Hamilton (22-3, 7-3) @ Williams (20-5, 7-3)2/24 7:30 PM @ Amherst, MA
This could be the matchup between the two best NESCAC teams, but it happens to only have a ticket to the finals and not a banner on the line. Williams travelled to Hamilton just two weeks ago with the Ephs coming out on top in a big way, pulling away by 14 in the second half, winning 81-67. Although both teams are shoe ins to make the NCAA tournament, only one is going to have a chance at the NESCAC title and home field advantage in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament still hangs in the balance. Hamilton shot unusually poorly last time these teams met at 37.3% while their season average is 46.4%. Williams, on the other hand, shot 45% from deep and 54.3% overall, way up from their 47% season average.
Hamilton has turned it back around after a brief scuffle at the midway point of conference play, showing the rest of the league that their season may be far from over. They beat Middlebury handily in the last weekend of the year 102-83 and knocking off Tufts without much struggle 91-82 in the quarterfinals despite shooting horribly. If they play anything like they did against the Panthers, they will be unstoppable as they lit it up (52.5% FG, 62.5% 3 PT) and only turned the ball over 11 times. Despite their win against the Jumbos in the quarterfinals, they only shot 16.7% from deep which won’t do the trick against the Ephs as their shooters have been on fire in their own right. Bobby Casey and James Heskett won’t stop scoring, so don’t be fooled by their narrow margin of victory over a weak Trinity team 73-71. Coupling Williams’ recent lack of depth with Hamilton’s recent shooting inconsistencies, this game could swing in any sort of direction.
Williams X-Factor: Centers Matthew Karpowicz/Michael Kempton
Despite James Heskett’s breakout season as a PF, his outside shooting combined with a recent lack of rebounds leaves a deficit in the front court for the Ephs. Not a single Williams player had more than six boards in any of their last three games. Centers Michael Kempton and Matthew Karpowicz are a major key to this matchup as they need to battle down low against Peter Hoffmann, Michael Grassey, and Kena Gilmour who combined for 37 boards against Tufts. With the possibility of Hamilton shooting their way to over 100 points like against the Panthers, Williams is going to need to grab offensive boards for Heskett and Casey to have big enough games to keep the Ephs on top. Karpowicz has hauled in double digit boards three times this season and is going to need to bring his A game this weekend as the Hamilton bigs are a big presence down low.
Hamilton X-Factor: F Michael Grassey ’19
Kena Gilmour and James Heskett are sure to score back and forth in this game, while Grassey needs to get close to matching the production of the new sharp shooting Bobby Casey. Gilmour should be the top scorer for the Continentals, although Grassey is the biggest three point shooting threat for Hamilton. He makes 40% of his shots from beyond the arc and scores nearly half of his point per game on such shots. He has also had some duds along the way though, going 1-7 from deep in a loss against Bowdoin and just 1-6 last weekend. Casey, like Grassey, has had some streaks, including a 14-25 run from deep in his last three games and a 1-10 performance against Bowdoin. The shooting scales will tip in the direction of whichever deep threat is more accurate.
Both of these teams have played remarkably well all year, culminating in what is sure to be a barn burning head to head matchup. Hamilton made a long awaited transition to a powerhouse team while Williams battled injuries and adjusted perfectly with players stepping into new roles and Coach Kevin App leading the way. They have had some tough losses down the stretch—Williams to Amherst and Hamilton to Bowdoin, but they looked good in their opening round playoff games. Hamilton has a deeper scoring arsenal and more big game threats than Williams (due to their injuries) and looks to be more balanced headed into this semifinal. As mentioned, Bobby Casey has come out of nowhere recently to carry the Ephs. Cole Teal has played terribly as the fourth highest healthy scorer behind Heskett (19.6 PPG), Casey (16.2 PPG), and Karpowicz (9.2 PPG). He finally found his shot against Trinity, going 5-9, and without Kyle Scadlock or Mike Greenman, he can’t have any more 4-24 shooting stretches at this point in the season.
The combination of Kena Gilmour, Tim Doyle, Peter Hoffmann, and Grassey who all average over double-digit PPG should stretch out the Williams defense on the perimeter. They do turn over the ball and don’t distribute well, ranking in the bottom half of the NESCAC in both stats. This game is going to be a game of runs, with both teams finding streaky performances throughout their seasons. Both have top of the ‘CAC talent and potential POYs on the court in Heskett and Gilmour, and whichever team wins is going to likely win the conference.
NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:
Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good
If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.
Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston
The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.
Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships
The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.
As always, make sure you check out Matt’s excellent piece on the Game of the Week, Amherst @ Williams. But that is far from the only good game here on the last weekend of the season. Middlebury @ Tufts has major championship implications, as does, of course, Trinity vs Wesleyan. And the other games feature young teams battling it out for pride and confidence, which can often produce the best games. This is how the season ends, not with a whimper, but with a bang.
Middlebury (6-2) @ Tufts (5-3), 12:30 PM, Medford, MA
It would take a good deal of help from Wesleyan and Williams for this game to have championship ramifications but it could. If Wesleyan beats Trinity, Williams beats Amherst, and Middlebury beats Tufts, then the Panthers would be one of four teams (Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst and them) who finish at 7-2. Additionally, Middlebury would have the head to head tiebreaker over Wesleyan and Amherst. There’s a lot of moving parts to that equation, but all of them are very possible, so Middlebury has quite a bit to play for in this game. Tufts has no championship hopes, but they;d love to play spoiler and grab a win over an elite team.
As has been the case for Middlebury for the last two weeks, the big key is the play of Jack Meservy ‘19. He got knocked around by Trinity (the best secondary in the league) and did some knocking of his own against Hamilton (arguably the worst.) Against the Continentals he flashed a nice touch on deep balls, throwing two deep touchdowns to speed merchant Jimmy Martinez ‘19. Tufts ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of NESCAC secondaries (with Hamilton and Trinity as the two ends.) Tim Preston ‘18 is a threat, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help this year, and Tufts defensive numbers are middling at best. A good showing here could cement Meservy’s spot as next year’s starter… or Lebowitz could come back. We shall see.
Middlebury’s defense has been really excellent since Lebowitz went down, allowing the offense many chances to put it together. But they haven’t faced an attack quite like Tufts yet. Ryan McDonald ‘19 challenges defenses with his legs even more than Puzzo and Maimaron, two quarterbacks whom Middlebury often allowed to escape the pocket and move the chains through scrambling. And plus, the Jumbos’ run game is starting to look more like last year’s albeit without one star. In their last three weeks, which feature a win over Williams and an impressive loss to amherst (31-26,) Tufts has used a committee of talented backs to beat teams on the ground and set up play action throws on the run for McDonald. It’s hard to predict which back will be the lead, but Mike Pedrini ‘21 and Andrew Sanders have both played well. Run defense has killed Middlebury in both of their losses, particularly containing quarterbacks. I think it hurts them again this week.
