Jumbos and Ephs: Women’s Soccer Game of the Week

Tufts (7-3-3, 5-1-2) @ Williams (12-0-1, 7-0-1), Williamstown, MA, 8/21, 12:30 PM

With Connecticut College not playing a league game last weekend, Tufts’ 3-0 trouncing of Bates propelled the Jumbos into second place in the conference. Williams, unsurprisingly, remained unbeaten as a result of a 1-0 win against Wesleyan. The last weekend in regular season play is a decisiveness one. A win can give a team all the confidence and momentum in the world. A loss, however, may lead to unwanted questions going into the most crucial time of year. This weekend’s Tufts vs. Williams game will give everyone a taste of what is to come in the next few weeks.

Liz Reed ’21 scored a pair of goals against Bates.

Going into last weekend, the Tufts Jumbos felt confident about themselves; they were playing a faltering Bates team, and was ranked third in the conference. The Jumbos didn’t just beat Bates: they destroyed them. The scoring party began with Liz Reed ‘21, who notched two goals. Sophie Lloyd ‘21 complemented Reed’s goal with another one. This freshmen one-two punch has accumulated twelve goals this season. We’ve seen all year underclassmen making impacts on the offensive end of the pitch. This ‘Bos combo is no different. Reed and Lloyd account for two-thirds of all the Jumbos’ goals this year. The ‘Bos have all the momentum in the world with a young, potent offense and Emily Bowers’ ‘19 continued dominance in net. Bowers has consistently posted statistics in the top five of the league week in and week out.

Liz Webber
Liz Webber ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams, in contrast, almost had a scare last Saturday in Middletown, CT, against the one win Wesleyan Cardinals. A foul in the box almost led to a Kinsey Yost goal, but GK Olivia Barnhill ‘19 bailed the Ephs out. A shaky first half definitely frightened the Ephs players and coaching staff because they came out as a different team in the second. A Jacqueline Simeone ‘18 goal only a few minutes into the second was the difference maker for the Ephs. The rest of the game, they played tight defense and reduced the mental mistakes, dominated time of possession, and kept Wesleyan on their heels; they looked like the Ephs we are accustomed to see. One player that stood out to me was Liz Webber ‘20. Her defensive play was incredible; she seemed to step at all the right times, while not letting any Wesleyan player beat her up the field.

This game will be a tightly contested battle. I suspect that it’ll be a defensive game in the first half. Both teams will try to feel out what the other is trying to do early on. In the second half, however, I think one team will break the game open. Scoring will be at a premium in this game, so expect a lucky bounce on a corner or positioning to be the sole difference maker. It’s a long drive from Medford to Williamstown. Williams will forever have a bullseye on its back as a result of being undefeated, and so far, they’ve proved why they’re the best team in the conference. It’ll be a playoff atmosphere on Saturday, and a game the Jumbos have waiting for for quite some time.

In any sport, I love picking the underdog. However, I believe the smart choice is picking the team with momentum because each player believes that they can win.

My prediction: Tufts 2-1 OT

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

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

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

Middlebury X-Factor: WR Jimmy Martinez ’19

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

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

Amherst X-Factor: Secondary

Matt Durborow ’21 leads Amherst DBs with 13 tackles

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

Everything Else:

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

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

Projected Score: Middlebury 31 Amherst 28

Trinity vs. Wesleyan: Week 8 Game of the Week

 

#22 Max Chipouras '19 was kept in check for most of last week. (Courtesy of Greg Sullivan)
#22 Max Chipouras ’19 was kept in check for most of last week against Amherst. (Courtesy of Greg Sullivan)

Game Information: Wesleyan (5-2) at Trinity (6-1) (-7.5): 12:00 PM, Hartford, CT

Wesleyan and Trinity meet this Saturday in the I-91 Rivalry (did we just make that a thing?!) with both teams boasting quality records but battling for second place (we know, we know, Amherst still has to beat Williams and it’s a rivalry game so anything is possible …). If that sounds familiar, it’s because these two were in the exact same situation last year but with the roles switched. This year Trinity is the one-loss team, and Wesleyan is the two-loss team with losses to Middlebury and Amherst.

The game Saturday will be a spirited affair as last year’s win by Wesleyan broke a 13-game winning streak in the rivalry for Trinity. Many of those games were lopsided affairs, including the 2013 game that saw the Bantams blow out Wesleyan 40-10. The game last year was a 20-19 win for Wesleyan in part because Trinity went for a two-point conversion twice (including for the win after the Bantams final touchdown with under two minutes left) and failed both times. Trinity at that point was down to Spencer Aukamp ’18 at quarterback (Aukamp is not on the Trinity roster this year). The loss was the second one-point loss in a row for Trinity and left them a somewhat shocking 5-3.

However, in our eyes, the game tomorrow is just as important for next year. I’m not a believer that winning the last game of the season will lead to a much better off-season (player leadership is the primary factor in that), but the winner of this game will enter the 2016 season as the primary challenger to Amherst. Both of these teams are young and will have most of their talent back next year. Neither the coaches nor players for either team are particularly worried about next year quite yet, though.

