Similar to last week, week 3 produced results that continue to show the polarized hierarchy that is NESCAC football. Four teams won via the blowout (Middlebury, Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan), so only one game had any semblance of competition (Trinity toppled Williams 17-9). The abundance of blowouts, however, means that some players put up some eye-popping statistics. Jared Lebowitz ’18 continued his impressive season (28-52, 389 yards, 3 touchdowns), Amherst’s Jack Hickey ’19 rushed 13 times for 118 yards, and Hamilton’s Cole Burchill ’19 racked up 16 total tackles against a prolific Wesleyan offense. This weekend did very little to affect the NESCAC standings, but the Williams-Trinity game was low-key fascinating. Let’s get into some of the emerging storylines.
The ‘Rebounding’ Middlebury Offense
This seems like a storyline as old as time. Earlier this season, we wrote on how the Middlebury receiving corps had a long way to come after graduating 2 perennial studs. In the past two weeks, the Panthers have silenced those doubts in a dramatic fashion. Against Bowdoin last week, junior wideout Conrado Banky ‘19 torched the Polar Bears for 101 yards on 5 receptions, averaging 20.2 yards per catch. Tanner Contois ‘18 also added 3 deep catches that exposed the Bowdoin secondary. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury put up 34 unanswered points, thanks in large part to 6 Panthers hauling in at least 40 receiving yards. This offensive explosion was led by Banky, who tallied 136 yards on 9 receptions, and Jimmy Martinez ’19, who ran back another punt 61 yards for a touchdown, his second of the season already. He has become the most dangerous return man in recent NESCAC memory, and also added three catches for 48 yards. Middlebury has proved that it still has plenty of weapons, and are the most dangerous offense in the league.
Despite the loss on Saturday, the Williams team had a lot of positive takeaways. The Ephs were able to put up 9 points against a daunting Trinity defense that had yet to allow a point in its first two games this season. The offense had 19 first downs, 9 more than what Trinity could muster. The Williams defense was solid too: the only points it let up were the result of turnovers, and a 46-yard field goal by one of the best kickers in NESCAC history. Though this loss was the first blemish on an otherwise perfect start to a season, I believe this game further proves that Williams is on the rise. This game, maybe more so than their two wins, should send a message to future opponents. Look for Williams to take care of business next week against a struggling Bates team.
In the first three weeks of the season, Amherst has silenced all skeptics that have claimed that the Mammoths no longer belongs atop the NESCAC leaderboards. It is unclear what Reece Foy’s ‘18 role will be going forward, as he is returning from a knee injury but playing very few snaps. Regardless, QB Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in nicely, and he lit up Bowdoin for 254 yards on Saturday, That said, Amherst’s three impressive wins have come against the dredges of the NESCAC (Bates, Hamilton, Bowdoin). Amherst will be tested in the next few weeks, and a win next weekend against the formidable Middlebury team will further prove that the Mammoths are still a force to be reckoned with.
The objective of any professional league should be to create competitive balance among its teams, so as to keep all fans engaged and to grow the league’s brand. That being said, it’s a good thing the NESCAC isn’t a professional league. None of the games in week 3 were particularly close, and, as a desperate fan of Bowdoin football, this season has been a struggle. The prevalent storyline this season has been Amherst, Middlebury, and Trinity beating up on the rest of the league, while Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton have fruitlessly tried to get into the win column. As a fan of the sport, it would be nice to see some weekly unpredictability in these games, but that just hasn’t happened yet. It’s been most interesting to follow Williams’s strong start to the season, and to watch some individual players put on showcases week after week. Going forward, though, I hope to see a little less polarization, and a little more parity.
Special Editor’s Stock Down: Trinity’s Undefeated Chances
I know this is one of the needlessly alarmist “hot takes” that has made sports talk shows totally unlistenable (except for Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed.) But I didn’t think I’d get to write anything about Trinity other than “they’re the best” all season, so hear me out. Trinity had nine fewer first downs than Williams that weekend, and couldn’t generate any offense that didn’t come off of turnovers by a jittery, young Eph offense. Williams stuffed the running game, keeping Max Chipouras ’19 to 2.8 yards per carry, and locked up the receivers, keeping Sonny Puzzo ’18 to 163 yards. This says a great deal about Williams’ defense; it may well be the best in the league, and they have a real chance of finishing 6-2 or even 7-1. And of course, the Bantams still won, and used their own elite defense to make huge plays at the right time. But the Ephs laid down a formula to slay Trinity. Stuff the run and force Puzzo to make tough throws to a depleted receiving core (that is Trinity’s greatest weakness, they don’t have an elite weapon in the passing game.) If a team with a more consistent offense (like Middlebury or Wesleyan) can follow this defensive formula, this season could get a lot more interesting.