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.
There is another championship caliber game this week in Trinity @ Amherst, which has its own separate preview, but there are still a number of interesting games with pride on the line. The final nine positions in the standings are still up for grabs, and while that might not mean much to some, many programs will benefit in morale, momentum, and recruiting (which obviously doesn’t happen in the NESCAC for our readers from admissions offices) for future seasons. Bates and Bowdoin have the battle for Maine, Williams and Wesleyan are tied in the standings with Williams looking to jump even higher up the ladder from 2016, Midd needs to put up or shut up, Hamilton could still put up a respectable record, and Tufts is in danger of falling to .500. Sorry to Colby Mule fans, there isn’t much going on for you this week other than a potential for a monstrous defeat. Lots to watch this weekend and here is what to expect:
Bowdoin (0-7) @ Bates (1-6), 12:30 PM, Lewiston, ME
Two promising first year QBs for struggling teams in this game. Is this the future of the NESCAC? The next two teams to make a Williams/Bobby Maimaron-esque jump to the top in 2018? Only time will tell how each young signal caller turns out and how their teams develop with them, but for now, Griff Stalcup ’21 and Brendan Costa ’21 should provide an intense matchup in their first of four career head to head battles. Stalcup struggled mightily against Trinity (63-14 loss), looking like he was in danger of losing his job, but knocked it out of the park in a 21-10 loss to Wesleyan. He threw for 317 yards, a TD, and didn’t turn the ball over. Despite a loss, the two possession difference against Wesleyan is a positive for this struggling Polar Bear squad. With Nate Richam ’18 out, the Bowdoin running game is much weaker, but they adjusted from the Trinity to Wesleyan games, making a stab at a late comeback. They also resorted to a more pass oriented offense as Robert Kollmer isn’t nearly as dangerous as Richam. While Richam and Kollmer are both young and promising for the Bowdoin future, without Richam, the passing game will once again be on display. Defense has been a big issue for the Polar Bears, holding off the Cardinals’ running attack, although they were without lead back Dario Highsmith ’20. Their passing defense isn’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern against a run-heavy Bobcat offense. Their senior receivers Nick Vailas and Bryan Porter should be open for Stalcup, but their key will be stopping the rush. They have a shot, but Costa might be too much to handle.
A run oriented offense against a weak rush defense (actually, the worst rush defense, allowing 205.7 yards per game). This is a recipe for success for Brendan Costa and the slot-receivers of Bates football. Coming off of a rather ugly win against Colby (27-24, we must not forget that Bates could still easily be 0-7 and in search for their first win. I mean, looking at the matchup and how Costa played, they are the favorite here, but they shouldn’t be by much. If it weren’t for the perfect opponent for this offense, there’s no way the Bobcats could be projected to win. They allow the most pass yards per game (273) and points per game (40.6!) in the NESCAC. Granted Bowdoin, as previously mentioned, allows the most rush yards per game and also the second most points per game (34.7). This is a recipe for Costa to find some success to Mickoy Nichol, and for him, Nichol, and Frank Williams to find some room on the ground. This game should be a defensive nightmare, but will also be a mano-a-mano battle of the new guy QBs for bragging rights in Maine.
Predicted Score: Bates 31, Bowdoin 28
Williams (5-2) @ Wesleyan (5-2), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT
Another exciting game between two top teams who are just barely out of it, still feeling the sting of Trinity’s dominance. Pride is on the line for both, while Williams looks to one up another top team who dominated them a year ago. With such a young team, each high intensity game gives them an edge for next year when they face the Bantams again. With Williams’ depth, they should be the favorites as without Dario Highsmith, injured against Bowdoin, Wesleyan is not nearly as dangerous offensively. Connor Harris has been the lead back all year, but TJ Dozier has really come on the past three games, putting a hurting on Hamilton last game with 112 yards in their 24-6 win. With Bobby Maimaron at the helm, Rashad Morrison, Harris, and Dozier on the ground, and Frank Stola, Justin Nelson, and Adam Regensburg on the hands team, the Eph offense is scary good. Their only real flawed game was against Tufts in a 21-13 loss where they were vulnerable in the secondary. S Luke Apuzzi, LB Jarrett Wesner, and LB TJ Rothman will need to be strong in the second and third tiers of the defense helping the DBs in order to limit Piccirillo.
Without Dario Highsmith, QB Mark Piccirillo will need to step up in a big way if Wesleyan is to better their 6-2 record from 2016. Piccirillo looked good against Bowdoin, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen because of how weak their defense is. Therefore, recently, Piccirillo has struggled mightily. Besides the Bowdoin and Amherst games, he has thrown INTs in every game (including games against Hamilton, Bates, AND Colby). In the game he didn’t throw one against the Mammoths, he got absolutely abused, sacked nine times for 51 yards. Even against Bowdoin he was sacked four times. So maybe, he is just learning to go to the ground and not make late passes when he is being bore down upon by defensive linemen. The Cardinals offensive line is clearly a factor here as their RB Highsmith is injured and Piccirillo is getting hit at an incredible rate, spelling trouble against a strong Williams defense (fourth in the NESCAC with 20 sacks). Williams has a good secondary to boot, so Piccirillo has a tough test here. Now, I am critical of Piccirillo because of how one bad decision could easily change the course of this game. He still leads the NESCAC in passing yards, passing TDs (18), and has the best receiver in the league in Mike Breuler. This is going to have to be a two man show for the Cardinals, and unless Piccirillo learns how to scramble a bit better, he might be in for some trouble. Can he take care of the ball enough to get it to Breuler two times or more? Possible, but unlikely.
Predicted Score: Williams 27, Wesleyan 17
Hamilton (2-5) @ Middlebury (5-2), 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT
Sadly, Middlebury must now prepare for life post-Lebowitz three games earlier than expected. Jack Meservy ’19 is the heir apparent, and this game is critical for his development. He got knocked around big time by Trinity, but impressed many with his perseverance and arm strength. Middlebury is a quarterback factory, and he has all the tools to succeed. A choice matchup with Hamilton is a great opportunity for Meservy to gain some confidence going into a tough final game at Tufts, and then his senior season.
Against Trinity, Middlebury tried to take some pressure off Meservy by establishing the run, never an easy thing to do against the Bantams. It didn’t work. Middlebury only averaged 3.1 yards per carry against Trinity, down from their season average. Middlebury isn’t built to run the ball, as their entire offense has been set up around Lebowitz’ elite arm. Against Hamilton, they should be free to use much more of the original playbook, as the Continentals give up the third most passing yards per game. Look for Middlebury to get back to their high-flying ways, and potentially use this game as an audition of sorts for Meservy as the starter of the future.
