Honestly speaking, this has been the most exciting NESCAC season that I have witnessed in my college career. Looking over the schedule for the final two weeks of season, I am drawn to game after game after game. There are games with championship hopes on the line (both NESCAC and CBB championship hopes); there are games with endless pride at stake; there are in-state rivalry games, conference rivalry games, grudge matches…there’s even some little school in Connecticut that’s trying to finish out an undefeated season. 2016 has given us the rise of a historically less relevant team in terms of championship contention (Tufts), and it has also presented us with an epic fall from grace (Amherst). All in all, it’s hard to objectively look at the 2016 NESCAC Football season and be upset — the competition has been good, great, phenomenal…I can’t wait to see what type of upsets are in store for us over these next two weeks.
Hold your horses though, folks. Before we can get to the decisive Week 8 games, we need to get through this weekend. Good news! There are a number of very important games tomorrow, games that will set the stage for a thrilling final week. The most obvious is Amherst-Trinity, a matchup that features an undefeated group of Bantams looking to win the sole title of 2016 NESCAC champion. Amherst has been on quite the slide as of late, but if they can put together a little Western Mass magic like we remember from the good old days, then Week 8 will be VERY interesting. Elsewhere, Middlebury, Tufts, and Wesleyan all have one loss, and all need to win-out in order to have a shot at taking home at least a share of the title (I’d be unbelievably surprised if there was a sole champion that didn’t hail from Hartford, CT, but I suppose it is possible). The good news for all three of the 5-1 squads is that they play Hamilton, Colby, and Williams respectively. The bad news? Hamilton, Colby, and Williams are ALL looking to spoil some championship dreams. So check out Saturday’s action below – this should be an awesome weekend.
(Per usual, Pete and I split up this weekend’s preview. I wrote about the Colby-Tufts and Wesleyan-Williams games, while Pete wrote the Middlebury-Hamilton, Amherst-Trinity, and Bates-Bowdoin games)
Colby (2-4) at Tufts (5-1), Medford, MA, 1:00 PM
Well, Pete moved Tufts into the #2 slot in this week’s power rankings, so it’s time for the Jumbos to show everyone that they deserve that nod. While the Trinitys, Middleburys, and Wesleyans of the world have been able to blow out some inferior opponents by ~30 points somewhat often, Tufts has not done so, but that doesn’t mean they’re any worse of a team for it. Scoring 40 or 50 points is not their M.O. – playing solid defense and wearing down opposing defenses is. That’s why Tufts has the lowest point differential per game, an average of just +9.33 per game compared to Trinity (27.00), Middlebury (11.33), and Wesleyan (21.00). It’s also why I think that this weekend’s game could be closer than many people are anticipating. Colby is fresh off a devastating loss to Bates, but the fight they showed in the second half of that game is a testament to their willpower. The Mules are clearly not going to roll over, and whether or not Jabari Hurdle-Price ‘17 is back from injury this week, Colby is going to be ready to play. Expect Coach Michaeles to stick with what’s working – lots of plays drawn up for Christian Sparacio ‘18 to feed Sebastian Ferrell ‘19. Lockdown Jumbo cornerback Tim Preston ‘19 is back to his old ways – once again he leads the NESCAC in interceptions (4), so expect him to line up against Ferrell. The main question, as always, will be whether the opposing D can shut down Chance Brady ‘17… I somehow doubt it.
Rory Ziomek: Colby 17, Tufts 24
Pete Lindholm: Colby 10, Tufts 13
Liam O’Neil: Colby 10, Tufts 40
Colin Tiernan: Colby 13, Tufts 31
Colby Morris: Colby 7, Tufts 35
Sid Warrenbrand: Colby 7, Tufts 41
Nick DiBenedetto: Colby 7, Tufts 21
Wesleyan (5-1) at Williams (0-6), Williamstown, MA, 1:00 PM
I have tried to be pretty optimistic about Williams all season long, and they have shown some instances of competitive football in 2016, but overall, I think that Williams’ defense has been their downfall. The Ephs are allowing 29.3 OPPG, largely in part because of the nearly 400 YPG that they allow (381.5). Conceding a league-worst 199.2 YPG on the ground is not a recipe for success against Wesleyan, the third-best rushing attack in the NESCAC (180.5 YPG). And it’s not that the Cardinals can’t pass either! Quarterback Mark Piccirillo ‘19 can pass, he can run, and above all else, he can facilitate offensive flow. If Williams wants to win this game, they are going to need to score the football…unfortunately, I think that could be an issue for them. Though Williams ranks 6th in scoring in the NESCAC, they are a hop, skip and a jump below Amherst’s scoring average, once again highlighting the “league of two tiers” that we have often alluded to this fall. Wesleyan still boasts the best defense in the league, allowing just 7.7 OPPG, one that has only gotten better as the season has gone on. If the rest of the 2016 season is an accurate barometer, Wesleyan should head to Trinity at 6-1.
