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.
Predicted Score: Tufts 35, Colby 7