Wake Me Up, When September Ends: Football Weekend Preview 9/29

This week features a slate of games that can be charitably described as “uneven.” That’s a nice way of saying that it features games where the better teams in the league play the worse teams in the league. And having learned our lesson last week picking Hamilton over Amherst, we’re not seeing any magic happening here. But there is good news. With these lopsided games happening earlier in the season, the end of the year should feature more games between strong teams. But we can’t get there without going here first.

Tufts (1-1) @ Bates (0-2), Lewiston, ME, 1:00 PM

The Jumbos have been the team to watch if you’re looking for close games this season. This has been mostly due to their strong schedule (an improved Hamilton team in Week One and then Wesleyan last week) but has also been due to their inability to close out games. Their defense allowed Hamilton to continuously tie up the game before the offense won it in OT, and then QB Ryan McDonald turned the ball over twice to help along Wesleyan’s comeback. Indeed, without multi-purpose weapon Jack Dolan ‘19, who had an 85 yard punt return touchdown to keep Tufts in it, the game wouldn’t even have been close. Tufts is in need of a blowout after two hard fought games, but that won’t happen if they don’t execute. This is a golden chance for the Jumbos to get things fully in order for a championship run.

Tufts’ defense is rounding into shape, but to beat Trinity (the ultimate goal for any NESCAC team) they have to get even better.

Bates, on the other hand, isn’t in a position to have a preferred kind of win. They have had a very difficult start to the season, highlighted by a 51-0 drubbing at the hands of Trinity that wasn’t even that close. Obviously not much has gone right for Bates this season, but offense has been the biggest issue. QB Sandy Plashkes ‘18 has been benched for Matt Golden, signifying that Bates is ready to go in a new direction. Left to their own devices, Bates would want to be a run-based offense, and when they’ve gotten to that style it has been successful. Peter Boyer and Kyle Flaherty have run the ball with authority, combining for 73 yards a game. But with no consistent QB play, the offense can’t stay on the field long enough to give them a chance to score. Tufts’ defense is still coming together, so Bates has the potential to improve a bit this game. At this point, that should be their goal.

Projected Score: Tufts 31, Bates 10

Wesleyan (1-1) @ Hamilton (0-2), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM

After an inspired performance in Week One, Hamilton fell back to Earth in a big way last weekend, making several trigger happy “experts” (namely Colby and I) look pretty foolish in the process. Amherst smoked Hamilton 36-6, and while the dynamic Kenny Gray-Joe Schmidt duo ended up with respectable totals (245 yards, one TD for Gray, 54 yards for Schmidt,) most of that was in garbage time. Even so, it was Hamilton’s run defense that looked worst against the Mammoths. Amherst tallied over 250 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Of course, Amherst has arguably the best ground game in the league, but if Hamilton wants to play with the big boys they have to be ready for that.

Mike Breuler
Mike Breuler ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan had a run-heavy identity last season, but haven’t been able to get to it this year. This is partially due to the graduation of Gerald Hawkins and Devin Carillo, but it is also because they have gotten down big early in both of their games. This has called QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 into action, as he has thrown the Cardinals back into both of their games. The Cardinals have a strong and experienced offensive line, as evidenced by Piccirillo’s success in finding Mike Breuler ‘18 deep. They could run behind that line as well, if sophomore Dario Highsmith ‘20 gets more carries. He should in this game, as Hamilton doesn’t have an answer for Breuler (no one does.) Expect the Cardinals to get up early this time, but it may just tighten up at the end if Gray can get going.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 24, Hamilton 14

Colby (0-2) @ Middlebury (2-0), Middlebury, 1:00 PM

The almighty Schedulers have rewarded Middlebury’s difficult Week One matchup with Wesleyan with back to back games against Bowdoin and Colby. The Panthers absolutely smacked Bowdoin in Week Two, with Jared Lebowitz ‘18 putting up one of the most efficient games of his storied career. Lebowitz wen 20-26 for over 300 yards and four touchdowns, with no turnovers. That last stat is the most important one for him, as the only blemish on his sterling resume is a tendency to give up the football when under pressure. But the Panther O-Line, led by junior stud Andrew Rogan ‘19, gets better every week, and Lebowitz has reaped the rewards. He has also seamlessly worked in a large group of new receivers, who have filled in admirably as we wait for Conrado Banky’s explosion. All four of his touchdown throws were to different receivers last week, including new names like Maxim Bochman ‘20 and Jimmy Connell ‘21. Add in the emergence of Matt Cardew ‘20 as a solid running back option, and the Panthers look like the best offense in the league, maybe even including Trinity.

