Another week down in the NESCAC, and we’re 62.5 percent of the way through the season. With nearly 2/3 of the NESCAC schedule behind us, you’d think that the championship picture would be fairly clear by now. On the contrary, things have only gotten murkier. While Amherst has impressed more than anyone else so far, they’re not out of the woods yet. Both the LJs and Trinity are 5-0, and Middlebury and Tufts are lurking at 4-1, just waiting for one of the top teams to slip up. Even Wesleyan, despite a heartbreaking loss this weekend to Amherst, is still barely alive at 3-2. And let’s not forget about the micro championships that are still up for grabs. The Little Three is under way and the CBB will get going this coming weekend, plus there are still a couple of huge rivalry match ups coming in Week 8 that always provide intrigue regardless of the standings.
As mentioned, the Little Three has begun with Amherst pushing their winning streak to 16 games, meaning they have beat every opponent in the NESCAC both at home and away since their last loss (they don’t play Hamilton). The win over Wesleyan didn’t come easy with the Jeffs down 9-0 in the first half mostly because of three first half interceptions by Reece Foy ’18. The score at halftime was 12-7 Wesleyan, but the Cardinals should have been up more as they had those three turnovers, a blocked punt, and more than 200 yards of offense in the first half. Wesleyan ended five of their six first half possessions in Amherst territory, four of which got inside the Amherst 30 yard line. To get only 12 points from those drives was a killer for Wesleyan.
On the other side, Amherst made up for their offensive deficiencies with big plays with Foy’s three touchdown passes coming on 33 and 40 yard strikes to Jackson McGonagle ’16 and a 65 yard bomb in the second half to Devin Boehm ’17 where Boehm was wide open. The only drive that Amherst really sustained was their final touchdown drive that took 5:08 and essentially ended the game putting them up 27-18 with 3:05 left.
For the second straight week, Amherst was dominated in the box score but won relatively easily. Wesleyan had 10 more first downs, 73 more yards, and held the ball for 38:46. The turnover margin was +2 for Wesleyan, and to boot Amherst had 101 penalty yards.
Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19
This is an easy one, as the emerging frosh tailback garnered NESCAC Offensive POTW honors for his impressive performance. The rookie went for 155 yards on 18 carries (8.6 YPC) and three touchdowns. His longest jaunt was 28 yards, which goes to show that he was consistently productive all day long. Chipouras is big but still shifty, and after getting only eight carries for 64 yards in the first two games, he now ranks third in the league in rush yards per game and leads the NESCAC with 6.8 per carry.
Tufts Running Backs
Week 5 was an important statement game for Tufts, who, by handling Williams 30-15, further solidified its standing in the upper tier of the league. Leading the charge were Chance Brady ’17 and Dom Borelli ’19. Their talent has changed what used to be a pass-heavy offense into a run-first team. Brady is the workhorse of the pair and a known commodity, which begs the question how his stock could be “up”? Well, he’s increased his rushing total each of the past four weeks and has six touchdowns in the past three games. I’d say things are trending upwards for Brady and the Jumbos.
Trinity Defensive Line
After the Bantams surrendered 27 points to Tufts a week ago, questions began to circulate about just how good the Trinity defense was. The Bants answered those questions in resounding fashion, and the front absolutely dominated the Bowdoin O-line. The experienced Trinity D-line, anchored by nose tackle Matt D’Andrea ’17, surrendered only 63 rushing yards to the Polar Bears and helped force four sacks, two of which came from D-linemen. Of course, Trinity gets its toughest tests in the final three weeks of the season. The Bantams have started out 5-0 for five consecutive seasons, but everyone in Hartford is very aware of how the season quickly skidded to a half and a 5-3 finish a year ago. Time will tell if the Bantams’ defense can step up and be dominant against the better teams.
Though the Bobcats are 0-5, they have been in some tight games this year and the defense had been stepping up as of late, even holdings Tufts to 17 points in Week 2. And then Saturday happened, when the Panthers went off for 41 points. Like most games in the NESCAC, the score was not indicative of how tough of a football game it was, as Middlebury led just 14-10 at halftime, and Bates had four takeaways – three interceptions and a fumble recovery. But in the end, the pass defense was porous. The Bobcats stopped the run very well, not allowing a run over seven yards until the Panthers’ final drive when QB Jared Lebowitz ’17 snuck through for a 40-yard TD dash off of a read option. In the passing game, though, Middlebury receivers just beat the Bobcats’ defenders one-on-one on multiple occasions. One long TD pass to Conrado Banky ’19 came on a simple go route down the left sideline where Banky just outran and out-jumped his defender. Overall, Middlebury had 6.3 yards per offensive play.
Wesleyan QB Gernald Hawkins ’18
We knew it was going to be tough for Hawkins to adjust and become an efficient passer, but his inability to move the ball downfield was exposed against Amherst. Hawkins only completed four passes of over 10 yards, the longest being 18 yards on the Cardinals’ final drive with Amherst laying off defensively. While he’s done a good job taking care of the ball, Hawkins’ limitations are hindering the Wesleyan offense. They’re happy to rely on their talented running backs, and the trick plays with Devon Carrillo ’16 throwing the ball and the change of pace with Mark Piccirillo ’19 lining up behind center are great, but you need to be able to threaten through the air on every down, and right now Wesleyan can’t do that.
Middlebury Passing Offense
How can Bates’ pass defense and Middlebury’s passing offense both be trending downward when the two faced off this week? Let me explain. It’s all relative, remember, so keep in mind that the Panthers’ passing attack is still elite when it comes to the NESCAC. But, interceptions have been somewhat of an issue this season for QB Matt Milano ’16, and they’ve really come in bunches, with two each against Colby and Amherst and three against Bates. Some are poor decisions, some are misplays by receivers, but considering that Milano had three picks all of last season, two of which came in Week 1, there’s some reason for concern. What really concerns me, though, is that Conrado Banky went down with an injury against Bates, and his status is unknown. Middlebury has some talented receivers who have barely seen the field waiting for an opportunity, but Banky was quickly turning into a star and seemed to have a solid connection with Milano, and losing him could prove costly.