Mid-Year Report: 5 Biggest Surprises So Far

Quarterback Noah Nelson '19 came out of nowhere to win NESCAC POTW Honors. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Quarterback Noah Nelson ’19 came out of nowhere to win NESCAC POTW Honors. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

The NESCAC football season has brought us all of the drama and excitement that we could have asked. And while the standings are largely where we thought they’d be at season’s beginning, and many of last year’s standouts have built upon their impressive resumes, nevertheless there have been a myriad of surprises, as well.

Like the ending of the Departed – wait, maybe that’s a bad example. Like the big reveal of Darth Vader’s true identity in The Empire Strikes Back – do anyone of the younguns playing in the NESCAC today even know what I’m talking about – some things we just never see coming. And with that in mind, below are the five biggest surprises of the 2015 NESCAC football season, in order from “Oh no, someone ate the last Oreo” to “My car is gone, my girlfriend broke up with me and my house burnt down – I just saw it on Facebook”.

5. There Are Freshmen All over the Leaderboards

And that doesn’t even count last week’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week, Bowdoin QB Noah Nelson ’19, who isn’t eligible for the leaderboards despite a 328-yard, four-touchdown performance in Week 4. Amherst (Jack Hickey ’19) and Middlebury (Diego Meritus ’19) both have ball carriers in the top-10 in rushing yards per game, and Tufts’ Dom Borelli ’19 has shown some flashes of talent. On the receiving end, Middlebury’s Conrado Banky ’19 has turned a couple big plays into 64.8 YPG receiving, good for ninth in the NESCAC. On the defensive end, LB Phillippe Archambault ’19 (Bowdoin), LBs Ryan Neville ’19 (Colby) and Sam Friedman ’19 (Colby), DL Tyler Hudson ’19 (Hamilton) and DB Colby Jones ’19 (Hamilton), LBs Dagon Picon-Roura ’19 (Trinity) and Shane Libby ’19 (Trinity), and DB Alexander LaPiana ’19 (Tufts) are all making immediate impacts for their new squads. Every year some first-years make their mark right away, but it’s always impressive to see, and the number of contributors this year has been particularly large

4. The Tufts Jumbos Are 3-1, with a 34-27 OT Loss vs. Trinity

Sure, we predicted a 4-4 season for Tufts and they’ve won the games we expected them to. They also scraped by Hamilton and Bates by a total of four points. So we shouldn’t really be surprised by where Tufts stands right now. But then again, they did almost beat a 3-0 Trinity team that had yet to allow a point on defense. Maybe, just maybe, this team is getting better. And better yet, they’re starting to believe that they belong. For a team that hadn’t won a football game since Sept. 15, 2010 before last season, they seem to have arrived and become relevant at last.

3. The Wesleyan Rushing Attack

The Cardinals’ returned All-NESCAC running back Lou Stevens ’17 and brought back the formerly-injured LaDarius Drew ’15 to the backfield for this season. I would have bet my entire bank account (that probably sounds more impressive than it is) that at least one of those two would be running roughshod over the NESCAC already.

And yet, in Week 1 Jaylen Berry ’18 led the Cards’ attack with 122 rushing yards on 21 carries (5.8 YPC) and Drew and Stevens combined for just eight carries. On the season, Berry, quarterback Gernald Hawkins ’18 and slot receiver/Wildcat QB Devon Carrillo ’16 have all rushed for more yards than Stevens and Drew, and Drew has only played in two games this season, meaning that he is not recovered from his injury in 2014. Stevens finally got it going a week ago, running for 117 yards on just 12 carries including a 40-yard rumble, but it’s fairly obvious that we’re not going to see a workhorse emerge in the Cardinals’ backfield this season, with Head Coach Dan DiCenzo electing to spread out the carries.

2. The Maine Schools are a Combined 1-11

We had all three projected for either two or three wins, so the CBB was expected to be weak this season – but not this weak. If not for an offensive explosion from a newcomer at QB, Bowdoin could easily be 0-4 and the CBB would be 0-12. Something needs to change, because this kind of disparity is not good for the Maine schools or the league as a whole. Of those 11 losses, only three have really been close. Hopefully things turn around down the stretch, but that remains to be seen.

1. Passing Is up in the ‘CAC – and by a lot.

Last year, only two teams finished the season with over 200 YPG through the air – Middlebury (265.0) and Tufts (234.5). This season, through four games, EIGHT teams have at least 200 YPG passing, led by the Panthers (314.0) and capped with the Wesleyan Cardinals (200.8). From where is this difference coming? We thought, with the graduation of some top passers in Jesse Warren ’15 and Jack Doll ’15, that passing might be down this season. But on the contrary, passing is way up. The top-five passing defenses from a year ago are the same, and Trinity, Middlebury, Amherst, Williams and Wesleyan are performing similarly to a year ago. But Hamilton, Bates and Tufts, in particular, are relinquishing too many yards through the air. Even though Bates only threw for 110 yards against Tufts in Week 2, the Jumbos are allowing 290.0 YPG through the air. But it’s not just the lackluster performance of the Jumbos defense against the pass, but the arrival of some impressive QBs. Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Reece Foy ’18 are the league’s No. 2 and No. 3 passes to-date.

For awhile now the theme has been three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust in the NESCAC, but that appears to be changing.



