-2) @ Trinity (7-1), 12:00 PM, Hartford, CT

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.

Jaason Lopez ’21 is a big play threat for the Bobcats due to his incredible speed.

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.

Predicted Score: Bowdoin 24, Colby 14

Rivalry Restored: Amherst @ Williams Game of the Week Preview

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.

Not bad.

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.

The Amherst secondary did an excellent job on Mike Breuler ’18 against Wesleyan, and will look to do the same to Frank Stola ’21.

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

James O'Regan
James O’ Regan ’21 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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

Jameson DeMarco
Jameson DeMarco ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

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.

Everything Else:

 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.

Bobby Maimaron ’21 gets his first taste of the rivalry following the worst game of his career. Can he recover?

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.

Final Score: Williams 31, Amherst 27

Time to Punch Some Tickets: Men’s Soccer Semifinal Preview

Tufts (13-1-2, 7-1-2) vs. Hamilton (4-5-1, 8-6-2), 11:00 AM, Medford, MA

Tufts has absolutely steamrolled through the NESCAC this season, and with a merciless 3-0 victory over Bates last week, the Jumbos showed no signs of nerves when it comes to playing championship soccer. Superb play from last Saturday’s goal scorers Conor Coleman ’18, Dexter Eichorst ’18, and Sterling Weatherbie ’19 proved that their defensive players can get it done all over the pitch. Tufts’ defense is as talented a group of players as you’ll see on a NESCAC field together. Responsible for all three goals last weekend, and having still conceded only one goal this season, it’s hard to draw up a feasible scenario in which their squad could actually lose, not just this game, but any game.

Gavin Tasker ’20 is just one of many scoring threats on the Tufts roster.

HOWEVER, do not sleep on the Hamilton College Continentals. Hamilton lost narrowly to Tufts 1-0 during the regular season, and is coming off their best game in recent memory. After falling behind 2-0 last week to the defending champion Amherst Mammoths, the Continentals came storming back with 4 unanswered goals in the second half. Aidan Wood ’20 led the charge with a second half hat trick, truly the stuff of legends, and if he’s in top form again this weekend, Hamilton could pull off the unthinkable. Yes, everyone loves a Cinderella, but even a Hamilton squad in top form may not be enough to put an end to Tufts’ incomprehensible season.

Prediction: Tufts 3- Hamilton 2 (Penalties)

Bowdoin (10-3-3, 6-2-2) vs. Middlebury (11-5-0, 5-5-0), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

Middlebury (11-5), a team that does not believe in ties, is coming off a huge overtime win against perennial powerhouse Connecticut College. Everybody loves a game that ends in dramatic fashion, and that’s exactly what Brandon Reid ’21 provided us with last week, when he connected on a pass from a man familiar with the score sheet himself, Drew Goulart ’20 in the 95th minute of play. Not to be outdone, Bowdoin (10-3-3) pulled out a win in penalties last week, as Stevie Van Siclen ’18 showed he just may be the best keeper on the planet, saving multiple penalties in the shootout.

Moctar Niang ’19 killed Middlebury in the regular season, and will be looking to do the same in the playoffs.

When the Panthers and the Polar Bears met earlier this season, Moctar Niang ’19 slotted a pair of goals for the Bears, en route to a 3-1 victory. Bowdoin won’t have it as easy in this match though, as they face a Middlebury squad that’s won 6 of its last 8 matches. It’s worth noting that every single one of these victories has been a 1-0 result, meaning that if the Panthers can keep the Bears off the board early, they have what it takes to sweat out a low scoring affair. If Niang and company catch the Panthers on their heals though, they could run away with the one, just as they did in late September. One more thing, if you’re looking for an X-factor, Bowdoin’s Drake Byrd ’21 would be happy to oblige. The super-sub has found the score sheet just twice this year, both for 1-0 victories against conference opponents. Don’t be surprised if he’s got his footprints all over this one, too.

Prediction: Bowdoin 1- Middlebury 0 (OT)  

Even Steven: Weekend Preview 11/3

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.

Mickey Nichol is an emerging weapon for the Bobcats, both as a runner and a receiver.

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.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is maybe the best dual threat QB in the league, when he holds on to the ball.

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.

Predicted Score: Tufts 35, Colby 7

Is This the One?!: Trinity @ Amherst Game of the Week Preview

Overview:

 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.

