Seasons on the Line: Week Seven Weekend Preview

Two straight weeks with what I deem to be an upset is monumental in NESCAC football. Things are getting turbulent for a number of top teams heading into the final three weeks (Really?! Only three weeks left?) and Trinity isn’t slowing down. Unfortunately, to have any excitement in the last two weeks, we are going to need to have Midd upset Trinity, otherwise, the Bantams will cruise to Title Town once again. Amherst and Tufts had resurgent weekends, although the Jumbos need a lot of help to realize their championship dreams. With Midd and Amherst tied in second at 5-1, this Midd vs. Trinity game is putting everything on the line for a number of teams. While that analysis will be done by Pete in a special article later on, here is the rest of the weekend breakdown, featuring some elimination do-or-die games for Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Williams, with an added rivalry game in the CBB series between Bates and Colby.

Griff Stalcup ’21 looks to rebound from a tough game against Trinity

Wesleyan (4-2) @ Bowdoin (0-6), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME

Wesleyan had a crushing loss against the Mammoths, basically ending all hopes for glory in 2017. While they still have a chance for a massive tie at 7-2 at the top of the division, unless they see the Bantams lose this week, they will not come out on top. Contrary to 2016 where they were able to overcome an opening week loss to go 6-0 until the final week, they lost all offensive capabilities in week six. Since they need help to win it all, they can only focus on their task at hand—burying the Polar Bears further into the abyss of defeat. Dario Highsmith didn’t play against Amherst and is a question mark heading in to this game, and although Mark Piccirillo has been historically good if not great at QB, he looked ineffective—to say the least—last week in Amherst territory. He threw just for 129 yards, no TDs, and the rest of the offense only gained 88 yards on the ground. They lacked spark and only kept the game close because of a Shayne Kaminski pick-six off of Ollie Eberth. While I pick them to win here, this has trap game (a.k.a. a game within two TDs) written on it if Dario Highsmith is still out.

Griff Stalcup regressed in week seven, losing some playing time to former starter Noah Nelson at QB. I’ll cut the kid some slack; He was a first year QB playing against the best team in the league. Nelson wouldn’t have done too well, either. Nate Richam didn’t play in the game, and as Bowdoin’s only offensive weapon, it he isn’t back, they will have a rough game. Stalcup did have a six yard TD run, and Nelson a four yard TD pass, so this game might just decide which QB starts for the Polar Bears in the final two games of their season against their fellow winless Maine teams. Wesleyan is not nearly as scary as an opponent as Trinity, but the absolute thrashing in week six couldn’t have helped this team’s confidence. They could make it interesting, but won’t have enough juice to overcome the Cardinals.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 28, Bowdoin 14

Brendan Costa has had rushing success and looks to lead Bates to their first win

Bates (0-6) @ Colby (0-6), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

Well, one of the Maine football teams will finally find the win column this weekend. By virtue of Hamilton’s slight edge over the other bottom teams, Bates, Colby, and Bowdoin now all find themselves without wins heading into their CBB Consortium series for the crown of Maine. Bates’ Brendan Costa will be the most dynamic player on the field this Saturday for either team, and has locked himself in to the starting QB job. Despite a blowout loss at the hands of Middlebury—which was totally expected and inevitable—Costa still managed to throw for two scores, run for 131 yards, and only throw one pick. While the Bobcats lost two fumbles, one from Costa, one from WR Mickoy Nichol, they could have definitely played worse. With a little bit of offensive momentum going against a weak Mules team, Bates actually finds themselves as the favorite.

After facing a disappointing loss at the hands of another bottom tier NESCAC team, Colby looks to end their winning drought after an encouraging performance from QB Jack O’Brien. Both teams have developing signal-callers, but each is still winless. The Mules also saw a solid performance from K John Baron, earning the special teams player of the week honors, going 4/4 in total kicks. This fact isn’t overly relevant, but is among the only press coverage the Mules have seen all season, indicative of their lack of success. An aerial attack is the only way to find their first win as Bates’ defense is vulnerable, and Jake Schwern has struggled with efficiency lately. This will be run game against passing game, and the end result will show which rebuilding team has more hope for the future.

