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

Two (Undefeated) Teams Enter: Amherst-Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

Game Time: 2:00 PM EST, Amherst, MA.

After a week of rather dull and predictable results, its refreshing to see this game set on the schedule as one of the remaining undefeated teams will fall. Two 3-0 records will enter and one will exit the weekend with a blemish, however, each will likely have different starting lineups at the end of the season. Both the Panthers and Mammoths lack totally healthy rosters like most teams at this point in the college football season, but they both miss key players. Coming off of easy wins for both teams, this will be Middlebury’s first real test since week one against Wesleyan and Amherst’s first test of the season.

Middlebury X-Factor: WR Jimmy Martinez ’19

Jimmy Martinez plays football a whole lot better than he takes photos

Martinez is not just another one of the many pieces that QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 has to choose from, he is also the best return man in the NESCAC. With two special teams TDs already, he is a hidden gem and potential game changer in an area that Amherst hasn’t seen much talent this season. With 11 receptions this season, his is six shy from his career total, all accumulated last season. He is averaging 51.7 yards per game in the air, including a score, and isn’t tasked with increasing his volume of catches due to the deep nature of the Midd receivers. The sky is the limit for Martinez as his unmatched speed as an All-American in the 400 meter dash gives him a big edge on both punts and kickoffs. He has only had one punt return thus far but took it to the house against Colby and is also averaging over 40 yards per return on kickoffs. He could be the one thing that Amherst won’t be able to match on Saturday and if he scores on a kick then it could be the turning point of the game.

Amherst X-Factor: Secondary

Matt Durborow ’21 leads Amherst DBs with 13 tackles

The Amherst secondary will have its hands full on Saturday as all of Middlebury’s offense will be geared towards an air assault. With youngster Charlie Ferguson ’20 and injured Diego Meritus ’19 the two tailbacks for the Panthers, they likely will stick to their specialties; namely, Jared Lebowitz and his army of young receivers. Since Lebowitz has had his way with defenses thus far, the key to stopping them will be in the hands of the Amherst secondary. John Ballard ‘20, Zach Allen ‘19, and Matt Durborow ’21 will need to be on their A game to subdue the Middlebury offense as this game is likely headed to high scores on both sides. So far, Ballard is the only one with a pick of the three, but Nate Tyrell ’19 and John Rak ’19 should also be able to help out against the Midd receivers. The secondary should have a more significant role than the linebackers as Lebowitz has deep threats as targets in Banky and Martinez. Should they be able to keep Lebowitz to under three passing TDs they should be able to score enough to overcome the visiting squad.

Everything Else:

Going to Amherst and taking on the Mammoths is a daunting task for Middlebury, but nobody is hotter than them right now. They have a win against a solid opponent already and have coasted to wins the past two weeks, not rushing Meritus back into action, and holding off on playing those with nagging injuries. Amherst, on the other hand, hasn’t seen any real challenges and have more uncertainty heading into week four. Reece Foy has been getting eased back into action for Amherst in his return from injury, and while Ollie Eberth is playing solid football in his stead, he is no POY candidate. For the Panthers, WR Maxim Bochman ’20 was a late scratch with a hamstring pull, RB Diego Meritus ‘19, the 2016 starter, is yet to play in 2017 but is eyeing a return this week, and Matt Cardew ’17 sprained his MCL against Bowdoin. Luckily for Midd, Charlie Ferguson ’21 has performed well in his extensive action lately and could share the workload with Meritus as he is eased back into action.

Regardless of who plays tailback for the Panthers, Amherst will have the edge on the ground as Jack Hickey has been off to the races so far this season. Especially interesting will be seeing how Ollie Eberth ’20 plays against a solid Midd defense and if Foy increases his work load from the last two weeks. Not to be forgotten also are Amherst’s stand out receivers James O’Reagan ’20, Bo Berluti ’19, and Craig Carmelani ’18. Berluti is off to a slow start but has talent and could have a breakout game, especially if his familiar signal caller Foy gets more snaps this week. Due to Hickey’s 8.4 yards per carry, Berluti hasn’t been needed nearly as much and neither has a significant aerial attack in the first three weeks. Essentially, Amherst has been playing with their eyes closed up to this point. It was a nice warm up for them, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for this game. A home game against a team with a number of injuries is a great time to play their first tough competition. If Foy was back to 100%, I would probably take Amherst just due to their depth in all aspects of the game, but Middlebury’s big play ability gives them an edge and they won’t need to run the ball if Lebowitz turns it on. Each team has their own advantages heading into this game, but with a stronger leader under center in what looks to be a shoot out, Midd has a slight edge.

Projected Score: Middlebury 31 Amherst 28

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.

The Beat Goes On: Football Weekend Preview 9/23

Week Two features several games that could go either way, making for an exciting week of football. The schedulers continue their support of the Williams resurgence, giving the Ephs another game against the lower tier of the league. Hamilton gets another chance for a signature win, taking on the Mammoths in the close runner up for GAME OF THE WEEK. And the winner of that race, Tufts @ Wesleyan, promises to be a terrific matchup featuring two rivals who played in hard fought matchups in Week One.

Middlebury (1-0) @ Bowdoin (0-1)

Bobby Ritter
Bobby Ritter ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panthers looked like the Patriots for the first three quarters of their opener against Wesleyan, and then the Browns for the fourth quarter. They led the Cardinals 30-13 with 7 minutes left, then surrendered two touchdowns in a four minute span before a game saving pick by Bobby Ritter ’20 ended the comeback. For Middlebury, the first three quarters should be the biggest takeaway. They made an elite defense look tired, as Jared Lebowitz ’18 spread the wealth between several receivers before Conrado Banky ’19 got involved at the end. And defensively, they held Wesleyan in check before running out of gas. They were particularly effective in stopping the run, as Defensive Player of the Week Wesley Becton ’18 put up 11 tackles and forced two fumbles. Middlebury has weapons on both sides of the ball, and should get better at playing all four quarters as the season goes along.

Bowdoin fell victim to Williams’ youthful energy, losing 28-14 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Polar Bears struggled on offense, only gaining 220 yards total for the entire game. They did show signs of life on defense, with LB Latif Armiyaw ’20 spending most of the day in the Williams backfield, but the offense simply couldn’t do enough to keep them off the field. This won’t get better against the Panthers.

Predicted Score: Middlebury 38, Bowdoin 6

Williams (1-0) @ Colby (0-1)

Colby had the misfortune of running into Trinity in Week One, so it’s hard to get a read on how the Mules look this season. However, they scored 0 points against the Bantams, so it’s safe to say that the offense could stand to improve. Luckily, Williams’ defense is certainly not on par with Trinity’s. Look for Colby to try to establish RB Nate Richam ’18 and the running game early and often against the Ephs, who, being a young team, might struggle with a long road trip.