Trinity X-Factor: Center Matt Porter ’16

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Amherst shut down the run game for Trinity last week, the Bantams had 140 yards on 37 carries for a relatively healthy 3.8 yards per carry. You just don’t fear Trinity running the ball the same way as before, and Middlebury proved that you can stifle them completely in Week 6. Wesleyan was incredibly stout against the run to begin the year, but they’ve come way down from that lofty position to still be second in the NESCAC. Beyond the running game, Porter and his linemates have to protect Sonny Puzzo ’18 against Jordan Stone ’17 and the rest of the Wesleyan pass rush. The Bantams have allowed 17 sacks this year, even after not allowing any to Amherst.

Wesleyan X-Factor: Outside Linebacker Jon Spivey ’16

Spivey has flown under our radar pretty much the whole year in part because his contributions have been consistent but unremarkable. He is listed at 5’8″, which might be a little generous even, but he also weighs 200 pounds meaning he has enough strength to give offensive lineman trouble either on run or pass plays. From his outside position, Spivey is great at recognizing the defense quickly and adjusting. Seniors have a knack for saving their best for last, so Spivey and the other seniors in this game are all liable to have a big game.

Everything Else

These are such similar teams that it makes you think Mike Whalen was copying the Trinity blueprint when he built up the Wesleyan program (spoiler: he was). The rosters are littered with kids from Connecticut and New Jersey, there is plenty of young talent on both defenses, and their quarterbacks are both threats to run.

About that quarterback position, Mark Piccirillo ’19 and Gernald Hawkins ’18 just about split snaps against Williams. Hawkins started the game and saw all the action in the first quarter. I don’t think one of them has seized the starting role yet, something that a coaching staff hates to have. Hawkins began the year as the undisputed starter but has begun ceding snaps to his understudy. Piccirillo is the more accurate and consistent passer, Hawkins more of a threat to run the ball. Honestly though, these two are similar players. Instead of comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing tangerines and clementines: both are good, have varying sweetness, but carry the same essence.

The loss of Devon Carrillo ’17 has been offset by the production of Eric Meyreles ’18 at wide receiver. He backed up his 10-reception game against Bowdoin with a solid five receptions, 64 yards and a touchdown. Wesleyan has the ability to give the Bantams fits in the passing game, though they’ve been inconsistent in that regard.

It was also great to see LaDarius Drew ’15 back on field last week after it was unclear if he would be able to return because of a knee injury against Hamilton in the second game of this year. He might not make a big difference in his final game, but he has had to go through a lot to get to this point.

Even though Trinity lost last week, I came away more impressed with the defense than before. Yes, the Bantams allowed 16 points, but the two touchdown drives for Amherst had to go just 32 and 46 yards because of great field position. The only problem that Trinity had was getting off the field on third down as Amherst was 8-13 in that category. Paul McCarthy ’16 got his fifth interception vs. the Jeffs, his first in a few weeks. Frank Leyva ’16 being back healthy gives a little more experience to the linebacking corps which I like. The Bantams do have to stop Wesleyan’s run game a little bit better, though, than they did against Amherst.

I’ve been pretty snake bitten in my picks recently, so take this pick with a nice lump of salt. I give Trinity the edge because they get the Cardinals at home. This is a classic line of scrimmage game: both teams pride themselves on winning that battle. The Coop’s streak is over, but I think Trinity rallies around the idea of never allowing Wesleyan to win in Hartford, and takes this one by the slimmest of margins, meaning that Wesleyan covers the spread but loses where it counts.

Prediction: Trinity over Wesleyan 17-16

 

Amherst, MA, Title Town: Week 7 Game of the Week

Amherst has done nothing but celebrate this season. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
Amherst has done nothing but celebrate this season. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Info: Trinity (6-0) at Amherst (6-0): 1:00 PM, Amherst, MA

There’s no doubt about it. The NESCAC Championship will be determined this Saturday when two undefeated powerhouses clash in Amherst. Technically, we could get a shared title if the winner this weekend loses in Week 8 and vice versa, the loser this weekend wins in Week 8 … but we think that’s a silly rule and so we’re going to go ahead and say that this weekend’s winner will be the NESCAC champion.

This matchup dates back to 1886 (a game which Amherst won 20-4), and the LJ’s hold the all-time advantage 58-43-9 over Trinity. But that’s all ancient history. Sports is a “What have you done for me lately” kind of business, and lately Amherst has edged out a couple of victories by the slimmest of margins. In 2013, Amherst Head Coach EJ Mills got his 100th victory as the LJ’s slipped by Trinity, 17-16. The difference in that one was a mixed extra point by former Trinity kicker Ben Rosenblatt ’17 late in the fourth quarter. Tragically for the former kicker, a missed extra point was the only difference in the 2014 matchup, as well. The Bantams offense had been suffering greatly by that point in the season. Phenomenal RB Chudi Iregbulem ’15 was banged up for most of the second half of the year. Current QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 was out for the year, and starter Henry Foye ’16 down with an injury, so fill-in Hayden Jardine ’16 was only able to manufacture one scoring drive in the first quarter. Despite multiple takeaways, Amherst was still scoreless into the fourth quarter. Finally, LB Chris Tamasi ’15 recovered a game-changing fumble that led to a 39-yard TD drive and an Amherst victory.

What does all of this mean for this year’s game? Not much more than we know it won’t come easy to either team. The Trinity offense is much improved from the one that battled with the LJ’s last year, but otherwise a lot of the same characters are back. Trinity has a brand new linebacking corps, but this year’s rendition is as good as ever. The same is true for a couple of the Amherst linebackers, but the biggest change for the Lord Jeffs is Reece Foy ’18 at quarterback.

