The Amherst Dynasty: Power Ranks 11/12

SS Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn '16 hauls in one of his two INTs of the day as Amherst pulled away in the NESCAC Championship race. (Courtesy of Greg Sullivan)
SS Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 hauls in one of his two INTs of the day as Amherst pulled away in the NESCAC Championship race. (Courtesy of Greg Sullivan)

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.

WR Jackson McGonagle '16 incredibly hauled in this twisting grab to help dispatch the Bantams. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
WR Jackson McGonagle ’16 incredibly hauled in this twisting grab to help dispatch the Bantams. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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)

Slotback Tyler Janssen '17 lays a tender kiss on the CBB trophy. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
Slotback Tyler Janssen ’17 lays a tender kiss on the CBB trophy. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

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.


The Replacements (But Talented): Wesleyan Season Preview

Having Ike Fuchs back in the kicking game is one of the few constants for Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Having Ike Fuchs ’17 back in the kicking game is one of the few constants for Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Projected Record: 5-3

Projected Offensive Starters (*Two Returning)

QB: Gernald Hawkins ’18
RB: LaDarius Drew ’15
WR: Neil O’Connor ’17
WR: Mike Breuler ’18
TE: Ben Kurtz ’17*
TE: Dan Laorenza ’16
LT: Blake Cunningham ’16*
LG: Matt Polacek ’16
C: Matt Kuhn ’17
RG: Beau Butler ’18
RT: Shane Jenkins ’17

Projected Defensive Starters (*Two Returning)

DE: Jordan Stone ’17
DT: Shane Donovan ’16
DT: Jason Yu ’18
DE: Greg Blaize ’16
LB: Alex Daversa-Russo ’16*
LB: Shayne Kaminski ’17
LB: Jon Spivey ’16
DB: Justin Sanchez ’17*
DB: Elias Camacho ’18
DB: Zac Cuzner ’17
DB: Rob Manning ’16

Projected Specialists (*Returning)

K/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*

Offensive MVP: RB LaDarius Drew ’15

Drew is an elite talent in the NESCAC, and his return to the lineup after missing 2o14 with a foot injury might just be a Godsend. Running back is actually the Cardinals’ deepest position, with All-NESCAC First Teamer Lou Stevens ’17 and Jaylen Berry ’18 (5.6 YPC) backing up Drew – which means that this three-headed monster will be expected to carry a heavy load. A lot of responsibility will lie on the shoulders of captain and left tackle Blake Cunningham ’16 and his unit to create some holes for Drew and Co.

Defensive MVP: DB Justin Sanchez ’17

Sanchez and LB Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 were both Second-Team All-NESCAC last season and are the undisputed leaders of this defensive unit. Sanchez was the team’s leading tackler a year ago and picked off one pass. There is a bit more experience in Wesleyan’s defensive front than in the secondary, which might mean more chances for Sanchez to make plays and rack up big tackle numbers. Therefore I think he edges out Daversa-Russo as the team’s defensive MVP.

Biggest Game: September 26 vs. Middlebury

There are so many unknowns with this year’s team given the mass exodus (AKA graduation) from last year’s squad. For that reason, Week 1 will be a huge benchmark game for the Cards and first-year head coach Dan DiCenzo. Wesleyan will need to grind it out and shorten the game, not allowing the Panthers offense to get the ball too often. Look for Wesleyan to go right at the Middlebury front seven and try to overpower the Panthers while rotating all three of their running backs into the game. Sanchez and the rest of the inexperienced secondary might have difficulty slowing down the Middlebury passing attack, but they could force some errors and create turnovers for Wesleyan.

Best Tweet of the Offseason:

Are you kidding me, Justin Sanchez?


