After a week of rather dull and predictable results, its refreshing to see this game set on the schedule as one of the remaining undefeated teams will fall. Two 3-0 records will enter and one will exit the weekend with a blemish, however, each will likely have different starting lineups at the end of the season. Both the Panthers and Mammoths lack totally healthy rosters like most teams at this point in the college football season, but they both miss key players. Coming off of easy wins for both teams, this will be Middlebury’s first real test since week one against Wesleyan and Amherst’s first test of the season.
Middlebury X-Factor: WR Jimmy Martinez ’19
Martinez is not just another one of the many pieces that QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 has to choose from, he is also the best return man in the NESCAC. With two special teams TDs already, he is a hidden gem and potential game changer in an area that Amherst hasn’t seen much talent this season. With 11 receptions this season, his is six shy from his career total, all accumulated last season. He is averaging 51.7 yards per game in the air, including a score, and isn’t tasked with increasing his volume of catches due to the deep nature of the Midd receivers. The sky is the limit for Martinez as his unmatched speed as an All-American in the 400 meter dash gives him a big edge on both punts and kickoffs. He has only had one punt return thus far but took it to the house against Colby and is also averaging over 40 yards per return on kickoffs. He could be the one thing that Amherst won’t be able to match on Saturday and if he scores on a kick then it could be the turning point of the game.
Amherst X-Factor: Secondary
The Amherst secondary will have its hands full on Saturday as all of Middlebury’s offense will be geared towards an air assault. With youngster Charlie Ferguson ’20 and injured Diego Meritus ’19 the two tailbacks for the Panthers, they likely will stick to their specialties; namely, Jared Lebowitz and his army of young receivers. Since Lebowitz has had his way with defenses thus far, the key to stopping them will be in the hands of the Amherst secondary. John Ballard ‘20, Zach Allen ‘19, and Matt Durborow ’21 will need to be on their A game to subdue the Middlebury offense as this game is likely headed to high scores on both sides. So far, Ballard is the only one with a pick of the three, but Nate Tyrell ’19 and John Rak ’19 should also be able to help out against the Midd receivers. The secondary should have a more significant role than the linebackers as Lebowitz has deep threats as targets in Banky and Martinez. Should they be able to keep Lebowitz to under three passing TDs they should be able to score enough to overcome the visiting squad.
Going to Amherst and taking on the Mammoths is a daunting task for Middlebury, but nobody is hotter than them right now. They have a win against a solid opponent already and have coasted to wins the past two weeks, not rushing Meritus back into action, and holding off on playing those with nagging injuries. Amherst, on the other hand, hasn’t seen any real challenges and have more uncertainty heading into week four. Reece Foy has been getting eased back into action for Amherst in his return from injury, and while Ollie Eberth is playing solid football in his stead, he is no POY candidate. For the Panthers, WR Maxim Bochman ’20 was a late scratch with a hamstring pull, RB Diego Meritus ‘19, the 2016 starter, is yet to play in 2017 but is eyeing a return this week, and Matt Cardew ’17 sprained his MCL against Bowdoin. Luckily for Midd, Charlie Ferguson ’21 has performed well in his extensive action lately and could share the workload with Meritus as he is eased back into action.
Regardless of who plays tailback for the Panthers, Amherst will have the edge on the ground as Jack Hickey has been off to the races so far this season. Especially interesting will be seeing how Ollie Eberth ’20 plays against a solid Midd defense and if Foy increases his work load from the last two weeks. Not to be forgotten also are Amherst’s stand out receivers James O’Reagan ’20, Bo Berluti ’19, and Craig Carmelani ’18. Berluti is off to a slow start but has talent and could have a breakout game, especially if his familiar signal caller Foy gets more snaps this week. Due to Hickey’s 8.4 yards per carry, Berluti hasn’t been needed nearly as much and neither has a significant aerial attack in the first three weeks. Essentially, Amherst has been playing with their eyes closed up to this point. It was a nice warm up for them, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for this game. A home game against a team with a number of injuries is a great time to play their first tough competition. If Foy was back to 100%, I would probably take Amherst just due to their depth in all aspects of the game, but Middlebury’s big play ability gives them an edge and they won’t need to run the ball if Lebowitz turns it on. Each team has their own advantages heading into this game, but with a stronger leader under center in what looks to be a shoot out, Midd has a slight edge.
Not a whole lot has changed from last week other than the fact that Williams is no longer undefeated. With that said though, they proved that they are significantly ahead of any sort of rebuilding designation and that they are above the bottom half of the league no question. Their strong defensive effort against the Bantams, including a shut down of Max Chipouras really showed the rest of the NESCAC that they are ready to make the leap to the next step. What we saw in the other four games did not surprise anybody, and at this point Hamilton has all but rejoined the bottom tier of the league after their exciting week one game. Not much has changed, but here’s where they stand:
I thought about moving the Bantams down, but they have still only allowed nine points all season and that is not enough of a negative to knock them off of their pedestal. Max Chipouras’ 2.9 yards per carry are a slight cause of concern heading into what’s basically an assured win against Hamilton. My concern is that now he is no longer the NESCAC God of Running. He had a bad game, but still scored a TD and his team can likely win on Saturday with a blindfold on. Until they face a better team, it will be hard to tell exactly how unbelievable this team is, but for now they are ready to roll to 4-0.
Middlebury is coming off their second straight win against a sub-par opponent and looks ready to take on Amherst. While they lack a significant running game at this point, young Charlie Ferguson ’21 is averaging nearly 7 yards per carry in his 15 touches this season. While it is a limited sample size, he has filled in nicely the past two games in low pressure situations while Diego Meritus rehabs on his way back to the field. If Meritus comes back strongly, then Midd will be firing on all cylinders.
Amherst is in a virtual tie with Midd for the second spot on these rankings, but due to their schedule weakness up to this point they are slightly below. They will face their first tough competition this weekend against the Panthers but with Jack Hickey, an array of solid receivers and a middle-tier NESCAC QB in Ollie Eberth, they don’t have much to worry about in terms of overall position. Kicker John Rak had an uncharacteristically unsuccessful performance by missing three field goals, and he needs to flip the switch for this Saturday because it will be the first time there is any pressure on him all season. Their game against Midd will likely come down to the wire and he needs to be ready to boot it through the uprights from deep, maybe even over 50 yards like last year. There are no major concerns with this team right now, but unless they show some more prowess this weekend, they might not be quite as elite as Midd and Trinity.