Things have been a little off recently for Foy, who has four interceptions in his last two games and had his lowest yardage total and yards per attempt a week ago against Tufts. Foy hasn’t been able to use his legs effectively much, either, even though he has the athleticism to do so. He’s become a pass-first QB, which is commendable, especially in a day and age where we glorify “dual-threats” and love to watch QBs scramble and make plays, but maybe what he needs now is a chance to use his legs a little bit. A QB draw here, a roll out scramble there, and suddenly the linebackers start drawing in, allowing Foy to hit some of his talented wideouts over the top.

Trinity X-factor: OLB Shane Libby ’19

It didn’t really strike me that Libby was a freshman until I sat down to write this article. Yeah I knew the kid was good, but holy crap I didn’t know he was this good and this young. The Bantams run a 3-4 with three down lineman and the fourth linebacker on the line of scrimmage. As the stand-up D-end in Trinity’s base defense, his job is to get after the passer. In any game, the two keys for defenses are 1) turnovers and 2), and this is the one I’m concerned about, shutting down one phase of the opponent’s game. Pundits always focus on shutting down the run, but it can be just as effective to shut down a team’s passing game which subsequently allows a defense to bottle up the run. That’s a long way of saying that if Libby can put pressure on Foy – and improve on his team-leading 3.5 sacks – then everything else will fall into place for the Trinity defense.

Amherst X-factor: K Charlie Wall ’18

Hey! A kicker shout out!

It’s been a one-point game the last two years, and the difference has been the kicking game. Phillip Nwosu ’15 was a great kicker, but Wall has stepped in superbly. The man is 7-8 on field goals for the best percentage in the league and 21-23 on extra points – most of anyone in the NESCAC. He doesn’t have as big of a leg as Nwosu, but he’s very consistent. Whether it’s a field goal or an extra point, I’m feeling that there will be an influential kick at some point on Saturday.

The Trinity special teams will try its best to interrupt K Charlie Wall '18 and Co. (Courtesy of Michael O'Hara/Middlebury Campus)
The Trinity special teams will try its best to interrupt K Charlie Wall ’18 and Co. (Courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Middlebury Campus)

 

Everything Else

So who has the advantage? Let’s break it down.

Let’s start with the Amherst offense and the Trinity defense. Furthermore, let’s start with the passing game. Foy has been a little inconsistent, but if you look at the season as a whole, he’s actually taken remarkably good care of the ball. Here’s a fun little chart that may or may not be useful:

Quarterback Attempts Interceptions Attempts/Interception
Gabe Harrington 167 9 18.55555556
Pat Dugan 119 5 23.8
Noah Nelson 132 5 26.4
Tim Drakeley 107 4 26.75
Chase Rosenberg 82 3 27.33333333
Matt Milano 258 9 28.66666667
Gernald Hawkins 149 5 29.8
Austin Lommen 237 7 33.85714286
Sonny Puzzo 171 5 34.2
Reece Foy 171 5 34.2
Alex Snyder 173 5 34.6
Cole Freeman 124 1 124

Foy is among the league’s best in attempts/interception. However, Trinity is great at making opposing QBs pay with 11 interceptions on the season, most in the league. The Bantams are going to be focused on stopping the Amherst rushing attack, though, so I don’t see Foy making many mistakes.

In terms of the ground game, Amherst’s biggest strength is the ability to cycle backs through. Kenny Adinkra ’16 is as tough as they come, Nick Kelly ’17 was the team’s best back a year ago but has dealt with injuries this season, and Jack Hickey ’19 might be the most talented of all, combining size and speed to average 6.8 yards per carry. The Amherst O-line is elite, and while the Trinity D-line is definitely good, I give the edge to Amherst.

On the flip side, I was shocked by the sheer size of the Trinity offensive line when I saw them in person. Of course, size isn’t necessarily the only thing that matters when it comes to O-line play, but it definitely helps. RT Chris Simmons ’18 is a tank, and all Max Chipouras ’19 needs to do is follow Simmons and Co. to the promised land. But – and there’s always a “but” – Amherst’s ability to rotate six defensive linemen keeps the LJs fresh. After watching the Middlebury defensive line handle the Trinity rushing attack a week ago, I have faith that Amherst can do the same.

It’s going to be imperative for Puzzo to find some targets downfield if Trinity is going to move the football. Too often the offense relies on a big play from the defense or special teams to spark a drive. While I never count out Darrien Myers ’17 in the return game, I’ve already talked about my faith in Amherst to hold onto the football and not turn it over. Much like Foy, Puzzo hasn’t been using his legs much recently. I don’t think he’s necessarily as inclined as Foy to run anyway. But maybe this would be a good time for Puzzo to run a little bit, too. After all, Wesleyan QB Gernald Hawkins ’18 gashed the Amherst D for 85 yards on 21 attempts earlier this season.

Prediction:

If it were a simple numbers game, the analysis above would suggest that Amherst will come out on top. The Jeffs seem to have the advantage in almost every phase discussed above. I give them the edge both rushing and passing against the Trinity defense, and in their ability to stop the Trinity running attack. Where Trinity closes the gap, I believe, is in the passing game – something that might be surprising for a team that is pretty run-first – but that’s where I think they can exploit the Jeffs.