This picture, Frank Stola ’21 running away from a defender, basically sums up Williams’ week one match up with Bowdoin.
(Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams put on a terrific offensive display against Bowdoin, thanks almost entirely to a pair of first years. QB Bobby Maimeron ’21 threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns, and 168 of those yards, as well as both touchdowns, were to receiver Frank Stola ’21. Of course, this is a blessing and a curse for the Ephs. They have a bonafide weapon now, but Colby knows exactly who to focus on. They will focus their solid secondary, and particularly DB Don Vivian ’18, on Stola. This will be a test for these two phenoms, and I think they pass it.

Predicted Score: Williams 21, Colby 9

Amherst (1-0) @ Hamilton (0-1)

Both teams looked great in their season openers, with Amherst slaughtering Bates 41-17 while Hamilton narrowly lost to Trinity, 35-28 in overtime. Hamilton receiver Joe Schmidt won offensive player of the week honors after recording eight receptions for 214 yards and four touchdowns. Linebacker Tyler Hudson shared the defensive player of the week honors with Middlebury’s Wesley Becton. Hamilton sported the top three tacklers in week one with Cole Burchill and Colby Jones recording 13 and 11 tackles respectively. The Amherst Mammoths may not have any league leaders, but Ollie Eberth’s 210 passing yards and Andrew Sommer’s 10 tackles are still impressive.

Hamilton lost 34-0 at Amherst last year in the teams’ season opener. Hamilton has a long way to come to beat Amherst, but the Continentals looked much improved at Trinity and will need this home win to break into the top half of the conference. With the offensive performances last week, this game could turn into a shootout and might even come down to the last play.

Predicted Score: Hamilton 35, Amherst 31

Trinity (1-0) @ Bates (0-1)

Max Chipouras
Max Chipouras ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Not a lot to say about this one. Trinity is far and away the best team in the league, having won 12 in a row at this point. They pasted Colby 35-0, and didn’t even play that well. The offense turned the ball over three times, something uncharacteristic of both QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 and RB Max Chipouras ’19. That was to be expected with the shortened preseason; they will probably tighten it up going forward.

Bates has to be a little disappointed in their Week One performance. Senior QB Sandy Plashkes struggled mightily, going 7-19 with an interception against an Amherst defense that, while solid, is not quite on the level of, say, Trinity or Wesleyan. Bates was forced to run the ball a great deal, which they did fairly effectively, but not nearly well enough to give the defense a chance to breath. And that tired defense looked very tired, giving up four touchdowns to unknown first year QB Ollie Eberth ’21. Trinity should do everything Amherst did to the Bobcats, just far worse.

Predicted Score: Trinity 49, Bates 3

GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts (1-0) @ Wesleyan (0-1)

Ryan McDonald ’18 will try to lead the Jumbos to a 2-0 start.
(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Overview:

The biggest match-up of the week is basically a must win for Wesleyan if they want any hope of competing for a title. There’s a chance that Trinity or one of the other contenders will lose one game, but they certainly won’t lose two. And Wesleyan already has their loss, falling to Middlebury on the road in Week One. In that game, they discovered that QB Mark Piccirillo ’18 (432 yards) is ready for prime time, but their offense was one dimensional. Middlebury shut down their rushing attack very effectively, forcing them to throw their way back into the game. Of course, the Panthers were surprised to find that they could.

This bodes well for their matchup with Tufts. The Jumbos squeaked out an overtime win in a classic against Hamilton. But over the course of that game their pass defense was certainly exposed. They gave up 365 passing yards to Hamilton QB Kenny Gray ’20, and 214 yards and four touchdowns to receiver Joe Schmidt ’20. Piccirillo and Mike Breuler ’18 are more experienced versions of those two, so Tufts may be susceptible to the same fate as last week.

Key for Tufts: Establishing the Run

Tufts QB Ryan McDonald ’19 was one of the stars of Week One, throwing for 267 yards and rushing for 92 more. He accounted for three touchdowns on his own, including this #SCtop10 candidate. But with all due respect to Hamilton (whom I think it’s clear that we’re high on this season,) Wesleyan’s defense is a bit of a different story. McDonald will not be able to throw all over the Cardinals, and they’re certainly experienced enough to not let him break free for long runs. Tufts should work early on running the ball to set up play actions and bootlegs for McDonald.

Key for Wesleyan: Controlling the Pace

The way that Middlebury was able to attack Wesleyan’s vaunted defense was by tiring them out. The Panthers are one of the best teams in the league at running no huddle, and Wesleyan’s defense looked gassed an confused several times during Week One. This was supported by several very short drives by the offense in the first three quarters, keeping the defense on the field. To prevent Tufts from following Middlebury’s game plan, Wesleyan needs take some time on their offensive drives.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 27, Tufts 24

Please Don’t Take Offense: Week One Stock Report

A lot of experts predicted that the Ninth Games would be defensive affairs, filled with turnovers and sloppiness. Well, a lot of experts were wrong. Week One was more offensive than Steve Bannon’s existence, and there were several tremendous performances, more than can be included in this Stock Report. Here are a few of the things that we noticed from Week One, both positive and negative.

Stock Up:

Hamilton-

A loss doesn’t usually land you on the coveted Stock Up list, but this was Hamilton’s most important performance in years. They hung tough with Tufts, on of the elite teams in the league, and even could have won had they tried to go for two instead of settling for the tie (more on that later.) They had the Offensive Player of the Week in WR Joe Schmidt ‘20, who tore the Jumbos apart to the tune of 214 yards and four touchdowns. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also had the Co-Defensive Player of the Week in LB Tyler Hudson ‘19, who had 19 tackles. Hamilton has weapons galore right now, and don’t be surprised if they break out this year.

Jimmy Martinez
Jimmy Martinez ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury WR Jimmy Martinez ‘19-

Middlebury’s WR situation right now is a disaster on paper. They graduated two of their biggest threats in James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, and junior stud Conrado Banky ‘19 hasn’t looked himself all preseason. But Jared Lebowitz ‘18 had plenty of guys to throw to against Wesleyan, and Martinez was one of the biggest targets. He had 5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, but his biggest impact was on special teams, where he a returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Assuming Banky finds his way, Middlebury is still loaded with weapons thanks to Martinez, as well as sophomores TE Frankie Cosolito ‘20 and WR Maxim Bochman ‘20.

Williams Offense-

Frank Stola ’21 is a budding star for the Ephs.