Predicted Score: Bates 24, Colby 14

Amherst (5-1) @ Tufts (4-2), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

Amherst is now back in the title conversation with their win over Wesleyan, beating the Cardinals when the Jumbos could not earlier this season. Their lack of a high ceiling, as I mentioned in accordance with Reece Foy’s limping return from injury, is not as valid as I earlier thought. Rather than centering on a strong QB and stellar offensive attack, RB Jack Hickey and QB Ollie Eberth are now among the supporting cast to their dominant defense. Hasani Figueroa and Hickey didn’t get much going against the strong Wesleyan defense, and while they should have more success this weekend, Tufts QB Ryan McDonald should be worried about the Mammoth pass rush. Andrew Yamin had an unbelievable performance, racking up 5.5 sacks on Piccirillo, and was only half of the total attack on the opposing QB. The Tufts run game should be neutralized and McDonald will lack enough time in the pocket to get a whole lot going.

Tufts had a much needed win against Williams, knocking off their first strong opponent of the season. Given their loss to Wesleyan and the Ephs’ win over Midd the week before, this was a surprising victory, showing the prowess of QB Ryan McDonald who was able to find nine different receivers on the day. Jay Tyler and Mike Pedrini both had success on the ground, but should face much more challenge in the ground game this weekend. The Jumbos hope comes on defense where their pass rush leads the league with 25 sacks, one more than the Mammoths’ total. Who’s D-Line is better? Both teams should revert to a more passing heavy attack, but might lack sufficient time to throw. Defense rules in this game.

Predicted Score: Amherst 21, Tufts 17

Hamilton (2-4) @ Williams (4-2), 1:30 PM, Williamstown, MA

Hamilton has been the beneficiary of two weak opponents these past two weeks, bringing their record to a respectable 2-4. If they win out, they could actually finish with a winning record, and given their 0-4 start, that is a good cause for playing hard. I don’t think they have any chance to do that as they only have one more weak opponent, but this could be the game where they show that their week one game was not total luck. They barely lost to Tufts, and I have looked at this game over and over again due to its shockingly close outcome, and after their loss to Tufts, Williams looks like a beatable opponent. While they barely knocked off Colby, they rallied from a 17-0 deficit, therefore dominating the second half of the game. With Kenny Gray moving up in the NESCAC QB ranks, and with a solid receiving core in Christian Donahoe and Joe Schmidt, they have a formidable enough offense to stick with the Ephs.

A relatively surprising loss to Tufts leaves Williams looking for a win. They have two losses on the year and need even more help than Wesleyan to share the ‘Cac crown. They do not control their own fate in any way even if they win out, and face a sneaky Hamilton team this Saturday. Without any production from rising RB star Rashad Morrison, leaving him as a question for Saturday’s game, Bobby Maimaron and company will need to find other ways to outscore the Continentals. Frank Stola and Adam Regensburg are Maimaron’s best offensive weapons, with Regensburg really coming on strongly as a WR, moving away from his defensive role. Kyle Horihan had a breakout defensive game against Tufts, leading the squad in tackles with 11 and an INT, and he should look to replicate that performance against an inconsistent Hamilton team. Despite their recent loss, Williams hasn’t lost a game by more than one possession and has the offense to outlast Hamilton regardless of how Gray and Donahoe play.

Predicted Score: Williams 31, Hamilton 21

It’s Finally Getting Interesting: Weekend Preview 10/15

This week features not one, but two sure-fire nail-biter contests between the league’s top teams. Not only this, but some of the less successful teams up to this point (four 0-4 teams) will get the chance to find the win column as they square off against one another. Hamilton or Bowdoin will end their winless streaks and Williams @ Middlebury and Trinity @ Tufts are games that could either put one undefeated over the other on a quest for a ring, or bring all the one loss teams closer together. Regardless of how this week plays out, it’s nice to see that the majority of results won’t be easy to predict, a refreshing sight compared to the majority of the first four weeks.