This classic offense-defense matchup features Trinity fighting to keep the solo championship which was all but guaranteed for much of the season. They’ll need help from Williams, of course, but nothing happens unless they win here. And boy do they have their work cut out for them. Wesleyan may well have played the best all-around game of any team this season last week, pasting Williams 35-0. They held the Ephs to just 127 total yards, and phenom QB Bobby Maimaron to just 51, with two interceptions. And on the other side of the ball, QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 stuck his namely firmly at the front of the POY race. He has now not thrown an interception in three games after throwing seven in the first five, and has five passing touchdowns in the last two. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the year (with no fumbles in the last five games) and is in the top five in the country in completion percentage at over 70%. With Lebowitz possibly done, Piccirillo is the best QB in the conference, and a win over the Bantams would cement his legacy and secure his hardware.
Trinity has to be pretty steamed following a pretty severe beatdown at the hands of the Mammoths. The final score of 28-20 is misleading–Amherst dominated the whole way, and the Bantams scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left to make it more respectable. Much of Trinity’s offense is created by their defense; takeaways set them up in great field position and force opposing defense back onto the field quickly tiring them out and allowing Max Chipouras ‘19 to find the holes. Amherst didn’t turn the ball over once, and as such was able to dominate time of possession 36:22 to 23:07. As I said above, Wesleyan has not been turning the ball over at all lately. Piccirillo has cleaned it up, and they have a pen of sure-handed running backs, like Sean Penney ‘21 and Glenn Smith ‘21, who hold onto the ball and can run out the clock or set up Piccirillo scrambles. Trinity has to force turnovers in this game, and they may have to look outside of Dominique Seagears ‘18, who will have his hands full with Mike Breuler ‘18. The linebacking corps of Dago Picon-Roura ‘19, Liam Kenneally ‘18 and Carty Campbell ‘18 may make the difference. If they can pick of a slant pass or force a fumble from one of those young running backs, Trinity is back in business.
Predicted Score: Trinity 27, Wesleyan 20
Bates (2-6) @ Hamilton (2-6)
The “Best of the Rest” championship could actually be a pretty thrilling game. Both teams are high octane offenses with bad defenses. That’s the recipe for a lot of points, and in a hurry. Bates’ offense is more of a recent development. QB Brendan Costa ‘21 has found the easier half of the schedule to his liking, turning into ‘08 Madden Michael Vick before our eyes. He leads all NESCAC players in rushing yards over the last four weeks, and has made some big throws as well. Bates is inverting the NESCAC offensive trend of the season, by using passes as a change of pace for a run-heavy offense. Mickey Nichol, Brian Daly and Jaason Lopez are all receivers who can make big plays out of short, dump-off passes in between Costa’s electrifying runs. Against bad defenses, this offense is very fun to watch, and tremendously successful.
Hamilton is a more traditional offense, but can also light up weak defenses. QB Kenny Gray ‘20 is underrated, and he has legit set of weapons in Joe Schmidt ‘20, Christian Donohoe ‘20, and RB Mitch Bierman ‘21. Gray missed their game against Middlebury last week, and his status for this game is up in the air. If he doesn’t play, Bates should have an easy path to victory. But even if he does, the porous hamilton defense should let Costa do whatever he wants in leading the Bobcats to victory.
Predicted Score: Bates 35, Hamilton 28
Colby (0-8) @ Bowdoin (0-8), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME
If you remember Season Four of Friday Night Lights, the “Toilet Bowl” was a huge moment of team bonding for East Dillon Lions. It was their first win, and for a team that had to forfeit their home opener due to injury concerns, the importance of that win could not be overstated. For one of these teams, that will also be the case. Bowdoin has enjoyed some offensive success as of late. Promising first year QB Griff Stalcup played a great game against Wesleyan, but missed last week’s loss to Bates. But Noah Nelson ‘19 was able to step in against Bates and put up a very effective performance, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Bowdoin has the weapons to be an effective offense with consistent QB play. RB Nate Richam ‘18 is injured, but Gregory Olsen ‘21 looked like his NFL counterpart last week, catching two touchdowns. WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18 have long been underrated based on playing in Bowdoin. The Polar Bears have the offense to make this a laugher.
Colby doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of Bowdoin, but they have real difference-makers on defense. LB Sebastian Philemon ‘19 (69 tackles) and S Don Vivian ‘19 (3 INT) are legit All-League candidates. Against Bowdoin’s precariously good offense, the two of them should be real difference makers. Add in versatile RB Jake Schwern ‘19, who should get a ton of touches, and this really is anybody’s game. I’ll take the Polar Bears at home.
The senior from Pacific Palasides, California emerged as a quiet leader for the Jumbos last season, starting every game, running the offense and averaging 8 PPG. He plays solid defense and has shown off his scoring ability, aside from his ball-handling prowess. Tufts will look to Dayton this season to lead them on both ends of the floor, and in big moments in big games. Offensively, Tufts will have to play even more of a perimeter game with the loss of Center Tom Pelleschi. Dayton will need to be a facilitator, and also knock down three pointers when they are open. With a smaller lineup on the floor, ball movement will be paramount, and Dayton will be the Jumbos offensive catalyst, who will look to create shots for his teammates and run the floor. Tufts will get the most out of their offense when Dayton’s assists are high.
G #1 Thomas Lapham – Sr.
The second of the ‘Bos SoCal Guard tandem, Lapham is a grinder. He proved to be valuable for the Jumbos off the bench last season, shooting 42% from the field. He is a sharp shooter, who will look to breakout this season from behind the arc. Lapham has demonstrated his three-point shooting ability, last season burying 4 against Newbury College and 3 against Williams. This year’s offense will benefit a player like Lapham, who the Jumbos will need to step up and contribute right off the bat. If Lapham can knock down shots early, it will open opportunities for other seasoned shooters like Dayton and Pace. Lapham has proven he can contribute on both sides of the floor off the bench, and will bring his gamer mentality to his more consistent role this season. Look for Lapham’s numbers to rise this season, but it will be his leadership and competitiveness that will earn him extra minutes and add to the Jumbos win column.
G #5 Eric Savage – So.
My Breakout Player of the Year, Savage will be a huge the key to the Jumbos success in 2017-2018. Savage improved greatly over the course of last season, and was a regular contributor off the bench for Tufts later in the year. He put up 14 and 16 points in the Jumbos first two NCAA tilts last season, and had a season high 18 at Trinity in early February. Savage emerged as a consistent scoring threat for the Jumbos, and they will rely on him even more this season in a more consistent role. Savage is a natural scorer, who will help Tufts win basketball games by getting to the dish, facilitating, and knocking down open shots. If Savage can play good defense, he will spend a lot of time on the court for the Jumbos.