There’s not much that’s known about the 2015 Wesleyan Cardinals. The returning starters are beasts, we know that. Drew, Stevens, Cunningham, Daversa-Russo and Sanchez will be counted on to produce big seasons this year. Matt Polacek ’16 and Shane Jenkins ’17 have experience on the O-line, so that unit shouldn’t miss too much of a beat and the running game will remain strong. Replacing Jesse Warren’s ’15 unparalleled efficiency at QB will be very difficult for the green Gernald Hawkins ’18, but he beat out three other talented players to win the job so clearly he’s shown that he can compete at this level. Hawkins went to Miramar High School in Florida, a big time program that won a state title in 2009. That was also the year AFTER  Jets quarterback Geno Smith graduated from Miramar High. Anyway, Hawkins is a threat both running and passing the ball, and his highlight tape shows him making really smart decisions against high level talent in Florida.

Among the newly-minted starters on the defensive side, DE Jordan Stone ’17 saw the most snaps in 2014. If this unit learned anything from the dominant 2015 class, which produced the very best YPG against average in all of D-III last season, they should still be an above average defense. The team’s overall MVP, however, might be K/P Ike Fuchs ’17, probably the league’s best kicker. Fuchs led all NESCAC kickers with 54 points last year. He hit 10 out of 13 of his field goals, and his misses came from 33, 34 and 43 – no gimmes at this level. He will take over the punting duties this year, as well, which were formerly handled by Warren.

Former Head Coach Mike Whalen, now the Wesleyan Athletic Director, has an amazing resume when it comes to building football programs in the NESCAC – first at Williams and now at Wesleyan. Now he hands over the reins to his former assistant DiCenzo, but only time will tell how this group will compare to the decorated 2015 class. Week 1 will – hopefully – answer a lot of our questions about the new wave of Cardinals.

WATCH: 2015 Football Storylines

Today we grace you with our beautiful mugs and some grade A insight on what to watch for this season. These are our top eight storylines of 2015, but there are an infinite number of intriguing nuggets to follow all season long, so surely there will be some big things that we don’t talk about here. Maybe if you’re lucky we’ll do another video. And sorry for the lack of production value. That was supposed to be Adam’s job but he was too busy sipping Bud Lights alone in the library.

20 Stats from 2014 That You Need to Know

MIDDLEBURY, VT (October 17, 2009) - Aerial images of the campus of Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont. (Photo © Brett Simison)
An aerial view of the Middlebury field. (Photo © Brett Simison)

The time has come, football season is finally upon us. FBS college teams begin games tonight, meaning we will get football non-stop for months now. While teams throughout the NESCAC have turned the page on the 2014 season, we want to take one last look at last year and tell you what stats will be crucial to know heading into the 2015 campaign.

17. No better place to start than the defending champs. The steel-curtain defense of the Amherst Lord Jeffs accrued a league leading 17 interceptions last season. Going into this year, three out of the four defensive backs will be returning as seniors – Jaymie Spears ’16, who led the league with six picks last year, Chris Gow ’16 and Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16. Look for this trio to continue to wreak havoc for opposing NESCAC quarterbacks this year.

2,004. While the DBs of Amherst held him to only 67 yards when they played each other last October, Middlebury quarterback Matt Milano ’16 was the only QB in the conference to throw for over 2000 yards in the 2014 season, amassing 2,004 yards through the air. The next closest was Wesleyan’s Jesse Warren ’15 with 1513.

1. On the other side of the spectrum, the Bowdoin offense had a lowly one passing touchdown in 2014. That touchdown went to fullback Jack Donovan ’15, meaning the Polar Bear wide receivers had zero receiving touchdowns all season. With the entrance of JB Wells as the new head coach of the Polar Bears, along with the change in personnel at the quarterback position with Tim Drakeley ’17, look for a drastic improvement from last year’s lowest-ranked offense.

74.6. The number of tackles per game for Tufts. While the Jumbos had the most tackles per game in the NESCAC, they also were the last-ranked team in terms of passing yards allowed (225.1 per game).

34. The Middlebury Panthers, who were among the league’s best offensively, hired a new offensive coordinator in Dave Caputi for 2015. After graduating from Middlebury himself in 1981, 34 years later he finds himself back as a member of Panther football.

33:38. Wesleyan’s lengthy time of possession per game last year, made possible by their second-ranked 18 first downs per game. They will again look to hold the rock for long periods with their talented running back duo of LaDarius Drew ’15 and Lou Stevens ’17.