As much as this game is an opportunity for Middlebury, it is far more of one for Hamilton. They will NEVER get as good a chance to knock off a top tier team as this one, and a win against Middlebury would give their various young stars a huge confidence boost. To do this they need to vary their offense. Middlebury’s defense played a fabulous game against Trinity despite getting virtually no rest; they held Sonny Puzzo to his lowest completion percentage and fewest yards of the season. The odds are that they can do the same to Kenny Gray ’20. Middlebury has a plethora of excellent athletes in the secondary to throw at Joe Schmidt ’21, so the run game is the key this week for the Continentals. Mitch Bierman ’21 has been largely ineffective since a breakout against Bowdoin two weeks (and as always, offensive performances against Bowdoin don’t count,) but Marcus Gutierrez ’18 has been running well lately. Look for both of them to get more carries than usual to try and set up Gray’s big play ability. Hamilton will try to seize this opportunity to take down the Panthers, but I think they still fall short.
Predicted Score: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 17
Tufts (4-3) @ Colby (0-7), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME
The only one-sided game on paper this weekend features a Tufts team that is struggling to remain on the upper crust of the league. They have one quality win; a 21-13 victory over Williams two weeks ago, but other than that they have lost all three of their games against teams with winning records. It is turnovers that have been their downfall. Each of their losses has been decided by one possession and they have 13 turnovers in 7 games. You’re not going to beat Trinity or even Wesleyan if you give them free possessions. QB Ryan McDonald has 11 of those turnovers, keeping him out of the POY conversation even though he is electrifying to watch. McDonald should use this game as an exercise in taking care of the ball, as their Week Nine game with Middlebury will be another golden chance to beat a top tier team.
Luckily for the Jumbos, Colby’s offense is likely not good enough to make them pay if they do turn the ball over. But it’s an improvement to even say likely. After not scoring more than seven points in any of the first five games of the season, they have scored 24 points in each of the last two. This is largely the result of lesser competition; Colby finally reached the other lower tier teams part of the schedule. But they have also finally worked out some QB issues. Jack O’Brian ’20 has found success in the read option, using his legs to create Colby’s best scoring chances of the season. It won’t matter against Tufts, but Colby has enough pride to make this a game if Tufts takes it too lightly.
Two straight weeks with what I deem to be an upset is monumental in NESCAC football. Things are getting turbulent for a number of top teams heading into the final three weeks (Really?! Only three weeks left?) and Trinity isn’t slowing down. Unfortunately, to have any excitement in the last two weeks, we are going to need to have Midd upset Trinity, otherwise, the Bantams will cruise to Title Town once again. Amherst and Tufts had resurgent weekends, although the Jumbos need a lot of help to realize their championship dreams. With Midd and Amherst tied in second at 5-1, this Midd vs. Trinity game is putting everything on the line for a number of teams. While that analysis will be done by Pete in a special article later on, here is the rest of the weekend breakdown, featuring some elimination do-or-die games for Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Williams, with an added rivalry game in the CBB series between Bates and Colby.
Wesleyan (4-2) @ Bowdoin (0-6), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME
Wesleyan had a crushing loss against the Mammoths, basically ending all hopes for glory in 2017. While they still have a chance for a massive tie at 7-2 at the top of the division, unless they see the Bantams lose this week, they will not come out on top. Contrary to 2016 where they were able to overcome an opening week loss to go 6-0 until the final week, they lost all offensive capabilities in week six. Since they need help to win it all, they can only focus on their task at hand—burying the Polar Bears further into the abyss of defeat. Dario Highsmith didn’t play against Amherst and is a question mark heading in to this game, and although Mark Piccirillo has been historically good if not great at QB, he looked ineffective—to say the least—last week in Amherst territory. He threw just for 129 yards, no TDs, and the rest of the offense only gained 88 yards on the ground. They lacked spark and only kept the game close because of a Shayne Kaminski pick-six off of Ollie Eberth. While I pick them to win here, this has trap game (a.k.a. a game within two TDs) written on it if Dario Highsmith is still out.
Griff Stalcup regressed in week seven, losing some playing time to former starter Noah Nelson at QB. I’ll cut the kid some slack; He was a first year QB playing against the best team in the league. Nelson wouldn’t have done too well, either. Nate Richam didn’t play in the game, and as Bowdoin’s only offensive weapon, it he isn’t back, they will have a rough game. Stalcup did have a six yard TD run, and Nelson a four yard TD pass, so this game might just decide which QB starts for the Polar Bears in the final two games of their season against their fellow winless Maine teams. Wesleyan is not nearly as scary as an opponent as Trinity, but the absolute thrashing in week six couldn’t have helped this team’s confidence. They could make it interesting, but won’t have enough juice to overcome the Cardinals.
Predicted Score: Wesleyan 28, Bowdoin 14
Bates (0-6) @ Colby (0-6), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME
Well, one of the Maine football teams will finally find the win column this weekend. By virtue of Hamilton’s slight edge over the other bottom teams, Bates, Colby, and Bowdoin now all find themselves without wins heading into their CBB Consortium series for the crown of Maine. Bates’ Brendan Costa will be the most dynamic player on the field this Saturday for either team, and has locked himself in to the starting QB job. Despite a blowout loss at the hands of Middlebury—which was totally expected and inevitable—Costa still managed to throw for two scores, run for 131 yards, and only throw one pick. While the Bobcats lost two fumbles, one from Costa, one from WR Mickoy Nichol, they could have definitely played worse. With a little bit of offensive momentum going against a weak Mules team, Bates actually finds themselves as the favorite.
After facing a disappointing loss at the hands of another bottom tier NESCAC team, Colby looks to end their winning drought after an encouraging performance from QB Jack O’Brien. Both teams have developing signal-callers, but each is still winless. The Mules also saw a solid performance from K John Baron, earning the special teams player of the week honors, going 4/4 in total kicks. This fact isn’t overly relevant, but is among the only press coverage the Mules have seen all season, indicative of their lack of success. An aerial attack is the only way to find their first win as Bates’ defense is vulnerable, and Jake Schwern has struggled with efficiency lately. This will be run game against passing game, and the end result will show which rebuilding team has more hope for the future.
Predicted Score: Bates 24, Colby 14
Amherst (5-1) @ Tufts (4-2), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA
Amherst is now back in the title conversation with their win over Wesleyan, beating the Cardinals when the Jumbos could not earlier this season. Their lack of a high ceiling, as I mentioned in accordance with Reece Foy’s limping return from injury, is not as valid as I earlier thought. Rather than centering on a strong QB and stellar offensive attack, RB Jack Hickey and QB Ollie Eberth are now among the supporting cast to their dominant defense. Hasani Figueroa and Hickey didn’t get much going against the strong Wesleyan defense, and while they should have more success this weekend, Tufts QB Ryan McDonald should be worried about the Mammoth pass rush. Andrew Yamin had an unbelievable performance, racking up 5.5 sacks on Piccirillo, and was only half of the total attack on the opposing QB. The Tufts run game should be neutralized and McDonald will lack enough time in the pocket to get a whole lot going.
