The Best of the Rest: Week Four Football Weekend Preview

The marquee game of the season thus far is in Amherst, as Middlebury travels to the Mammoths in a game that starts the process of deciding the league champion. Amherst and Middlebury are the two teams with the best chance of supplanting Trinity, but staying undefeated will be crucial in that noble quest. Check out Colby’s breakdown of that game here.  Other than that game this week is pretty pedestrian, with mostly lower tier teams taking on better opponents. It will be interesting to see if Williams can build off their performance against Trinity last weekend, or if they are let down after a tough loss. And Trinity is worth watching as well, to see if their offense can rebound against a Hamilton team that can be sneaky-dangerous (ask Tufts.)

Colby (0-3) @ Wesleyan (2-1), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT

As their Twitter page is very fond of pointing out, Wesleyan has one of the most potent passing offenses in the country thus far. However, they are not built to be a high volume aerial attack like, say, Middlebury is. Mark Piccirillo ‘18 doesn’t have the bevy of receiving weapons that Lebowitz does, nor is he as deadly accurate, as shown by his two picks against Hamilton. This is why it was so encouraging to see the Cardinal rushing attack get going in a big way against the Continentals. Sophomore Dario Highsmith ‘20 had the breakout game we’ve been waiting for, rushing for 95 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Wesleyan is at their best when their offense is multi-faceted, and after a one-dimensional first three weeks, they’re finally figuring it out. Look for them to continue to establish the run in a mismatch against Colby.

Dario Highsmith ’20 might be making a star turn before our very eyes.

Speaking of the Mules, their offense has continued to be anemic, putting too much pressure on an actually fairly good defense. QB Jack O’ Brian ‘21 has not thrown a pick since becoming the starter, but he also has completed just around 50% of his passes and really struggles throwing it downfield. The passing game can’t keep the ball on the field well enough to run it with Jake Schwern ’19, an underrated back who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Colby will try to run the ball on the Cardinals, but they really need to get some sort of threatening passing attack going. Unfortunately, Wesleyan is not a team offenses get “well” against.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 31, Colby 9

Bates (0-3) @ Williams (2-1), 1:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

At the beginning of the season, we would have thought this game would be close, as these two teams would be battling it out for the “Best of the Rest” spot that we’ve written about in the past. But with Williams’ shocking improvement and Bates’ equally shocking struggles, it now looks like it could be a blowout. But, it also might not be. This is a very important game for both teams. Williams has impressed the league with their terrific defensive performance against Trinity. They had two sacks, a category in which they sit a second in the league, and nine tackles for loss in a pressure-filled performance that helped hold Max Chipouras ’19 to his worst performance on the season (just 2.8 yards per carry.) Unfortunately for them, Trinity’s defense was just as good, forcing the young Williams offense into four turnovers. Williams brought a lot of passion in that game, and they can’t afford to take a break against the Bobcats if they want to keep a legit chance at finishing in the top four (which I think they have.) The offense should rebound against a porous Bates defense, but the youth factor might make it harder to come back from a frustrating loss last weekend

Brendan Costa
Brendan Costa ’21 is the latest on the carousel of Bates starting QB’s.

Luckily for the Williams offense, Bates has made pretty much every team they play look like the ‘07 Patriots. To be fair, they have played three of the best offenses in the league (Trinity, Amherst and Tufts.) And also to be fair, their own offense has struggled so much that their defense can’t get a break. The Bobcats are on their their third QB of the year in Brendan Costa ‘21, and he looked impressive on the ground against Tufts (91 yards and a TD.) But he still completed only 42% of his passes. Even if Williams’ offense isn’t as dominant as the others Bates has faced, their defense should be enough to get them the win.

Predicted Score: Williams 24, Bates 10

Hamilton (0-3) @ Trinity (3-0), 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT

Trinity had some weaknesses exposed last weekend against Williams, namely on the offensive line and in the receiving game. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 and Max Chipouras ‘19 might be the best at their positions in the league, but Trinity doesn’t have a stud receiver. Koby Schafer ’20 is a great player, but he’d be better suited as a second option behind a Mike Breuler ’18 or a Conrado Banky ’19. This puts more pressure on Puzzo to make perfect throws, and on Chipouras to set up the offense in good spots. Therefore, if either of them are struggling, Trinity’s offense can sputter. And the way to make them struggle is to pack the box and stop Chipouras. Williams did that very effectively until a fourth quarter turnover gave the Bantams excellent field position. That’s when Puzzo ended the game with a TD strike to Schafer, keeping Trinity from suffering a huge upset. Also, it should be noted that Trinity’s defense still looked impenetrable despite finally giving up points. They dominated the Ephs inexperienced attack, with LB and Player of the Week Carty Campbell ’18 returning an interception 34 yards. They should to the same to Hamilton.