16. The number of consecutive losses for Hamilton. Although it’s not quite as impressive as Tufts’ 31 straight which ended last year, second year head coach Dave Murray will rest much easier if that 16 doesn’t turn into 24 after this season.

61. Touches for Trinity RB/QB Spencer Aukamp ’18 last season. Expect that number to rise, but it’s unclear whether that will be via the run or passing game. Aukamp is a weapon and will see a lot of snaps for the Bantams, but they most likely won’t take place under center this season.

71.5. Receiving yards per game for Bates’ Mark Riley ’16, who led the league in this category as well as total receiving yards with 572. The Bobcats are also in the midst of a change at the quarterback position, so it’ll be interesting to see how the loss of Matt Cannone ’15 affects Riley’s 2015 numbers.

2Straight years Williams has been below .500, an occurrence that had not happened for 15+ years.

533. Total yards for Colby RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17, who broke out his sophomore year as the Mules’ premiere back. Keeping an eye on Colby, it will be interesting to see how the ground load will be split for Hurdle-Price and fellow classmate Carl Lipani who, although he had fewer carries (37 compared to 131), averaged more yards per touch (4.9) than Hurdle-Price (4.1). Lipani is healthy again after missing the second half of the season.

23. Fourth down attempts were not rare for Middlebury, and they led the league converting 12 of their 23 tries. The next closest team was Bates with 12 attempts. Keep in mind the change at O-coordinator for the Panthers this season, and consider whether that might have an impact on their fourth down strategy.

226. Bowdoin running back Tyler Grant ’17 had his work cut out for him last year, carrying the ball 226 times, the most of any back in the league. In addition to having his number called early and often, he produced, leading the league in both yards (893) and yards per game (111.6). Don’t expect Bowdoin to lean quite so heavily on him this year.

54. That’s how many points  top-ranked Wesleyan kicker Ike Fuchs ’17 had in 2014, who was good for 10 out of 13 field goals on the year. With the amount of time the Cardinal’s offense had possession of the football, coming away with points at the end was a big part of their game last season.

4. Number of sacks for Amherst’s 300-pound defensive tackle Paul Johnson ’17. With the graduation of defenders Chris Tamasi ’15 and Max Lehrman ’15, who had five and 4.5 sacks last year, respectively, the pass rushing load will depend even more on Johnson this season.

60.  The  number of solo tackles for Tufts’ sophomore defensive back Mike Stearns ’17, which put him at the top of the conference in that category. It is incredibly rare for a defensive back to led the league in tackles, and Stearns might shift from corner to safety this year.

3653. The top-ranked average amount of fans in attendance for Amherst. The real question is do championships help bring the fans, or do the fans help bring the championships? Either way, the Lord Jeffs will go into the 2015 season looking to capture their third consecutive conference championship.

299. Hamilton’s LaShawn Ware ’18, who, despite starting in only one game last season, led the Continentals in rushing yards with 299.

50%. Colby’s red-zone touchdown percentage, which was the worst in the NESCAC. Not only could the Mules not get the ball in the end-zone, but also they failed to kick any field goals from inside the 20 as well.

298. Days since the last NESCAC football game was played, only 24 more to go.

Football End-of-Year Awards: The Definitive Edition

The committee of two has met and after much deliberation has made their decisions. All decisions on awards are final and complaints should be addressed to 472 Smith Union, Bowdoin College. Or the comments section works, too. If you want, take a look at our Mid-Season Awards to see what’s changed. Lastly, these are our own personal opinions of who should win each award. They are not predictions on what we think the NESCAC coaches will decide.

Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics
Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics

Offensive Player of the Year: Quarterback Matt Milano ’16 (Middlebury)

“Another Middlebury quarterback? Really original pick there guys.” Well, Milano didn’t really leave us with much of a choice given how he performed in the month of the year. In fact here are Mac Foote’s stats from last year and Milano’s from 2014.

Player A: 179-289 (61.9 percent), 2004 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, 3 interceptions.