It’s been a while since the Ephs had legitimate weapons on offense, but they certainly do now. WR Frank Stola ’21 had 7 receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns, but the real revelation was first year quarterback Bobby Maimaron ‘21. Quarterback play has been arguably the biggest reason for Williams’ struggles, as they turned the ball over constantly last season. Maimaron threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and most importantly threw all his passes to Williams players. These two first years have Williams football rapidly back on the up and up.

Pete’s Predictions-

Damn you, Hamilton! If the Continentals had pulled off the upset, I would have been a perfect five for five. In any case, look at the actual scores versus my predictions.

Pete’s Prediction Actual Score
Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28 Middlebury 30, Wesleyan 27
Williams 27, Bowdoin 10 Williams 28, Bowdoin 14
Amherst 28, Bates 17 Amherst 41, Bates 17
Trinity 40, Colby 10 Trinity 35, Colby 0
Hamilton 17, Tufts 14 Tufts 35, Hamilton 28 (we can’t win em’ all)

Not a bad start! This is how you get to be editor, folks.

Stock Down:

Wesleyan Defense-

The group that terrorized NESCAC last year lost two key members in Jordan Stone and Justin Sanchez, but they still return a great deal of talent. However, against Middlebury the Cardinals looked like they were feeling those losses. They gave up 20 points in the first quarter, and although they made a furious fourth quarter comeback to pull within three points, the defense didn’t look nearly as threatening as the 2016 iteration. Although QB Mark Piccirrillo ‘18 had a huge game while he tried to throw them back into the game, Wesleyan is not really equipped to win shootouts. The defense will have to improve fast, as they play Tufts next week and the suddenly-threatening Hamilton offense the week after.

Middlebury’s Fourth Quarters-

With all that said about Wesleyan’s defense, they still had a shot at pulling off a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter. However, it is just as valid to blame Middlebury for letting them back into it as it is to credit Wesleyan for coming back. The Panthers defense, which had been stringent for the rest of the game, allowed two touchdowns in a five minute span, and the offensive line began letting Wesleyan’s linebackers into the backfield, forcing Lebowitz into rushed throws. Given the early start to the season, this can be partially attributed to conditioning, and Middlebury has Bowdoin and Colby over the next two weeks to get in shape for Amherst. And based on this game, it looks like they’ll need to.

Mike Breuler ’18 and Wesleyan almost pulled off a comeback against Middlebury.

Hamilton’s Dillon Panthers Impression-

I’ve already given a great deal of credit to Hamilton in this article, but there’s one thing that is stuck in my mind about their game. They scored their final touchdown with four minutes left, and instead of going for two and taking the lead, they opted to kick the extra point and tie the game. This is, of course, the smart and correct thing to do. As I’m reminded pretty much daily by email or Twitter DM by readers, I don’t know anything about football. But Coach Eric Taylor does, and in a similar situation during season three of Friday Night Lights, he went for two. This was during the state playoffs, no less! Hamilton was closing in on the most important win in the program’s recent history, so all I’m saying is that I, and Coach Taylor, would have thrown caution to the wind.

 

Coming for the Crown: 2017 Middlebury Football Preview

2016 Record: 6-2

Projected 2017 Record: 8-1

Projected Starters: Offense (*3 Returning)

QB: Jared Lebowitz ‘18*

RB: Diego Meritus ‘19*

WR: Conrado Banky ‘19*

WR: Jimmy Martinez ‘19

WR: Tanner Contois ‘18

TE: Frank Cosolito ‘20

OL: Andrew Rogan ‘19

OL: Joao Rocha ‘18

OL: Connor Roche ‘18

OL: TBD

OL: TBD

Projected Starters: Defense (*6 Returning)

LB: John Jackson ‘18*

LB: Wesley Becton ‘18*

LB: Clay Hunt ‘19*

DL: Robert Wood ‘18*

DL: Martin Williams ‘20

DL: Ibrahim Nasir ‘20

DL: TBD

CB: Matthew Daniel ‘19

FS: Justin Fahey ‘19*

SS: Kevin Hopsicker ‘19*

CB: TBD

Projected Starters: Special Teams (4 Returning*)

K: Carter Messingill ‘20*

P:  Maxwell Rye ‘20*

KR: Willis Mckissick ‘20*

PR: Kevin Hopsicker ‘18*

 

Jared Lebowitz
Sources tell us that the key to Lebowitz’ offseason training regimen was giving people moustache rides.

Offensive MVP: QB Jared Lebowitz ‘18

Admittedly this is kind of a Chris Broussard take, but there may be no player in the league more important to their team than Lebowitz is to the Panthers. The entire Middlebury offense is designed around his ability to throw darts all over the field. The rest of the league has caught to them, but Middlebury is still the leader in no-huddle throughout the league. That can’t happen without Lebowitz. However, he “only” competed 57% of his passes last year, and threw 12 interceptions in eight games. Of course, he also threw 29 touchdowns, so these complaints are nitpicking to a certain extent. But for Middlebury to really compete with Trinity (and most likely Amherst this year,) Lebowitz will have to bring his game up still another notch. And the graduation of receivers James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, as well as several key offensive linemen, will make his job harder than ever.

John Jackson
John Jackson ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Defensive MVP: LB John Jackson ‘18

Middlebury has lost a lot of talent in a lot of places this off-season, and linebacker is certainly one of them. This is almost entirely due to Addison Pierce ‘17. Pierce was a terrific linebacker, leading the team in tackles with 62, but his influence on the team was wider than that. He was a leader, and many players on the team, offensive and defensive alike, have mentioned that he will be missed. However, luckily for the Panthers and their fans, John Jackson is still around to pick up the slack. Jackson uses tremendous speed and agility to be a menace in the backfield, picking up 7.5 sacks last season. He’s also effective in coverage, picking up one interception and several deflections. He picked up 41 tackles as well, despite Pierce’s presence. He will certainly get more chances to eat up opposing running backs this season.

Tanner Contois
Tanner Contois ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Player to Watch: WR Tanner Contois ‘18

The Panther receiving corps was among the best in the league last season, and that was with Contois missing pretty much the entire season with a knee injury. Now that James Burke and Ryan Rizzo graduated, the Panthers are in need of another threat at receiver. Conrado Banky ‘19 might well be the best in the league, but teams are going to double and even triple team him every chance they get. Contois has been very impressive in camp thus far, and looks fully recovered in terms of speed and quickness. If he and lanky deep threat Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can be weapons, teams won’t be able to key in on Banky, and the Panther offense will keep right on rolling.

Key Game: October 28 vs. Trinity

Middlebury lucks out this year and gets to play Trinity at home. As Colby pointed out in his preview, Trinity was the league champion last year and brings back nearly every key contributor, especially on offense. Therefore, they are the odds on favorite to win this season. If Middlebury has any hope of taking the crown, they will need to take care of the Bantams.