F #13 Vincent Pace – Sr.
A healthy Pace is Tufts best all-around player. A knee injury sustained in the NESCAC Tournament ended his Sophomore season, and battling other injuries last year, Pace was still able to be a major contributor for the Bos. Pace is a scorer, which he displayed against St. Johns Fisher in the NCAA Tournament dropping 37 points in a Jumbos victory. He averaged 14 PPG last season, shooting nearly 44% from the field, and giving the Jumbos 25 minutes per game, despite nagging injuries. Tufts has relied heavily on Pace in the past and they will continue to rely on him offensively this season. In losses against Amherst and Bates last year, Pace shot less than 32%, only putting up 6 points against Amherst. Tufts will need big time performances out of Pace this year. If he can stay healthy he will be an offensive weapon yet again for the Jumbos, working the perimeter with Dayton, Savage, and Lapham, but Pace can also guard forwards on defense.
F #24 Patrick Racy – So.
The biggest question mark for this 2017-2018 Jumbos squad is the replacement of four-year starting Center and Captain Tom Palleschi. The 6-7 Center from Connecticut, Racy contributed big minutes for the Jumbos as a Freshman when Palleschi went down with a knee injury in January. Racy was vital for Tufts on defense and on the boards last year, but without Palleschi, opponents will most likely attack the paint. If Racy can step up and guard some of the most potent NESCAC Bigs down low, Tufts will be a very tough defense to score on. Boards and good D will be the two keys to Racy’s Sophomore campaign, but he also poses an offensive threat as a mid-range shooter. Look for the big man to sneak in a few put-backs and draw some offensive attention with his smooth jumper. Racy will open the array of Jumbo shooters on the perimeter, even more.
G #33 Eric Savage – So.
Tufts will rely heavily on several returners to continue to be big contributors throughout their 2017-2018 campaign. That said, with the departure of senior impact players from last season like Tarik Smith and Tom Palleschi, there are some opportunities for the young talent on the Jumbos roster. Last year we saw Eric Savage work his way into the rotation by competing on both ends of the floor and stepping up down the stretch. Patrick Racy received valuable exposure in the during his fill-in time in Palleschi’s absence. This year, two first years stick out as early contenders to provide significant minutes for Tufts, Luke Rogers (F) and Brennan Morris (G). Rogers could be jumbo for Tufts. Now the biggest body on the roster, the kid has a ton of upside and will get chances early on to give Racy his rest. Look for Rogers to make an impact down low defensively and help Tufts on the offensive boards. Although the Jumbos are stacked at the guard position, Brennan can come off the bench and give Tufts some size. If Brennan can knock down some shots and contribute offensively early on, he could be big for the Jumbos spreading the floor and crashing the boards.
LIKE HE’S LOU WILL
KJ Garrett provided some serious offensive spark for the Jumbos at certain crucial moments last season. He came off the bench and dropped 19 at home against Hamilton, willing Tufts to an eventual 13-point victory amidst their 10-game win streak. The University of Washington transfer from Southern California is an athletic weapon on the court, whose ability to rise above the rim is only matched by Colby’s Pat Dickert. Although Garrett is currently sidelined with a minor finger injury, he will be back and ready to go for Tufts. The Jumbos will continue to look to Garrett for that offensive spark. On a team loaded with shooters, Garrett will drive to the basket and get buckets in the paint, opening shooting opportunities for his buddies behind the arc. If Garrett can get healthy and stay healthy, I expect him to contribute early off the bench, moving into a more consistent role down the stretch, igniting the Jumbos guard-friendly offense.
LIKE IT’S MARCH MADNESS
Tufts was upset in the NESCAC Playoffs by a Williams team they had taken apart 93-68 just two weeks earlier. Despite two well-earned victories in the NCAA Tournament, the Jumbos fell to Babson for the second time of the season, who eventually went on to win the National Championship. Last year’s squad was good, but this team is better. Tufts is led by a good group of senior impact players who will have a positive effect on the team on both ends of the floor and off the court. If the Jumbos are going to win the Conference and make a NCAA push this season, they will need to have that playoff mentality all season long. If they stay healthy, knock down open shots, and can replace Tom Palleschi’s impact, Tufts will have a very successful 2017-2018 season.
The Jumbos have a few big matchups on the road this year, including trips to Washington University in St. Louis for a season opening tournament, and a couple of showdowns in Southern California just before New Year’s. Tufts will also have to battle on the road in Conference. Probably their most vital stretch of the season will be their road trip facing off against Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back days. Williams should be a big tilt for the ‘Bos having eliminated them from the NESCAC Playoffs last season, and bouncing back to compete against a good Panthers squad will be tough. The Jumbos also have three straight road matchups in late January at Lesley, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan.
BIGGEST REGULAR SEASON MATCHUP:
February 3 vs Amherst
This will mark the third-to-last regular season game for the Jumbos, probably against their most formidable in-conference opponent. Amherst went 7-3 in Conference play last season, and were young. In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst returns a slew of senior contributors and will be looking to put together a more successful 2018 campaign. Tufts will have an opportunity to knock off a worthy opponent at home in front of a Friday night crowd at Cousens, and get hot as they look ahead to the NESCAC Tournament.
After what seemed like an eternity, Week 8 in the NESCAC awoke us from what had been a 7 week snooze fest. Trinity finally fell, Amherst roared to the front, and everything in the middle is really starting to shape up. With a champion still yet to be crowned, however, and a lot of spots to be settled in the standings, let’s see who’s playing their best football at the right time.
I don’t know at what point over my two decades of being a Patriots fan I realized that Bill Belichick was a genius and some sort of football savant, but I’ve never felt more confident in that opinion than after Saturday afternoon in Middletown. Following a visit from the legendary head coach during practice in the lead up to the game, Wesleyan absolutely trounced Williams 35-0. Bill Belichick has done some truly exceptional things in his football career, famous for turning late round draft picks and free agent cast offs into stars, but motivating this Wesleyan defense to pitch a shutout against a standout and prolific Williams offense, holding them to just 127 (127!) yards of total offense, as well as rallying Mark Picarillo ’19 to turn in his best game of the season, 26-32 for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as 69 more yards and two more touchdowns with his feet, all without starting running back Dario Highsmith ’20, might be his most impressive.