Hamilton has definitely seen the game plan that Williams used to limit Trinity. However, they probably do not have the personnel to repeat it. They have two solid linebackers in Cole Burchill ’19 and Tyler Hudson ’19, but neither of them are intimidating backfield presence, preferring to work in the secondary. And their D-Line has been roasted all season to the tune of 204 rushing yards per game (!!) Add in another inexperienced offense (despite a bevy of weapons that might make Puzzo fairly jealous) and Trinity should get back on their blowout grind this week.

Predicted Score: Trinity 42, Hamilton 6

Bowdoin (0-3) @ Tufts (2-1), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

One of the most versatile offenses in the league takes on the worst defense in the league. Not exactly a recipe for a tight game. Tufts can beat you in a lot of different ways on the offensive end, but they all start with QB Ryan McDonald ‘19. McDonald has had a couple huge passing games (and one very bad one against Wesleyan,) and has six touchdowns and two interceptions on the year. But his greatest weapons is his legs. He has 295 yards and two touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry. He does have an unfortunate fumbling habit (3 on the year) but he is undoubtedly one of the deadliest offensive forces in the league, and has been chiefly responsible for Tufts’s offense thriving even without Chance Brady.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is the key to Tufts’ offense.

Bowdoin’s defense is allowing an incomprehensible 477 yards per game this season. They seem to have found some modicum of consistency at QB in Griff Stalcup ‘21, but they simply cannot stay in games long enough for him to really get into a rhythm. If they could find some way to disrupt McDonald’s throwing, Tufts RB Dom Borelli ‘19 is battling an injury and may not play, limiting their rushing attack. They could play contain on McDonald and force him to make downfield throws. However, I don’t see their secondary being good enough to stop those throws even if they do that.

Predicted Score: Tufts 40, Bowdoin 10

The NESCAC Gap: Football Stock Report 10/2

Similar to last week, week 3 produced results that continue to show the polarized hierarchy that is NESCAC football. Four teams won via the blowout (Middlebury, Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan), so only one game had any semblance of competition (Trinity toppled Williams 17-9). The abundance of blowouts, however, means that some players put up some eye-popping statistics. Jared Lebowitz ’18 continued his impressive season (28-52, 389 yards, 3 touchdowns), Amherst’s Jack Hickey ’19 rushed 13 times for 118 yards, and Hamilton’s Cole Burchill ’19 racked up 16 total tackles against a prolific Wesleyan offense. This weekend did very little to affect the NESCAC standings, but the Williams-Trinity game was low-key fascinating. Let’s get into some of the emerging storylines.

Stock Up

The ‘Rebounding’ Middlebury Offense

This seems like a storyline as old as time. Earlier this season, we wrote on how the Middlebury receiving corps had a long way to come after graduating 2 perennial studs. In the past two weeks, the Panthers have silenced those doubts in a dramatic fashion. Against Bowdoin last week, junior wideout Conrado Banky ‘19 torched the Polar Bears for 101 yards on 5 receptions, averaging 20.2 yards per catch. Tanner Contois ‘18 also added 3 deep catches that exposed the Bowdoin secondary. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury put up 34 unanswered points, thanks in large part to 6 Panthers hauling in at least 40 receiving yards. This offensive explosion was led by Banky, who tallied 136 yards on 9 receptions, and Jimmy Martinez ’19, who ran back another punt 61 yards for a touchdown, his second of the season already. He has become the most dangerous return man in recent NESCAC memory, and also added three catches for 48 yards. Middlebury has proved that it still has plenty of weapons, and are the most dangerous offense in the league.

Conrado Banky ’19 finally exploded last week, catching 9 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns.

Williams’s Resurgence

Despite the loss on Saturday, the Williams team had a lot of positive takeaways. The Ephs were able to put up 9 points against a daunting Trinity defense that had yet to allow a point in its first two games this season. The offense had 19 first downs, 9 more than what Trinity could muster. The Williams defense was solid too: the only points it let up were the result of turnovers, and a 46-yard field goal by one of the best kickers in NESCAC history. Though this loss was the first blemish on an otherwise perfect start to a season, I believe this game further proves that Williams is on the rise. This game, maybe more so than their two wins, should send a message to future opponents. Look for Williams to take care of business next week against a struggling Bates team.