Best Tweet:

As Division Three college football team twitter pages go, this is actually not that bad a joke. Trust me, I’ve looked few a bunch of them.

Summary:

The Panthers spent much of last season in a three way tie with Tufts and Trinity for the top spot in the league. However, they lost handily to both those teams, and Wesleyan climbed into the mix. By the end of the year it was clear that they were a step away from contending with those powerhouses, and Middlebury ended with a slightly disappointing fourth place finish. Now star quarterback Reece Foy ‘18 has returned to Amherst after missing all of last season with a knee injury, so the Mammoths seem poised to take their spot back in the upper tier. Additionally, the Panthers had one of the largest departing classes in the league, both in numbers and in talent. Middlebury has their work cut out for them if they want to improve on their 6-2 mark from 2016. But they certainly have the talent returning to it.

The Panthers’ biggest losses are definitely on offense. For most of the last decade, Middlebury’s philosophy has been to air it out, and with good reason. Coach Ritter certainly has earned the right to call himself a quarterback guru, with Don Mckillop, McCallum Foote and Matt Milano all earning All-NESCAC nods under him. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 has the talent to be the best one yet, and put up a mostly-stellar season last year. This was due in large part, however, to most talented receiving class in the league. Phenom Conrado Banky ‘19 earned an All-NESCAC First Team nod, James Burke ‘17 landed on the Second Team, and Ryan Rizzo ‘17 offered a dynamic third option and also excelled as a return man. Only Banky remains from that group. Unless young receivers like Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can step up, Middlebury might need to balance their offense more than in years past. Running back Diego Meritus ‘20 showed flashes of excellence last year, and should be ready to explode in his junior year with a heavier workload.

Jared Lebowitz will look to lead the Panthers to new heights this season.

Lebowitz’s job will also be made more difficult by a young offensive line. Senior leaders like Andy Klarman provided needed stability to a unit that struggled at times last season, and there is still uncertainty about who will fill those spots. Lebowitz showed himself to be prone to rushed decisions at times last year, and a shaky offensive line could only exacerbate that problem.

The defense mostly returns, with a few notable exceptions. DB Nate Leedy and LB Addison Pierce provided stability and toughness to a unit that was otherwise very young, and they both graduated. Leadership responsibilities now fall largely on the shoulders of LB John Jackson ‘18, and anyone else who steps up throughout the year. However, for all that leadership Middlebury still gave up 48 points to Tufts and 49 to Trinity. The defense will have to improve a great deal for the Panthers to remain one of the elite NESCAC programs. Middlebury lost a lot in the off-season, but that could give several youngsters a chance to step up. Hopefully they continue their high level of play and Amherst returns to glory, giving us a real five way race at the top of the league.

Put It Over the Fireplace: The Postseason Awards Blog

Darrien Myers and Trinity ran away with the title this weekend in Hartford (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Darrien Myers and Trinity ran away with the title this weekend in Hartford (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

First of all, congratulations to Trinity on an amazing season. In a league that featured four real threats to win the NESCAC title this year, Trinity was dominant from start to finish. The Bantams had the most consistency of any team, and it was this consistency that brought the championship trophy back to Hartford. This marks Trinity’s 7th 8-0 season in the current format, with Amherst and Williams being the only two other schools to put together perfect seasons. Congrats Trinity on another phenomenal season. We’ll discuss your accomplishments in greater depth tomorrow, but for now, let’s get to the awards.

The actual awards will be coming out presently, so these are less of a blog necessity and more of an excuse for Rory and I to talk about NESCAC football all day on a Sunday instead of doing homework. The main evidence that we used to make our decisions was statistics, as our biggest weakness as bloggers is our inability to watch every game at once. However, we also tried to spread the wealth fairly evenly throughout the league. There is of course a natural bias towards more successful teams (better teams tend to have better players), but we looked to get every school represented. The toughest call was probably QB, as Middlebury’s high volume passing attack led to Jared Lebowitz having by far the highest numbers. But we couldn’t overlook Puzzo’s consistency and performances in big games.  As always, any complaints can be directed to our “Suggestion Box.”

Image result for recycling bin
We recycle our suggestions here at Nothing But NESCAC.

First Team Offense:

QB: Sonny Puzzo (Trinity)

(16 TD, 4 INT, 186.5 YD/G, 60.1)

RB: Chance Brady (Tufts)

(17 TD, 1099 YD, 137.5 YD/G, 5.4 Y/A, 0 fumbles lost)

RB: Max Chipouras (Trinity)

(7 TD, 910 YD, 113 YD/G, 5.8 Y/A)

WR: Conrado Banky (Middlebury)

(925 YDS, 115.6 YDS/G, 12 TD)

WR: Darrien Myers (Trinity)

(485 YD, 69.8 YD, 8 TD)

WR: Bo Berluti (Amherst)

(498 YD, 62.3 YD/G, 8 TD)

WR: Devon Carrillo (Wesleyan)

(349 YD, 49.3 YD/G, 13 TD *twelve rushing*)

TE: Bryan Porter (Bowdoin)

(310 YD, 14.1 Y/C, 2 TD)

OL: Chris Simmons (Trinity)

OL: Joe Wilson (Wesleyan)

OL: Beau Butler (Wesleyan)

OL: Joe Farrah (Trinity)

OL: Gian Calise (Tufts)

First Team Specialists

PK: Eric Sachse (Trinity)

(13-13 FG, 38-38 XP)

P: Justin Foley (Bates)

(81 P, 37.9 Y/P, 20 IN20)

RET: Darrien Myers (Trinity)

(9 KR, 22.7 Y/KR, 1 TD, 17 PR, 14.6 Y/PR)

First Team Defense

DL: Tyler Harrington (Bates)

(34 TKL, 6.5 SCK, 9 TFL)

DL: Micah Adickes (Tufts)

(32 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 5.5 TFL)

DL: Robert Wood (Middlebury)

(28 TKL, 5 SCK, 9.5 TFL)

DL: Patrick Fabrizio (Bowdoin)

(19 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 7.5 TFL)

DL: Jordan Stone (Wesleyan)

(26 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 7 TFL)

DL: Niyi Odewade (Amherst)

(32 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 9.5)

LB: Mark Upton (Bates)

(87 TKL, 7 SCK, 14 TFL, 1 INT)

LB: Greg Holt (Tufts)

(98 TKL, .5 SCK, 6 TFL)

LB: Parker Chapman (Amherst)

(66 TKL, 2 SCK, 2 FF, 1 INT)

LB: John Jackson (Middlebury)