It’s going to be a low-scoring game, much like the last two seasons. And special teams could be the difference, which of course favors the Bantams. Amherst is looking for its 18th straight win, and Trinity is looking to return to the pinnacle, a place they long remained. This is one for the history books, boys and girls. One that will see Trinity end up victorious.

Trinity 17 – Amherst 14

Jumbos vs. Jeffs: Week 6 Game of the Week

Amherst has quite the streak going ... will it continue when they travel to Medford this weekend? (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
Amherst has quite the streak going … will it continue when they travel to Medford this weekend? (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Info: Amherst (5-0) vs. Tufts (4-1): 1:00 PM, Medford MA

There are two big games this week, and we will have plenty of talk about the big Trinity at Middlebury game. For now, let’s focus on Tufts vs. Amherst for two reasons. One, Amherst is the reigning champion and owner of a 16-game winning streak; until they lose, any game involving them where there is at least any chance of them losing is the biggest game of the week. Two, Tufts might be making a mini-leap in season.

Let’s talk about the second point a little more. I’ll admit that I have been very wrong about my predictions for Tufts the past two weeks. I thought they would get blown out by Trinity and lose to Williams in a close game. Instead they lost in overtime to Trinity and blew out Williams 30-15. In making my predictions I fixated on Tufts’ results from the first two weeks when they sneaked by Hamilton and Bates. That was a mistake. Tufts still can’t be considered equal to the top four in the NESCAC until they beat one of those four (Tufts and Wesleyan miss each other on the schedule, unfortunately). However, they are closer to the elite than the bottom half of the conference and a better team than they were a few weeks ago.

Tufts X-Factor: Linebacker Matt McCormack ’16

Yes, Amherst is throwing the ball more than they have in the past, but they still run the ball on 59.3 percent of plays, compared to 61.6 percent of the time last year. McCormack returned to the lineup last week after a three week absence because of injury, and the leading tackler for Tufts from 2014 had just one solo tackles (five assisted).  His 88 tackles last season were best in the NESCAC, and he has to be more at full speed to pair with outside linebacker Patrick Williams ’16 to keep Amherst from gashing the Jumbos. The Tufts run defense has been hit or miss; they held both Hamilton and Williams to less than 50 yards but allowed an average of 197.5 yards against Bates and Trinity. Amherst still has the best run offense in the league, even after a subpar week running the ball against Wesleyan.

Amherst X-Factor: Wide Receiver Jackson McGonagle ’16

I’m not going to overthink this one. Tufts struggles against the pass, and Darrias Sime ’16 had a career day with 10 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown last week. McGonagle is another big, physical wide receiver who can take the top off a defense and is playing better every week. He won two jump balls last week for touchdowns against Wesleyan because the Amherst offense needed a spark. He can do more than just haul in jump balls, but that is where he is most deadly. He has caught all four of his touchdowns in the last three weeks, and most of those came on contested throws. The Jumbos are allowing a jaw-dropping 304.6 yards per game through the air. That is not going to cut it against McGonagle and fellow receiver Devin Boehm ’17.

Everything Else

Long known for their spread offense that tried to make up for their lack of size on the offensive line by getting the ball out in space quickly, Tufts has transformed into a run-first offense because of their experienced offensive line (two seniors and three juniors). The scheme hasn’t changed; they still spread you out and work out of the shot gun, but the play-calling is focused now on getting the ball in the hands of Chance Brady ’17 or backup Dominic Borelli ’19. Their commitment to the run is real: they have the third most rushes in the league, trailing just very run-heavy Bates and Wesleyan.

The problem is that running against Amherst is usually a losing proposition. On the surface, Amherst has not been as good against the run, allowing 114.8 yards per game on the ground, the fourth best mark. However, when you change those stats to yards allowed per carry (this was done by hand as it’s not available on the NESCAC website), that mark changes to 2.46 yards per carry. (That still isn’t the best in the NESCAC as Trinity allows 2.37 yards per carry.) Middle linebacker Thomas Kleyn ’16 had a casual 13 tackles in the FIRST half of last week, finishing with 18 for the game. The linebacking group altogether has not dropped off at all from last season, more than answering one of the big worries heading into the season. Yes, Tufts might have some success completing short passes, but good luck getting many yards after the catch because the linebackers and secondary prides itself on their tackling ability.

The past two weeks have seen Amherst dominated in the box score but still win comfortably. Now, obviously you play the scoreboard, not the box score, and so simply saying that Amherst is getting lucky is wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this Amherst team, and they are still the best team in the NESCAC until somebody beats them. Nick Kelly ’17 was back at least somewhat healthy last week carrying the ball seven times for 62 yards. He is unlikely to carry that heavy a load, even if he does prove to be fully healthy just because of all the other talented running backs like Kenny Adinkra ’16 and Jack Hickey ’19.

Tufts is coming into this game confident after last week, and Amherst had to endure a physical battle last week, so one could make the argument that this is a body blow game for Amherst, especially since it comes sandwiched between Wesleyan and Trinity. However, it’s not like a 4-1 team is going to sneak up on Amherst. They will come ready to play. Coach EJ Mills will make the right adjustments as the game goes along, and Amherst will pull away in Medford.