Stock Down

Amherst Doubters

In the first three weeks of the season, Amherst has silenced all skeptics that have claimed that the Mammoths no longer belongs atop the NESCAC leaderboards. It is unclear what Reece Foy’s ‘18 role will be going forward, as he is returning from a knee injury but playing very few snaps. Regardless, QB Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in nicely, and he lit up Bowdoin for 254 yards on Saturday, That said, Amherst’s three impressive wins have come against the dredges of the NESCAC (Bates, Hamilton, Bowdoin). Amherst will be tested in the next few weeks, and a win next weekend against the formidable Middlebury team will further prove that the Mammoths are still a force to be reckoned with.

Ollie Eberth’20 has grabbed the reins at Amherst and will not let them go.

Competitive Games

The objective of any professional league should be to create competitive balance among its teams, so as to keep all fans engaged and to grow the league’s brand. That being said, it’s a good thing the NESCAC isn’t a professional league. None of the games in week 3 were particularly close, and, as a desperate fan of Bowdoin football, this season has been a struggle. The prevalent storyline this season has been Amherst, Middlebury, and Trinity beating up on the rest of the league, while Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton have fruitlessly tried to get into the win column. As a fan of the sport, it would be nice to see some weekly unpredictability in these games, but that just hasn’t happened yet. It’s been most interesting to follow Williams’s strong start to the season, and to watch some individual players put on showcases week after week. Going forward, though, I hope to see a little less polarization, and a little more parity.

Special Editor’s Stock Down: Trinity’s Undefeated Chances

I know this is one of the needlessly alarmist “hot takes” that has made sports talk shows totally unlistenable (except for Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed.) But I didn’t think I’d get to write anything about Trinity other than “they’re the best” all season, so hear me out. Trinity had nine fewer first downs than Williams that weekend, and couldn’t generate any offense that didn’t come off of turnovers by a jittery, young Eph offense. Williams stuffed the running game, keeping Max Chipouras ’19 to 2.8 yards per carry, and locked up the receivers, keeping Sonny Puzzo ’18 to 163 yards. This says a great deal about Williams’ defense; it may well be the best in the league, and they have a real chance of finishing 6-2 or even 7-1. And of course, the Bantams still won, and used their own elite defense to make huge plays at the right time. But the Ephs laid down a formula to slay Trinity. Stuff the run and force Puzzo to make tough throws to a depleted receiving core (that is Trinity’s greatest weakness, they don’t have an elite weapon in the passing game.) If a team with a more consistent offense (like Middlebury or Wesleyan) can follow this defensive formula, this season could get a lot more interesting.

One Step at a Time: 2017 Hamilton Football Preview

2017 Record: 3-5

Projected Record: 4-5

Projected Offensive Starters: (*Four Returning), 11 Personnel Pro Style

QB: Kenny Gray ‘20*

RB: Marcus Gutierrez ‘18*

WR: Joe Schmidt ‘20*

WR: Alec Waugh ‘18*

WR: Eli Saucier ‘18

TE: Trevor Pinkham ’19

LT: Sam Palomaki ’20

LG: A.J. Cantarella ’20

C: Mike Cantarella ’20

RG: Stephen Kelley ’19

RT: Micah Balogh ’19

Projected Defensive Starters: (*Four Returning), 4-3

DE: Alec Boyles ’20

DL: Michael Friedman ’19

DL: Will Rothschild ‘19

DE: John Martisch ’20

OLB: Sean Tolton ’19

MLB: Tyler Hudson ’19*

OLB: Cole Burchill ’19*

CB: Preston DeLaurentis ‘18

FS: Colby Jones ‘19*

SS: Rory Merklinger ’18

CB: Justin Leigh ’20

Projected Specialists: (*Two Returning)

K: Zach Altneu ’18

P: Billy Wagner ‘20*

KR: Joe Schmidt ’20 and Colby Jones ’19

PR: Sam Robinson ’20

Summary:

Image result for hamilton college football 2016 marcus gutierrez
Senior Tailback Marcus Gutierrez ’18 could be due for a breakout season.