Tufts had a much needed win against Williams, knocking off their first strong opponent of the season. Given their loss to Wesleyan and the Ephs’ win over Midd the week before, this was a surprising victory, showing the prowess of QB Ryan McDonald who was able to find nine different receivers on the day. Jay Tyler and Mike Pedrini both had success on the ground, but should face much more challenge in the ground game this weekend. The Jumbos hope comes on defense where their pass rush leads the league with 25 sacks, one more than the Mammoths’ total. Who’s D-Line is better? Both teams should revert to a more passing heavy attack, but might lack sufficient time to throw. Defense rules in this game.
Predicted Score: Amherst 21, Tufts 17
Hamilton (2-4) @ Williams (4-2), 1:30 PM, Williamstown, MA
Hamilton has been the beneficiary of two weak opponents these past two weeks, bringing their record to a respectable 2-4. If they win out, they could actually finish with a winning record, and given their 0-4 start, that is a good cause for playing hard. I don’t think they have any chance to do that as they only have one more weak opponent, but this could be the game where they show that their week one game was not total luck. They barely lost to Tufts, and I have looked at this game over and over again due to its shockingly close outcome, and after their loss to Tufts, Williams looks like a beatable opponent. While they barely knocked off Colby, they rallied from a 17-0 deficit, therefore dominating the second half of the game. With Kenny Gray moving up in the NESCAC QB ranks, and with a solid receiving core in Christian Donahoe and Joe Schmidt, they have a formidable enough offense to stick with the Ephs.
A relatively surprising loss to Tufts leaves Williams looking for a win. They have two losses on the year and need even more help than Wesleyan to share the ‘Cac crown. They do not control their own fate in any way even if they win out, and face a sneaky Hamilton team this Saturday. Without any production from rising RB star Rashad Morrison, leaving him as a question for Saturday’s game, Bobby Maimaron and company will need to find other ways to outscore the Continentals. Frank Stola and Adam Regensburg are Maimaron’s best offensive weapons, with Regensburg really coming on strongly as a WR, moving away from his defensive role. Kyle Horihan had a breakout defensive game against Tufts, leading the squad in tackles with 11 and an INT, and he should look to replicate that performance against an inconsistent Hamilton team. Despite their recent loss, Williams hasn’t lost a game by more than one possession and has the offense to outlast Hamilton regardless of how Gray and Donahoe play.
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.
The NESCAC schedule this season seems to share a structure with the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There is a first half that is somewhat formulaic and drags on forever, and then a second half that blows it all out of the water with incredible drama, despite some dull plot holes . The first half of the season featured good teams playing bad teams, and now the good teams play the good teams and the bad teams play the bad teams. This is obviously the time in which the championship will be decided, so let’s see where the teams stand heading into the “Judy” half of the season (watch the movie folks!)
Until Trinity loses, they have earned the top spot in the rankings. They have the best running back in the league in Max Chipouras ‘18, the third best quarterback in the league in Sonny Puzzo ‘18 (dm us on Twitter, I can defend my claims,) and a defense that seems to have a new MVP every week. Recently, it has been the linebacking corps that has stepped up. The secondary has been impenetrable all year, giving up only 126 passing yards per game, a very impressive stat in the pass-heavy NESCAC. But the rush defense is rounding into shape. Linebackers Shane Libby ‘19 and Dago Picon-Roura ‘19 have stuffed rushing attacks to the tune of 98 rushing yards per game. And it’s a good thing they did, because Williams has a tremendously underrated rushing attack. Stopping Connor Harris ‘18 and freshman weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21 was the key to Trinity surviving a strong upset bid. The season is about to get interesting for the Bantams. They haven’t played any of the upper tier yet, which has contributed to their aura of invincibility. But with Tufts this weekend, that will change. That rush defense will again be tested by Ryan McDonald ‘20. And, through no fault of their own, they have a legitimate challenger in Middlebury, and their matchup with the Panthers in two weeks looms.
Speaking of the Panthers, they are starting to look as dominant on offense as Trinity does on defense (and pretty formidable on defense as well.) To continue my quest to compliment Jared Lebowitz ‘18 in every article, he has raised his level of play past even where it was last year. We wrote at the beginning of the season that the key to Middlebury’s title hopes would be taking care of the ball, and Lebowitz only has two interceptions this year after having five at this point last season. Additionally, in Wesleyan and Amherst, Middlebury has played two of the best defenses in the league. Lebowitz has not dominated those games. Against Amherst he only had 205 yards, and against Wesleyan he only completed 50% of his passes. But in those two games he has 6 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, lo and behold, Middlebury has won both games.
Lebowitz not turning the ball over has allowed Middlebury to win games in other ways. Jimmy Martinez ‘19 is a combination of Tyreek Hill and a Power Ranger in the return game. He’s so terrifying that teams would rather squib kicks than give him the chance to run them back. This gives Lebowitz the Panthers excellent starting field position. And the defense, after struggling against Wesleyan in the fourth quarter in Week One, has become one of the most explosive units in the league. They scored two touchdowns against Amherst, including one from LB Wesley Becton ‘18, who is quickly becoming a First Team candidate. The unit leads the league in interceptions, and have done it against elite competition, unlike Trinity.
The Amherst Football redemption tour bus hit a pothole last weekend when they dropped a key home game to Middlebury. A win against the Panthers would have put them in a great position to at least split the league title; now they’ll need some help from the teams remaining. Defense was not the problem for the Mammoths against Middlebury. They held the vaunted Middlebury offense to just 287 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. And the three passing touchdowns that the Panthers produced were heavily aided by 3 Amherst interceptions. One of those came from starter Ollie Eberth ‘21, but two came from Reece Foy ‘18. Herein lies Amherst’s problem. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Foy is not ready to be the player he was before his injury last off-season. Eberth is a great talent, but the prospect of beating Trinity with a first year QB is not a promising one. Amherst has the best rushing attack in the league, with Jack Hickey ‘19 and Hasani Figueroa ‘18 (189 yards combined against Middlebury.)Amherst should up both of their carries to make up for the inconsistencies at QB, but you can’t beat teams like Middlebury or Trinity without a well-rounded offense.