Player B: 259-421 (61.5 percent), 2766 yards, 6.6 yards per attempt, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

Player B has a huge lead in yards overall and a slight lead in touchdowns, but Player A was better in yards per attempt and threw a quarter of the interceptions. You could probably tell, but Player A is Foote and Player B is Milano. We don’t put the comparison there to argue that Milano had a better year than Foote did last year, but we just want to put the numbers there so people don’t say Milano was merely a product of the Middlebury system.

The junior took a little time to get settled, but once he did, Middlebury morphed into the hottest team in the NESCAC. Milano put up 18 touchdowns over the last four weeks to go with just one interception, and his yards per attempt rose every week from Week 3 until the end of the season. His play is made even more impressive by the fact that the Panthers averaged only 2.6 yards per rush, worst in the NESCAC, putting even more pressure on the gunslinger. Milano should be even better next year when he and most of his receivers return.

Also considered: Tyler Grant ’17 (Bowdoin), Chudi Iregbulem ’15 (Trinity), Jesse Warren ’15 (Wesleyan) and Mark Riley ’16 (Bates)

Jake Bussani '14 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jake Bussani ’14 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Defensive Player of the Year: Safety Jake Bussani ’14 (Wesleyan)

The NESCAC website only lists the top 50 tacklers, and Bussani falls well short of making that with only 30 tackles on the year. So how does a player who was only sixth on his own team in tackles win DPOY?

Well, first of all, Bussani won by the narrowest of margins over a host of other worthy players. Then it is important to understand Bussani’s role in the Wesleyan defense; a role that requires him to patrol the deep part of the field. He did that to near perfection with seven interceptions and five pass breakups. Bussani also returned two of his interceptions all the way back for touchdowns. Also, he was part of a secondary that was a good rung or two above everyone else and allowed a minuscule 124.0 yards per game through the air.

Bussani and teammate Justin Sanchez '17 smother Alex Way '16 in the Cardinals' Week 8 shutout. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
Bussani and teammate Justin Sanchez ’17 smother Alex Way ’16 in the Cardinals’ Week 8 shutout. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Conference coaches know how good of a player he is considering he has made the All-NESCAC team three times already. Last year his stats were even less impressive with 27 tackles and four interceptions. Given how he has been even better this year, the coaches should recognize him once again.

Also considered: Chris Tamasi ’15 (Amherst), Jaymie Spears ’16 (Amherst), Dan Pierce ’16 (Middlebury) Mark Upton ’17 (Bates)

Coach of the Year: EJ Mills (Amherst)

Head Coach EJ Mills (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Head Coach EJ Mills (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Below is the conversation that we had when talking about Coach of the Year. We weren’t planning on publishing it at the time, but it’s just so juicy that we could not resist.

Adam: Alright, Coach of the Year is another interesting one. Ritter has a strong argument because of how well Middlebury did, but I think Mills deserves it.

Joe: Amherst was expected to be near the top again and Middlebury was supposed to be much worse this year.

Adam: Maybe so, but Amherst went through a lot to be undefeated. They played three QBs and switched their lead running back as the season went along. In close games they went 5-0 which is a testament, too, to Mills’ coaching. When I look at Amherst’s season it seemed like they always played a little better than I was expecting or somehow managed to win games when they got outplayed. The coach deserves credit for that.

Joe: I guess. I just feel like the Coach of the Year award is almost equivalent to a team overall achievement award, because we can’t quantify from the outside how much of a team’s success is due to the coach. I expected Amherst to beat everyone but Trinity and Wesleyan at the beginning of the year. As the year went on I got to realizing that Amherst was the best team, but I was always skeptical of Middlebury. I had them middle of the pack but they clearly overachieved. I don’t want Mills to win just because he coached the best team.

Adam: My argument would be that it wasn’t necessarily clear that Amherst really was the best team. Middlebury got better as the year went along and I think mostly because Milano got more comfortable. I didn’t expect he would get so good so fast and that is why I think Middlebury finished with six straight wins. Obviously coaching matters there, but just seems like the player still has a lot of agency, also.