Hamilton (0-4) @ Bowdoin (0-4), 12:00 PM, Brunswick, ME

It must be nice to look across the field and not see a powerhouse on the other side for these two teams. After brutal starts to the season in terms of strength of schedule, the Continentals and Polar Bears will square off in what is sure to be a competitive matchup. Bowdoin had a dud of an offensive performance last week, scoring just three points, but the previous three weeks saw them in the end zone 2x per contest. QB Griff Stalcup ‘21 should have a good chance to breakout against his first weak defense while RB Nate Richam ’20 looks to continue his ground

Nate RIcham ’20 is the lone bright spot in Bowdoin’s season thus far.

dominance after a 109 yard performance against Tufts. Richam averaged 5.7 yards per carry against a Jumbo defense that held the Bowdoin team to just three points, and Richam has improved in some way every week. Stalcup has been remarkably consistent in terms of completions as he is either 12/21 or 12/22 in each of his three starts this year, the best of which came against Amherst. If both these two players can get it going, they might just have the scoring capability to set them over the edge.

Hamilton, like Bowdoin, hasn’t had much luck so far this season. If they started playing some of the NESCAC’s weaker teams immediately following their near win over Tufts, then their record might look drastically different. However, after failing to improve on that performance, and falling back into the abyss of the losing column the last three weeks without much resistance, they are desperate for a win against Bowdoin. Kenny Gray ’20 has played better than his team’s 0-4 record would indicate and he has the experience that could lead his team to victory. Also, a stellar secondary performance against perennial All-NESCAC Sonny Puzzo ’18 would suggest that Griff Stalcup will have his hands full. I mean, if they can intercept Trinity’s QB twice, why not four against Bowdoin? They look to be the favorite here due to their defense from last week and Gray’s relative consistency thus far, but Richam could control the Bowdoin offense if he plays like he did last week.

Predicted Score: Hamilton 20, Bowdoin 17

Bates (0-4) @ Wesleyan (3-1), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT

While the outcome of this game isn’t necessarily hard to predict in terms of who will win (sorry, Bobcat fans, this won’t be your week), it will still be a good opportunity for Bates do develop their offense in preparation for games that they will compete in. Brendan Costa ’21 looked really bad last weekend against Williams, like really bad. Yes, I recognize that it’s only his second career start, and his second career game, but four INTs is a lot. Sandy Plashkes ’19 showed flashes of greatness with some huge runs last year, and Costa looked good in his opening contest, but until Bates figures out who is going to lead their team, they won’t have a chance to win. Here’s the good news: Matt Golden ’20 looked really good against Williams with a huge 62 yard rush, both Costa and Plashkes can run the ball, and Bates plays with tons of slot receivers and slot backs that are part of a run oriented offense. They should run the ball on offense. Obviously with only 14 pass attempts as a unit last game, they know what their strengths are, but they need to limit the turnovers and let their ground game take control. Jason Lopez should be nearly the only receiver they throw too. They won’t win this game, but hopefully they can get enough offense going to show that they can find the win column eventually.

Again, for Wesleyan this shouldn’t be a difficult win. If nothing else it should be an opportunity to QB Mark Piccirillo ’18 to work on his turnover issue as well. He threw the ball well against Colby, going for four TDs and 324 yards. His play isn’t an issue right now, but he has turned the ball over in 4/4 contests so far and with Amherst and Trinity still left on the Cardinals’ schedule, he will need to be perfect for Wesleyan to win out. The Wesleyan defensive line looked great last weekend too, accumulating three sacks and 10 tackles for losses, and they should get to the Bates QBs all day.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 35, Bates 10

Amherst (3-1) @ Colby (0-4), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

I am seriously doubting Amherst’s potential to make a run at the league title after their lacklustre play at QB against Middlebury. As everybody knows, the NESCAC is a QB league, and while Ollie Eberth ’20 is solid, he isn’t the same as Piccirillo, Lebowitz, McDonald, or Puzzo. Even young Bobby Maimaron ’21 looks to have an edge over Eberth. With that said, they shouldn’t have much issue against the Mules. Eberth is going to have to start making strides to be more diverse in his passing game as Bo Berluti has been under utilized up to this point in the season. Amherst’s secondary looked weak against Midd too and will use this game as an opportunity to get some turnovers and work out the kinks before tougher games.