By virtue of their opening week loss, this is where the Cardinals sit in the rankings, although they have had a tough schedule up to this point. They knocked off Tufts in OT which was a great sign for their ability to beat the top teams in the conference, and they have what should be two easy wins coming up. They shouldn’t have any issue with Colby or Bates and will be heading into a week six matchup against Amherst with a 4-1 record barring an impossible upset. While QB Mark Piccirillo has been finding the end zone just fine, there is a concern with his high turnover numbers as he has already tossed five picks in three games. They showed that Hamilton is indeed a weaker opponent with a blowout win and their defense has been strong thus far. Their one concern would be the rush D which allowed over 200 yards on the ground two weeks ago. They should sit pretty in this spot, and maybe move up to #3 depending on the outcome of the Midd/Amherst game.
Tufts only cruised to their win against Bates after the first half, showing weaknesses in their defense by allowing the poor Bobcat offense to score 17 points. Their holes were in the rush defense, and it was the starters who showed the weakness. Bates scored all of their points in the first half, and this game was never totally out of hand. The Jumbos have allowed more rush yards than any of the teams above them in these rankings. Also with only four turnovers on defense, they lack the stoppage power that Trinity and Amherst have while also seeing their run game disappear from last year. Ryan McDonald looked great last weekend though and the duel threat QB is carrying the Jumbos up to this point. They should have an easy time against Bowdoin this weekend, heading into their daunting week five matchup against Trinity.
They are close to passing Tufts on these rankings with their strong defensive performance against Trinity. Their only fault so far is that they don’t have a win against a top tier team, and while Tufts doesn’t either, they still took Wesleyan to OT. Allowing the aforementioned 2.9 yards per carry to Chipouras and just 163 yards passing to Sonny Puzzo, they look capable of quieting any offense. Bobby Maimaron ’21 showed weakness for the first time this season, but did so against the league’s best defense in the Bantams. As an added bonus they have possibly the best athlete in the NESCAC in Adam Regensburg ’18 who played WR, DB, and was an unreal punter last weekend. Oh yeah, he starts on the baseball team too. Look for them to handily beat Bates.
Ok so now it’s been three weeks, and other than one close game, Hamilton has looked pretty bad. So why are they sitting at 7th on the rankings and not lower? Well, first of all, they are the only team at this point that has shown any possibility of beating or competing with one of the top teams, and they also have only faced the upper echelon of the NESCAC. Kenny Gray has looked servicable thus far, but without a strong running game, they lack the tools for offensive sustainability in competition with the top dawgs. Their defensive line also has some work to do as they sacked Piccirillo just one time last weekend, allowing him ample time in the pocket. On the bright side, Bryce Phillips and Justin Leigh both had INTs giving me just enough hope that they can beat the bottom teams in the conference. They won’t beat Trinity, but after this week, they will have ended their streak of a brutal strength of schedule.
Well at this point you can pretty much chalk Bowdoin’s predicted game outcomes to a score of about 30-40 points allowed and 14 points scored. They have only faced winning teams thus far and could have success against Bates, Colby, and Hamilton, but still need to show some hope for preventing huge scores on defense. Griff Stalcup ’21 looks to be the QB of the future for the Polar Bears as he took over the starting job and played decently in his second start of the year, making great strides from the first one. He was able to find the end zone for the first time in his passing career, racking up TDs thrown to Bryan Porter and Nick Vallas, the strongest Bowdoin offensive pieces. Like Hamilton, they lacked much presence on their D-line and gave Ollie Eberth plenty of time in the pocket. With another tough contest coming up against Tufts, they probably won’t find the win column this weekend.
The Bobcat offense looked much improved against Tufts, actually staying in the game until well into the fourth quarter. With new QB Brendan Costa under center, effectively benching Sandy Plashkes, the Bobcats had a bit more life. Costa showed similarly to Plashkes in ’16 that he can run it a little bit, finding the end zone and accumulating 97 yards on just 16 carries. Granted, one of those was a 70 yard run, proving his other 15 carries non-impactful, but that big play speed is just what Bates needs. Bates matched Tufts with four tackles for losses, but their secondary appeared continually weak by allowing four TD passes to McDonald. Bates should hope Costa keeps improving as his long TD run is basically their lone bright spot up to this point in the season. Look for them to compete initially but fall true to their lack of scoring against Williams.
Bates and Colby are kind of rotating in and out of this last spot by virtue of which team played a worse game the week before. The Mules looked bad against Middlebury last weekend. With just 112 yards passing and 179 yards of total offense, they never stood a chance. Here was the positive: They actually won the first quarter. From then on it was bad news. They were outscored 33-0 the rest of the game, and couldn’t even make their extra point. Don Vivian added a pick on Lebowitz too putting Colby at third place on total turnovers so far. They should compete against Bowdoin and Bates, and just maybe Hamilton, but that’s about it.
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.
Admittedly this is kind of a Chris Broussard take, but there may be no player in the league more important to their team than Lebowitz is to the Panthers. The entire Middlebury offense is designed around his ability to throw darts all over the field. The rest of the league has caught to them, but Middlebury is still the leader in no-huddle throughout the league. That can’t happen without Lebowitz. However, he “only” competed 57% of his passes last year, and threw 12 interceptions in eight games. Of course, he also threw 29 touchdowns, so these complaints are nitpicking to a certain extent. But for Middlebury to really compete with Trinity (and most likely Amherst this year,) Lebowitz will have to bring his game up still another notch. And the graduation of receivers James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, as well as several key offensive linemen, will make his job harder than ever.
Defensive MVP: LB John Jackson ‘18
Middlebury has lost a lot of talent in a lot of places this off-season, and linebacker is certainly one of them. This is almost entirely due to Addison Pierce ‘17. Pierce was a terrific linebacker, leading the team in tackles with 62, but his influence on the team was wider than that. He was a leader, and many players on the team, offensive and defensive alike, have mentioned that he will be missed. However, luckily for the Panthers and their fans, John Jackson is still around to pick up the slack. Jackson uses tremendous speed and agility to be a menace in the backfield, picking up 7.5 sacks last season. He’s also effective in coverage, picking up one interception and several deflections. He picked up 41 tackles as well, despite Pierce’s presence. He will certainly get more chances to eat up opposing running backs this season.
Player to Watch: WR Tanner Contois ‘18
The Panther receiving corps was among the best in the league last season, and that was with Contois missing pretty much the entire season with a knee injury. Now that James Burke and Ryan Rizzo graduated, the Panthers are in need of another threat at receiver. Conrado Banky ‘19 might well be the best in the league, but teams are going to double and even triple team him every chance they get. Contois has been very impressive in camp thus far, and looks fully recovered in terms of speed and quickness. If he and lanky deep threat Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can be weapons, teams won’t be able to key in on Banky, and the Panther offense will keep right on rolling.