Joe: True….splitting hairs here at this point. I think both are great coaches and just like talking about it.

Drew Jacobs (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Drew Jacobs (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Rookie of the Year: Running Back Drew Jacobs ’18 (Middlebury)

There wasn’t an absolute standout first year this season that burst onto the scene like QB Sonny Puzzo last year or LB Tim Patricia ’16 the year before, but Jacobs was productive for the pass-heavy Panthers, and among first-year players he was first in rushing yards and third in receiving yards. His production was all over the map, as his total yards went 113, 55, 43, 154, 62, 82 and 8, as he left the game early in Week 7 and sat out all of Week 8. With another year under his belt, though, Jacobs could turn into one of the league’s best backs, but he will still have to fight off the presence of teammate Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 and classmate John Jackson ’18 for playing time.

Also considered: Slotback Frank Williams ’18 (Bates), K Zach Altneu ’18 (Hamilton), RB/KR Amman Weaver ’18 (Hamilton), WR  Mbasa Mayikana ’18 (Colby)

Zach Trause (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Zach Trause (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Special Teams Player of the Year: KR/PR/RB Zack Trause ’15

Ike Fuchs ’17 made a push for this award in Week 7 when he broke a Wesleyan record with five field goals in one game (and by going 7-7 FG and 8-8 XP in the last three weeks), but Trause’s body of work is enough for him to get the nod. Though most of the fireworks came in Week 2 when Trause followed up his third quarter kick return TD with a punt return TD early in the fourth quarter to seal the Jumbos’ victory, he was an explosive returner all year. His 32.1 yards per kickoff return were tops in the NESCAC and seventh in all of Division-III. Players need 1.2 attempts per game to qualify for leaderboards, so Trause failed to qualify with only eight punt returns, but if he had qualified, his 19.6 yards per punt return would have placed him fifth in the nation.

Trause taking back a punt 49 yards to the house against Bates in Week 2. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Trause taking back a punt 49 yards to the house against Bates in Week 2. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Also considered: Ike Fuchs ’17 (Wesleyan), WR/KR/PR Ryan Rizzo ’17 (Middlebury) and K Phillip Nwosu’ 15 (Amherst)

Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments section.

Power Rankings 11/5 Edition

The penultimate Power Rankings offer us our clearest picture yet of where each team in the NESCAC stands. Amherst now sits clearly on top, even if their victories have come by the slimmest of margins.

1. Amherst (7-0): The Jeffs don’t win pretty, that’s for sure. Their margin of victory against Middlebury, Wesleyan, and Trinity was 11 points total. Even against Bates, Amherst struggled to pull out the victory. And yet, they are 7-0 and appear to be on their way to the NESCAC title. If we use halftime of the Colby game as the starting point of Max Lippe’s ’15 time as the QB this year, Amherst was averaging 14.6 points per game before Lippe became the starter. Since he took over, the Jeffs have averaged 30 points per game.

2. Wesleyan (6-1): This Wesleyan team did another thing that a Cardinal football team has not done in a long time last week as the Wesleyan victory at Williams was their first in Williamstown since 1984. The Cardinals also are trying to snap a 13-game losing streak against Trinity on Saturday. On his way to winning NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week Honors (along with a host of others) last week, Ike Fuchs ’17 kicked five field goals, the most ever in a single game by a Wesleyan kicker.

3. Middlebury (5-2): Structure the schedule a little differently so you don’t play Wesleyan Week 1 and don’t play Amherst in a driving rain storm and maybe Middlebury is the class of the NESCAC. They are certainly playing as well as any team in the NESCAC right now. An underappreciated part of that success has been their veteran offensive line. Four of the five starters are seniors, and that has been a big part in making the Panthers an offense capable of both throwing and running the ball.

4. Trinity (5-2): Has Trinity slipped after losing two games in a season now in consecutive years? The Bantams did only have five losses total from 2008 to 2012. More likely, however, these last two years are more just an unusual string of unfortunate events converging. After having 10 touchdowns in the first four games of the year, Chudi Iregbulem ’15 has none in the past three in large part because of injury. Just like they did last year, Trinity will look to end their season on a high note by spoiling Wesleyan’s final game of the year.