Great to have Wes Alum Coach Belichick come talk to the team before big game against Williams! #ChooseGreatness#RollCards pic.twitter.com/EnhnxPjG4a
Trinity had a chance to clinch the league at Pratt Field on Saturday, but Amherst showed up in a big way to snap their 16 game win streak. Instead, Amherst finds itself holding the head to head tiebreaker between the two 7-1 teams. Now the league championship will be settled in Williamstown on Saturday, where Amherst and Williams will play what should be their most exciting game in years. If Amherst wins, they’ll be league champs. If Trinity wins and Amherst loses, then everyone will lose their minds trying to figure out tiebreakers between potentially 4 two loss teams. Either way, the league being decided in its most famous rivalry is a whole lot better than Trinity having already locked it up. Amherst @ Williams and Trinity @ Wesleyan will be must watch games.
Tufts’ Balance Heading into 2018
Sitting at 5-3 and mathematically eliminated from championship contention, Tufts has begun looking forward towards next year, and they should have a lot to be excited about. Understandably so, they may never fill the hole Chance Brady ’17 left in their backfield, but following RB Mike Pedrini ’21’s 135 yard and 3 TD performance against Colby, they can see that it is slowly being repaired. If Pedrini can continue to produce like he has of late, the idea of the Jumbos returning dual-threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19, Pedrini, and top WR Jack Dolan ’19 for 2018 should project them to be one of, if not the, top offense in the league next year.
Bates’ 24-17 victory over Bowdoin clinched their 4th straight CBB title, as the Bates senior class became the first class in the 123 year history of Bates football to go a combined 8-0 against Bowdoin and Colby. Things have been bleak in Lewiston for most of the year, but I would imagine this has to feel pretty good.
Morale in Williamstown
I think a lot of people thought this year’s matchup against Wesleyan was going to go differently than last year’s, a 59-14 final that would have been a lot worse had Wesleyan Head Coach Dan DiCenzo not called off the dogs at 56-14, which was the score at halftime. Williams’ rapid turnaround under second year Coach Mark Raymond, and the breakthrough of QB Bobby Maimaron ’21 and the rest of their stud freshman class (way too many to name, seriously) has been one of the stories of this season, but they were certainly brought down to Earth after a 35-0 drubbing. They need to turn things around in a hurry to give their senior class a legitimate chance (which they have) to beat Amherst for the first time in their careers, and 6-3 sounds a whole lot better than 5-4.
It’s coming to an end, folks. Just one more week in what has turned out to be quite a season in the NESCAC. Winter sports have started up and pretty soon all the pristine turf fields around New England’s elite small colleges will be draped in snow. As mentioned earlier, this is shaping up to be quite the finale, so enjoy it while you can.
Tufts (13-1-2, 7-1-2) vs. Hamilton (4-5-1, 8-6-2), 11:00 AM, Medford, MA
Tufts has absolutely steamrolled through the NESCAC this season, and with a merciless 3-0 victory over Bates last week, the Jumbos showed no signs of nerves when it comes to playing championship soccer. Superb play from last Saturday’s goal scorers Conor Coleman ’18, Dexter Eichorst ’18, and Sterling Weatherbie ’19 proved that their defensive players can get it done all over the pitch. Tufts’ defense is as talented a group of players as you’ll see on a NESCAC field together. Responsible for all three goals last weekend, and having still conceded only one goal this season, it’s hard to draw up a feasible scenario in which their squad could actually lose, not just this game, but any game.
HOWEVER, do not sleep on the Hamilton College Continentals. Hamilton lost narrowly to Tufts 1-0 during the regular season, and is coming off their best game in recent memory. After falling behind 2-0 last week to the defending champion Amherst Mammoths, the Continentals came storming back with 4 unanswered goals in the second half. Aidan Wood ’20 led the charge with a second half hat trick, truly the stuff of legends, and if he’s in top form again this weekend, Hamilton could pull off the unthinkable. Yes, everyone loves a Cinderella, but even a Hamilton squad in top form may not be enough to put an end to Tufts’ incomprehensible season.
Prediction: Tufts 3- Hamilton 2 (Penalties)
Bowdoin (10-3-3, 6-2-2) vs. Middlebury (11-5-0, 5-5-0), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA
Middlebury (11-5), a team that does not believe in ties, is coming off a huge overtime win against perennial powerhouse Connecticut College. Everybody loves a game that ends in dramatic fashion, and that’s exactly what Brandon Reid ’21 provided us with last week, when he connected on a pass from a man familiar with the score sheet himself, Drew Goulart ’20 in the 95th minute of play. Not to be outdone, Bowdoin (10-3-3) pulled out a win in penalties last week, as Stevie Van Siclen ’18 showed he just may be the best keeper on the planet, saving multiple penalties in the shootout.
When the Panthers and the Polar Bears met earlier this season, Moctar Niang ’19 slotted a pair of goals for the Bears, en route to a 3-1 victory. Bowdoin won’t have it as easy in this match though, as they face a Middlebury squad that’s won 6 of its last 8 matches. It’s worth noting that every single one of these victories has been a 1-0 result, meaning that if the Panthers can keep the Bears off the board early, they have what it takes to sweat out a low scoring affair. If Niang and company catch the Panthers on their heals though, they could run away with the one, just as they did in late September. One more thing, if you’re looking for an X-factor, Bowdoin’s Drake Byrd ’21 would be happy to oblige. The super-sub has found the score sheet just twice this year, both for 1-0 victories against conference opponents. Don’t be surprised if he’s got his footprints all over this one, too.
As Pete mentioned last week, and as we have really mentioned all fall, the pros that come with the incredibly backloaded NESCAC schedule this season—the one that gave us about 3 games worth watching through October, is that there is always a really big game down the stretch that decides the league champion. From the get go, Trinity and Middlebury’s Week 7 matchup was always slated to be this matchup as they flexed their muscles through the first 6 games of the season. But this year’s lopsided schedule means that we have been gifted with a second unofficial championship game this Saturday, when undefeated Trinity travels once again to face a one loss team, this time in the form of Amherst at Pratt Field.
Have we run out of things to say about Trinity? It certainly feels like it. Every week they just chug along and take care of their business. Jared Lebowitz ’18’s absence for Middlebury took almost all the fun out of that game, as it was as ugly as the 27-5 scoreline would indicate, but the Bantams continue to impress. They passed a tough road test against a Tufts team that is much better than their 4-3 record would indicate, and although we didn’t know it at the time, their 17-9 win against Williams in Week 2 was indicative of their ability to do whatever it takes to win. There isn’t really much else to add: they’re the reigning league champs, winners of 16 in a row, with the best offense and best defense in the league. They are a great football team, and it is going to be really hard to beat them on Saturday.