Key Game: October 28 vs. Trinity
Middlebury lucks out this year and gets to play Trinity at home. As Colby pointed out in his preview, Trinity was the league champion last year and brings back nearly every key contributor, especially on offense. Therefore, they are the odds on favorite to win this season. If Middlebury has any hope of taking the crown, they will need to take care of the Bantams.
As Division Three college football team twitter pages go, this is actually not that bad a joke. Trust me, I’ve looked few a bunch of them.
The Panthers spent much of last season in a three way tie with Tufts and Trinity for the top spot in the league. However, they lost handily to both those teams, and Wesleyan climbed into the mix. By the end of the year it was clear that they were a step away from contending with those powerhouses, and Middlebury ended with a slightly disappointing fourth place finish. Now star quarterback Reece Foy ‘18 has returned to Amherst after missing all of last season with a knee injury, so the Mammoths seem poised to take their spot back in the upper tier. Additionally, the Panthers had one of the largest departing classes in the league, both in numbers and in talent. Middlebury has their work cut out for them if they want to improve on their 6-2 mark from 2016. But they certainly have the talent returning to it.
The Panthers’ biggest losses are definitely on offense. For most of the last decade, Middlebury’s philosophy has been to air it out, and with good reason. Coach Ritter certainly has earned the right to call himself a quarterback guru, with Don Mckillop, McCallum Foote and Matt Milano all earning All-NESCAC nods under him. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 has the talent to be the best one yet, and put up a mostly-stellar season last year. This was due in large part, however, to most talented receiving class in the league. Phenom Conrado Banky ‘19 earned an All-NESCAC First Team nod, James Burke ‘17 landed on the Second Team, and Ryan Rizzo ‘17 offered a dynamic third option and also excelled as a return man. Only Banky remains from that group. Unless young receivers like Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can step up, Middlebury might need to balance their offense more than in years past. Running back Diego Meritus ‘20 showed flashes of excellence last year, and should be ready to explode in his junior year with a heavier workload.
Lebowitz’s job will also be made more difficult by a young offensive line. Senior leaders like Andy Klarman provided needed stability to a unit that struggled at times last season, and there is still uncertainty about who will fill those spots. Lebowitz showed himself to be prone to rushed decisions at times last year, and a shaky offensive line could only exacerbate that problem.
The defense mostly returns, with a few notable exceptions. DB Nate Leedy and LB Addison Pierce provided stability and toughness to a unit that was otherwise very young, and they both graduated. Leadership responsibilities now fall largely on the shoulders of LB John Jackson ‘18, and anyone else who steps up throughout the year. However, for all that leadership Middlebury still gave up 48 points to Tufts and 49 to Trinity. The defense will have to improve a great deal for the Panthers to remain one of the elite NESCAC programs. Middlebury lost a lot in the off-season, but that could give several youngsters a chance to step up. Hopefully they continue their high level of play and Amherst returns to glory, giving us a real five way race at the top of the league.
Middlebury (5-0) at Trinity (5-0), 12:30 PM, Hartford, CT
On Saturday October 29th the Panthers will challenge the Bantams in their house. Who is scarier? Since it is Halloweekend after all, if we look strictly at the mascots, a Panther is much more intimidating than a little chicken, but it is the guys wearing the costumes this weekend that people should fear. These #1 and #2 squads on our power rankings face off in week six, and no matter what you think their respective order should be on that list, they are clearly alone at the top.Midd has fared incredibly well so far this year, topping Amherst and handling their business against the lower tier NESCAC teams, but Trinity hasn’t scored less than 36 points this year. So the real question is, if each team showed up to your front door to trick-or-treat, who’s ‘Boo!’ would frighten you more?
Last Time They Met and What’s On the Line: October 31st, 2015, Middlebury, VT. Trinity defeats Middlebury 26-14
Last year, Middlebury held on to a 14-13 halftime lead, but couldn’t muster any offense in the second half and ultimately let up two 4th quarter TD’s to lose. However, the last one was on a drive with time running out to tie the game when QB Matt Milano ’16 threw a pick-6. It was a great matchup and is sure to be similar this year, although each team has improved greatly from where they were at last year. It’s a little bit too early to tell if this is going to be the quasi NESCAC championship game (another reason why NESCAC football should have playoffs), but this is going to be a top 3 game of the season. While Sid discussed earlier this week how it’s still possible for Wesleyan to win the crown of the conference, he just casually assumed Tufts would roll over Midd, which is bold to say the least. Barring an unthinkable, unpredictable, and unlikely ending to the year, either Trinity or Middlebury will win the NESCAC and this is going to be a huge game in deciding that future.
Trinity X-Factor: DB Spencer Donahue ‘17
This isn’t a bold prediction by any means, as Donahue leads the Bantams with two INT’s, 20 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumbles recovered, and one block. He’s good. He’s great. But can he stop WR Conrado Banky ’19? While he might not cover Banky, he will definitely need to play a big part in containing the speedy wide-out who leads the Panthers with 614 receiving yards and eight TDs. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 is a big time passing QB who has thrown 20 TDs this year, but five of them were to Ryan Rizzo ’17. What does this have to do with Donahue? Well, since Ryan Rizzo is now out for the year with a fractured wrist, Banky becomes the center of the receiving core, and if Donahue can neutralize him, with Trinity’s ruthless offensive attack, Middlebury will have a tough time keeping up.
Middlebury X-Factor: The Linebacker Core’s Big 2
Middlebury averages 35.8 points a game and Trinity averages 37.4 ppg. These teams are going to score this weekend, and that’s why each team’s X-Factor defensive. Addison Pierce ’17 and John Jackson ’18 are the center of the defensive unit and each have a monsterous 40 tackles on the season, and their ability to stop Max Chipouras ’19 and Lucas Golon ’19, averaging 175 collective yards per game on the ground, is going to be a key to limiting the Bantam’s point to under 36 for the first time this year. The senior captain, Pierce, also adds three sacks and one forced fumble and combined with Jackson’s five sacks and two forced fumbles, the Trinity running backs are going to have their hands full. If Sonny Puzzo ’18 is forced to throw because of the rush defense, only allowing 2 yards per carry last week and -0.4 yards per carry against Amherst on week four, then the Panthers would have the comparative advantage on offense.
These two offensive juggernauts lead the league in almost every offensive category and are going to hit each other head-on on Saturday. Middlebury offense gains 429.2 yards per game compared to the league leader Trinity at 482 yards per game, while each squad’s defense ranks fourth and third, respectively, in yards allowed per game.