Ollie Eberth ’20 has had moments of greatness, but hasn’t been consistent enough to compete with the elite QB class above him.

This probably isn’t a game that the Mules circled on their schedule in the preseason. Amherst has looked nearly unstoppable against the other 0-4 teams this year, and while they lost to Midd, Colby is not even close to on that level. They really didn’t get anything going against Wesleyan, and their only highlight was having a lead through the first quarter. They proceeded to let up 41 unanswered points to finish off the contest. They don’t have much of an offensive game as Jack O’Brien, Jake Schwern, and the receivers haven’t made many big plays this year. They were able to force two turnovers against the Cardinals though and defense should be their goal against the Mammoths who turned the ball over three times against the Panthers. Their defensive line hasn’t done much recently, but they could limit Eberth significantly in his passing game. The bad news for the Mules is that Jack Hickey is the star of the Amherst offense and stopping the ground game isn’t the Colby specialty.

Predicted Score: Amherst 38, Colby 7

GAME OF THE WEEK: Trinity (4-0) @ Tufts (3-1), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

Another marquee matchup brings excitement to my heart. Tufts has already lost, but have displayed enough offensive talent worth of a challenge for the mighty Bantams, who’s only notable win thus far was a nail-biter against Williams. The key to this game for Tufts will be stopping RB Max Chipouras ’18 who had a dud of a performance against the Ephs but rebounded nicely against Hamilton. Ryan McDonald ’19 has been running the ball convincingly lately and could be the spark that puts the Jumbos over the edge on Saturday. His dual threat ability is just what an opponent needs against Trinity, who’s defense has been nearly unstoppable up to this point. Unfortunately for Tufts, Bowdoin RB Nate Richam ran all over them last week, and if they are vulnerable like that again, Chipouras could control the game. Rush defense is the only hope for the Jumbos.

Ryan McDonald’s speed makes him a dangerous weapon, and is the key to Tufts’ upset chances.

I mentioned above how Chipouras had a tough day against Williams, averaging under three yards per carry for the first time in his career, but his silenced his doubters (were there any?) with two TDs and 97 yards against Hamilton. Puzzo showed he was vulnerable to the interception too, and he will need to take better care of the ball as to not give Tufts additional scoring opportunities. With the way Trinity’s defense has played so far this year, they shouldn’t need more than 21 points to win this game, but the question is, how many opportunities will they give Tufts to find the end zone.

Predicted Score: Trinity 24, Tufts 14

Williams (3-1) @ Middlebury (4-0), 2:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

 334 yards of offense and four TDs from Bobby Maimeron led him to his first Player of the Week honors after a clobbering of Bates (check out Matt’s excellent profile of Bobby here). Good special teams play, a balanced offensive attack, and a breakout day from their secondary lead to a decent amount of hope heading into this game. Rashad Morrison ’21 and Connor Harris ’18 combined for over 160 yards against Bates and looked nearly unstoppable. TJ Rothman (21)’s two picks, along with another from Jameson DeMarco ’19 and Jack Kastenhuber ’21 should worry Lebowitz, who has had issues with turnovers in the past. DeMarco has been great to start the season, adding the INT in his only game without a sack this year. Williams should put up a fight, Maimeron is about to face the music with Midd’s secondary showing up in a big way against Amherst.

 Zoning in on Maimeron all day though will be Midd’s Kevin Hopsicker who had a career game against Amherst with eight tackles and a pick-6 against Amherst. Wesley Becton also added a pick-6 and Maimeron should have his hands full with this secondary. Lebowitz won’t be slowed down by Williams’ defense despite their solid play against Bates. The Middlebury receiving core should be able to overcome much of the challenge from the Ephs, and while Williams could intercept one or two passes, Lebowitz should still find the end zone upwards of three times. The rush defense looks to be the only question heading into this one as they allowed almost 200 yards on the ground to the Mammoths.