Enough about Trinity. Everyone is sick of hearing about Trinity. In fact, everyone is so sick of hearing about Trinity that people want to hear about Amherst, which might be the Bantams’ most impressive accomplishment of the year. Amherst has gotten absolutely no love from everyone all year, and I would put myself at the top of that list. Two weeks ago I had them at 5th in the Power Rankings, citing the fact that their 4 wins at the time were against the four worst teams in the league, and writing that they could be “anywhere from a 4-5 team to an 8-1 team”. Well following statement wins at home versus Wesleyan, and on the road at Tufts, it’s safe to say they have much more 8-1 in them than 4-5. They have flown under the radar week after week, but this week they share the spotlight with a chance to take the wheel in the race for the NESCAC championship. They have a defense with the potential to give Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 fits, and a balanced offense that is right behind Trinity’s with 33 points per game. They don’t have any one or two go to guys on offense to rely on that most of the top NESCAC offenses have, i.e. a Puzzo and Chipouras, or Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo and Mike Breuler, and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron and Frank Stola, but they have consistently put points up on the board, only scoring less than 31 points in a gritty 21-17 win against Wesleyan. They have the guys to hang with Trinity for 60 minutes, but will they?
X-Factor for Trinity: QB Sonny Puzzo ’18
Not exactly taking a big leap here—for Trinity to win, especially in a game of this magnitude, their quarterback has to play well. Puzzo has had a bit of a weird season. He’s only 6th in the league in passing yards per game with 208, and tied for 3rd in touchdowns with 13, which isn’t as good as it sounds when you consider there are only really 6 quarterbacks in the league capable of airing it out, but only Jared Lebowitz ’18 has thrown less interceptions amongst starting QBs. He also just turned in arguably the worst passing game of his career, completely just 9 of 20 passes for 114 yards against Middlebury, but he picked up 76 yards and 2 touchdowns with his feet, showing the balance that makes him so dangerous.
Max Chipouras is going to show up on Saturday, and that is just a cold, hard fact. Amherst has spent all week game planning and scheming for him, but he’s still going to produce because that is all he has done all year. His “worst” statistical game of the season was 80 yards and a TD against Williams, and the only game all year he hasn’t found the end zone was last week against Middlebury and he rushed for 182 yards. A dominant performance from him is already penciled in as a given for this week, which is what makes Puzzo’s game all that much more important. If Puzzo can be his normal self, which means having success in obvious passing situations, extending plays and converting short yardage plays with his feet, and taking care of the ball, which are three things he has done excellently all year, there really isn’t a lot Amherst can do in this game. If Puzzo and Chipouras are clicking, then there probably isn’t a high probability of them pulling the upset, as it’s going to have to be a low scoring game (if you’re counting on Amherst winning 45-38 you should probably check a couple of Trinity defensive box scores first).
X-Factor for Amherst: LBs Andrew Sommer ’19 and Andrew Yamin ’19
Again, in a big game, the stars need to shine. Pete highlighted Aaron Slodowitz ’18 and the rest of the Middlebury linebacking corps’ importance in their game against Trinity, and their ability to tackle—a somewhat important skill when it comes to facing the best running back in the league. I’m choosing Sommer ’19 and Yamin ’19 for slightly similar but ultimately different reasons this week. These two have traded off monster weeks the last two Saturdays. Yamin’s 11 tackle, 5.5 sack performance against Wesleyan is still fresh in everyone’s (especially Mark Picarillo’s ) minds, and Sommer ’19’s 10 tackles and 2 sacks against Ryan McDonald ’19 and Tufts would’ve earned him DPOTW honors from me, but they’re going to have to find a way to do it at the same time this week.
As indicated by Sommer’s team lead in tackles and Yamin’s team (and league) lead in sacks, they play two different styles of linebacker, and that is why I think they have a chance to really disrupt Trinity. Their best chance of stopping them will be not by stopping Max Chipouras’ 19, because like I said I find that a little unrealistic, but by getting the ball out of his hands. If they can put Trinity in a lot of 2nd and 8-11 situations and 3rd and 5+, the Bantams might be forced to pass more than they want. A combination of Sommer ’19 stopping the run early and Yamin ’19 getting to Puzzo is how they neutralize Chipouras. This Trinity offense is legit, no doubt about that. But if Amherst can put them in longer yardage situations and keep Puzzo in the pocket, they’ll take their chances against Koby Schofer ’20 and an otherwise below average group of receivers. It will be difficult, and quite frankly, unlikely, but if they’re going to limit Trinity, this is how it’s going to have to happen, and it starts with these two.
A lot of things need to happen for Amherst to win this game, and they’ll need to do a lot of things they haven’t done much of this year. I could sit here and write about their top ranked rushing duo of Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18, how Ollie Eberth ’20 is really coming into his own, or how Amherst’s home-field advantage could play a huge role (it won’t—Trinity went on the road to both Tufts and Middlebury and came away just fine, they’re used to it at this point). But I’m not going to lie to you and talk you into Amherst winning this game, because Trinity is the better football team, and they’ve been on the receiving end of the entire league’s best effort every week for almost three years now, yet they continue to win. If Amherst wants to win this game, they are going to need to force turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, and hit a couple of home run plays on offense. The logic is the same for both of these factors—Trinity will have the better offense and the better defense in this game, the longer a drive lasts, the more opportunities for them to show this. While Amherst relies on their running attack, they can’t expect to have any 14 play, 85 yard, 8 minute drives on this Trinity defense.
They can’t hope to survive many of those drives from Trinity either. The more touches for Chipouras, the more chances to break one open. They’ve turned teams over 9 teams in 6 games, and all of WR James O’Regan ’20, WR Craig Carmilani,, and RB Hasani Figueroa ’18 have broken plays for 75 yards or more. A big play like that early would force Trinity to play from behind and rely on Puzzo more than Chipouras, and forcing turnovers would supply them with a short field more conducive to their running game. It could happen if Amherst can do the aforementioned, all of which they’ve done before. But you wouldn’t get very rich betting against Trinity, and I’m not going to start trying now.
The Middlebury-Trinity game fell flat due to Jared Lebowitz’ injury against Bates. This has thrown the league for something of a loop, but it doesn’t really change the top that much. Trinity and Amherst play this weekend in the game that decides the league championship. If Trinity wins, no one can catch them, as they’d have the tie-breaker with Amherst even if they happened to lose in the final week of the season (unlikely.) There are several other terrific games this weekend with huge implications for the final standings. Let’s take a look at where those standings are at before those games.