Amherst is better suited to lock down Max Chipouras than anyone, so Sonny Puzzo ’18 may have to air it out.

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

Andrew Yamin
Andrew Yamin ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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.

Andrew Sommer
Andrew Sommer ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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.

Everything Else:

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.

As Middlebury found out last week, the most threatening part of the Bantam’s attack is their swarming 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.

Final Score: Trinity 27, Amherst 13

Well Eph You, Then! : Women’s Soccer Semifinals Preview

Last weekend’s quarterfinal matchups produced some shockers. High seeded teams such as Conn College and Middlebury fell. Amherst and Hamilton shocked the NESCAC world by coming into the playoffs as low seeds, and pulling off those upsets. And in less shocking news, Tufts and Williams continued their dominance. All but one game had a 1-0 score. This semifinal weekend will be just as exciting as the quarter final weekend with dominant teams playing the underdogs. As we saw last weekend, never count any team out. Here is a preview of the semifinal matchups:

#7 Amherst vs #1 Williams (Williamstown, MA, 11:00 AM)

As fate would have it, Amherst and Williams will meet in the playoffs. Similar to Yankees/Red Sox, Lakers/Celtics, Alabama/Auburn rivalries, the Amherst and Williams rivalry is one of the most storied rivalries not only in college sports, but in sports altogether. In a late September game, Williams narrowly defeated Amherst by a 3-2 margin. November soccer, however, is a lot different than September soccer. These are two different teams from the ones that met in September.

Aspen Pierson ’21 will be the key to Williams’ continued dominance.

Williams kept rolling with an almost perfect record–albeit with a loss to Middlebury. One major boost for Williams is Aspen Pierson ‘21. Pierson is coming off offseason hip surgery that has limited her playing time. She made her Eph debut in an October game against Wesleyan, and has steadily been logging increasing minutes. She’s a dynamic playmaker with great field vision. Her anticipation and soccer IQ only adds to Williams’ already potent arsenal.

Amherst also is a much improved team since that September game. I’ll admit, I wrote them off in the mid season power rankings because of their lack of defensive discipline even though they compiled impressive offensive statistics. It looks like the team has completely righted that ship. Amherst knocked off the second seeded Conn College Camels in a cinderella 1-0 win. I don’t think Amherst had the discipline earlier in the year to win a 1-0 game against a very strong team like the Camels. This win, nevertheless, shows the improvement Amherst has made. Rubii Tamen ‘19 scored the lone Amherst goal. Tamen has been one of the best offensive players for Amherst, and will be looked upon if the team wants to pull off the upset. There’s no doubt Williams is the more talented team. Williams and Amherst matchups, however, are almost always a coin flip. However, I believe that it is Williams’ year:

Prediction: Williams 2-1

#6 Hamilton vs #4 Tufts (Williamstown, MA, 1:30 PM)

The Hamilton Continentals’ road to the finals has not been easy. First, they had to defeat a team [Middlebury] that accomplished something no other team in the country could do: beat Williams. Middlebury’s loss to Hamilton was truly a shocker. Emily Dumont ‘18 stood on her head in net all day–making a few desperation saves to keep Hamilton in the game. Maddie Dale ‘20 scored her first goal of the season at the most opportune time. Once Hamilton got the lead, the Continentals never looked back. I would say that everything had to go the way it did for Hamilton to secure the win. Dumont had to not let anything past her, and someone had to step up for the Continentals. Similar to Amherst, the Continentals are steamrolling into this semifinal matchup.

Maddie Dale ’20 scored the clutch game winner against Middlebury.

If I were Tufts, I wouldn’t want to play a hot team. In the NESCAC, however, there are no easy matchups–especially during the playoffs. Tufts’ road to the semifinals had to go through Trinity; the Bantams put up a real fight, but Tufts’ composure that they’ve showed all season carried them to a win. After that embarrassing loss to Williams in October, it seems like Tufts has turned the page, and gone back to what they do best: defense and Sophie Lloyd ’21. Lloyd has carried the Jumbos all season. Her lone goal was the difference maker in the game against Trinity. The freshman sensation’s sixteen points on the season is one of the major reasons of the team’s success. This game will be played after the Amherst/Williams game, so both teams will know which team they could possibly face in the finals. Like in all sports, Hamilton and Tufts need to remember to take one game at a time, and not worry about Williams/Amherst. I’m going to go with the upset here:

Prediction: Hamilton 1-0 OT