Rory: Wesleyan 42, Williams 7
Pete: Wesleyan 35, Williams 7
Liam: Wesleyan 27, Williams 10
Colin: Wesleyan 27, Williams 10
Colby: Wesleyan 28, Williams 13
Sid: Wesleyan 38, Williams 6
Nick: Wesleyan 38, Williams 14
Middlebury (5-1) at Hamilton (2-4), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM
Contrary to the apparent mismatch, this is a crucial game for the Panthers. Last weekend, Trinity Sonny Corleone-d the Panthers to the tune of a 49-13 drubbing that may not even have been that close. The Panthers now must win out (and get a little help from Amherst this weekend) in order to have a shot at sharing the league title. Their biggest obstacle on paper is a home game against Tufts to close the year, but Middlebury would be wise to not discount the Continentals this weekend. Hamilton is a long drive from Middlebury, and the Panthers have had a tendency to start slowly, particularly on the road. Also, Hamilton is truly not that bad. Quarterback Kenny Gray ‘20 has had some impressive connections with receiver Charles Ensley ‘18, and the defense features certified studs Mickey Keating ‘18 and Tyler Hudson ‘19, who are excellent at pressuring the quarterback. The struggling Middlebury offensive line will have to step up their game in order to give Jared Lebowitz time to get back into POY form after a very tough week against Trinity. This should be a tune-up game for Middlebury in preparation for Tufts, but it would be very dangerous for the Panthers to think like that.
Rory: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 23
Pete: Middlebury 23, Hamilton 14
Liam: Middlebury 34, Hamilton 10
Colin: Middlebury 27, Hamilton 10
Colby: Middlebury 38, Hamilton 14
Sid: Middlebury 24, Hamilton 6
Nick: Middlebury 42, Hamilton 0
Amherst (3-3) at Trinity (6-0), Hartford, CT, 12:30 PM
Look, did I expect Amherst to be 3-3 heading into Week Seven? No. Am I happy about it? No, (holding back gleeful laughter) okay maybe a bit, but just because it makes for more interesting #content for us to write about here at NBN. Amherst has lost three of their last four games, with turnovers out of quarterbacks Alex Berluti and Nick Morales being the main culprit. Additionally, running back Jack Hickey ‘19, who was looking like a darkhorse All-League team candidate early in the season, has pretty much disappeared from the offense, posting only 97 yards and one TD over the last three games after 6 touchdowns in the first three games. Amherst simply has no offensive firepower right now, and that doesn’t bode well for a matchup with Trinity’s vaunted defense. However, Amherst still has one weapon left in their arsenal: pride. This is a team that won 21 in a row just a short time ago, and the attitude that makes the rest of the league hate them is still there. If they can summon that attitude, take care of the ball and let their still-excellent defense match up with Trinity’s dominant offense, this could be a classic.
Rory: Amherst 13, Trinity 31
Pete: Amherst 10, Trinity 28
Liam: Amherst 13, Trinity 28
Colin: Amherst 24, Trinity 33
Colby: Amherst 13, Trinity 27
Sid: Amherst 14, Trinity 21
Nick: Amherst 17, Trinity 38
Bates (2-4) at Bowdoin (0-6), Lewiston, ME, 12:30 PM
There’s a battle for Maine brewing in Lewiston this weekend, as well as a battle for Bates to have one of their best seasons in the last ten years. The second game of the CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) series features Bates coming off a hard fought 21-19 win over Colby, and Bowdoin coming off a shellacking at the hands of Wesleyan. Bates has a great opportunity in the next few weeks to finish at .500, as they play Hamilton in Week Eight. Bowdoin, on the other hand, has an opportunity against Bates or Colby to leave 2016 with a win, potentially two, which would be a tremendous moral victory in a season that was doomed from the start. The key for the Polar Bears will be keeping Bates QB Sandy Plaschkes from breaking away for big plays. Plaschkes 42% completion percentage looks bad on paper (and honestly is pretty bad,) but he has eight touchdowns and only four interceptions on the year, and has a knack for coming up with big throws when the team needs it. The stakes in this game are not high rankings-wise, but they are for the teams involved, making for a hard fought game.
Rory: Bates 27, Bowdoin 21
Pete: Bates 24, Bowdoin 7
Liam: Bates 26, Bowdoin 8
Colin: Bates 17, Bowdoin 20
Colby: Bates 17, Bowdoin 13
Sid: Bates 16, Bowdoin 9
Nick: Bates 28, Bowdoin 14