I really wanted to put the Cardinals ahead of Amherst here, but after the outcry against the Stock Report I thought better of it. The Cardinals offense continued to fly high last weekend against Colby, as did the remarkable season of QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18. He is tied with Lebowitz for the league lead in touchdowns and passing yards per game, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the country at over 70%. He does have a propensity for interceptions (6 already on the year,) and that hurt them in their opening loss to Middlebury. Their rushing attack is coming together nicely as Dario Highsmith ‘20 continues to flash huge potential, and they might even be able to give him more carries and keep some pressure off of First Team Candidates Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler ’18.
For Wesleyan, the fault is not in their stars, dear Brutus, but in their defense. The stats are solid (between third and fourth in the league in yards and points per game,) but they are not as dangerous as they were last season. The unit has only forced four turnovers on the season, the lowest of the top teams, and that includes none against Middlebury. That may seem like a bit of a nit-picky complaint against a unit that has only given up 15 points per game despite playing Middlebury and Tufts already, but it matters. They simply haven’t been as dangerous on defense as Middlebury and Trinity have, and that is why they’re just outside of the upper echelon.
I know that Bates’ defense make every team they play look like me in online Madden (that is, unbeatable,) but Williams’ performance last week.was still impressive. They put up 590 yards of total offense, including 289 rushing yards, and 47 points, the second most in the league this year. Bobby Maimeron ‘21 continued his star turn in his freshman year, and Frank Stola ‘21 netted 172 and two touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions against the overmatched Bates offense. It was an all around domination that showed just how far Williams has come from being one of the worst teams in the league just last season. Something to watch for out of this game was the emergence of versatile weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21. After not playing in the first three games, the speedy receiver exploded for 85 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Between him and Connor Harris ‘18, Williams has two explosive backfield options who can break games with their speed. The Ephs are very much here to stay, and have another chance to notch a huge upset this weekend in Middlebury. The Panthers should be very wary.
Tufts has done nothing to deserve being dropped in the rankings. I’m just getting that out the way now before Rory and Sid text me and call me names. They suffered a tough loss to Wesleyan in Week Two, and since then have beaten up on lower tier teams, just like the teams above them on this list. Ryan McDonald ‘18 is the best dual-threat QB in the league, averaging over 90 rushing yards per game in addition to 220 passing yards. However, he is their entire offense. RB Dom Borelli ‘19 has struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year, and they lack an explosive playmaker outside of swiss army knife WR Jack Dolan ‘18. This is what separates them from the likes of Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan. They don’t have enough other weapons to win when they face a team that has the athleticism on defense to stop McDonald. Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst all have that.
The Continentals have got to be a little frustrated, both in the schedulers and in themselves. For a couple years they’ve been amassing young talent, and it looked as if they, not Williams, would be the team to rise up out of the bottom tier and take on the big dogs. And after a close loss to Tufts in Week One, the “Hamilton is good now” train (on which I was the conductor) took off a little prematurely. Hamilton still hasn’t won a game yet this season, despite exciting young players such as QB Kenny Gray ’20 and WR Joe Schmidt ’20. However, they have also had to play all of those “big dogs” pretty immediately, and right in a row. Hamilton has played, in this order, Tufts, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity. So their record and anemic defensive and rushing statistics can be partially attributed to a young team playing very good teams early in the season. In the second half, they still have Middlebury, but they also finally play teams like Bates and Colby, whom they should beat. Look for Hamilton to grab some wins in the next couple weeks.
Here we are, the bottom tier. Bowdoin gets the “moral victory” trophy for being at the top of this group on the strength of their surprisingly solid rushing attack, led by Nate Richam ’20, who in his sophomore year is averaging 71 yards per game on five yards per carry. He doesn’t get a lot of red zone chances, as Bowdoin’s quarterback play has been less functional than the Trump White House and just as hard to watch. But in Richam, Bowdoin has the semblance of an identity, a power running team that works hard for every possession. They also have played a very difficult schedule thus far, and should use the second half to work on this identity.
These bottom two teams are both here for opposite, and historically bad reasons. For Colby, it is their offense. They don’t seem to have one. Colby has only scored 20 points all season, for an average of five per game. They only have 786 total yards, or to phrase it differently, nearly five hundred fewer than Jared Lebowitz has on his own. These numbers are bad no matter who they’ve played, and doesn’t bode well for even the easier games in the second half.
Three out of the five highest scoring games this season have come against the Bobcats. The Bobcats just gave up 590 yards to Williams, which is the equivalent of giving up 985 yards to Trinity. Bates recently gave up 75 yards on the ground and a touchdown to the dog from Air Bud, who died several years ago (sorry.) Bates’ defense hasn’t gotten much help from the offense, which has ten turnovers. I do like the direction Bates is trending in, as they have entirely given their season over to building up young QBs Matt Golden ’20 and Brendan Costa ’21. This second half should be about auditioning those two for the QB of the future role. Bates has no hope of winning any games this year if their defense doesn’t approach mediocrity real soon.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
This week features a slate of games that can be charitably described as “uneven.” That’s a nice way of saying that it features games where the better teams in the league play the worse teams in the league. And having learned our lesson last week picking Hamilton over Amherst, we’re not seeing any magic happening here. But there is good news. With these lopsided games happening earlier in the season, the end of the year should feature more games between strong teams. But we can’t get there without going here first.
Tufts (1-1) @ Bates (0-2), Lewiston, ME, 1:00 PM
The Jumbos have been the team to watch if you’re looking for close games this season. This has been mostly due to their strong schedule (an improved Hamilton team in Week One and then Wesleyan last week) but has also been due to their inability to close out games. Their defense allowed Hamilton to continuously tie up the game before the offense won it in OT, and then QB Ryan McDonald turned the ball over twice to help along Wesleyan’s comeback. Indeed, without multi-purpose weapon Jack Dolan ‘19, who had an 85 yard punt return touchdown to keep Tufts in it, the game wouldn’t even have been close. Tufts is in need of a blowout after two hard fought games, but that won’t happen if they don’t execute. This is a golden chance for the Jumbos to get things fully in order for a championship run.
Bates, on the other hand, isn’t in a position to have a preferred kind of win. They have had a very difficult start to the season, highlighted by a 51-0 drubbing at the hands of Trinity that wasn’t even that close. Obviously not much has gone right for Bates this season, but offense has been the biggest issue. QB Sandy Plashkes ‘18 has been benched for Matt Golden, signifying that Bates is ready to go in a new direction. Left to their own devices, Bates would want to be a run-based offense, and when they’ve gotten to that style it has been successful. Peter Boyer and Kyle Flaherty have run the ball with authority, combining for 73 yards a game. But with no consistent QB play, the offense can’t stay on the field long enough to give them a chance to score. Tufts’ defense is still coming together, so Bates has the potential to improve a bit this game. At this point, that should be their goal.