Trinity definitely had an easier game week one against Bates than Middlebury did last weekend, as the Panthers went down 9-0 before rumbling back to score 28 unanswered points. However, each team has played well against the other Maine schools, and beaten all of the teams they needed to, as expected. The only two really interesting games each has played were Midd vs. Amherst, and Trinity vs. Tufts. Each team clearly came out on top, but Trinity did so much more convincingly than Middlebury. Up until last weekend, Middlebury’s year to date strength of schedule appeared to be higher, but Amherst’s brutal loss to Wesleyan drastically lowered their stock, and therefore the quality of the week three win for Midd. Tufts on the other hand is about just as good as expected and has leapfrogged Amherst in the power rankings, showing that perhaps Trinity’s victory over the Jumbos was much more impressive than the Panthers’ victory over the Purple & White.
Defense hasn’t been Middlebury’s strongest area, as they faltered against Williams during week four, but an underrated key player is Nate Leedy, who had a big interception last weekend against Bates to thwart the early Bobcat threat. His ferocity should continue this weekend. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 should be scared of this senior captain as he will lurk in the secondary, ready to pounce and add on to his season total of 15 tackles and go for his second straight week with a pick. As I mentioned above, Rizzo’s injury is a big hit to the Panther offense, and while they were able to beat Bates without him, the Bobcats’ defense is not exactly the top in the league. Trinity’s secondary is no joke, drawing my comparison to Seattle’s Legion of Boom earlier in the year. Because of this deficit and Trinity’s balanced offense, on paper it appears that they are the favorite. Puzzo has drastically improved his TD:INT ratio from last season, and still only has one pick on the year. Lebowitz is having a better year, but if RB Diego Meritus can’t take some of the load off of the receivers’ backs, I’m uncertain as to whether the air game will be as sustainable for Middlebury this weekend. Having said that, while the current forecast in Hartford predicts sun and 60 degree temperatures, weather changes rapidly because, after all, this is New England. The Panthers are also not going to go down easily as Wesleyan is creeping behind these top two teams in the standings and none wants to play second fiddle to the undefeated team. Middlebury wants this game, Trinity wants this game, and there is only one King Sized Kit-Kat bar left at the bottom of the candy bin. Who will take it?
Week Four saw another undefeated team fall, as Trinity placed themselves squarely at the top of the league with a 36-28 win over Tufts. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicates, however, as Trinity dominated the first half and then sat back in the second half. The top tier of NESCAC is even clearer than it was at the beginning of the week, with Trinity relegating Tufts to “best of the rest” status.
In the rest of the league, Middlebury got a scare from the suddenly energized Ephs, only leading 28-23 at the end of the third before dominating the fourth to win 49-23. Amherst took out their frustration on Colby 41-0, Hamilton topped Bowdoin in a good one 26-25, and Wesleyan topped Bates 28-7. At first glance this was not a thrilling week here in the CAC, but there were some interesting performances and developments to look at here in the Stock Report.
Running Back Diego Meritus ‘19
The Panther back had already been having a nice season as a change of pace option for the rapid fire Middlebury passing attack. But in Williamstown Meritus played like a feature back, adding a previously unseen dimension to the Middlebury offense. He overcame an early fumble to finish with 122 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. The Panthers were able to ride Meritus as Jared Lebowitz ’18 struggled early, an option that will be crucial in Middlebury’s looming matchups with Trinity and Tufts.
The Ephs must have been reading their own press last week when we put them on the “Stock Down” list, because they came out against Middlebury as ready to play as they’ve been all year. They got good pressure on Jared Lebowitz in the first half, forcing him into a red zone interception. For the game he completed barely over 50% of his passes, his most uneven performance of the season. They also showed flashes of a dynamic offense, thanks in large part to the return of sophomore tight end Tyler Patterson, who tore Middlebury apart. He ended up with 176 yards on 7 catches, including a 79-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game. The Panthers outscored Williams 21-0 in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, but Williams showed that 2016 might not be a lost season after all.
Quarterback Kenny Gray
To borrow from Season Four of Friday Night Lights, Hamilton versus Bowdoin was shaping up to be something of a “Toilet Bowl.” However, it was actually a very exciting game, thanks in large part to an electrifying performance from Hamilton QB Kenny Gray ‘20. Gray didn’t start the game, but in the final three quarters he threw for 300 yards and a touchdown, and
added a dramatic, game winning rushing touchdown with 34 seconds left. Hamilton hasn’t had a ton to cheer about in the last few years, but Kenny Gray might have shown a glimpse of a bright future for the Continentals.
Tufts’ Elite Status
With Rory taking a deserved break from Stock Reports this week, we can finally get a less biased perspective on Tufts. Their matchup with Trinity offered the Jumbos a stellar chance to prove themselves as a contender for the NESCAC crown. However, Trinity quickly shut down the Jumbo’s momentum, scoring 27 points in the second quarter en route to a 36-13 lead. Tufts scored twice in the fourth to make it dignified, but there was never a doubt about who was in control. The main culprit for Tufts was quarterback play. Quarterbacks Alex Snyder ’17 and Ryan McDonald ’19 combined to go 9-22 and throw two interceptions, while Trinity QB and Sopranos mobster Sonny Puzzo was 20-30 with two touchdowns. NESCAC is becoming a quarterback’s league, and the Jumbos simply cannot keep up right now.
The NESCAC Playoff System (Or Lack Thereof)
I think we should grandfather this one into every “Stock Down” section from here until ESPN purchases Nothing But NESCAC in 2024. But the lack of a playoff is particularly frustrating in the face of the continued lack of parity in the league. Middlebury, Amherst and Trinity are again clearly the best teams. And that’s okay! In most sports leagues there are teams you can rely on being at the top year in and year out. But in NESCAC, those three teams can be penciled in as the best, and there is no playoff system for them to battle it out in. Maybe I just want to see more NESCAC football because it gives me something to write about that isn’t Marxist Literary Theory, but it seems to me that the league would benefit from having the top teams play more instead of all beating up on the lower teams and ending up tied at the top with the same record.
Amherst’s Losing Streak
We were all hoping for Amherst to fall apart after their first loss a la White Goodman at the end of Dodgeball. But the Artists Formerly Known as the Lord Jeffs came back strong against Colby, owning the Mules like a tribe of desert nomads in a 41-0 romp. Third string QB Nick Morales ’18 looked like he’s trying to keep the job, with over 300 yards passing and three touchdowns, and Amherst was able to rest many starters to gear up for a looming matchup with Trinity on November 5th. The Purple and White aren’t going anywhere, folks.