Prediction: Amherst 28- Tufts 13

Amherst vs. Amherst – I Mean, Wesleyan: Week 5 Game of the Week

Kenny Adinkra '16 is ready to rumble. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Kenny Adinkra ’16 is ready to rumble. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Game Information: Saturday, Oct. 24, 1:00 PM at Pratt Field in Amherst, MA (Homecoming)

The Little Three is on, boys and girls. And Wesleyan is mad, oh, so mad. The Lord Jeffs gave the Cardinals their only loss of 2014, robbing Wesleyan of its second Little Three title in three years, its first sole NESCAC title, and its first undefeated season since 1969. This Cardinals team is much different, though, as we know. Still, their game plan is the same. Run, run, run. And Amherst is much the same. They’re almost the same team (get the title now?) If you like old school football (with one little twist), you’ve come to the right place.

What is that twist, you ask? Both QBs might be the fastest runners on their teams. If you really get down to it, of course, running quarterbacks are really old school (I’m talking original, no-throwing football), but the flexibility to line up under center one play and play smashmouth, run a read option the next, and roll out for a 15-yard pass on the third is still a rare commodity. But that’s what we have on both sides this weekend, with Amherst’s Reece Foy ’18 and Wesleyan’s Gernald Hawkins ’18. You’re watching the crown jewel of NESCAC quarterbacks for the next two-plus seasons face off live and in color this weekend.

Amherst X-factor: Linebackers Parker Chapman ’17, Jack Drew ’16 and Tom Kleyn ’16

Aside from the obvious intrigue at QB this week, this trio of ‘backers will be huge for Amherst for two reasons. One, Evan Boynton ’17 has clearly turned into a star, which means that teams are going to start planning for him, especially coming hard up the middle. I don’t think that will be a huge part of Amherst’s defensive strategy playing a run-heavy team and one that sweeps quite often, but it has to be in there at times because Boynton has so much success attacking the middle of the line. Wesleyan’s O-line and backs will be ready for it, and so Boynton’s linebacker mates are going to be shouldering a lot of responsibility this week. They need to be ready for Hawkins to take off, Jaylen Berry ’18 or Lou Stevens ’16 to come right at them, or for Devon Carrillo ’16 to break one out wide, while also keeping Hawkins from dumping an easy ball over their heads. The Cardinals’ offense is a tough one to game plan for.

Wesleyan X-factor: WR Mike Breuler ’16

Breuler had a career game last week with nine catches and a TD. And speaking of what other teams are looking out for, well … Breuler’s not it. As mentioned, Amherst will be expecting a lot of runs from different ball carriers, so Hawkins needs to keep them honest, and Breuler seems to be his main target with 19 receptions on the year. The second-leading receiver, Carrillo, had four of his seven catches in one game, and is more likely to have 20 rushes than five receptions. Hawkins hasn’t shown an ability to consistently take care of the ball and move the offense with his arm. Time to prove that by connecting with Breuler.

Prediction: Amherst 33 – Wesleyan 15

I’m sorry, but I think this game lacks drama. The Lord Jeffs have allowed 13 points at home in two games, and it’s Homecoming Weekend, which should provide a boost. I think a fiery Wesleyan team will make it interesting for a half, and then Head Coach EJ Mills makes enough adjustments to shut down the Cardinals’ rushing attack. That means more pressure on Hawkins’ arm, and that’s never, ever good against the Amherst secondary. A couple turnovers in the third quarter and this game gets out of reach quickly before Amherst starts milking clock with its own multi-faceted running game.

The only way I see Wesleyan flipping the script is if someone breaks a big run or two, preferably Hawkins, as that would draw the linebackers in next time he rolls out. It’s going to take an A+ game, though for the Cards to go home victorious. What’s worse, the LJs are the league’s best at forcing pressure on the quarterback. For a young gunslinger, that spells trouble.

Heavy Lies the Crown: Week 3 Game of the Week (You Know Which Game)

Slot receiver Ryan Rizzo '17 snags a Jared Lebowitz '18 pass with one-hand for a score on Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Colby.
Slot receiver Ryan Rizzo ’17 snags a Jared Lebowitz ’18 pass with one-hand for a score on Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Colby. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Information: Saturday, Oct. 10, 2:00 PM at Pratt Field in Amherst, MA

The Trinity Bantams have been the most impressive team of the young 2015 season. At 2-0, the Bants have outscored their opponents 58-0. The return of 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year Sonny Puzzo ’18 to the starting lineup has sparked the Bantams’ offense. Nick Gaynor ’17, a converted wide receiver, is rushing for over 4.0 yards per carry. And the defense has, of course, been phenomenal.

Sorry, but no one cares what happens in Hartford this Saturday.

All eyes will be trained on Amherst, MA, where the preseason No. 1 Middlebury Panthers will take on the defending NESCAC Champion Amherst Lord Jeffs. Amherst is riding a 13-game winning streak dating back to 2013, and in the past couple of years have embarrassed the Panthers. In 2013 the LJs made D3Football.com All-New England QB McCallum Foote ’14 look silly, picking him off FIVE times. Last year Amherst completely shut down Matt Milano ’16 and Co., allowing nary a point.

None of that matters now, though. 2015 is the only thing that counts, and so far this season the Lord Jeffs have looked utterly dominant against a pair of Maine colleges. The play of newly-minted starting QB Reece Foy ’18 has sparked the Amherst offense, making a team that went 8-0 a year ago even more scary.

On the other side, the Panthers shook off the cob webs to sneak away with a win at Wesleyan in Week 1, but they looked every bit the part of NESCAC favorite in trouncing Colby 28-9 a week ago. That victory was not without flaws, as Milano threw two interceptions, but it was the defense that really impressed. The starting defense was impregnable, and Colby managed just a garbage time rushing TD against the freshman defense.