(61 TKL, 7.5 SCK, 11.5 TFL, 2 FF, 1 INT)

DB: Spencer Donahue (Trinity)

(46 TKL, 3 SCK, 3 FF, 2 INT, 5 Break-ups)

DB: Tim Preston (Tufts)

(28 TKL, 5 INT, 6 Break-ups)

DB: Ian Dickey (Colby)

(52 TKL, 1 FF, 3 INT)

DB: Kevin Hopsicker (Middlebury)

(37 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 INT)

DB: Nate Taylor (Wesleyan)

(19 TKL, 1 TFL, 3 INT)

DB: Joe Frake (Bates)

(43 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT)

Offensive POY: Running Back Chance Brady ‘17  (Tufts)

Chance Brady
Chance Brady ’17 (Courtesy Tufts Athletics)

If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of picking Brady for this award, just ask any of the corpses he left strewn all over Middlebury’s field on Saturday. Middlebury and Tufts’ matchup had tremendous championship implications, but it also effectively decided the Offensive POY race. Brady and Jared Lebowitz were the two front runners heading into the game. Lebowitz struggled in the first half before mounting an impressive comeback in the second, and Brady absolutely buried the Panthers throughout afternoon. He had five total touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving), including three in the decisive second quarter that saw Tufts take a 34-7 lead into halftime. Brady eviscerated the entire league this season, and his work put him in the NESCAC history books – on Saturday, Brady set the record of most rushing touchdowns in a single season with 17. What a stud.

Defensive POY: Defensive Back Spencer Donahue ‘17 (Trinity)

Spencer Donahue
Spencer Donahue ’17 (Courtesy Trinity Athletics)

It is the mark of a truly great defensive back when they can have an impact on the activity in the backfield as well as in coverage, effectively putting their finger on the pulse of the game in all areas on the field. At times this season it seemed like there were three or four Spencer Donahues running around all over the field; that’s how dominant he was from the safety position. He was particularly effective at getting into the backfield, recording three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Donahue wraps up a tremendous career with an 8-0 season, and we think he should take home some personal hardware as well.

Rookie of the Year: Greg Holt ‘20 (Tufts)

Greg Holt
Greg Holt ’20 (Courtesy Tufts Athletics)

As one great defensive player leaves in Donahue, another one rises up in Greg Holt. Holt led the entire league in tackles with 98, and was the centerpiece of a defense that helped the Jumbos surprise many in the league and finish at 7-1. Early in the season Holt didn’t really get into the backfield, recording no sacks or forced fumbles in the first four games of the season despite 14 and 20 tackles in his first two college games. However, something clicked in the second half of the year, and Holt tallied .5 sacks and six tackles for loss over the final four games. Holt gives the Jumbos a player to build a defensive dynasty around.

Image result for steve holt
There is no relation between Greg Holt and Steve Holt…that we know of.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Devanney (Trinity)

Not a very tough call here. If your team finishes 8-0 with an average margin of victory of over 24 points, your status as coach of the year is pretty hard to argue. Trinity was the best team wire to wire this season (even though it took a couple weeks for the geniuses over at NbN to put them at #1 in the power rankings), and look poised to continue their run next year.

Welcome to the Thunderdome: Middlebury at Trinity, Your Week 6 Game of the Week

Middlebury looks to keep the wheels turning this weekend against Trinity, which will be no easy task (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).
Middlebury looks to keep the wheels turning this weekend against Trinity, which will be no easy task (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Middlebury (5-0) at Trinity (5-0), 12:30 PM, Hartford, CT

On Saturday October 29th the Panthers will challenge the Bantams in their house. Who is scarier? Since it is Halloweekend after all, if we look strictly at the mascots, a Panther is much more intimidating than a little chicken, but it is the guys wearing the costumes this weekend that people should fear. These #1 and #2 squads on our power rankings face off in week six, and no matter what you think their respective order should be on that list, they are clearly alone at the top.  Midd has fared incredibly well so far this year, topping Amherst and handling their business against the lower tier NESCAC teams, but Trinity hasn’t scored less than 36 points this year. So the real question is, if each team showed up to your front door to trick-or-treat, who’s ‘Boo!’ would frighten you more?

 Last Time They Met and What’s On the Line: October 31st, 2015, Middlebury, VT. Trinity defeats Middlebury 26-14

Last year, Middlebury held on to a 14-13 halftime lead, but couldn’t muster any offense in the second half and ultimately let up two 4th quarter TD’s to lose.  However, the last one was on a drive with time running out to tie the game when QB Matt Milano ’16 threw a pick-6. It was a great matchup and is sure to be similar this year, although each team has improved greatly from where they were at last year. It’s a little bit too early to tell if this is going to be the quasi NESCAC championship game (another reason why NESCAC football should have playoffs), but this is going to be a top 3 game of the season. While Sid discussed earlier this week how it’s still possible for Wesleyan to win the crown of the conference, he just casually assumed Tufts would roll over Midd, which is bold to say the least. Barring an unthinkable, unpredictable, and unlikely ending to the year, either Trinity or Middlebury will win the NESCAC and this is going to be a huge game in deciding that future.

 Trinity X-Factor: DB Spencer Donahue ‘17

Spencer Donahue '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Spencer Donahue ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

This isn’t a bold prediction by any means, as Donahue leads the Bantams with two INT’s, 20 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumbles recovered, and one block. He’s good. He’s great. But can he stop WR Conrado Banky ’19? While he might not cover Banky, he will definitely need to play a big part in containing the speedy wide-out who leads the Panthers with 614 receiving yards and eight TDs. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 is a big time passing QB who has thrown 20 TDs this year, but five of them were to Ryan Rizzo ’17. What does this have to do with Donahue? Well, since Ryan Rizzo is now out for the year with a fractured wrist, Banky becomes the center of the receiving core, and if Donahue can neutralize him, with Trinity’s ruthless offensive attack, Middlebury will have a tough time keeping up.

Middlebury X-Factor: The Linebacker Core’s Big 2

Addison Pierce '17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Addison Pierce ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson '18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middlebury averages 35.8 points a game and Trinity averages 37.4 ppg. These teams are going to score this weekend, and that’s why each team’s X-Factor defensive. Addison Pierce ’17 and John Jackson ’18 are the center of the defensive unit and each have a monsterous 40 tackles on the season, and their ability to stop Max Chipouras ’19 and Lucas Golon ’19, averaging 175 collective yards per game on the ground, is going to be a key to limiting the Bantam’s point to under 36 for the first time this year. The senior captain, Pierce, also adds three sacks and one forced fumble and combined with Jackson’s five sacks and two forced fumbles, the Trinity running backs are going to have their hands full. If Sonny Puzzo ’18 is forced to throw because of the rush defense, only allowing 2 yards per carry last week and -0.4 yards per carry against Amherst on week four, then the Panthers would have the comparative advantage on offense.