5. Tufts (4-3): Anybody who said Tufts would be 4-3 at this point in the season can come collect their $1000 dollars right now. Offer excludes coaches and players for Tufts, though I am guessing even some of them are at least a little surprised by how successful they have been. And their level of play has risen throughout the season. A year after finishing last in the NESCAC with 11.8 points per game, the Jumbo offense has turned it around and is third in the NESCAC with 22.6 points per game.

6 Bates (3-4): After falling to 1-4, Bates turned the season around in the CBB beating Colby and then Bowdoin in hard fought victories. Another home victory to close out the season would bring Bates to 4-4 and mark the third consecutive season the Bobcats have finished .500 or better. Mark Riley ’16 has continued his great play all season and has been the best wide receiver in the NESCAC with 95 yards more than the next closest player.

7. Williams (2-5): The Ephs did not look competitive last week against Wesleyan, but as seen above, Amherst tends to play tight games. The offense has been good against most teams, but the elite defenses (Trinity and Wesleyan) have shut them down. James O’Grady ’16 has emerged as one of the better middle linebackers in the league and leads the Ephs with 58 tackles

8. Bowdoin (2-5): The Whittier field magic did not appear on Saturday for Bowdoin as the Polar Bears could not mount a late comeback against Bates. Inconsistency in the passing game, a problem all year, reared its head again because of the weather. The linebacker trio of Brendan Lawler ’16, Branden Morin ’16, and Bjorn Halvorsen ’17 have settled into their roles and are the three top tacklers on the Bowdoin defense.

9. Colby (1-6): The Mules offense broke out in Week 6 going for more than 400 yards after not going over 300 in their first five weeks. Two weeks ago Colby was again above 300 yards, but things went south again as they only managed 190 yards against Tufts. Gabe Harrington ’17 is the only qualified passer completing less than 50 percent of his passes.

10. Hamilton (0-7): Barring an upset of Bates, the Continentals will have gone two straight years without a win, but the arrow appears to be pointed in the right direction. Five of the top six tacklers on a sneaky good defense will be back in 2015. John Phelan ’16 has played an All-NESCAC caliber season with two fumble recoveries and two interceptions to go along with his team-leading 57 tackles.

Wesleyan Team Preview – Same Team, Greater Expectations

2013 Record: 7-1

Returning Starters: 19 (eight offense, 10 defense, one specialist)

Offensive Overview:

You won’t find a more complete team on either side of the ball in the NESCAC. Eight All-NESCAC honorees return to the Cardinal lineup, four on offense. The Cardinals will lean heavily on the run, as they rushed 353 times last year compared to just 174 pass attempts. LaDarius Drew ’15 ran for 94.5 yards per game last year, and his “back-up,” if it’s fair to call it that, Kyle Gibson ’15 earned Second Team honors by rushing for 73.4 yards per game. If miraculously either of those two workhorses stumble, Lou Stevens ’17 averaged 5.9 yards per carry over his 40 touches. Quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 wasn’t an All-NESCAC recipient, but he had the highest completion percentage and yards per attempt in the league and was second to Mac Foote in TD passes. His only three interceptions came in the season finale at Trinity. Josh Hurwitz ’15 and Jay Fabien ’15 are both in their fourth years as starting receivers. Tight end Jonathan Day ’15 is another All-NESCAC honoree. He serves primarily as a run blocker but was fourth on the squad in receptions last year. The offensive line is stacked as well. Pat DiMase ’15 (Second Team) and Blake Cunningham ’16 line up at tackle, while there is some competition for starting time on the interior, although Taylor Bishop ’15, Shane Scannell ’15 and Austin Frank ’15 are the frontrunners and each has game experience.