So, what to expect this Saturday? Let’s lay it all out:

Screen shot 2015-10-06 at 2.31.15 PMMiddlebury X-factors: QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 and WR Matt Minno ’16

Let me make this very clear: There is no quarterback controversy in Middlebury. Milano is the starter and the team’s undisputed leader on offense. BUT, that doesn’t mean that Lebowitz can’t contribute. A rushing threat at QB is something that the Panthers haven’t had since the graduation of Donnie McKillop ’11, and he wasn’t really much of a runner himself. Milano is a prototypical pocket passer, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially since he’s made it clear that he is the league’s best quarterback by playing that way. That being said, Lebowitz’s stock is trending upwards. His athleticism can’t be denied and the Panthers will need to pull out all the stops against a stout Amherst defense. The UNLV-transfer saw one series in Week 1, but got a handful of series behind center in Week 2 due in part to an injury to Milano. This, I think, is the week where we see Lebowitz really make an impact, and some of that will come in two-QB situations. Last week we saw Lebowitz line up out wide as a receiver and almost catch a touchdown pass. Expect to see that formation, or some variation thereof, a few times, as well some speed option – something that Middlebury almost never does.

The other X-factor for Middlebury is senior receiver Matt Minno, who missed Week 2 with a shoulder injury. Ryan Rizzo ’17 might be the most  targeted receiver, and TE Trevor Miletich ’16 has emerged as a red zone threat, but Minno is, without a doubt, the most dangerous receiver on the field in blue and white every week. He combines size, speed, great route running and sure hands to terrorize defenses. Will he be 100 percent healthy on Saturday? If so, even the LJs can’t defend all of the Panthers’ weapons. If not, or if that injury is re-aggravated, Middlebury will be hard-pressed to move the football on Amherst.

Amherst X-factors: The Defensive Line

It all starts with the line, doesn’t it? Even more so when on most plays the defense will be dropping seven and relying on the front four to get pressure. The offensive line may be the lone chink in the Panthers’ armor, which would account for some of the team’s difficulties running the football. Middlebury had a tough time with the Colby D-line last Saturday, and while I believe Ryan Ruiz ’16 to be a star for the Mules, the Panthers should have been better at containing the rest of the Colby’s front four. Pressure on the QB is always the best way to slow down a passing offense, and Amherst is tied for first with eight sacks on the year even though the Jeffs played the triple option Bates Bobcats opening weekend. Either the Middlebury O-line steps up or Paul Johnson ’17 and his linemates will be setting up shop in the Middlebury backfield.

RB Kenny Adinkra '16 never goes down from the first hit. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
RB Kenny Adinkra ’16 never goes down from the first hit. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Prediction: Amherst 14 – Middlebury 13

I’m probably going to get some flack around campus today and tomorrow for this one, and I truly hope I’m wrong. Even though prior to the season we went with Middlebury over Amherst in this one, which accounted for Amherst’s only loss, I’ve officially flip flopped. But barely, as I think a blocked PAT – that’s right – will be the difference. Both teams are elite, and either squad dropping more than two games this season would be a monumental surprise. A turnover either way could also be the deciding factor.

Beyond the X-factors already talked about, there are more questions about this week’s matchup. Can Middlebury run the football? And do they need to? Conventional wisdom says yes, but the Panthers have racked up around 100 yards per game (this is an estimate) in the screen game over the last two weeks. RB Diego Meritus ’19 had a 40-yard TD catch and run against Wesleyan, and WR Ian Riley ’16 caught a jet screen for a 10-yard TD against Colby. You can’t just hang off the Middlebury receivers, because Head Coach Bob Ritter will lean on the short-passing game. And if Amherst holds back it’s D-line to prevent the screen then Milano will have all day to pick the LJs’ secondary apart. The one-on-one battles along the line will be crucial for Amherst. If someone like Sam Caldwell ’16, the team’s leading sack-getter, can just beat his man and pressure Milano, then the Panthers offense will be doomed.

For Amherst, Foy’s dual-threat ability is something new to the offense, much like the wrinkle that Lebowitz provides to Middlebury. Except for that with Amherst, it’s not just in specialty packages, it’s every play. Foy is one of the fastest guys on the field, and the fact that he can also throw it makes him exceptionally dangerous. In the past, Amherst has been completely run-heavy, and even though they’ve run the ball nearly twice as much as they’ve thrown it this season, much of that is attributed to playing with big leads. The LJs’ have the capability to air the ball out and boast a bevy of talented receivers. With this likely to be Amherst’s closest game so far of 2015, Foy will be tested for the first time as a starter.

I’m pushing in my chips with Amherst, but I’d say they’re about a one-point favorite in this game (hence the prediction), so I’m not going to be surprised if Middlebury pulls it out. A turnover here or there will probably change the outcome of the game, and with the Panthers’ throw-first tendencies and Amherst’s loaded D-backfield, the Jeffs’ are a safer bet to win the TO battle.

The NbN team will be on-site this Saturday, as both Adam and I are making plans to see the game in person. Are we a little crazy? Is our love of NESCAC football completely foolish and unheard of? Would we be better served kicking back on the quad with a cold Keystone and watching girls in short shorts throw the Frisbee around on Saturday afternoon?

No. Maybe you’re the crazy one.