 Everything Else

These two offensive juggernauts lead the league in almost every offensive category and are going to hit each other head-on on Saturday. Middlebury offense gains 429.2 yards per game compared to the league leader Trinity at 482 yards per game, while each squad’s defense ranks fourth and third, respectively, in yards allowed per game.

Trinity definitely had an easier game week one against Bates than Middlebury did last weekend, as the Panthers went down 9-0 before rumbling back to score 28 unanswered points. However, each team has played well against the other Maine schools, and beaten all of the teams they needed to, as expected. The only two really interesting games each has played were Midd vs. Amherst, and Trinity vs. Tufts. Each team clearly came out on top, but Trinity did so much more convincingly than Middlebury. Up until last weekend, Middlebury’s year to date strength of schedule appeared to be higher, but Amherst’s brutal loss to Wesleyan drastically lowered their stock, and therefore the quality of the week three win for Midd. Tufts on the other hand is about just as good as expected and has leapfrogged Amherst in the power rankings, showing that perhaps Trinity’s victory over the Jumbos was much more impressive than the Panthers’ victory over the Purple & White.

Defense hasn’t been Middlebury’s strongest area, as they faltered against Williams during week four, but an underrated key player is Nate Leedy, who had a big interception last weekend against Bates to thwart the early Bobcat threat.  His ferocity should continue this weekend. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 should be scared of this senior captain as he will lurk in the secondary, ready to pounce and add on to his season total of 15 tackles and go for his second straight week with a pick. As I mentioned above, Rizzo’s injury is a big hit to the Panther offense, and while they were able to beat Bates without him, the Bobcats’ defense is not exactly the top in the league. Trinity’s secondary is no joke, drawing my comparison to Seattle’s Legion of Boom earlier in the year. Because of this deficit and Trinity’s balanced offense, on paper it appears that they are the favorite. Puzzo has drastically improved his TD:INT ratio from last season, and still only has one pick on the year. Lebowitz is having a better year, but if RB Diego Meritus can’t take some of the load off of the receivers’ backs, I’m uncertain as to whether the air game will be as sustainable for Middlebury this weekend. Having said that, while the current forecast in Hartford predicts sun and 60 degree temperatures, weather changes rapidly because, after all, this is New England. The Panthers are also not going to go down easily as Wesleyan is creeping behind these top two teams in the standings and none wants to play second fiddle to the undefeated team. Middlebury wants this game, Trinity wants this game, and there is only one King Sized Kit-Kat bar left at the bottom of the candy bin. Who will take it?

Goliath, Meet Goliath: Week 3 Game of the Week

 

The Panthers will rely heavily on Leibowitz this weekend in a battle of two of the four remaining undefeated teams (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
The Panthers will rely heavily on Leibowitz this weekend in a battle of two of the four remaining undefeated teams (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Editor’s Note: The writers’ predictions will come out in tomorrow’s weekend preview blog. For now, enjoy the below analysis of the Amherst-Middlebury game this weekend.

Amherst (2-0) at Middlebury (2-0),1:30 PM, Middlebury, VT

Amherst vs. Middlebury—two undefeated teams squaring off in front of the Green Mountains— the Panthers vs. the Perennial champs (for lack of a mascot)—Jared Lebowitz against Donnie Mckillop? Yes, fans, you heard that right. Mckillop will be on the other sideline this weekend, coaching for the Purple & White against his beloved Panthers. So this game includes not one, but two Middlebury Quarterback greats—or soon to be greats. The visiting Amherst team isn’t going to care about the nostalgia for the home Middlebury crowd though, as they still have their 21 game winning streak on the line. 21 games—that is almost three seasons’ worth of wins in a row, and Middlebury rolls into this home game locked in after walloping both of their opponents thus far. This game has shades of a legendary matchup. Both sides are coming to play.

 

Amherst X-Factor: Quarterback Alex Berluti ’17/Nick Morales ’19

Alex Berluti '17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Alex Berluti ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Nick Morales '19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Nick Morales ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Berluti has been an admirable replacement for Reece Foy ’18, however, depending on last week’s knee injury, Nick Morales ’18 may have to try his hand at QB for Amherst in a Jacoby Brisset-like situation. If this occurs, the Purple & White would be onto their third string QB, facing off against a tough Middlebury pass rush. Morales did have a great end to the game against Bowdoin, going 7/10 for 102 yards passing and a TD, so Amherst shouldn’t be too worried. While either quarterback can hold his own, their pocket presence and ability to get the ball into the hands of David Boehm ’17 and Bo Berluti ’18, who have all four of the team’s receiving TD’s, is going to determine Amherst’s success passing the pigskin. Luckily for Amherst’s signal callers, they can lean on Jack Hickey ‘19 and the handful of other talented backs that Amherst mixes into their rushing attack to shoulder the load offensively. Berluti/Morales just need to be efficient and composed when they drop back to pass.

 

Middlebury X-Factor: Wide Receiver Conrado Banky ’19

Conrado Banky '19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).
Conrado Banky ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

The only reason Jared Lebowitz isn’t the X-Factor is that I’m bank(y)ing on him having another great game – Middlebury certainly is too. The real uncertainty in this game is whether Banky can rattle off another incredible game against a defense that has only allowed 5 points per game and 150 total yards. The sophomore wideout had a breakout game last weekend with 198 yards and two TD’s, and should be heavily targeted this weekend, but Amherst knows that, and will be keeping a close eye on him when Lebowitz drops back to pass. Bottom line is, if he ends up in the end zone, the Panthers have a good shot with their running game supplementing Banky and Ryan Rizzo ’17 in the air. Then again, Middlebury ranks 7th in rushing, and really hasn’t found someone that can give them a huge boost on the ground. That hasn’t hurt the Panthers so far, however, nor has it affected Banky’s ability to get open. I’m sticking with him as my surprise breakout player of the year.

 

Everything Else

Nothing would be sweeter for the Panthers than winning against their rivals, ending their losing streak at home, and taking the top spot in the conference, all on parents weekend in what is sure to be a loud and rowdy crowd. Emotions will be flying high as last week’s “Gold Helmet” winner, given weekly to the top DII/DIII performer (Lebowitz), will be in front of familiar faces in what is sure to be one of his biggest starts as a Middlebury QB. While Middlebury has played weak opponents thus far, drawing some speculation as to how good Lebowitz and his squad really are, he duly pointed out that they “were the hardest teams we had to play those respective weeks.” Amherst has no right to talk about strength of schedule since they have also faced two struggling 0-2 teams.