Welcome NESCAC fans to the season preview for Middlebury football. After a well-earned 10-7 win in a scrimmage over Dartmouth College, the Panthers are heading full tilt into Homecoming Weekend for their first NESCAC game against the Bowdoin Polar Bears on September 24th.
Lets get to it.
Projected Record: 5-3
Projected Offensive Starters: ( *Nine returning)
QB: Jared Lebowitz ‘18*
RB: Diego Meritus ’19*
WR: Ryan Rizzo ‘17*
WR: James Burk ‘17
WR: Tanner Contois ‘18*
TE: Dan Fulham ‘18
LT: Win Homer ’17*
LG: Will Fleming ’17*
C: Chris McGuire ’17*
RG: Alec Auwaeter ’17*
RT: Andy Klarman ‘17*
Projected Defensive Starters: ( *Seven returning)
CB: Matt Daniel ‘19
SS: Kevin Hopsicker ‘18*
FS: Justin Fahey ‘19
CB: Nate Leedy ‘17*
LB: Addison Pierce ‘17*
LB: Aaron Slodowitz ‘18*
LB: Wes Becton IV ‘18*
DL: Henry Castillo ‘17*
DL: Rob Wood ‘18*
DL: Henry Muter ‘18
DL: Roman Trevino ‘19
Projected Specialists: (*Two returning)
PK: Max Rye ’20
P: Charlie Gordon ’19*
KR/PR: Tanner Contois ‘18*/Jimmy Martinez ‘19
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Jared Lebowitz ’18.
The Las Vegas native transferred from UNLV (a Division 1 program), but with stud Matt Milano ‘16 leading the pack, Lebowitz mostly watched from the sidelines. Now, the D1 transfer has a chance to lead this high-powered Middlebury Offense to a NESCAC title. If the Milano and Matt Minno ’16 combo sheds any light on the situation, we can expect Lebowitz to air it out pretty consistently. Can he get the job done?
Offensive Pressure is on: Running Back Diego Meritus ’19.
As a freshman, Meritus had a great campaign, averaging 57 yards and 2 TD’s per game. With Milano and Minno gone, Meritus has to pick up the offensive reigns until Lebowitz proves his pass ability. Fellow players mentioned that Meritus had an outstanding preseason- hopefully that same energy is displayed against the Polar Bears for the season opener.
Defensive MVP: Cornerback Nate Leedy ’17.
Apparently, Leedy has been an absolute force in camp so far, and he is hitting harder and faster than ever before. After averaging a total of 3.4 tackles per game in his junior year, he is clearly hungry for more in 2016. He is a seasoned veteran in the secondary and will make sure to punish those who come into his airspace. It will be exciting to see if opponents are willing to test his defensive abilities. Watch out for that hit stick.
Biggest game: October 8th vs Amherst @ 1:30pm
Last year the Lord Jeffs handed the Panthers a 24-7 loss, but Middlebury will enjoy home field advantage and have a huge appetite for revenge this season. Lebowitz and Meritus are expected to wreak havoc in the air and on the ground, while the defensive units look to level anyone holding that pig skin. Can’t wait for this NESCAC classic.
Who cares the Minno and Milano graduated? Yes, everybody in the NESCAC knows that they were absolute beasts, but a new era is emerging for Middlebury Football. A talented freshman class is pushing the upperclassmen to compete every single day and everyone is pumped.
“Everyone is really excited to be back out here on the field,” said Wes Becton ’18. “There is definitely a sense that we playing with a chip on our shoulder after falling short of last years expectations. Everyone’s mind is in the right place and we are all focused on achieving potential and hopefully bringing home a NESCAC championship.”
Middlebury’s core strength lies within their offensive line, as they only lost Michael Brady from last year. Win Homer ‘17, Will Fleming ‘17, Chris McGuire ‘17, Alec Auwaeter ‘17 and Andy Klarman ‘17 are total animals looking forward to execute their only job: protect the QB. This unit of experienced seniors is hungry to leave it all on the field in their final season.
Behind this line of massive humans, Meritus will take charge of the running game while Drew Jacobs ‘18, who is back from last year’s knee injury, will compete with Matt Cardew ’18 for time behind the sophomore back. And…obviously, all eyes will be on Lebowitz. The Division 1 transfer will finally have a chance to show why the NESCAC should fear his play. Look for Conrado Banky ‘19 to break out as a reliable target for Lebowitz this season alongside the rest of the veteran receiving corps.
Not only is Middlebury’s offense seemingly stronger than last year as Lebowitz looks to fill Milano’s shoes, but the defense is also making more noise than prior years. Henry Castillo ‘17, Rob Wood ‘18, Henry Muter ‘18 and Roman Trevino ‘19 will man the defensive line this year, but if anybody happens to make it through, Addison Pierce ‘17, Aaron Slodowitz ‘18 and Wes Becton ‘18 will be there to flatten them. Nate Leedy ‘17 and Matt Daniel ‘19 will protect the secondary level alongside Kevin Hopsicker ‘18 and Justin Fahey ‘19.
Naturally, after a 5-3 season, the Panthers might be overlooked. But Lebowitz is ready to take over an offense that is pass heavy. Meritus is ready to build off an outstanding freshman season. Captain Nate Leedy is ready to lead this team, and hopes to prove doubters wrong in 2016.
NESCAC football is back, and we will be anxiously waiting to see if the Panthers play to their potential.
Prior to the season beginning, we picked Middlebury as our NESCAC Champions. That turned out to be just a little bit off. However, the Vegas odds also had the Fantasy trophy coming to Middlebury, and on Saturday Joe clinched the title in commanding fashion.
A year ago, Pete Lindholm won the fantasy championship on the strength of a historical performance from one Matt Milano ’16 (I think we’ve probably mentioned him in every fantasy article this season), and this year Milano once again carried a championship squad. My team finished the season 7-1 on a seven-matchup winning streak; all other teams finished 3-5, and not even Carson’s Bantam-heavy lineup could put up a fight in the Championship. It was bitter-sweet for me to watch Alex Snyder ’17 rack up the TDs on Saturday – it resulted in a loss for Middlebury, but really sealed the deal when it came to fantasy.
In the consolation round, Nick continued his slide, but he had a respectable showing. After weeks of 42 and 52 points, his team was good enough to win most matchups this week, but Adam got contributions from everywhere. Bowdoin QB Tim Drakeley ’17 had far and away his best game of the season, so that was a great pickup for Nick, and Middlebury RB Diego Meritus ’19 had one of his best performances, too. In the end, though, Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18 and Bowdoin WR Nick Vailas ’18 outscored every other twosome, and at least ended Adam’s season on a high note for him.