Projected Score: Tufts 31, Bates 10
Wesleyan (1-1) @ Hamilton (0-2), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM
After an inspired performance in Week One, Hamilton fell back to Earth in a big way last weekend, making several trigger happy “experts” (namely Colby and I) look pretty foolish in the process. Amherst smoked Hamilton 36-6, and while the dynamic Kenny Gray-Joe Schmidt duo ended up with respectable totals (245 yards, one TD for Gray, 54 yards for Schmidt,) most of that was in garbage time. Even so, it was Hamilton’s run defense that looked worst against the Mammoths. Amherst tallied over 250 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Of course, Amherst has arguably the best ground game in the league, but if Hamilton wants to play with the big boys they have to be ready for that.
Wesleyan had a run-heavy identity last season, but haven’t been able to get to it this year. This is partially due to the graduation of Gerald Hawkins and Devin Carillo, but it is also because they have gotten down big early in both of their games. This has called QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 into action, as he has thrown the Cardinals back into both of their games. The Cardinals have a strong and experienced offensive line, as evidenced by Piccirillo’s success in finding Mike Breuler ‘18 deep. They could run behind that line as well, if sophomore Dario Highsmith ‘20 gets more carries. He should in this game, as Hamilton doesn’t have an answer for Breuler (no one does.) Expect the Cardinals to get up early this time, but it may just tighten up at the end if Gray can get going.
The almighty Schedulers have rewarded Middlebury’s difficult Week One matchup with Wesleyan with back to back games against Bowdoin and Colby. The Panthers absolutely smacked Bowdoin in Week Two, with Jared Lebowitz ‘18 putting up one of the most efficient games of his storied career. Lebowitz wen 20-26 for over 300 yards and four touchdowns, with no turnovers. That last stat is the most important one for him, as the only blemish on his sterling resume is a tendency to give up the football when under pressure. But the Panther O-Line, led by junior stud Andrew Rogan ‘19, gets better every week, and Lebowitz has reaped the rewards. He has also seamlessly worked in a large group of new receivers, who have filled in admirably as we wait for Conrado Banky’s explosion. All four of his touchdown throws were to different receivers last week, including new names like Maxim Bochman ‘20 and Jimmy Connell ‘21. Add in the emergence of Matt Cardew ‘20 as a solid running back option, and the Panthers look like the best offense in the league, maybe even including Trinity.
Colby, like Bates, has had a potentially dangerous running game squelched by inconsistency at quarterback. Jake Schwern ‘19 has run very well at times for the Mules, averaging 73 yards per game on 4.6 yards per carry. But he hasn’t gotten into the end zone yet, as Colby simply can’t sustain long drives. Pre-season starting QB Christian Sparacio ‘18 has been replaced by sophomore Jack O’Brian ‘20, who looked okay last week against Williams. Colby scored their first points of the year in that game. Unfortunately, Middlebury’s offense is firing right now, so any improvement on Colby’s end will probably fall flat, as Middlebury should dominate time of possession (as well as every other stat.)
Another probable blowout this week features the Polar Bears traveling to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. As you’ve gathered from the earlier games, these two teams enter the game on vastly different trajectories. Amherst comes off a terrific 36-6 drubbing of Hamilton in which their running game and defense looked unbeatable. However, there is a question hanging over the game for the Mammoths; who is the quarterback. They got Reece Foy ‘18 back in Week Two after he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury. And Foy made an impact, rushing for a seven yard score. This is a good sign, as the thing that made him a POY candidate before the injury was his dual threat ability. But his backup Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in admirably in his absence, completing 64% of his passes with four touchdowns. Eberth is the QB of the future, and it makes sense to give him work in mismatches like this, but when Amherst meets the other title contenders, they will lick their chops at facing such an inexperienced QB (particularly one named “Ollie.”) I would think as soon as Foy is ready, he gets the ball back. But we’ll have to wait till Saturday to see.
Bowdoin also has quarterback issues, but their defense and running game aren’t good enough to make up for them. After only completing 42.9% of his passes, Noah Nelson ‘18 was replaced by Griff Stalcup ‘21, who has fared slightly better (54%.) They have also shown a strong offensive line and running attack, averaging 152.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the league. They have also scored all four times they’ve been in the red zone. These are stats that point towards an offense that has potential to control the game through posession if the defense could get a stop. Which so far, they haven’t. The Polar Bears allow 480 yards per game and 35 points, which doesn’t give a rush heavy offense much of a chance. Amherst has QB questions, but they simply beat Bowdoin at their own game.
Predicted Score: Amherst 27, Bowdoin 10
GAME OF THE WEEK: Williams (2-0) @ Trinity (2-0), Hartford, CT, 1:30 PM
At the beginning of the season, Williams versus Trinity did not have the ring of a Game of the Week. And frankly, to me it still somewhat doesn’t. To spoil my prediction, I don’t see a fairy tale ending for this game, but the very fact that we can discuss Williams in the same breath as Trinity like this is a tremendous achievement of which the whole Williams organization should be proud. And furthermore, Williams might not be the shark bait that other teams have been for Trinity so far this year.
Most NESCAC fans know where Trinity is heading into this game.They have outscored their opponents (Colby and Bates) 86-0 this season, outgained them 901-374 and also, oh yeah, haven’t allowed a point all season. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 and Max Chipouras ‘19 have been as good as expected, but receiver Koby Schofer ‘20 has been a revelation thus far. He’s averaged 85 yards per game, and has stepped in very well for a team that lost several receiving weapons in the offseason. Defensively, Trinity doesn’t have any standouts statistically, but honestly this is mostly because they haven’t had to play in the fourth quarter yet this season. The whole unit has destroyed offensive lines so far this season, and has given the offense ample scoring chances with great field position. Long story short, Trinity is good.
But, potentially, so is Williams? Earlier this week we leveled the crticism at the Ephs that they have played two lower caliber teams (Bowdoin and Colby) in the first two weeks, and so therfore their fast start is slightly exaggerated. But as several enterprising readers pointed out, that is unfair for two reasons. Firstly, Williams was supposed to BE one of those teams, so beating them handily is still impressive. And secondly, Trinity has also played weak teams thus far. This is not to say that Trinity isn’t as good as they look, but rather that Williams is as good as they appear. They have legitimate weapons in the passing game, thanks largely to a fantastic first year class. QB Bobby Maimeron ‘21 and WR’s Frank Stola ‘21 and Justin Nelson ‘21 have given the Ephs the all important vertical threat in the run-n’-gun NESCAC. But their offense is multidimensional. Senior back Connor Harris ‘18 has been one of the most underrated players so far this season. Harris has 162 yards in two games on 5.6 yards per carry, as well as two touchdowns. Harris is crucial to the WIlliams offense, as he provides a dynamic threat on the ground and opens up play action routes for Maimeron.