Since the combined scores from each team’s early season are 140-27, it is still tough to argue that either has been tested thus far. This is the first game involving one of the contending four teams (Midd, Amherst, Trinity, and Tufts) who are still 2-0, and will surely tell who is really coming to play this season.

This tilt showcases two high powered offenses facing off, although it looks like the healthy Middlebury side may have a slight edge going in. The Panthers finally looked to figure out some of their kicking troubles last weekend, as Carter Massengill ’20 went 5/5 on XP’s, although they should still hope the game doesn’t come down to a last second field goal. Amherst uses more of a running back by committee approach as three RB’s have nine carries or more, but none have really racked off any huge games. Jack Hickey ’19 might need to be more of a horse on Saturday as he has only averaged 15 carries per game, although he has still found the end zone five times. Frankly, if Hickey gets going, it could be tough to stop the Amherst offense, which has proven to be pretty deadly in the past when they can mix the pass and the run equally effectively.

Let’s hope for the sake of a good football game that Amherst doesn’t have to go deeper into their QB depth charts this weekend and use their Julian Edelman. After all, there are only so many marquee match ups each year in the NESCAC, and this is geared up to be a barn burning classic. The game might even come down to a little extra distance per punt out of the leg of Amherst’s Andrew Ferrero ’19, doing his best impersonation of the 49ers’ Andy Lee. Unless you are heavily invested in another NESCAC game this weekend, your eyes should be on the action up in Middlebury, VT. Casual NESCAC fans: you DO NOT want to miss this one.

No Tricks Here: Weekend Preview 10/31

The Trinity O-line hopes to enforce its will against Middlebury on Halloween Saturday. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
The Trinity O-line hopes to enforce its will against Middlebury on Halloween Saturday. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

This is a week full of intrigue for NESCAC teams and loyal ‘CAC fans alike. There’s something for everyone in Week 6. For the championship hopefuls, two games have major implications. The Game of the Week features Amherst traveling to Tufts and trying to extend the 16-game winning streak. Up in Middlebury, the undefeated Bantams will fight to avoid another late-season slide like the one suffered years ago. For other teams not fighting for a title there is still plenty to play for. Bates and Colby open up CBB play this weekend, always a point of pride for these football programs. Elsewhere in Maine, Wesleyan still has a lot to prove. They’ve played to the level of their competition all season long, and the Cards would like to do some damage against what should be a weaker team in Bowdoin. Bowdoin will also be dealing with a question mark at quarterback, as Tim Drakeley ’17 is expected to be healthy, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll take the reins from impressive first-year Noah Nelson ’19. Hamilton heads to Williamstown for the final game of the weekend. Hamilton is, yet again, trying to get off the schneid and get its first win since 2012. The streak has stretched to 25 games now, and is coming up on the Tufts’ record of 31 straight losses. Meanwhile, the home team might be playing to save the boss’ job. There is widespread discontent over a program that has gone from an 8-0 season in 2010 to 5-3 in 2011, 4-4 in 2012 and 2-6 the past two seasons. It’s hard to say which team needs this win more.

Players to Watch

Middlebury RB Diego Meritus ’19

The Panthers are rushing for 2.1 yards per carry. Not good. It’s not all Meritus’ fault, of course. He’s actually a good runner, and has shown his ability to make guys miss in the screen game. He’s a big body and fast, so it’s surprising that Middlebury hasn’t had more success on the ground. Head Coach Bob Ritter seems committed to the first-year, though, and no one else has gotten significant carries since Week 1. Especially with WR Conrado Banky ’19 out now, the rushing game will take on more importance for Middlebury.

Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18

With the first-year Nelson under QB, Porter needs to play a big role to help out the youngster. Two weeks ago, when Nelson had a phenomenal debut, Porter caught five balls and a touchdown, and last week his one catch was a 37-yard TD. Don’t expect there to be a lot of room downfield for the Bowdoin wideouts, meaning that Nelson is going to have to rely on Porter. It’s going to be huge for Bowdoin to convert on third downs in order to keep the ball out of the Cardinals’ hands. If Wesleyan is able to milk the clock with the running game, this will be over early.

Colby DE Ryan Ruiz ’16

When playing the triple-option, it’s imperative for the defense to keep to its assignments and not fly up field. Therefore, the impetus is on Ruiz, the Mules’ best defensive lineman, to lead the charge. He needs to keep the Bates slot backs from breaking out wide by getting outside leverage on the guy blocking him and allowing his teammates to make plays. If Colby can get a sizeable lead, though, then Ruiz will have a chance to pressure Pat Dugan ’16 and improve on his team-leading 2.5 sacks.

Hamilton RB LaShawn Ware ’18

I could essentially copy and paste the summary for Meritus from above, except that Hamilton Head Coach Dave Murray has shown a willingness to give some carries to Jason Nastovski ’18. Any time a team is having as much trouble running the ball as Middlebury and Hamilton are, a lot of that comes down to offensive line play. Running backs need holes to run through. The problem is exaggerated for Hamilton, though, because they aren’t having much success in the passing game, either. Ware averaged 3.9 yards per carry a year ago with 3/5 of the same offensive line. Things won’t change around for the Conts until Hamilton can get the ground game going.

Game Previews

Wesleyan at Bowdoin, 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME

Live Stats  Video

Five weeks ago, we had no idea what to think about the Wesleyan Cardinals. A year removed from a senior class that brought the program back to relevance and competed for a championship three years in a row – earning a shared title in 2013 – Wesleyan had a plethora of questions coming into 2015. They’ve performed admirably, scaring Middlebury at home in Week 1 and putting up a good fight and outplaying the Lord Jeffs in every aspect but points scored a week ago in Amherst. Now the Cardinals are 3-2 and if they want to even have a minuscule shot at sharing a NESCAC title this year – and they’ll need a lot of help – they can’t lose again. I think this is a case of an inexperienced team coming into its own, and things are just looking up for them.

As for Bowdoin, the 30-20 win two weeks ago over Hamilton and the debut of Nelson gave hope to Polar Bear fans, but it now appears that it was false hope. No first-year should be expected to put up the kind of eye-popping numbers every week that Nelson posted against Hamilton, but without that kind of play Bowdoin doesn’t have enough fire power to topple the Cardinals. Losing their top two running backs has really hurt Bowdoin, which has only 58.4 rushing yards per game this season.