Colby, like Bates, has had a potentially dangerous running game squelched by inconsistency at quarterback. Jake Schwern ‘19 has run very well at times for the Mules, averaging 73 yards per game on 4.6 yards per carry. But he hasn’t gotten into the end zone yet, as Colby simply can’t sustain long drives. Pre-season starting QB Christian Sparacio ‘18 has been replaced by sophomore Jack O’Brian ‘20, who looked okay last week against Williams. Colby scored their first points of the year in that game. Unfortunately, Middlebury’s offense is firing right now, so any improvement on Colby’s end will probably fall flat, as Middlebury should dominate time of possession (as well as every other stat.)

Predicted Score: Middlebury 45, Colby 0

Bowdoin (0-2) @ Amherst (2-0), Amherst, MA, 1:00 PM

Another probable blowout this week features the Polar Bears traveling to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. As you’ve gathered from the earlier games, these two teams enter the game on vastly different trajectories. Amherst comes off a terrific 36-6 drubbing of Hamilton in which their running game and defense looked unbeatable. However, there is a question hanging over the game for the Mammoths; who is the quarterback. They got Reece Foy ‘18 back in Week Two after he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury. And Foy made an impact, rushing for a seven yard score. This is a good sign, as the thing that made him a POY candidate before the injury was his dual threat ability. But his backup Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in admirably in his absence, completing 64% of his passes with four touchdowns. Eberth is the QB of the future, and it makes sense to give him work in mismatches like this, but when Amherst meets the other title contenders, they will lick their chops at facing such an inexperienced QB (particularly one named “Ollie.”) I would think as soon as Foy is ready, he gets the ball back. But we’ll have to wait till Saturday to see.

Bowdoin also has quarterback issues, but their defense and running game aren’t good enough to make up for them. After only completing 42.9% of his passes, Noah Nelson ‘18 was replaced by Griff Stalcup ‘21, who has fared slightly better (54%.) They have also shown a strong offensive line and running attack, averaging 152.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the league. They have also scored all four times they’ve been in the red zone. These are stats that point towards an offense that has potential to control the game through posession if the defense could get a stop. Which so far, they haven’t. The Polar Bears allow 480 yards per game and 35 points, which doesn’t give a rush heavy offense much of a chance. Amherst has QB questions, but they simply beat Bowdoin at their own game.

Predicted Score: Amherst 27, Bowdoin 10

GAME OF THE WEEK: Williams (2-0) @ Trinity (2-0), Hartford, CT, 1:30 PM

At the beginning of the season, Williams versus Trinity did not have the ring of a Game of the Week. And frankly, to me it still somewhat doesn’t. To spoil my prediction, I don’t see a fairy tale ending for this game, but the very fact that we can discuss Williams in the same breath as Trinity like this is a tremendous achievement of which the whole Williams organization should be proud. And furthermore, Williams might not be the shark bait that other teams have been for Trinity so far this year.

Trinity ran and threw all over Bates last weekend, and is looking to do the same to Williams.

Most NESCAC fans know where Trinity is heading into this game.They have outscored their opponents (Colby and Bates) 86-0 this season, outgained them 901-374 and also, oh yeah, haven’t allowed a point all season. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 and Max Chipouras ‘19 have been as good as expected, but receiver Koby Schofer ‘20 has been a revelation thus far. He’s averaged 85 yards per game, and has stepped in very well for a team that lost several receiving weapons in the offseason. Defensively, Trinity doesn’t have any standouts statistically, but honestly this is mostly because they haven’t had to play in the fourth quarter yet this season. The whole unit has destroyed offensive lines so far this season, and has given the offense ample scoring chances with great field position. Long story short, Trinity is good.