1) Trinity (7-0)
The Bantams face their final challenger this weekend when they travel to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. Last weekend they easily dispatched the Lebowitz-less Panthers, forcing backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 into three turnovers (two picks and a fumble.) It was another dominant defensive performance, and LB Dago Picon-Roura ‘2 picked up the Defensive Player of the Week award on the strength of an amazing one handed interception. The run game was also dominant, as Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 combined for 258 yards on their own, with Puzzo scrambling in for two touchdowns. This defensive, pounding gameplan made up for a very poor effort from Puzzo through the air. He was only 9-20 throwing the ball for 120 yards, and had several throws that should have been intercepted by the Middlebury secondary. Amherst’s offense should be able to give their defense more of a rest than Middlebury’s did, so Puzzo will have to play better this weekend.
2) Amherst (6-1)
We may owe Ollie Eberth ’20 a small apology. For much of this season we’ve been talking about Amherst’s “QB uncertainty.” Eberth had been playing all year with the spectre of Reece Foy ’18 behind him. And indeed, even last week Foy threw a touchdown pass in his four attempt. But Eberth is clearly the guy, and he showed it against Tufts. He managed the game masterfully and took care of the ball, throwing for 250 yards and no interceptions. And he was dynamic with his legs, rushing for two scores. on his way to his first Offensive Player of the Week honor. Eberth will get an even bigger test against Trinity, a defense that turns people over better than anyone. He should get a lot of help from his defense. Andrew Yamin ’19 has 11.5 sacks this season and eats offensive linemen like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs. Amherst is the team most suited to beat Trinity, and they have their chance at home.
3) Williams (5-2)
We have yet another first year star in Williamstown. After Connor Harris ’18 went down with an injury, it was TJ Dozier ‘s (’21) time to step up. And that he has, getting more and more confident every week leading up to their game with Hamilton last Saturday. And against the Continentals (admittedly porous) defense, he broke out, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. The speedy back is proving he can be a workhorse, which is important for the Williams offense. They like to run a lot of play action and read plays to take advantage of Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his quick feet, but to do that you need a running back that scares the other enough to make them buy the fake. Williams has another suspect defensive matchup this weekend in Wesleyan, but the Cardinals offense should offer much more of a fight than Hamilton’s did. Dozier and the other young Ephs will get another chance to prove themselves as the future of the league.
4) Middlebury (5-2)
This ranking is based on where Middlebury is now, not where they’ll end up. The Lebowitz injury is devastating, not just to the Panthers but to the league as well. It ruined our best chance of not having to crown Amherst or Trinity as league champ, but more than that, it takes away one of the most electrifying players in recent NESCAC memory, and maybe the best of Middlebury QB dynasty. We’ll have a deeper career retrospective on Lebowitz coming out in the offseason, but we just wanted to acknowledge the impact he’s had on the league and on our hearts (okay too far, but I’m a homer.)
It’s hard to know where Middlebury will end up this season. Backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 made some impressive plays against Trinity, but he also had three turnovers and completed under 50% of his passes. And the defense made some big plays as well, despite having virtually no rest for the entire game. Middlebury still has the skeleton of an elite team. Conrado Banky ’19, Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 are an enviable set of weapons for Meservy to take over, and the senior linebacking trio of Slodowitz, John Jackson and Wesley Becton is as good as any in the league. But Lebowitz was the heart, and without him, it’s hard to know how they’ll do. A matchup at home with Hamilton is winnable, but also not a guaranteed win, and they close the year at Tufts in what is now a very tough game.
5) Wesleyan (5-2)
The Cardinals put up a fairly lackluster performance against Bowdoin, winning 21-10 and allowing 317 passing yards to Griff Stalcup ’21, who has improved every week but still has no business out throwing Mark Piccirillo ’18 by nearly 60 yards. Piccirillo-Mike Breuler ’18 is the best QB-WR connection in the league, and it accounted for all three of Wesleyan’s touchdowns (by the way, Breuler should be getting A LOT of POY hype. He’s unbelievable. More on that later.) But Wesleyan’s defense is becoming a problem. They have forced the fewest turnovers of any team in the league, and that includes the Maine teams. No one is scared of the Wesleyan defense, as Bowdoin proved, and Amherst should be licking their chops as they plan to triple team Breuler and throw the ball all over the field.
6) Tufts (4-3)
Tufts continues to stand outside the window looking in at the top tier teams like Lloyd in Say Anything. The biggest thing separating them from the elite is turnovers. Ryan McDonald ’19 is an unbelievable athlete, but he also has 11 giveaways all by himself this season. That is simply unacceptable. If he wants to sit at the table with Puzzo, Lebowitz, Piccirillo (and arguably Maimaron,) he has to take care of the ball. They also don’t really scare anyone on defense, giving up a middling 20 points per game and only forcing seven turnovers. They have a dominant pass rush, led by Micah Adickes ’18 and Zach Thomas ’18 (12.5 sacks between them) but once the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand it is usually completed. Luckily, they end the season with Colby and then Middlebury (probably) sans-Lebowitz. This is a golden chance to finish 6-3.
7) Hamilton (2-5)
Like Tufts, Hamilton has an unexpectedly good chance to finish the season 2-0 thanks to the Lebowitz injury. Before he got hurt, their game in Middlebury this weekend was a guaranteed blowout. But now, it’s a chance for a quality win before they close the season with Bates. To beat Middlebury they need to establish the run early and often. Marcus Gutierrez had good success against the excellent Williams front, putting up 77 yards on just 15 carries. He should have gotten 10 more carries at least in my opinion, as Kenny Gray ’20 completed under 50% of his passes with two interceptions. Hamilton should try to move to a more balanced offense, with a threatening running game setting up Gray to hook up with dynamic WR Joe Schmidt ’20. They will need to against Middlebury, who still has one of the better secondaries in the league.
8) Bates (1-6)
The Bates Second-Half Redemption Tour reached its apex last weekend with their first win of the season, a surprisingly exciting 27-24 thriller over Colby. And as has been the case for most of their recent improvement, QB Brendan Costa deserves much of the credit. Costa had his best game of the season, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another 155 yards and a TD. That’s the first game this season that a NESCAC QB has had 150 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and no turnovers. And to go along with Costa, the defense finally made some big plays, with two interceptions. Bates is having a feel-good end to the season, and they end the season with Bowdoin and Hamilton. A three game winning streak would take much of the sour taste left over from the 0-6 start out of the Bobcat’s mouths.
9) Bowdoin (0-7)
Bowdoin also got an encouraging performance from their young QB, as Griff Stalcup ’21 threw for a season high 317 yards against Wesleyan. Much of this came on an 85 yard throw to WR Nick Vailas ’18, but it’s still encouraging. Even more exciting than that is the defense. A week after giving up 63 (!!) points to Trinity, they held maybe the other best offense in the league reasonably in check, and came within 17 yards of out-gaining them in total yards (389-372.) This was mostly thanks to an impressive pass rush. They had four sacks on the day, two by DL Nat Deacon ’20. Their game with Bates this weekend may be a sneaky-exciting one.