The Lord Jeffs enjoyed (proverbial) champagne showers following their victory over the Bantams. It will likely be their sixth NESCAC title since 2000, sharing the reigns with Trinity on the modern-era All-Time Championships list. There was no better way for the 2016 class to go out on Senior Day than by earning their third consecutive ring. Besides Amherst, the rest of the NESCAC has an opportunity to move up the ladder as the final week is filled with exciting rivalry games dating back to the 1800s. Should be a beautiful week of football, and it will be thrilling to see where teams end up.
1. Amherst Lord Jeffs (7-0; Last Week: 1)
Amherst essentially walked away with their third consecutive NESCAC title Saturday as they took down Trinity. The Lord Jeffs took advantage of Trinity’s mistakes, and that seemed to be the biggest difference between these two teams Saturday. They controlled the second half, running all over the Bantams, with Reece Foy ’18, Kenny Adinkra ’16, Nick Kelly ’17, Jack Hickey ’19, and Jackson McGonagle ’16 all averaging at least 3.6 yards per carry. Amherst SS Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 went out with a bang with two interceptions and a crucial blocked field goal to end the first half. Amherst will wrap up their season against the Ephs in Williamstown, Mass for the Biggest Little Game In America — a game that dates back to 1884, and is the most-played Division-III game in the country.
Trinity Bantams (6-1; Last Week: 2)
Despite analyst Joe MacDonald’s bold prediction of a Bantam victory, Trinity was unable to get it done down the stretch. Amherst did a good job depriving kick and punt returner Darrien Myers ’17 in the forms of pooching and squibbing, which put a lot of pressure on the offense to move the ball up the field. The Trinity faithful felt some home cooking involved between a questionable touchdown catch and the Bantams racking up 12 penalties resulting in 98 yards opposed to Amherst’s three penalties.
Despite edging Amherst’s 247 offensive yards with 314 of their own and possessing the ball for 38 minutes of the game, Trinity had too many blunders. A fatal sideline pass intercepted at the Trinity 37 yardline resulted in Amherst taking the lead and never looking back. Trinity’s Max Chipouras ’19, Sonny Puzzo ’18, and Myers averaged 3.8 yards per rush, but the Amherst running game was even more efficient. Trinity still has life to live as they take on long-time rivals Wesleyan in the homecoming game that will be featured on CPTV Sports.
3. Middlebury (5-2; Last Week: 3)
Middlebury took care of business Saturday against Hamilton, but their stock dropped with such a tight game. They were able to keep their spot at No. 3 for Week 7, but that could change as they take on the Jumbos this weekend.
Middlebury trailed late in the first half, when QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16 connected to even the score pending a QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 two-point conversion rush. Milano threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns with one pick, while Diego Meritus ’19 picked up 75 of the Panthers’ 89 rushing yards. Minno leaped out of the water catching a season-high three touchdowns on six catches for 171 yards. Naples native and CB Nate Leedy ’17 picked off Hamilton’s Cole Freeman ’19 twice. S Kevin Hopsticker ’18 also added an interception and 10 tackles in what was probably his best game as a Panther.
4. Tufts (5-2; Last Week: 5)
Tufts outscored Colby 28-10, and QB Alex Snyder ’17 only passed 13 times for one touchdown caught by WR Mike Miller ’18. Chance Brady ’17 averaged 7.9 yards on 27 attempts scoring two touchdowns. His longest run was 49 yards. Brady also was the Jumbos’ leading receiver, with two catches for 49 yards, en route to being named NESCAC Offensive POTW and the second NESCAC player this season to be dubbed the New England Football Writers’ Gold Helmet winner. Colby was able to move the ball on Tufts, nearly gaining more offensive yards than the Jumbos. Tufts return man Mike Rando ’17 ran one kick back 85 yards for a touchdown, and he took a second one back for 37 yards. The Jumbos’ Zach Thomas ’18 racked up 3.5 sacks. It is tough to say how Tufts will fair with Middlebury next week; I could see either team taking that game. A Tufts upset could stir up rival tensions between the two foes.
5. Wesleyan (5-2; Last Week: 4)
Wesleyan will have a chance to move up the ranks next week when they take on Trinity for the rivalry game that dates back to 1885. The Cardinals took on Williams Saturday in a convincing win. QB Mark Piccirillo ’19 stepped up and completed 11-14 passes with one touchdown for 105 yards, and he continues to show off his accurate arm. It was just the freshman’s second game playing a pivotal role, as Gernald Hawkins ’18 threw just 12 times and only completing six. They will likely continue to keep with their dual quarterback threat to keep the Bantams off balance, so it will be interesting to see how Trinity is able to respond. S Justin Sanchez ’17 picked a ball off and forced a fumble with six tackles. K Ike Fuchs’17 missed a short field goal wide right, and also missed an extra-point that was pushed back five yards due to a penalty, and things have just not been right with the formerly reliable Fuchs. If Wesleyan is going to win next week, they will probably need Fuchs at his best.
6. Hamilton (1-6; Last Week: 8)
The Continentals gave Middlebury a run for their money, something they have done to every team besides Trinity this year. They proved they can hang with the big dogs which has pushed them up to the No. 6 spot, a big jump from where they began the season. Yes, QB Cole Freeman threw four interceptions, but none of them resulted in a Panther score, and it seems like Coach Dave Murray is fine with Freeman taking shots down field as part of his learning process. The Continental defense did a good job containing the run game, keeping Middlebury to 2.6 yards per rush, but Matt Milano’s 14 completions were too deadly. RB LaShawn Ware ’18 played well – especially in the first quarter – picking up 77 yards on 21 carries, and WR Charles Ensley ’17 caught a 78-yard touchdown pass. Hamilton did not lay down easy as they posted a safety in the fourth quarter on Sean Tolton’s ’19 blocked punt. The whole league has been impressed with the Continentals this year, and is excited as it raises the competition. Hamilton has a chance to earn their second win of the season as they take on a rolling Bates.
7. Bates (2-5; Last Week: 6)
CBB Champions. Bates shellacked Bowdoin, shutting them out 31-0, waltzing their way to a killer recruiting tool in the CBB —Bates has won three of the last four CBB Titles. The Bobcats are on the cusp of – in the words of the great Lou Brown – a winning streak.