And furthermore, despite all of these offensive weapons, Williamsgreatest asset this year has been defensive; their dominant pass rush. Williams has the most sacks in the league, 10, thanks largely to Jameson DeMarco ‘19, who leads the league with 3.5. So to recap, Williams has a good offense and dominant defense that has been untested against upper level teams. Just like Trinity. Hmmm….
Of course, I jest. Trinity will win this game handily. But there will be nothing better for all of thse young Ephs than a test against one of the best teams NESCAC has seen this decade. Williams is playing for next year, and it’s serving them very well this year. Watch out for the Ephs, not in this game, but down the line.
I may have hopped on the Hamilton football bandwagon a little too quickly, and now we find ourselves in a familiar NESCAC football picture. While each team looks to have settled in to a more classic position early on in the standings, it’s hard not to lament at what could have been if there were some upsets in week two. What we see now is Trinity’s continuing reign, with Middlebury, Amherst, and Tufts hot on the Bantams’ feathers. While Williams is 2-0 after an 0-8 season in 2016, they still have much to prove to be included in the title hunt. With week three around the corner, here is where each squad stands:
Two games and two dominant results. The Bantam defense is unstoppable at the moment, not allowing points heading into October. After a 31-0 mark at the end of the first quarter, they cruised to victory as Sonny Puzzo ’18, Max Chipouras ’18, and Dominique Seagers ’18 had huge days. Seagers had a pick-six and a tackle for a loss. Even their special teams were perfect as kicker Eric Sachse ’19 made his only field goal attempt and John Spears returned a punt 51 yards to the Bates 16 yard line, leading to a Chipouras TD. An 11 game win streak, 86-0 aggregate season score, and all three prongs of the game in full force lead to a sure fire top ranking here.
Middlebury stands out on offense right now. QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 is off looking for more TD records as he found the end zone four more times in week two, finding four different receivers in the process. Breakout WR Maxim Bockman ’20, Conrado Banky ’19, Max Rye ’20, and Jimmy Connell ’21 all had reason to celebrate, while Tanner Contois ’18 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 also had solid days. Their receiving depth is noteworthy, and although Diego Meritus ’19 was still out, he should be coming back soon. In his stead, Senior Matt Cardew ’18 shined in his biggest college game, running for 74 yards and a TD, looking like a solid option out of the backfield. They have an easy game against Colby in week three at home, and if Meritus is back it would be a good time to ease him into action and see what he can do alongside Cardew.
Reece Foy ’18 is back after missing all of 2016. That’s big news for Mammoth fans as he brought a win along with him. While Amherst eased him in to action, he still ran for a TD in the first quarter and backup Ollie Eberth ’21 looked fine for most of the game. Jack Hickey ’19 led the way with two scored and 122 yards rushing, while Elijah Ngbokoli ’20 had a breakout game with a TD run of 39 yards in the third quarter. The defense also forced four turnovers against a Hamilton team that looked to be an up and coming threat. While the Mammoths certainly sent the Continentals back to earth, they looked clean and ready to take on the tougher teams in the process. Look for them to roll over Bowdoin.
Nearly identically to last year, Wesleyan shrugged off their opening game loss against a tough team to beat another one in week two. They are here to stay, and although they have a tally in the loss column, they could make a run at the title just like they did until the final week of last season. Their OT win against Tufts saved their season and will be a great stepping stone after a defensively oriented game. Mark Piccirillo ’18 looked good passing but lost two fumbles, and the running game was weak, however, Ben Thaw ’20 and Shane Kaminski ’18 saved the day by each intercepting passes from Ryan McDonald. If Dario Highsmith ’20 can rebound against hamilton after rushing for just ten yards, then Wesleyan will be in good shape.
Wesleyan avenged their 2016 week one loss to the Jumbos with an OT victory last week, dashing Tufts’ hopes of a perfect season. It’s really nice to think that the Jumbos aren’t totally out of the championship picture with the addition of the ninth game providing more hope, but it will be a tough road. After exiting the opening game against Hamilton early, Ryan McDonald ’20 returned but didn’t look good in the air, throwing two picks and zero TDs. He looked great on the ground though, running for over seven yards per carry and 122 yards total, including a TD. Tufts didn’t muster much offense other than his rushing though as if it weren’t for an 85 yard punt return from Jack Dolan ’20, they would’ve been routed in regular time. If Ryan Hagfeldt can return for week three, he might see some pocket action against Bates as the Jumbos should easily rout the Bobcats on their way to a 2-1 start.
2-0! A perfect start for a team that had a perfectly bad season in 2016. Is this the story of 2017 NESCAC football? Don’t get too excited too fast as the Ephs have yet to play a team from the top half of the division. They have some great pieces that they are rolling out as new QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WRs Frank Stola ’21 and Justin Nelson are running the show. They were down 7-0 and then up just 10-7 at half against Colby, but turned up the heat in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 24 unanswered points. Their first real test will be this weekend at Trinity, and if they can pull off this upset I will be shocked. If they put up a close game then they should still be considered the real deal. Let the Coop bring its worst, the Ephs are warmed up.
Well, I will admit defeat with this one. I wanted so badly to see a Cinderella story with the Continentals in 2017, but am realizing how that train has already left the station. Hamilton came off a hard fought loss against Tufts and just got abused by Amherst. Ball security was an issue as two RBs and a WR fumbled, leaving the Continentals with a poor red zone execution rate. Gray also threw a pick and with those four turnovers, they never had a shot. Granted these aspects of the game are correctable as Gray looked solid, and so did lead receiver Christian Donahue ’20, but they still couldn’t gain any traction on the ground. Their rush defense was also pitiful, and against other top teams like Trinity and Wesleyan with good backs, they will continue to watch their deficits shoot up.
Bowdoin didn’t look great against Middlebury, particularly their defense, and only scored garbage time TDs. They did score twice though, putting them ahead of Colby and Bates in the rankings. This was an important game though as it was the first start for Griff Stalcup ’21 who took over for Noah Nelson ’18 (as predicted). Stalcup struggled some, completing just 12 passes for 105 yards, but ran the ball well, rushing ten times for 54 yards and a TD. If he keeps developing he could be an exciting dual threat player for the Polar Bears, although I will keep in mind it was against the Panthers’ reserves. Lebowitz had all day to throw for Middlebury, as he was sacked just once, and if they can’t pressure the QB, the opposition if going to keep having a field day against Bowdoin.