Defensive Overview:

The returning depth on the defensive side might even be more impressive than that of the offense. Linebacker Myers Beaird graduated, but starters are back everywhere else. Furthermore, the Cardinals like to rotate players on defense and keep legs fresh, so players up and down the roster have in-game experience. Nik Powers ’15 and grad student Jordan Otis line up at defensive end. Ibraheem Khadar ’15 and Mitch Godfrey ’15 will be on the interior. A host of others will rotate through the defensive line, including Alex Sakhno ’15, Greg Blaize ’16 and Jordan Stone ’17. The linebacking corps is a strength, with leading tackler Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 and Gregg Kelley ’15 back. The third spot will be filled by Jake Siciliano ’15, who opened 2013 as the starter but it was then discovered that he had a stomach tumor. Siciliano’s injury made room for Daversa-Russo in the line up, and having both on the field in 2014 will make the Wesleyan defense that much scarier. In the defensive backfield, grad student Jake Bussani will make a run for his fourth straight All-NESCAC First Team award. Vincent Davis ’15 will be the opposite corner. At safety, two-sport stud Donnie Cimino ’15 returns and is joined by Justin Sanchez ’17 who started in 2013. Lastly, Devon Carrillo ’17 will be on the field as a safety-linebacker hybrid. Carrillo was the team’s second-leading tackler, and was awarded All-NESCAC honors as a return man for his 25.7 yard average on kickoffs. In reality, the defense has more than 10 starters returning. Add Siciliano and Carrillo to the tally, and there are 12 players back who could be considered starters.

Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics
Clockwise from top left: Donnie Cimino; Jonathan Day; Jay Fabien; Jake Bussani – Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics

Three Big Questions

1. Can Wesleyan Win the Big One?

After rolling through the first half of the season, outscoring its opponents 163-22, Wesleyan saw some stiffer competition in the final four weeks, and squeaked out victories over its Little Three rivals by a total of eight points. Then disaster struck, Warren failed to take care of the ball as he had all season, the defense imploded, and Trinity closed out its season with a 40-10 beat down of the would-be outright champs. The Cardinals are out to prove that they have become the preeminent program in the NESCAC, and that they can beat big brother down the road in Hartford.

2. Will the Little Three Crown Stay in Middletown?

After a 43-year drought, Wesleyan finally defeated Amherst and Williams in the same season, earning the Little Three championship. Though as mentioned above, the victories were slim. Amherst essentially threw away that matchup with three interceptions and a fumble lost, allowing the Cardinals to get out of Amherst with a 20-14 win, while a late field goal was the difference in Wesleyan’s 16-14 defeat of Williams. Wesleyan will be the favorite in both games but victories will not come easily.

3. Who Steps in for Departed Placekicker Sebastian Aguirre?

Aguirre was arguably the best placekicker in the NESCAC last year, and indeed made the All-NESCAC Second Team for his efforts, and as noted above he kicked the game winner that sealed the Little Three title for the Cardinals. Options to replace Aguirre include backup QB Ike Fuchs ’16, who came into camp atop the depth chart, Corey Phillips ’17 and newcomer John Henry-Carey ’18.

Team MVP: LaDarius Drew. You know that the Cardinals are going to pound opponents with the run game, and Drew will be the team’s workhorse. Expect both him and Gibson to be at the top of the leaderboards in every rushing category. Oh by the way, if healthy Drew will easily become the school’s all-time leader in rushes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

Biggest Game of the Year: Nov. 8 against Trinity

Is there any doubt? These are probably the two best teams in the conference, they are a 25-minute drive up 91 apart from one another, and Wesleyan still has a sour taste in its mouth from last year when the Bantams took the Cardinals’ NESCAC title and divided it into three parts. It’s not impossible that both teams could be undefeated heading into this game.

Best Tweet of the Offseason: The Wesleyan Football Twitter account (@Wes_Football) kept its followers up to date on what a lot of the Cardinals were doing this summer. Kyle Gibson interned at JPMorgan and was offered a full-time job upon graduation, Josh Hurwitz worked with the Celtics organization and Mitch Godfrey was with the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League. But our favorite has to be this series of tweets about how LaDarius Drew spent his summer.

The Cardinals are locked and loaded. Anything short of a NESCAC title will be a disappointment for Wesleyan.