 Predicted Score: Middlebury 28, Williams 21

Familiar Territory: Week 2 Football Power Rankings

I may have hopped on the Hamilton football bandwagon a little too quickly, and now we find ourselves in a familiar NESCAC football picture. While each team looks to have settled in to a more classic position early on in the standings, it’s hard not to lament at what could have been if there were some upsets in week two. What we see now is Trinity’s continuing reign, with Middlebury, Amherst, and Tufts hot on the Bantams’ feathers. While Williams is 2-0 after an 0-8 season in 2016, they still have much to prove to be included in the title hunt. With week three around the corner, here is where each squad stands:

1: Trinity
Two games and two dominant results. The Bantam defense is unstoppable at the moment, not allowing points heading into October. After a 31-0 mark at the end of the first quarter, they cruised to victory as Sonny Puzzo ’18, Max Chipouras ’18, and Dominique Seagers ’18 had huge days. Seagers had a pick-six and a tackle for a loss. Even their special teams were perfect as kicker Eric Sachse ’19 made his only field goal attempt and John Spears returned a punt 51 yards to the Bates 16 yard line, leading to a Chipouras TD. An 11 game win streak, 86-0 aggregate season score, and all three prongs of the game in full force lead to a sure fire top ranking here.

Dakota Foster rises up to make a grab against Bates in week 2.

2: Middlebury
Middlebury stands out on offense right now. QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 is off looking for more TD records as he found the end zone four more times in week two, finding four different receivers in the process. Breakout WR Maxim Bockman ’20, Conrado Banky ’19, Max Rye ’20, and Jimmy Connell ’21  all had reason to celebrate, while Tanner Contois ’18 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 also had solid days. Their receiving depth is noteworthy, and although Diego Meritus ’19 was still out, he should be coming back soon. In his stead, Senior Matt Cardew ’18 shined in his biggest college game, running for 74 yards and a TD, looking like a solid option out of the backfield. They have an easy game against Colby in week three at home, and if Meritus is back it would be a good time to ease him into action and see what he can do alongside Cardew.

3: Amherst
Reece Foy ’18 is back after missing all of 2016. That’s big news for Mammoth fans as he brought a win along with him. While Amherst eased him in to action, he still ran for a TD in the first quarter and backup Ollie Eberth ’21 looked fine for most of the game. Jack Hickey ’19 led the way with two scored and 122 yards rushing, while Elijah Ngbokoli ’20 had a breakout game with a TD run of 39 yards in the third quarter. The defense also forced four turnovers against a Hamilton team that looked to be an up and coming threat. While the Mammoths certainly sent the Continentals back to earth, they looked clean and ready to take on the tougher teams in the process. Look for them to roll over Bowdoin.

Wesleyan celebrates their OT victory over Tufts.

4: Wesleyan
Nearly identically to last year, Wesleyan shrugged off their opening game loss against a tough team to beat another one in week two. They are here to stay, and although they have a tally in the loss column, they could make a run at the title just like they did until the final week of last season. Their OT win against Tufts saved their season and will be a great stepping stone after a defensively oriented game. Mark Piccirillo ’18 looked good passing but lost two fumbles, and the running game was weak, however, Ben Thaw ’20 and Shane Kaminski ’18 saved the day by each intercepting passes from Ryan McDonald. If Dario Highsmith ’20 can rebound against hamilton after rushing for just ten yards, then Wesleyan will be in good shape.