The Mules move up in the rankings by virtue of getting on the scoreboard in week two, but are only marginally higher than Bates. Sure they only lost by 17 (is that even a bright side?), but getting dominated by Williams, regardless of how good they might be, is not a good result. QB Jack O’Brien had an OK day, not throwing a pick, completing over 50% of his passes, and finding the end zone, but he also fumbled and failed to keep his team in the game. Jake Schwern had a solid day on the ground with 71 yards rushing, and the positives stop with him. The Mule defense sacked Williams’ QB Maimaron just twice and recorded five tackles for losses compared to 12 from the Ephs, pointing to line troubles on both sides of the ball. This was probably a game that was circled on the Colby schedule as a victory before the season and is going to hurt for a while.
There are four 0-2 teams and one of them had to bite the bullet. Bates is last on these rankings due to lack of a point scored in week two. Their offensive struggles of week one worsened and that is a big issue for a team that looked to be on the rise a season ago. As I predicted, QB Sandy Plashkes’ (’18) lack of production led to Matt Golden taking over, although with limited success. Plashkes’ completions to the Bobcats matched his completions to the Bantams (one each) and the Bates QBs threw for just 45 yards combined. They stayed true to their system of a run oriented offense, but besides Kyle Flaherty (seven rushes, 43 yards) no player with over two attempts averaged more than three yards per carry. If Bates’ defense continues to struggle, then running the ball in such a high volume without a dynamic back won’t lead to many comebacks. On the bright side, Justin Foley netted 247 total yards on punts.
DT: Grant Williams ‘19 DT: Bobby Nevin ‘19 DE: TBD
Projected Starters: Special Teams (*Returning)
KR: Eric Meyreles ‘18*
PR: Eric Meyreles ‘18*
Wesleyan finished last season at 6-2, very much in the mix as one of the top teams in the league. They did it with a dynamic, powerful defense that was complemented by a run based offense that very rarely turned the ball over. This is usually a pretty solid and sustainable formula for success. However, the Cardinals lost a lot of the pieces that made that formula work in the offseason. They are that rare team that could go either way this season. They could rely on their depth and have young players step up to help them make the leap to the true top tier, or they could fall to the middle of the pack.
On offense, most of their losses affect that crucial running game. Lead back Lou Stevens is gone, as is, of course, versatile threat Devin Carrillo. Carrillo’s loss particularly stings,as he was a factor in every part of Wesleyan’s offense. He had 12 rushing touchdowns, and was also their leading receiver. To replace that kind of production, senior QB Mark Piccarillo will have to become elite. He is close to that level already, accounting for 15 total touchdowns last season, but without Stevens and Carillo to fall back on he will be asked to make more difficult throws and to run the ball with more authority. Luckily for the Cardinals, they are still very deep at receiver, with Eric Meyreles ‘18 and Mike Breuler ‘18 forming one of the better duos in the league.
Defensively, they lost two of their standouts in DT Jordan Stone and DB Justin Sanchez. They were both all-league level players, but more than that they, along with Coach DiCenzo and his staff, were responsible for forming the tough as nails defensive identity for which Wesleyan has become known. Luckily, that identity has seeped into the pores of the other players. LB Shayne Kaminski ‘18 is more than ready to take over that leadership mantle, and Wesleyan boasts a trio of junior DT’s that stop opposing rushing attacks where they stand. Defense has never been a worry for the Cardinals, and it won’t be this year.
Depth is what the Cardinals hope will keep them afloat despite all these losses, and that leads to position battles. There are two major ones that we’re keeping an eye on. On offense, tight end is up in the air. Senior Jake Cronin ‘18 would appear to have an inside track due to his experience, but freshman Patterson ‘21 adds a receiving dimension to their offense. And on defense, that final LB spot is still open, although sophomore Will Kearney ‘20 has made an impressive push in camp and might be set as the starter. Wesleyan lost a great deal, but they also keep a great deal and look poised to make a leap.
Offensive MVP: WR Eric Meyreles ‘18
One of the strengths of Wesleyan’s offense is their versatility. Last season they used Devin Carrillo ‘17 as a weapon from pretty much everywhere on the field. Carrillo had 12 rushing touchdowns, as well as 29 receptions as a receiver. His departure leaves them with a hole in that receiver hybrid spot that is so popular in today’s game. Meyreles is the logical choice to fill that void. He was their third-leading receiver last year with 21 receptions, and also uses his speed to be one of the most dangerous return men in the league. Wesleyan could well give some of Carillo’s rushing sets to Meyreles, making him an even more versatile threat.
Defensive MVP: LB Shayne Kaminski ‘18
This choice is pretty straightforward. Kaminski was one of the best linebackers in the league last year as a junior, putting up 61 tackles and four sacks. Wesleyan as a team was one of the best defenses in the country, ranking towards the top in yards allowed for most of the season.Clearly, defense is Wesleyan’s identity. Unfortunately for them, they lost elite defensive back Justin Sanchez. This leaves a void at a leadership position for that elite defense, a void that Kaminski is more than ready to fill. Look for him at the end of the season as First Team and DPOY candidate.
Player to Watch: RB Dario Highsmith ‘20
Wesleyan has long relied on a strong rushing attack to complement their stellar defense. Last season they averaged nearly 180 yards per game on the ground, and scored 21 rushing touchdowns. However, between Carillo and fellow graduated senior back Lou Stevens, the Cardinals have lost a large chunk of those yards and touchdowns. Enter Dario. Highsmith put up an impressive first year last season, fitting in seamlessly to Wesleyan’s vaunted rushing attack, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and, most importantly, not fumbling once all season. Highsmith is poised to combine with Piccarillo, an excellent threat to run from the QB spot, to form a dynamic duo out of the backfield.
Biggest Game: @Trinity, November 11th
Wesleyan has their sights set on the top this season, and on paper they certainly have the talent to get their. Of course, the games aren’t played on paper, but say for the sake of this section of the preview that they and the Bantams run the table leading up to this match-up. Imagine iow exciting that game would be. Even if that hypothetical doesn’t come true, this game could very well serve as a de facto NESCAC championship. And aside from that, it’s a classic offense versus defense matchup, and those are always fun.
Week Six is here, and it is shaping up to be a doozy. In a largely predictable NESCAC season, three top tier teams have their day of reckoning this Saturday. Middlebury and Trinity square off in the league championship (barring some wild results in Weeks Seven and Eight), and Amherst faces Tufts in an effort to make 2016 not a total lost cause of a season. There is also an intriguing matchup at the bottom of the league, as Williams and Hamilton battle for the right to stay out of the cellar. There is only one probable blowout this weekend, as Wesleyan will most likely take Bowdoin behind the dumpster like Joe Biden would Trump if given the chance. The stresses of being an editor have finally gotten to Rory and he’s laid up in the health center, so cut him some slack when his analysis is inevitably wrong; he took care of the Tufts-Amherst, Bowdoin-Wesleyan, and Williams-Hamilton games this week, while I wrote up on Middlebury-Trinity and Colby-Bates. We’ve got you covered with the preview of a potentially thrilling weekend down below, as well as our score predictions.