They have a chance to end on a high note at Hamilton and make up for all those closes losses earlier this year. The Bobcats outplayed Bowdoin last week in all facets, tackling the Polar Bears for a loss five times for 29 yards including three sacks. CB Trevor Lyons ’17 had a pick-six that he took 50 yards all the way back. QB Pat Dugan ’16 put on a show, running and throwing for a touchdown as he piled up 252 of Bates’ total 380 offensive yards. Another big win will vault the Bobcats back over the Continentals in the ranks.
8. Williams (2-5; Last Week: 9)
After a scoreless first 23 minutes, the Ephs let up a 21-yard touchdown pass to Wesleyan’s Eric Meyreles ’18. Williams’ lone touchdown came on a last minute, three-yard pass by Austin Lommen ’16, who threw for 150 yards including an interception. RB Noah Sorrento ’19 got his first crack as the starter and ran for 105 yards on 21 carries, including one for 45 yards. This weekend’s rivalry game will not have as much hype as most years due to the fact that Amherst is a heavy, heavy favorite. Williams moves up from last week, like Colby, more by virtue of the lackluster performance that Bowdoin put on last weekend.
9. Colby (1-6; Last Week: 10)
Colby lost to the better team Saturday when they hosted Tufts. Colby’s QB Gabe Harrington ’17 continued to struggle, throwing two interceptions while completing 53 percent of his passes. RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 got his touches and scored a touchdown on 21 attempts, though only averaging 2.1 yards per carry. John Baron ’18 kicked a 37-yard field goal and an extra point. Despite a crooked score, Colby compiled 320 yards compared to Tufts’ 325.
The consolation game of the CBB will happen this week, and it is a chance for each Colby and Bowdoin to rid themselves of the shame of being part of a one-win program.
10. Bowdoin (1-6; Last Week: 7)
Not to take away from Bates, but that game shouldn’t have gotten out of hand like it did. It was a sad sight to see for Polar Bear fans Saturday as they rushed for negative six yards. Negative six. When they did have the ball in their hands, they fumbled three times, only making it into Bobcat territory four times. The Polar Bears were closest to a score when QB Noah Nelson ’19 threw an interception from the Bates 25-yardline. Bowdoin let Bates run right over them, as they let up 12 rushing first downs. Bowdoin will take on Colby for the runner-up of the CBB this weekend.
This is a week full of intrigue for NESCAC teams and loyal ‘CAC fans alike. There’s something for everyone in Week 6. For the championship hopefuls, two games have major implications. The Game of the Week features Amherst traveling to Tufts and trying to extend the 16-game winning streak. Up in Middlebury, the undefeated Bantams will fight to avoid another late-season slide like the one suffered years ago. For other teams not fighting for a title there is still plenty to play for. Bates and Colby open up CBB play this weekend, always a point of pride for these football programs. Elsewhere in Maine, Wesleyan still has a lot to prove. They’ve played to the level of their competition all season long, and the Cards would like to do some damage against what should be a weaker team in Bowdoin. Bowdoin will also be dealing with a question mark at quarterback, as Tim Drakeley ’17 is expected to be healthy, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll take the reins from impressive first-year Noah Nelson ’19. Hamilton heads to Williamstown for the final game of the weekend. Hamilton is, yet again, trying to get off the schneid and get its first win since 2012. The streak has stretched to 25 games now, and is coming up on the Tufts’ record of 31 straight losses. Meanwhile, the home team might be playing to save the boss’ job. There is widespread discontent over a program that has gone from an 8-0 season in 2010 to 5-3 in 2011, 4-4 in 2012 and 2-6 the past two seasons. It’s hard to say which team needs this win more.
Players to Watch
Middlebury RB Diego Meritus ’19
The Panthers are rushing for 2.1 yards per carry. Not good. It’s not all Meritus’ fault, of course. He’s actually a good runner, and has shown his ability to make guys miss in the screen game. He’s a big body and fast, so it’s surprising that Middlebury hasn’t had more success on the ground. Head Coach Bob Ritter seems committed to the first-year, though, and no one else has gotten significant carries since Week 1. Especially with WR Conrado Banky ’19 out now, the rushing game will take on more importance for Middlebury.
Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18
With the first-year Nelson under QB, Porter needs to play a big role to help out the youngster. Two weeks ago, when Nelson had a phenomenal debut, Porter caught five balls and a touchdown, and last week his one catch was a 37-yard TD. Don’t expect there to be a lot of room downfield for the Bowdoin wideouts, meaning that Nelson is going to have to rely on Porter. It’s going to be huge for Bowdoin to convert on third downs in order to keep the ball out of the Cardinals’ hands. If Wesleyan is able to milk the clock with the running game, this will be over early.
Colby DE Ryan Ruiz ’16
When playing the triple-option, it’s imperative for the defense to keep to its assignments and not fly up field. Therefore, the impetus is on Ruiz, the Mules’ best defensive lineman, to lead the charge. He needs to keep the Bates slot backs from breaking out wide by getting outside leverage on the guy blocking him and allowing his teammates to make plays. If Colby can get a sizeable lead, though, then Ruiz will have a chance to pressure Pat Dugan ’16 and improve on his team-leading 2.5 sacks.
Hamilton RB LaShawn Ware ’18
I could essentially copy and paste the summary for Meritus from above, except that Hamilton Head Coach Dave Murray has shown a willingness to give some carries to Jason Nastovski ’18. Any time a team is having as much trouble running the ball as Middlebury and Hamilton are, a lot of that comes down to offensive line play. Running backs need holes to run through. The problem is exaggerated for Hamilton, though, because they aren’t having much success in the passing game, either. Ware averaged 3.9 yards per carry a year ago with 3/5 of the same offensive line. Things won’t change around for the Conts until Hamilton can get the ground game going.
Five weeks ago, we had no idea what to think about the Wesleyan Cardinals. A year removed from a senior class that brought the program back to relevance and competed for a championship three years in a row – earning a shared title in 2013 – Wesleyan had a plethora of questions coming into 2015. They’ve performed admirably, scaring Middlebury at home in Week 1 and putting up a good fight and outplaying the Lord Jeffs in every aspect but points scored a week ago in Amherst. Now the Cardinals are 3-2 and if they want to even have a minuscule shot at sharing a NESCAC title this year – and they’ll need a lot of help – they can’t lose again. I think this is a case of an inexperienced team coming into its own, and things are just looking up for them.
As for Bowdoin, the 30-20 win two weeks ago over Hamilton and the debut of Nelson gave hope to Polar Bear fans, but it now appears that it was false hope. No first-year should be expected to put up the kind of eye-popping numbers every week that Nelson posted against Hamilton, but without that kind of play Bowdoin doesn’t have enough fire power to topple the Cardinals. Losing their top two running backs has really hurt Bowdoin, which has only 58.4 rushing yards per game this season.