10) Colby (0-7)
Colby has nearly tripled their season point total in the last two weeks. Coming into their game two weekends ago with Hamilton, they had only scored 27 points in five games, which is not ideal. But they have now scored 24 points in each of the last two games. Unfortunately, the teams they have played, Bates and Hamilton, have each scored 27. Colby hasn’t been able to take advantage of choice match-ups with other lower tier teams, and it’s hard to imagine them coming out of this season with a win. But they deserve a great deal of praise for continuing to work hard and improve despite an unimaginably difficult first half of the season.
It felt like it would never end, but the first six weeks of NESCAC football and the atrociously mismatched scheduling that came with it are in the past. With the exception of a couple of recent games, there have been few results that have made a serious impact on the league’s landscape. If this was a season of Game of Thrones, this upcoming week would be Episode 9, the penultimate episode of each season when everything hits the fan and we are left absolutely stunned. Everything is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Yawn. Did anyone expect anything different? Trinity rolled Bowdoin 63-14 on Saturday, putting up 49 points in the first half while having the ball for barely 10 minutes. They took their foot off the gas after that and were able to give Max Chipouras ’19 and the rest of the starters an early shower in advance of next week’s tilt against Middlebury, but this was the type of Trinity performance that reminded people why they are a cut above the rest of the league right now. They’ve taken care of their business week in and week out and still sit in the driver’s seat. Needless to say, their trip to Middlebury this week is their biggest test of their season, but they continue to check all of the boxes of a championship team.
The Panthers return to the number 2 spot following an equally comfortable win over Bates, a game in which they jumped out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back. 10 different Panther receivers caught passes, but their biggest concern is that they caught them from two different quarterbacks as Jared Lebowitz ’18 was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with some sort of lower body injury. While the game was already out of doubt, any fan of the league should hope it was merely a precaution, because without a healthy Lebowitz, Middlebury’s already slim chances of beating Trinity will be far slimmer. It’s do or die for Midd this week and they need to play their best game to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the NESCAC title.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the week was the Mammoths, who knocked off Wesleyan in a come from behind 21-17 win in Amherst. Their then league leading offense never really got going, but Hasani Figueroa ’18’s 51 yard run with 1:27 left was enough to secure them their biggest win of the year to date. What was most impressive about this win was their ability to win a dirty, tight, defensive game. They scored less than 30 points for the first time all year but held Wesleyan’s offense to 197 total yards. The Picarillo-Breuler combination was completely shut down and although no one stood out offensively for Amherst, Andrew Yamin ’19 was an absolute monster on the other side of the ball, making 12 tackles—including 4.5 sacks. Being able to get that type of pressure next week against dual threat Ryan McDonald ’18 will be crucial if they want to get out of Somerville with a win, and the road doesn’t get any easier with Trinity and Williams to finish out the season, but Amherst is now one of the 3 teams with a shot at winning the league. I certainly wouldn’t count them out.
A big time bounce back week for Tufts, traveling to Williams and extinguishing a red hot Ephs squad. Ryan McDonald ’18 had a big time bounce back game, throwing for 336 and running for an additional 55. But the story of this one, and not for the first time, was the Tufts front 7, who were absolutely everywhere on Saturday, particularly in the Ephs backfield, racking up another 4 sacks to bring their total on the year to 25. It was consistent pressure from Micah Adickes ’18, Doug Harrison ’18 and co., as Bobby Maimaron ’21 was never really able to settle in, and in turn their offense could never really get going. It was a gritty road performance like this that reminded everyone why Tufts is such a good team in the first place. They have so much talent on defense, and their offense is starting to find a steady balance in ways to beat you. McDonald ’18 was his usual slippery self on the ground, but the way they were able to mix in Mike Pedrini ’20 on key short yardage plays was what allowed them to target big play threat Jack Dolan ’19 to the tune of 5 catches, 119 yards, and a touchdown. Other than Trinity, there is not an offense in the league right now that can boast this type of balance. Additionally, this is an experienced, senior-laden team, and I expect that to play a big role as they look towards the final stretch of their season, which, like everybody else, doesn’t get any easier.
A bit of a deflating loss for Williams, as they too had championship aspirations following their buzzer beating win at Middlebury. Instead, they join the pack of 2 loss teams looking to finish out their season strong. As I mentioned previously, Tufts’ front 7 kept this offense in check for nearly all of the game, holding them to 13 points on 299 yards of total offense. One of the things that had made freshman standout Bobby Maimaron so successful was his ability to stay out of trouble, keeping plays alive with his legs and making other smart decisions that were key to their only taking 2 sacks through their first 5 games. But Tufts was able to get a steady stream of pressure all day long, limiting his options and consistently putting them in long yardage situations.
While it is only one loss and
doesn’t warrant an overreaction, there is cause for a little bit of concern in Williamstown. With top running back Connor Harris ’18 out for the year with a broken collarbone, this dynamic offense all of a sudden has a look of one dimensionality in the name of Frank Stola ’21, their big play wide receiver. TJ Dozier ’21 has been a strong deputy out of the backfield but will now need to step up as their feature back if they hope to continue putting up points.
Additionally, while any number of Eph wideouts have shown the ability to contribute, someone needs to emerge as a strong number 2 to Stola ’21 so that they can continue to hurt teams with their fast paced passing attack. Adam Regensburg ’18 and Justin Nelson ’21 are the two most likely candidates for that role, and a home game versus Hamilton is the perfect opportunity for them to figure it out, but with Little 3 foes Wesleyan and Amherst looming, this young breakout team will need to earn what they hope will be an equally strong finish to an already impressive season.
Last week I wrote that Wesleyan has the offensive capability to beat anyone, and they certainly didn’t do that on Saturday. Mark Picarillo ’19 was held to 129 passing yards and 0 touchdown passes, as Andrew Yamin ’19 and the rest of the Amherst defense sacked him 10 times. Their defense was impressive, as they had held the league’s top offense to 7 points through 3 quarters, but ran out of gas in the 4th when Amherst scored twice to eventually take the game. Picarillo ’19 was only able to find standout WR Mike Breuler ’18 3 times for 57 yards on a day for the offense to forget. The Cardinals will have a pretty good chance to clinch a winning record on the year when they play Bowdoin next week, but with Williams and Trinity to follow, this team is all of a sudden trending towards a potential 5-4 finish. It all depends on which offense shows up for Wesleyan. If it’s the one they brought to Amherst, they’re not spoiling anybody’s title plans.