Since hiring coach Dave Murray who is now in his fourth season at Hamilton, the Continentals have steadily improved, going from 0-8 in 2014 to 2-6 in 2015 and 3-5 in 2016. The goal this year will be to get at least one more win in the nine game schedule. Hamilton returns eight starters from last year including a trio of star skill players on offense. After a strong freshman season in which he passed for 903 yards, sophomore quarterback Kenny Gray ’20 will attempt to link up with last year’s second place receiver and fellow sophomore Joe Schmidt ’20, who caught 28 passes for 301 yards. They will miss graduating senior Charles Ensley at the wideout position, but Alec Waugh ’18 is ready to fill that role. Hamilton’s offensive line is young and untested, with all of last year’s starters graduating. They will be thrown into the fire against Tufts’ defense on Saturday. Despite his small 5’5” stature, senior tailback Marcus Gutierrez ’18 racked up 419 yards on the ground last year, averaging 3.5 yards per attempt. If he can up that total to 4 yards or more per carry, Hamilton will easily be able to move the ball down the field and into the end zone. On a team that only scored 95 points last season, offensive improvement is by far the most important thing. The Continentals totaled 66 points in their three wins, but only 29 points in their five losses.

The defense returns four starters including second lead tackle Cole Burchill ’19 at linebacker. However only four returning starters means seven former backups will move into starting roles this season. This means a defense that already ranked third to last in the NESCAC could certainly face some early growing pains. It doesn’t help that they face last year’s runner up Tufts in the first game of the season. Tyler Hudson ’19 is the biggest blitzing threat with four sacks last season and was not far behind Burchill with 47 tackles. Despite the strength upfront in the base 4-3, Hamilton’s secondary is lacking, only returning one starter from a defense that ranked second to last in passing yards last season. The goal of course will be to limit the big passing plays and get the opposing points’ total under 20 to keep the offense in each game. The Continentals allowed a total of 177 points or 35.4 in losses last season compared to just 38 or 12.7 per game in wins. Of course, the two units must work together over the course of the season. If the offense continues to go 3 and out, it will be tough for the defense to keep their stamina and limit the points against.

Hamilton’s 2017 schedule starts off tough with a trip to last season’s runner up Tufts, but they could get their first win as early as week 2 when middle of the pack Amherst travel to Steuben Field. Home games against Colby and Bates are also winnable games and you have to give the Continentals a chance in their road trips to last year’s winless teams Williams and Bowdoin. The team has not won the Rocking Chair Classic against their closest geographic rival, Middlebury, in 21 years and can’t really expect a win in Vermont this year either. The home game against Wesleyan and the trip to Trinity also do not seem possible. Given the above constraints, a 4-5 or 5-4 record is a reasonable prediction for this year’s Continentals and would be a continuation of steady improvement under Coach Murray.

Offensive MVP: QB Kenny Gray ’20

Kenny Gray
Kenny Gray ’20 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

It is cliche to pick the quarterback as the offense’s most important player, but Hamilton’s strength is its passing game. That will depend on improvement from the sophomore who threw more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (3) last season. He has experienced wide receivers around him to make plays; he just has to get the ball to the right place. If Gray can play like he did in the end of season against Bates, completing 15 of 25 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, Hamilton will score points and could even be hard to stop on offense. Joe Schmidt, Alec Waugh, and Eli Saucier should continue to support him in the passing game while Marcus Gutierrez gets it done on the ground. Despite his small stature, Gutierrez will be an important every down back because of his speed.

Defensive MVP: OLB Cole Burchill ’19

Cole Burchill
Cole Burchill ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

As the leading tackler among returners, Burchill will anchor the defense along with converted defensive end Tyler Hudson at middle linebacker. Many NESCAC teams focus on the ground game so linebacker play is crucial to minimizing the other teams’ yards and points. This becomes even more important with a young defensive front and an unpredictable secondary. Look for Burchill to make the bulk of the tackles and be in on a lot of defensive plays this season. After finishing 16th last season, he could certainly challenge for the top five tacklers in the NESCAC.

Biggest Game: September 23 vs. Amherst

As Coach Dave Murray mentioned, Hamilton must play perfect football to steal an away win at Tufts this Saturday. The same is true of their games home against Wesleyan and at Trinity on September 30th and October 7th. Therefore an early home win against middle of the road team Amherst is crucial for a strong start to the season. Hamilton lost 34-0 at Amherst last season, but the Mammoths’ 4-4 record last team means they are a team the Continentals ought to beat if they want a winning season.

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