With that in mind, Bowdoin is forced to drop back and throw the football more often than not, which has to have Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 salivating as he wakes up this morning. Stone is one of the most physically-talented defensive players in this league and doesn’t get talked about too much on this blog, but that’s not because of his play, and more so because we just don’t talk about line play a ton. But Stone has 4.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NESCAC with Micah Adickes ’18 of Tufts. Tufts teammate Zach Thomas ’18 leads the NESCAC with 5.5 sacks. Here’s the kicker, though. The Wesleyan defense has faced 150 pass plays. Tufts? 188 pass plays.
With the Cardinals starting to figure things out as a team and still a bevy of concerns for the Polar Bears, it’s going to be a frightful Halloween for Bowdoin.
A year ago this week the championship-hopeful Bantams were stunned in the Coop by Middlebury, breaking a more than decade-old home winning streak of 53 games. That loss sent the Bantams spiraling to three losses to end the year. Once again, these teams meet with Trinity undefeated and Middlebury with an outside shot at a shared title. The ramifications will be large no matter which way the result ends up.
This matchup bodes well for the Bantams. The Middlebury run defense, expected to be stout this season, has bent pretty considerably against some top rushing attacks. The Panthers allowed 5.1 yards per carry to Wesleyan in Week 1 and 3.9 per carry to Amherst in Week 3. They’ve effectively shut down the rushing games of Colby, Williams and Bates, but Trinity’s freshman tailback Max Chipouras ’19 will provide a stiff challenge. What’s more, the Panthers have to be prepared for the dual-threat at QB that Sonny Puzzo ’18 provides.
The key for Middlebury, as always, is to score early and force teams to throw the football – something that they haven’t done particularly well this year. Their halftime scores so far this season: 7-13 at Wesleyan, 21-2 vs. Colby, 7-10 at Amherst, 9-7 vs. Williams and 14-10 at Bates. In all but one game, Middlebury was within four points at halftime. When they’ve started to get the offense rolling in the second half and forced teams to throw, the Panthers defense has responded with some big takeaways and shut down the opposition. That strategy could be particularly effective this week given Puzzo’s recent struggles – he had two picks at Tufts and only completed 10 of 20 passes last week vs. Bowdoin.
Offensively for Middlebury, the rushing attack has been bad, plain and simple. Only once, in the Panthers’ blowout victory over Williams, has the running game been effective. But, frankly, Middlebury has proven that they don’t need to run the ball in order to be successful. It would be nice, but Middlebury makes up for its rushing deficiency with short passes and running back screens. With Banky apparently out for the season with an ankle injury, the impetus now falls on slot-turned wideout Ryan Rizzo ’17, slot receiver Tanner Contois ’18 and All-League player Matt Minno ’16 on the other side to make some big plays in the receiving game for Matt Milano ’16. I think they do just enough to squeak by the Bants.
The CBB is under way, and with both of these teams populating the bottom of the standings, the Maine championship becomes the primary focus. This game turned into a high-scoring OT affair a season ago at Bates, but I don’t see the same thing happening this time around. Though RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has really turned it on for Colby as of late, the offense still ranks last in the ‘CAC with 13.4 points per game. Gabe Harrington ’17 has really struggled with eight interceptions in five games, but he’s also been sacked 10 times and his receivers aren’t exactly running free all over the field. It’s hard to tell who’s to blame on the Colby offense because nothing is going right at the moment, but if they are going to break out – particularly throwing the ball – this could be their chance.
The Bates defense has been only slightly better than Colby, allowing 27.0 points per game, and is last in the league with 305.6 passing yards per game allowed. Wideouts Mark Snyder ’17 and Mbasa Mayikana ’18 are big targets on the Colby offense even if they haven’t been that productive so far, and could be found on a couple of deep balls for big plays.
The Bates offense, as we know, relies on misdirection and the running game. The loss of slotback Shaun Carroll ’16, who had been averaging 5.3 yards per carry, really hurts, but the Bobcats hope to offset that loss with the return of Sean Peterson ’18 to the lineup. His debut a week ago against Middlebury was not very impressive in the running game, but he caught a few passes and was able to show off his athleticism in open space. That he garnered 14 carries despite averaging just a yard per rush shows that he is expected to be a big part of the offense down the stretch. Peterson and crew will need to have a big-time day on the ground in order to get their second win. I think Colby will land the first punch in the CBB battle but hitting on a couple of deep throws and burning clock with Hurdle-Price, and as long as that defensive line stays disciplined the back seven can make enough plays to continue Bates on offense.
Things are not good in Clinton and Williamstown these days. For the Continentals part, there has been a lot of moral victories, including an OT loss against Tufts and two close games with Wesleyan and Colby. The defense has really stood on its head at times despite playing some younguns, and Cole Freeman ’19 stepped into the limelight two weeks ago at QB and would have lead Hamilton to a victory if not for Nelson’s Godly performance for Bowdoin. At the end of the day though, you can’t argue with the scoreboard, and Hamilton is still 0-5. The Ephs, meanwhile, amidst some rumblings of discontent from people around the program (nothing concrete), started off well with two wins sandwiched around a handy and expected beatdown against Trinity. However, the last two weeks have been disastrous for Williams, and with a roadtrip to Wesleyan in Week 7 and a rivalry game with Amherst in Week 8 looming, this might be the Ephs’ last shot at a victory to move to 3-5 and avoid a third straight 2-6 record, something that seems impossible for such a storied program.
Williams has allowed just 198.0 yards per game through the air, but they’ve also been behind for considerable amounts of a few games and have faced Bates, so coincidentally they rank eighth in rushing yards allowed per game. Nevertheless, I think that Williams is better against the pass than the run, which is good when matching up with Hamilton, who hasn’t been able to get a sputtering running attack going whatsoever. LaShawn Ware ’18, a talented runner who showed some potential a season ago, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, and subsequently Jason “Bane” Nastovski, previously cast as a fullback, led the squad with 12 carries last week to Ware’s nine. Combined, the pair had just 62 yards rushing on 21 carries. Clearly, a lot of pressure will be placed on Freeman and his receivers, particularly Charles Ensley ’17, a dynamic playmaker who just needs to get the ball in his hands, and the reliable Pat Donahoe ’16.
So do the Conts finally get the monkey off their back this week, or do the Ephs get mad and pull out a victory? I’m expecting an ugly game, with, as usual, a turnover being the difference. That Williams is at home I think benefits them, and Hamilton has been much worse on the road, losing 29-4 at Trinity and 30-20 at Bowdoin. Williams gets its third win of the season.