Adam here: projected high on Saturday in Middlebury is 56. There will be no short shorts being worn there. Also, I will be wearing a Montreal Expos hat at the game Saturday, and nothing would make Joe’s and my week like somebody coming up to talk shop for a little. 

Week 2 Game of the Week: Tufts at Bates

Mark Riley a' against Mike Stearns is a good one to watch. Courtesy of Tufts University
Mark Riley ’16 against Mike Stearns ’17 is a good one to watch. Courtesy of Tufts University

Game Info: Saturday, Oct. 3, 1:30 PM at Garcelon Field in Lewiston, Maine

As two 4-4 teams last season, both Bates and Tufts head into this season fighting for the last spot among the league’s upper half. While the top four teams seem to be heads above the rest, Bates and Tufts – along with Williams, who looked strong last week against Bowdoin – offer the best chance out of the rest of the NESCAC to close the ever-widening gap between the 4th and 5th place teams.

The focus for the Bobcats this season has to be on improving their passing game from last season, in which they ranked 10th in yards per game (124.0) and total yards (992). With the graduation of QB Matt Cannone ’15, who threw nine interceptions on the year, Patrick Dugan ’16 takes the reins under center. Seeing as the passing attack of the Bobcats is still trying to figure out their identity, much of the offensive production is still in the hands of slotback Shaun Carroll ’16, who ran for 107 yards in last week’s game versus Amherst.

The Tufts locker room could not be feeling better about where they are, coming off a season that ended their long losing streak, and already starting 2015 with a win under their belt (24-21 in OT vs Hamilton). RB Chance Brady ’17 rushed out of the gates this season, providing his team with 117 yards and two touchdowns on the day, which was by far his best game since becoming a Jumbo. Alex Snyder ’17 did just enough in last week’s win, not turning the ball over once, and throwing for a modest but respectable 188 yards (8.2 yards per completion).

Last Meeting:

The Jumbos, down 13-17 at halftime, went on to score 29 points in the second half, making what seemed like a close game a 42-24 trouncing. While Tufts QB Jack Doll ’15 torched the Bates secondary, throwing for 267 yards and three touchdowns, the real story of the Jumbos’ offensive outburst lay in the special teams play of Zack Trause ’15. In what seemed to be a close 24-23 game late in the third quarter, Trause broke it open with an 82-yard kickoff return, and then a 49-yard punt return, both for touchdowns, making it a 35-24 Tufts lead with 14:02 left in the game. While the Bobcats had plenty of time to carve into this 11-point lead, Doll put an exclamation point on the game with a three-yard touchdown pass to Jack Cooleen ’16.

Not to take away any credit from the Tufts’ return game, which proved to us that special teams is in fact 1/3 of football, the 42-24 score did not completely tell the whole story. Bates did have a lead with little time left in the third quarter, and had sufficient time to build on that lead had their special teams defense held strong. Seeing as both teams ended the year 4-4, it’s obvious that this game held a lot of weight in determining which team rounded out the upper half of the NESCAC, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes down to a head-to-head tiebreak again this season.

Tufts X-factor: Wide Receiver Mike Rando ’17

The strong rushing attack of Brady and the Tufts Jumbos is no longer a surprise, so expect the Bobcats defense to limit Brady’s ability to get into the second level of defense by loading the box on Saturday. What Bates will really want to test is the passing attack of Alex Snyder. Who does Tufts have for Snyder to throw to? Junior receiver Mike Rando seems to be a hot pick for a game-changer in this game. While six receptions for 53 yards isn’t the most efficient performance, we know that Snyder will be looking to throw to a receiver he’s comfortable with. In addition, Rando could prove to be a threat in the return game, because, as the Bobcats know all too well, Tufts returners can provide a spark late in the game.

Bates X-factor: Quarterback Patrick Dugan ’16

It’s not often that a quarterback is chosen to be an x-factor, but in this case I think the play of Dugan will dictate how this game ends up for the Bobcats. In his first collegiate start this past week against Amherst, Dugan proved that he could stay composed and not turn the ball over, even against the formidable secondary of the Lord Jeffs, who led the league in INTs last season (17). While 117 yards isn’t a lot, Dugan completed 11 of his 16 passing attempts, averaging 7.3 yards per completion. After holding his own against the best defense in the league, I expect Dugan’s confidence will be on display this Saturday starting for the hometown crowd for the first time.

Prediction: Bates 24 – Tufts 17

If there’s one thing that Bates players have not forgotten from last season, it’s their loss to Tufts last year. The last thing the Bobcats want to see is Tufts marching into Lewiston and walking out sitting pretty at 2-0. For those of you who think human emotion doesn’t actually make a team play better, and that revenge is not a thing; 1.) you must have never heard of the Patriots and 2.) Statistics play into the Bobcats’ favor this weekend. Take a look:

Last year Tufts was ranked last in the league in passing yards allowed with 225.1 per game. Facing a quarterback who just saw the best secondary in the NESCAC, it’s possible that Dugan will throw a few more passes than usual and it could be a big day for Riley at wideout. Another key stat to look at from last year is that Bates was ranked third in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (102.6). With Chance Brady being Tufts’ best offensive weapon, Alex Snyder and his young receiving core will be expected to carry a bigger load. That being said, last year was last year, and the teams are not the same. Snyder played well in last week’s game against Hamilton, and Brady will certainly not look at a third-ranked rushing defense as an immovable object. All things considered, I believe the stars are in line for a Bobcats win this weekend.