Connor Harris
Connor Harris ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

But, potentially, so is Williams? Earlier this week we leveled the crticism at the Ephs that they have played two lower caliber teams (Bowdoin and Colby) in the first two weeks, and so therfore their fast start is slightly exaggerated. But as several enterprising readers pointed out, that is unfair for two reasons. Firstly, Williams was supposed to BE one of those teams, so beating them handily is still impressive. And secondly, Trinity has also played weak teams thus far. This is not to say that Trinity isn’t as good as they look, but rather that Williams is as good as they appear. They have legitimate weapons in the passing game, thanks largely to a fantastic first year class. QB Bobby Maimeron ‘21 and WR’s Frank Stola ‘21 and Justin Nelson ‘21 have given the Ephs the all important vertical threat in the run-n’-gun NESCAC. But their offense is multidimensional. Senior back Connor Harris ‘18 has been one of the most underrated players so far this season. Harris has 162 yards in two games on 5.6 yards per carry, as well as two touchdowns. Harris is crucial to the WIlliams offense, as he provides a dynamic threat on the ground and opens up play action routes for Maimeron.

Jameson DeMarco
Jameson DeMarco ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

And furthermore, despite all of these offensive weapons, Williamsgreatest asset this year has been defensive; their dominant pass rush. Williams has the most sacks in the league, 10, thanks largely to Jameson DeMarco ‘19, who leads the league with 3.5. So to recap, Williams has a good offense and dominant defense that has been untested against upper level teams. Just like Trinity. Hmmm….

Of course, I jest. Trinity will win this game handily. But there will be nothing better for all of thse young Ephs than a test against one of the best teams NESCAC has seen this decade. Williams is playing for next year, and it’s serving them very well this year. Watch out for the Ephs, not in this game, but down the line.

Predicted Score: Trinity 31, Williams 20

Was the Rebuild Successful?: Wesleyan Football 2016 Season Preview

Losing LaDarius Drew will be a tough hole to fill for the Cardinals (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).
Losing LaDarius Drew will be a tough hole to fill for the Cardinals (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

Projected 2016 Record: 6-2

Projected Offensive Starters (*Ten Returning)

QB: Gerald Hawkins ’18*/ Mark Piccirillo ’19*

RB: Jaylen Berry ’17*

WR: Eric Mayreles ’18*

WR: Mike Breuler ’18*

WR: Kris Luster ’17*

TE: Ben Kurtz ’16*

OL: Beau Butler ‘18*

OL: Shane Jenkins ‘17*

OL: Matt Kuhn ‘17*

OL: Joe Wilson ‘19*

OL: Mitch Ryan ‘17*

Projected Defensive Starters (*Nine Returning)

DE: Jordan Stone ’17*

DT: Isaiah Thomas ’19*

DT: Grant Williams ’19*

DE: Jude Lindberg ’19*

OLB: Cole Harris ‘18

MLB: Shayne Kaminski ’18*

OLB: Brandon Morris ’19

CB: Nate Taylor ‘18*

SS: Zach Cuzner ’17*

FS: Justin Sanchez ’17*

CB: Elias Camacho ’18*

Projected Specialists (*Two Returning)

PK/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*

KR/PR: Eric Mayreles ’18*

Offensive MVP: RB Jaylen Berry (’18)

Berry had a breakout season in 2015, rushing for 435 yards on 97 carries in his sophomore season.  In a year of inconsistent quarterback play for the Cardinals, Berry often provided a needed jolt of energy for the offense, forming a dangerous 1-2 rushing tandem with quarterback Gerald Hawkins.  If Wesleyan moves to a more traditional system, with one quarterback taking the majority of the snaps, Berry could be in for a huge season.  But even if Hawkins and Piccirillo continue to split time, Berry will be there with needed stability for the Cardinals’ offense.