Monday Musings Part Two: Everyone Else

Things are good in Medford these days. The Jumbos are 3-0. (Photos Courtesy of Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

AL: Alright, enough about that Amherst-Middlebury game as there was plenty of other football played. The one score that caught my eye was Wesleyan sneaking by Colby 24-21. For the second straight week the Cardinals needed a late touchdown to take the lead, and both weeks it was Devon Carrillo ’16 who was responsible for it.

JM: So a couple of thoughts from me about this result. One, I think Colby played pissed off, especially Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17. Two, either Wesleyan isn’t as good as we thought, or, and sorry to keep dragging it back to Middlebury, the Panthers aren’t as good as we thought. The Cards have now played close game’s with teams we thought would be elite and teams we thought would be mediocre. I think it’s mostly a situation of a young team in Wesleyan with a lot of talent going through growing pains, and they’ll get better as the season goes on. My one other observation, and you just brought this up, Devon Carrillo is a beast. In Weeks 1 and 2 it was rushing the ball. This week he finally caught some passes. One way or another he’s going to hurt you. Like this:

AL: Get this: Wesleyan came in allowing just 13.0 YPG on the ground, and Hurdle-Price went for 19 yards on his first carry on his way to 202 for the day. This is an encouraging effort for Colby. Obviously they are 0-3 against Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan, but they did look competitive. That and then you have to look at the standings and see your CBB mates Bowdoin and Bates sitting there at 0-3 too.

JM: And it was another tough one for your Bowdoin Polar Bears, losing a whopping 43-24. What’s going on, Al?

AL: Ugghh, the defense has simply not shown up, especially in the first half of the past two games. The Jumbos had 27 points in the first half, and Chance Brady ’17 was able to do basically whatever he wanted. I thought it was going to be different under new coach JB Wells, but these things take time. Real story is Tufts moving to 3-0 I think.

JM: I’m with you, Al. Could Tufts be the real deal? They barely snuck by Hamilton and Bates, but in a way that’s a good thing. The Jumbos actually believe they can win. And that’s the kind of attitude they’re going to need when they go to play Trinity this weekend. This will either be Tufts’ announcement to the league that they’re a contender, or it will affirm our fears that there are really only four teams competing every year for the title.

AL: I’m going to say the Jumbos are still a year away, but Saturday will tell us, obviously. Bowdoin was playing without Tyler Grant ’17, and the Polar Bears picked off Alex Snyder ’17 twice, so you can’t say it was all roses for Tufts. Elsewhere, on Friday I said that I was high on the Ephs because of Austin Lommen ’16, and they leaned on him heavily throwing the ball 47 times in the Ephs’ win. Still, Bates had a lot of chances to win this game, but they haven’t been able to win the close games.

QB Austin Lommen '16 carried the Ephs' offense on his right shoulder on Saturday. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
QB Austin Lommen ’16 carried the Ephs’ offense on his right shoulder on Saturday. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

JM: No, and I think part of that is that their offense is one-dimensional. It just doesn’t work in football these days. The athletes on the other side of the ball are too good and too smart. There’s so much film that you aren’t really surprising opposing defenses with that option game.

AL: Patrick Dugan ’16 was 1-14 throwing the ball! Williams has a good secondary, but that is BAD. Bates has always leaned on the run, but they usually are able to get more of a passing game going. Finally, the game we haven’t talked about is Trinity vs. Hamilton. What did you think of that one?

JM: Really just confirmed what we already knew. Trinity’s defense is going to shut down bad teams. While Hamilton had a great showing in Week 1, and nearly upset Wesleyan in Week 2, I think that they’re closer to the offense we’ve seen the last two weeks than the one we saw in Week 1. More than anything, Trinity just has a chip on its shoulder after losing three straight to end 2014. If running back Max Chipouras ’19 is for real, then this team becomes terrifying to face.

AL: This score would have been more lopsided if Colby Jones ’19 (another impact freshman who also returned a blocked extra point for two points) hadn’t intercepted two Sonny Puzzo ’17 throws inside of the Hamilton 20-yard line. I’m a little more optimistic about the Hamilton offense just because I respect the Trinity defense so much. With that being said, Puzzo is coming back to earth.I have my worries about when Triniy has to face a top-four defense.

Jeff Devanney's defense has yet to allow a point through three games. That's 180 minutes of football. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
Jeff Devanney’s defense has yet to allow a point through three games. That’s 180 minutes of football. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

JM: I still feel good about Puzzo. He didn’t run much last week, so I don’t know what that’s about. But we saw in person with Foy against Middlebury how the threat of a quarterback taking off and running is a huge weapon. And Puzzo still put up good yardage against Hamilton. Trinity’s calling card is always going to be defense as long as Jeff Devanney is the coach, and that’s how they’re going to win.

AL: I mean the Trinity defense still hasn’t been scored on. Glancing at the standings, clear demarcation with six teams either 3-0 or 2-1 and then four 0-3 teams. With the exception of Wesleyan, I feel like I have a good handle on teams at this point.

JM: Agreed, and things are starting to separate, as you mentioned. Okay, Adam, any last takes on Week 3 in the NESCAC?

AL: Just want to reiterate how much I enjoyed watching the game at Amherst. And that we went 5-0 on picks this week. Definitely want to mention that.

JM: I feel pretty confident in saying that no one else has watched as much NESCAC football as we have this season, Adam. It’s paying off with the picks.