With that in mind, Bowdoin is forced to drop back and throw the football more often than not, which has to have Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 salivating as he wakes up this morning. Stone is one of the most physically-talented defensive players in this league and doesn’t get talked about too much on this blog, but that’s not because of his play, and more so because we just don’t talk about line play a ton. But Stone has 4.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NESCAC with Micah Adickes ’18 of Tufts. Tufts teammate Zach Thomas ’18 leads the NESCAC with 5.5 sacks. Here’s the kicker, though. The Wesleyan defense has faced 150 pass plays. Tufts? 188 pass plays.

With the Cardinals starting to figure things out as a team and still a bevy of concerns for the Polar Bears, it’s going to be a frightful Halloween for Bowdoin.

Prediction: Wesleyan 35 – Bowdoin 14

Trinity at Middlebury, 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT

Live Stats  Video

A year ago this week the championship-hopeful Bantams were stunned in the Coop by Middlebury, breaking a more than decade-old home winning streak of 53 games. That loss sent the Bantams spiraling to three losses to end the year. Once again, these teams meet with Trinity undefeated and Middlebury with an outside shot at a shared title. The ramifications will be large no matter which way the result ends up.

This matchup bodes well for the Bantams. The Middlebury run defense, expected to be stout this season, has bent pretty considerably against some top rushing attacks. The Panthers allowed 5.1 yards per carry to Wesleyan in Week 1 and 3.9 per carry to Amherst in Week 3. They’ve effectively shut down the rushing games of Colby, Williams and Bates, but Trinity’s freshman tailback Max Chipouras ’19 will provide a stiff challenge. What’s more, the Panthers have to be prepared for the dual-threat at QB that Sonny Puzzo ’18 provides.

The key for Middlebury, as always, is to score early and force teams to throw the football – something that they haven’t done particularly well this year. Their halftime scores so far this season: 7-13 at Wesleyan, 21-2 vs. Colby, 7-10 at Amherst, 9-7 vs. Williams and 14-10 at Bates. In all but one game, Middlebury was within four points at halftime. When they’ve started to get the offense rolling in the second half and forced teams to throw, the Panthers defense has responded with some big takeaways and shut down the opposition. That strategy could be particularly effective this week given Puzzo’s recent struggles – he had two picks at Tufts and only completed 10 of 20 passes last week vs. Bowdoin.

Offensively for Middlebury, the rushing attack has been bad, plain and simple. Only once, in the Panthers’ blowout victory over Williams, has the running game been effective. But, frankly, Middlebury has proven that they don’t need to run the ball in order to be successful. It would be nice, but Middlebury makes up for its rushing deficiency with short passes and running back screens. With Banky apparently out for the season with an ankle injury, the impetus now falls on slot-turned wideout Ryan Rizzo ’17, slot receiver Tanner Contois ’18 and All-League player Matt Minno ’16 on the other side to make some big plays in the receiving game for Matt Milano ’16. I think they do just enough to squeak by the Bants.

Prediction: Middlebury 28 – Trinity 21

Bates at Colby, 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

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The CBB is under way, and with both of these teams populating the bottom of the standings, the Maine championship becomes the primary focus. This game turned into a high-scoring OT affair a season ago at Bates, but I don’t see the same thing happening this time around. Though RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has really turned it on for Colby as of late, the offense still ranks last in the ‘CAC with 13.4 points per game. Gabe Harrington ’17 has really struggled with eight interceptions in five games, but he’s also been sacked 10 times and his receivers aren’t exactly running free all over the field. It’s hard to tell who’s to blame on the Colby offense because nothing is going right at the moment, but if they are going to break out – particularly throwing the ball – this could be their chance.

The Bates defense has been only slightly better than Colby, allowing 27.0 points per game, and is last in the league with 305.6 passing yards per game allowed. Wideouts Mark Snyder ’17 and Mbasa Mayikana ’18 are big targets on the Colby offense even if they haven’t been that productive so far, and could be found on a couple of deep balls for big plays.

The Bates offense, as we know, relies on misdirection and the running game. The loss of slotback Shaun Carroll ’16, who had been averaging 5.3 yards per carry, really hurts, but the Bobcats hope to offset that loss with the return of Sean Peterson ’18 to the lineup. His debut a week ago against Middlebury was not very impressive in the running game, but he caught a few passes and was able to show off his athleticism in open space. That he garnered 14 carries despite averaging just a yard per rush shows that he is expected to be a big part of the offense down the stretch. Peterson and crew will need to have a big-time day on the ground in order to get their second win. I think Colby will land the first punch in the CBB battle but hitting on a couple of deep throws and burning clock with Hurdle-Price, and as long as that defensive line stays disciplined the back seven can make enough plays to continue Bates on offense.

Prediction: Colby 21 – Bates 17

Hamilton at Williams, 1:30 PM, Williamstown, MA

Live Stats  Video

Things are not good in Clinton and Williamstown these days. For the Continentals part, there has been a lot of moral victories, including an OT loss against Tufts and two close games with Wesleyan and Colby. The defense has really stood on its head at times despite playing some younguns, and Cole Freeman ’19 stepped into the limelight two weeks ago at QB and would have lead Hamilton to a victory if not for Nelson’s Godly performance for Bowdoin. At the end of the day though, you can’t argue with the scoreboard, and Hamilton is still 0-5. The Ephs, meanwhile, amidst some rumblings of discontent from people around the program (nothing concrete), started off well with two wins sandwiched around a handy and expected beatdown against Trinity. However, the last two weeks have been disastrous for Williams, and with a roadtrip to Wesleyan in Week 7 and a rivalry game with Amherst in Week 8 looming, this might be the Ephs’ last shot at a victory to move to 3-5 and avoid a third straight 2-6 record, something that seems impossible for such a storied program.

Williams has allowed just 198.0 yards per game through the air, but they’ve also been behind for considerable amounts of a few games and have faced Bates, so coincidentally they rank eighth in rushing yards allowed per game. Nevertheless, I think that Williams is better against the pass than the run, which is good when matching up with Hamilton, who hasn’t been able to get a sputtering running attack going whatsoever. LaShawn Ware ’18, a talented runner who showed some potential a season ago, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, and subsequently Jason “Bane” Nastovski, previously cast as a fullback, led the squad with 12 carries last week to Ware’s nine. Combined, the pair had just 62 yards rushing on 21 carries. Clearly, a lot of pressure will be placed on Freeman and his receivers, particularly Charles Ensley ’17, a dynamic playmaker who just needs to get the ball in his hands, and the reliable Pat Donahoe ’16.

So do the Conts finally get the monkey off their back this week, or do the Ephs get mad and pull out a victory? I’m expecting an ugly game, with, as usual, a turnover being the difference. That Williams is at home I think benefits them, and Hamilton has been much worse on the road, losing 29-4 at Trinity and 30-20 at Bowdoin. Williams gets its third win of the season.

Prediction: Williams 21 – Hamilton 14