Defensive MVP: Jordan Stone (’17)

Much of Wesleyan’s success last season, and for much of the last decade, has been due to a hard hitting defense.  And the 2015 iteration of the Cardinals’ defense was led by All-NESCAC first team defensive end Jordan Stone.  Stone was devastating in the backfield, totaling 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Stone will be an even more crucial cog in Wesleyan’s machine this season, as Coach DiCenzo is missing graduated starting linebackers John Spivey ‘16 and Alex Daversa-Russo ‘16.

Biggest Surprise in Camp: Two QB’s (?!?!?)

In 2015, Wesleyan had the champagne problem of having two talented, young quarterbacks fighting for playing time in Gerald Hawkins and Mike Piccirillo.  And rather than choosing between the two, Coach DiCenzo ran a dual quarterback scheme, with Hawkins gaining the majority of the snaps due to his ability to keep plays alive with his feet.  However, Hawkins struggled with his accuracy during the 2015 season, an area in which Piccirillo showed great promise.  The Cardinals are now nearing opening night with this position battle still unresolved.  And as viewers of the TV show Friday Night Lights will remember from Season Three’s battle between deadly accurate JD McCoy and scrambling Matt Saracen, uncertainty at quarterback can lead to unrest on the team, and ultimately a narratively questionable plot decision to move to East Dillon High.

Biggest Game: vs Amherst, October 22, 1:00 PM

After back-to-back 5-3 seasons, the Cardinals seemed primed this season to make a jump into the upper tier of NESCAC football.  However, to do that they have to show they can play with the current upper tier, and their matinee with the Lord Jeffs is a golden opportunity. In their matchup last season, Wesleyan won time of possession 38:46-21:54  and total yards 392-290.  However, they were unable to stop Amherst’s offense in the second half and fell 27-18 in a very discouraging loss.  If you want to reach the top in NESCAC, you must go through Amherst, and the Cardinals have a real opportunity to do just that.

Best Tweet

LOVE the braggadocio in this tweet, like Wesleyan is the only school who can get a guy to bring his speakers to practice.


Wesleyan established themselves as the cream of the crop in the NESCAC in 2013 and 2014, posting identical 7-1 records.  However, they took a step back last season, finishing 5-3 and struggling in close games.  This was probably due to inconsistent quarterback play from the duo of Hawkins and Piccirillo, both of whom had more interceptions than touchdowns.  Climbing back into the upper tier of the league will be challenging for the Cardinals, with Amherst, Middlebury and Trinity all looking to keep their places on the throne, and Tufts presenting a worthy challenger as well.

However, Wesleyan certainly has the talent.  They only lose one starter on offense in lineman Blake Harrington, keeping together most of an experienced offensive line.  This should give running back Jaylen Berry plenty of holes to exploit, and signal an improvement for whoever wins the quarterback job between Hawkins and Piccirillo. Coach DiCenzo and his staff will likely make the final call on this position battle after this Sunday’s scrimmage with Trinity.  Whichever quarterback is throwing the ball should have solid weapons, with an experienced core of receivers led by tight end Ben Kurtz ’17, who is returning from a hand injury. Dario Highsmith ’20 has also been a standout freshman at running back and wide receiver for the Cardinals so far during camp, and he figures to contribute significantly on the offensive side of the ball.

Defense should be Wesleyan’s calling card(inals) this season.  All-NESCAC First Team defensive end Jordan Stone leads an intimidating front line that returns all its starters.  The same goes for All-NESCAC safety Justin Sanchez (’17) and the secondary.  The Cardinals did lose senior linebackers Spivey and Daversa-Russo to graduation, an area which may be a problem defensively for the Cardinals. Other units will have to step up to mitigate some mistakes by the new starting linebackers.

In 2015 Wesleyan lost their three games by three points, four points and nine points, and those three losses came to league giants Middlebury, Trinity and Amherst respectively.  This is both a positive and a negative.  On the plus side, Wesleyan can absolutely hang with the top teams in NESCAC, as they did two years ago when they were 7-1.  However, it also points to a fundamental struggle in close games against good teams.  Winning close games is critical in NESCAC football, and it will be those kind of games that determine whether Wesleyan returns to their spot at the top, or remains one step behind.