5: Tufts
Wesleyan avenged their 2016 week one loss to the Jumbos with an OT victory last week, dashing Tufts’ hopes of a perfect season. It’s really nice to think that the Jumbos aren’t totally out of the championship picture with the addition of the ninth game providing more hope, but it will be a tough road. After exiting the opening game against Hamilton early, Ryan McDonald ’20 returned but didn’t look good in the air, throwing two picks and zero TDs. He looked great on the ground though, running for over seven yards per carry and 122 yards total, including a TD. Tufts didn’t muster much offense other than his rushing though as if it weren’t for an 85 yard punt return from Jack Dolan ’20, they would’ve been routed in regular time. If Ryan Hagfeldt can return for week three, he might see some pocket action against Bates as the Jumbos should easily rout the Bobcats on their way to a 2-1 start.

6: Williams
2-0! A perfect start for a team that had a perfectly bad season in 2016. Is this the story of 2017 NESCAC football? Don’t get too excited too fast as the Ephs have yet to play a team from the top half of the division. They have some great pieces that they are rolling out as new QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WRs Frank Stola ’21 and Justin Nelson are running the show. They were down 7-0 and then up just 10-7 at half against Colby, but turned up the heat in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 24 unanswered points. Their first real test will be this weekend at Trinity, and if they can pull off this upset I will be shocked. If they put up a close game then they should still be considered the real deal. Let the Coop bring its worst, the Ephs are warmed up.

7: Hamilton
Well, I will admit defeat with this one. I wanted so badly to see a Cinderella story with the Continentals in 2017, but am realizing how that train has already left the station. Hamilton came off a hard fought loss against Tufts and just got abused by Amherst. Ball security was an issue as two RBs and a WR fumbled, leaving the Continentals with a poor red zone execution rate. Gray also threw a pick and with those four turnovers, they never had a shot. Granted these aspects of the game are correctable as Gray looked solid, and so did lead receiver Christian Donahue ’20, but they still couldn’t gain any traction on the ground. Their rush defense was also pitiful, and against other top teams like Trinity and Wesleyan with good backs, they will continue to watch their deficits shoot up.

8: Bowdoin
Bowdoin didn’t look great against Middlebury, particularly their defense, and only scored garbage time TDs. They did score twice though, putting them ahead of Colby and Bates in the rankings. This was an important game though as it was the first start for Griff Stalcup ’21 who took over for Noah Nelson ’18 (as predicted). Stalcup struggled some, completing just 12 passes for 105 yards, but ran the ball well, rushing ten times for 54 yards and a TD. If he keeps developing he could be an exciting dual threat player for the Polar Bears, although I will keep in mind it was against the Panthers’ reserves. Lebowitz had all day to throw for Middlebury, as he was sacked just once, and if they can’t pressure the QB, the opposition if going to keep having a field day against Bowdoin.

9: Colby
The Mules move up in the rankings by virtue of getting on the scoreboard in week two, but are only marginally higher than Bates. Sure they only lost by 17 (is that even a bright side?), but getting dominated by Williams, regardless of how good they might be, is not a good result. QB Jack O’Brien had an OK day, not throwing a pick, completing over 50% of his passes, and finding the end zone, but he also fumbled and failed to keep his team in the game. Jake Schwern had a solid day on the ground with 71 yards rushing, and the positives stop with him. The Mule defense sacked Williams’ QB Maimaron just twice and recorded five tackles for losses compared to 12 from the Ephs, pointing to line troubles on both sides of the ball. This was probably a game that was circled on the Colby schedule as a victory before the season and is going to hurt for a while.

10: Bates
There are four 0-2 teams and one of them had to bite the bullet. Bates is last on these rankings due to lack of a point scored in week two. Their offensive struggles of week one worsened and that is a big issue for a team that looked to be on the rise a season ago. As I predicted, QB Sandy Plashkes’ (’18) lack of production led to Matt Golden taking over, although with limited success. Plashkes’ completions to the Bobcats matched his completions to the Bantams (one each) and the Bates QBs threw for just 45 yards combined. They stayed true to their system of a run oriented offense, but besides Kyle Flaherty (seven rushes, 43 yards) no player with over two attempts averaged more than three yards per carry. If Bates’ defense continues to struggle, then running the ball in such a high volume without a dynamic back won’t lead to many comebacks. On the bright side, Justin Foley netted 247 total yards on punts.