Here are the standings as they are now (keep in mind that Rory compiles all the predictions, so can these numbers even be trusted?)
Colby tackled this one in depth in the Game of the Week blog that went up this morning, but this would be a difficult one for us to overcover. This game represents as close as we can get to a NESCAC Super Bowl. Both teams enter the game undefeated, and have shown themselves this season to be the class of the league. Middlebury and Trinity both pride themselves on their offenses, as they are 1 and 2 in the league in total yards. They are both led by stellar quarterbacks in Jared Lebowitz ‘18 and infamous Chicago “sanitation specialist” Sunny Puzzo ‘18. Trinity may have the edge in the running game, as Max Chipouras ‘19 gives them a deadly ground attack to compliment Puzzo’s passing abilities. Middlebury will need to put up a considerably better defensive performance than they have in the last couple weeks in order to clinch (for all intents and purposes) the league title. And if the Panthers are reading, I’d like to point out to them that only Colby and I (the two Middlebury writers) have picked them to win. Put it on the bulletin board, boys!
Rory: Middlebury 31, Trinity 38
Pete: Middlebury 31, Trinity 28
Liam: Middlebury 18, Trinity 27
Colin: Middlebury 17, Trinity 20
Colby: Middlebury 30, Trinity 28
Sid: Middlebury 26, Trinity 28
Nick: Middlebury 14, Trinity 20
Editor’s Note: I truly apologize for Pete’s 50th joke in a row about Sonny Puzzo’s name being reminiscent of some sort of Chicago racketeer/Godfather character/1970’s gangster. If you’re reading this Sonny, I’m sure it would mean the world to Pete if you could autograph a ball and have one of the Middlebury players deliver it to him when they get back to school.
Colby (2-3) @ Bates (1-4), 1:00 PM, Lewiston, Maine
Call this one “The Battle for the Middle.” Or call it “The Battle for Maine.” But DO NOT call me about it during the Middlebury-Trinity game. Bates and Colby have been going back and forth all year as the top of the lower tier of NESCAC teams, which is not exactly a sexy war to be waging, but it is a war nonetheless. It’s like if Macbeth was fighting Macduff for the right to be a duke rather than King. Both have at times looked ready to make a large step forward, and both teams have at times disappointed. Bates’ inconsistent season can be summed up by quarterback Sandy Plaschkes (it’s 2016 and we have starting NESCAC quarterbacks named Sandy and Sonny. What a world.) He has made some very exciting plays, and shown an ability to improvise and keep plays alive with his feet that few QB’s have. However, he has been far too inconsistent with his accuracy this season. Colby has two wins this season, and has a real chance to finish .500 or better, which would be a huge victory for the program. This will be a hard fought game, but I don’t think many people win tune away from Middlebury-Trinity to catch it.
This is a must-win game for both schools. Tufts is still in the title hunt technically, but more importantly, they are trying to prove that they know how to beat a top team on the road, a skill they have yet to demonstrate since their resurgence in the past couple years. The squad on the other side of the field is on a slippery slope right now, and though it’s weird for me to write this having grown up in Amherst, the ex-LJs have not yet beat a top half team this season (maybe they need to decide on a new mascot ASAP). So what are we going to see on Saturday? Per usual, I expect a run-heavy attack from the Jumbos, but Amherst has eaten run-first teams for breakfast this year. I know Tufts has Chance Brady, who is fresh off a 165 yard/4 TD week that earned him the honor of receiving the Gold Helmet Award from the New England Writers Association, but Amherst is allowing just 25.2 YPG on the ground – through five weeks of action, that’s a pretty ridiculous stat. When possession changes, I expect Amherst to attack more through the air than on the ground, and as long as Nick Morales takes care of the ball, the Purple and White should have pretty decent success, much like Trinity did against the Jumbos. A potential curveball this weekend is that it snowed in Amherst yesterday. Will the turf be clear by Saturday? Likely. But you never know what’s going to happen in Western Mass, and if there is a light layer of snow on Pratt Field the offenses could be slow moving on Saturday.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news for the Polar Bears, but this game has blowout written all over it. Wesleyan just notched their biggest win of the season against Amherst last week, and in doing so, they have maintained a spot in line to board the champion-ship. Meanwhile, Bowdoin has yet to win, and to date, their best opportunity to do so was just two weeks ago against Hamilton, when they lost on a last minute score by the Continentals. Other than that, Bowdoin has faced a string of bludgeonings, resulting in a league-worst 35.2 OPPG. Compare that to Wesleyan’s league-best 7.2 OPPG and you understand why I say this is an uphill battle for the Polar Bears, especially on the road. Wesleyan has thrived on their home turf, allowing a total of just 6 points in two home games. The Cardinals are led by Devon Carrillo, who has posted 7 rushing touchdowns on the year, and Mark Piccirillo, who ranks first on the team in both passing and rushing yards. Throw in some other big names on Wesleyan’s offense such as Lou Stevens, Dario Highsmith, and Mike Breuler and I frankly just don’t see any way that Bowdoin can slow down this multi-faceted attack.
Rory: Bowdoin 6, Wesleyan 38
Pete: Bowdoin 0, Wesleyan 27
Liam: Bowdoin 7, Wesleyan 34
Colin: Bowdoin 6, Wesleyan 37
Colby: Bowdoin 10, Wesleyan 35
Sid: Bowdoin 0, Wesleyan 38
Nick: Bowdoin 14, Wesleyan 25
Williams (0-5) @ Hamilton (1-4), 1:20 PM, Clinton, New York
This will be a very intriguing matchup in Clinton, NY. A win for the Ephs would be a huge confidence boost as they head into their final two games against Wesleyan and Amherst – in other words, this is the last game in which Williams isn’t a heavy underdog. Hamilton has quite the stake in this game as well, and they are still hoping to put together at least a three win season here with their remaining opponents being Williams, Middlebury, and Bates. For these reasons, I expect another intense tilt out of these two squads, similar to Williams’ opener against Colby or Hamilton’s Week 4 win over Bates, both of which ended in “2-minute drill” winning drives. Though the Ephs lost to Tufts last weekend, they were able to run for 227 yards, primarily through a two-pronged attack of Noah Sorrento and Connor Harris. This should be an encouraging sign for Coach Raymond as his squad faces off with the Continentals, who have a pretty comparable run defense to Tufts statistically. Meanwhile, Hamilton definitely boasts more of a passing attack than a running game, so they are likely to air it out, especially considering the recent success of freshman quarterback Kenny Gray in the past couple weeks. This one could be a fight ‘til the end between two pretty evenly matched football teams.