Week 1 Game of the Week: Middlebury at Wesleyan

The Panthers are prepared for a title run. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
The Panthers are prepared for a title run. But nothing comes easy in the NESCAC. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Info: Saturday, Sept. 26, 12:30 PM at historic Andrus Field in Corwin Stadium

Both teams probably feel like title contenders right now, but around this time tomorrow one team will be in the driver’s seat and the other will be facing a steep uphill climb. If we consider the NESCAC crown a four-team race – which, barring a major surprise, it is right now – between Middlebury, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity, this matchup will push one team to the front of the pack.

The Wesleyan team presents a great unknown. As we’ve said time and time again, the roster turnover has been great, but we still expect there to be a lot of talent on the field for the Cards. Things have changed since current Athletic Director Mike Whalen came over from Williams, and one has to believe that he was able to accrue some talent in the classes that followed the incredible 2015 group.

As always, the Cards’ strength will be the running game, but the Panthers were very good against the run last season, allowing just under 104 YPG, and most of the talent in the front seven is back and should be better than ever. Granted, a lot of teams were forced to throw in the second half because they faced big deficits against the Panthers, but nonetheless running the ball won’t be easy for the Cards.

For Middlebury, the passing game is as potent as ever. Can Matt Milano ’16 have improved from his Co-Offensive Player of the Year form a year ago? We’ll find out soon enough, but with all of the weapons around him, I’m betting yes. And with two of the league’s best defensive backs having graduated from Wesleyan in Jake Bussani ’14 and Donnie Cimino ’15, Milano might just be able to find some openings deep down the field.

Last Meeting:

Wesleyan rolled into the Panthers’ home pad and stole a 22-14 victory in the 2014 season opener. The difference was a third quarter 41-yard INT return for a TD by Wesleyan’s dynamic safety Justin Sanchez ’17. Milano threw two interceptions in this one, and questions were swirling about whether the days of the great Middlebury QBs were over. After this game, Milano went 22-1 TD-INT over the rest of the season, so expect a more confident passing attack from Middlebury in this one.

On the flip side, Wesleyan struggled to run the ball, something that they rarely do. Kyle Gibson ’15 racked up 60 yards but on 25 carries (2.4 YPC). Lou Stevens ’17 wasn’t much better (2.8 YPC). However, the frightening LaDarius Drew ’15 is back this time around, and I think the entire league is excited to see what this powerhouse back can do. With Drew, Stevens and Jaylen Berry ’18 coming at the Panthers, stopping the run has to be priority No. 1. Middlebury’s Tim Patricia ’16 spoke to that effect, saying:

“We know that the run game is the staple of the Wesleyan offense. … With that in mind, this [week] we’ve been really focused on gap responsibility and swarming to the ball in the run game. It’s important that we stay conscious of our individual assignments so we can eliminate any threat of giving up a big play. Their backs do have big play ability, but we feel we can mitigate that ability.”

Middlebury X-factors: D-linemen Gil Araujo ’16 and Kyle Ashley ’16

We know about Jake Clapp ’16, Middlebury’s strong, furious pass-rusher, but Ashley and Araujo, who made the 2014 All-NESCAC Second Team, haven’t gotten much press this season (our bad). While the Panthers will cycle d-linemen in and out all game, these two are expected to get the lion’s share of snaps, and it will be on them to eat up blockers and create opportunities for the linebackers and safeties to make tackles. It’s an inglorious job, the d-line. But this pair is up to the task.

Wesleyan X-factor: QB Gernald Hawkins ’18

Gernald Hawkins '18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Gernald Hawkins ’18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

I’d like to go a little under-the-radar with my x-factor pick, but the potential of Hawkins is just so intriguing. We don’t know for sure that Hawkins will see every snap in this one under center, but for now he is the team’s QB1 and has the chance to solidify that position this weekend.

Hawkins presents the rare (in the NESCAC) dual-threat option. The moves he shows off on film are nifty, and having a cadre of backs to hand the ball off to takes much of the pressure off of his shoulders.

Patricia wouldn’t give away any secrets in reference to Hawkins, saying only, “We’re aware of Hawkins’s ability to run the ball, and we’re well prepared for it.”

Prediction: Middlebury 35 – Wesleyan 17

Wesleyan fans and players are going to be offended by this prediction, but let me make my case. The Cardinals are, to some extent, are where Middlebury was last year in Week 1 – breaking in a lot of new players, particularly at the QB position, and while there is talent there, it will take time.

I still think Wesleyan will run the ball effectively, but as Milano and the Panthers roll up and down the field in the second and third quarters, the Cards will have to start abandoning the run game, which will spell disaster for Coach DiCenzo’s squad. No team can be successful when it becomes one-dimensional.

Is 35 points too high of a projection against the Wesleyan D, even with all the new faces? Maybe. And if I were a gambling man, I’d take the under if the line were set at 35 for Middlebury, but let’s face it, I’m a Panther myself, I’m excited for tomorrow, and sure, maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid a little bit. I’m seeing three TDs through the air for Milano, a goal line plunge from rookie RB Diego Meritus ’19, and a late-game scamper off a rollout from QB Jared Lebowitz ’18, just like I watched him do last week in Middlebury’s Blue-White scrimmage.

Patricia didn’t necessarily predict that the Panthers will go 8-0. But he came pretty close (0:57):

Bring on some football!