Catching their second win in a row this week was Hamilton, and they looked thoroughly unimpressive doing it. They allowed 24 points in the first half to the worst offense in the league, a Colby team whose previous season high in points was 7. It was 17-0 Colby before Hamilton woke up and began to play football. But nonetheless they were able to come back and eke out a win behind Kenny Gray ’20’s 3 second quarter TDs in a span of about 6 minutes that really turned the game around. The Conts now sit at 2-4, and with one more game against a team from Maine (Bates), should like their chances to get to 3-6—although those chances are a lot slimmer if they play like they did on Saturday. Bates’ offense has come a long way in the last two weeks, and if Hamilton’s defense starts like it did against Colby, Bates could bury them.
Speaking of the Bobcats, they held their spot as the strongest first-grader this week following a comfortable shellacking against Middlebury. While Colby giving Hamilton a serious run for their money would warrant some consideration, but I’m sticking with Bates after another strong performance from Brendan Costa ’21 who has improved in each week he’s been the starting quarterback. 138 rushing yards on Saturday as well as 141 passing yards (a decent amount in a triple option scheme) and a TD, this kind of consistency and the closest thing to firepower any of these bottom three teams have is why I’m picking Bates to finish the year at 2-7. Their matchup against Colby will pit the league’s worst defense against the league’s worst offense, so who knows how that will end up. But Costa very well may be the best player on the field come Saturday, and that could make all the difference.
Colby moves up a spot here following their best performance of the season to date, a game in which they led 24-20 for much of the second half, before Mitch Bierman ’21 won the contest for Hamilton with just under 7 minutes to play. The Mules were treated to something they haven’t really had all year: good quarterback play. Jack O’Brien ’20 had by far his best game of the year, going 28-41 for 242 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Jake Schwern ’19 continues to give his best Chris Thompson impersonation, catching 10 balls out of the backfield while also leading the team in rushing. Unfortunately for Colby, most of that production came in the first half, and they left most of it in the locker room as they were shutout in the second. We will find out next week against Bates if this offense has made some actual adjustments and improvements, or if the first half against Hamilton was just a fluke.
We don’t have many rules here at Nothing but NESCAC, but one of our general guidelines is that if you’re a winless team and someone scores 63 on you, you’re last in the power rankings. We knew this was never going to be a game in Hartford, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. Trinity had their way with Bowdoin and it got ugly in a hurry—21-0 in the first nine minutes of the game. Not a whole lot more to add to this one, Bowdoin plays Wesleyan next week and they probably won’t win that one either. They can only hope to keep improving as a team and give themselves the best shot to catch a couple W’s against Bates and Colby.
Although we saw a relatively unsurprising series of results in this weekend’s games, there were certainly some important headlines and things to focus on as we move into the final third of the season. The only real excitement this week was that Amherst (5-1) topped Wesleyan (4-2) in an ugly game out at Amherst, but then again someone had to lose that game as we start to see the top teams in the league squaring off against each other. Hamilton squeaked out a 3-point victory over Colby at home, holding on to their unofficial title as “the best of the rest,” and now Trinity, Middlebury, and Amherst are the only remaining teams with championship hopes. And luckily for us, Middlebury and Trinity meet this Saturday in a de-facto league championship.
This one could just be called the O’Brien-Snyder duo, but I will give credit to Colby’s entire offense. Against Hamilton, QB Jack O’Brien ’20 did his best Matt Stafford impression, going 28-41 for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns, while throwing no interceptions, to ultimately still fall short 27-24. Colby entered the game with just 7 points as their previous season high, so finishing with 24 is clearly an upgrade no matter what the outcome. O’Brien’s favorite target was undoubtedly WR Mark Snyder ’18, whom he connected with 7 times for 99 yards and 2 TDs. Putting up 24 points is obviously a huge step forward for Colby’s offense, not only scoring more points, but allowing their defense to actually get a break on the sideline instead of having to come right back onto the field. Look for O’Brien and Snyder to continue to do damage as Colby gets into their CBB matchups against the much weaker Bates and Bowdoin squads.
There really was not much to highlight from the Bates-Middlebury matchup this weekend, as Middlebury did exactly what they expected to do, blowing out Bates 43-17. What was interesting about Middlebury’s offensive attack, however, was that 10 different receivers caught a pass of at least 5 yards, 7 receivers had at least 2 receptions, and 7 receivers had between 20 and 75 receiving yards. This is an incredible amount of balance in a receiving corps that leads the league in yards and touchdowns, with much thanks to QB Jared Lebowitz ’18. Despite a week 5 loss to Williams, Middlebury’s title hopes are still very much alive thanks to early season wins over Amherst and Wesleyan. This type of balance and depth will give Middlebury a chance to score a lot of points against an elite defense as Trinity comes to town for a big week 7 showdown.
I was hesitant to include this one, because I don’t feel that Amherst has done much to lose credibility despite a somewhat down year in 2016. Prior to the Wesleyan game, Amherst had not beaten a “top tier” team. They took care of Bates, Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton, but fell to Middlebury, keeping them in the middle of the conference. After grinding out a 21-17 against Wesleyan, they have certainly solidified their place amongst the top teams in the NESCAC, even while dealing with quarterback uncertainty all year.
Wesleyan’s Title Hopes
I know the same could be said for Williams this week too, but with all due respect to the Ephs, Wesleyan’s expectations for this season were a little bit higher. After losing week 1 to Middlebury, the Cardinals got hot, winning 4 in a row. Amherst had been struggling to find a consistent quarterback, and Wesleyan was just not able to capitalize. Lots of credit needs to go to the Amherst defense, who held Piccirillo and co. to just 197 yards of total offense. Piccirillo ’18 didn’t throw an interception and Wesleyan didn’t lose a fumble, which is why I am more inclined to say that Wesleyan simply could not get anything going on offense. With Dario Highsmith ’20 out, there was no rushing attack for Amherst to respect, so they could key in on the secondary. Wesleyan has no choice but to play the spoiler for the rest of the season, with intriguing matchups versus Williams and Trinity on the horizon.
Jared Lebowitz’s Health
Potentially the biggest story of the weekend is that Middlebury QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 left the game against Bates in the second quarter with what appeared to be some sort of ankle or knee injury. This is not meant to be a knock on the rest of Middlebury’s team, but it is no secret that their offense is contingent upon having Lebowitz’ under center. I don’t know the full extent or even much about the injury at all – it is possible that he was merely roughed up on a play against Bates, and with the game being so secure, the substitution was merely precautionary. I certainly hope this is the case, because like any other NESCAC fan, I’m eager to see how Middlebury’s offense stacks up against the mighty Trinity defense. Either way, this is worth keeping an eye on because even if Lebowitz plays next week, his performance could be limited.