Rivalry Restored: Amherst @ Williams Game of the Week Preview

With Amherst knocking off Trinity last week in impressive fashion, a more dominant showing than the 28-20 final score would indicate, the Mammoths control their own destiny—win their final game and they are NESCAC champions. But that game is the 132nd installment of the Biggest Little Game in America, to be played out in Williamstown where the Ephs have a legitimate chance to defeat their archrival for the first time in a while. Led by a breakout freshmen class, Williams looks to have put their recent struggles in the past, and at 5-3 are certainly good enough to snap Amherst’s 6 game winning streak in the rivalry. With Amherst looking to clinch a championship, and Williams looking to send their seniors off in style and prevent any celebrating from being done on their own turf, this game is truly up for grabs.

Amherst couldn’t have been much happier with how they played last week, snapping Trinity’s 16 game win streak and leapfrogging over them to the top of the standings. While I admittedly did not give them much of a chance in last week’s preview, they did do all of the things I said they needed to do to knock off the Bants. They never let Max Chipouras ’19 get settled in for Trinity, which for him translated to 26 carries for “only” 92 yards and a touchdown. They forced Sonny Puzzo ’18 to beat them and he couldn’t, throwing for 172 yards and an interception. And Reece Foy ’18 hit James O’Regan ’20 for a 55 yard touchdown pass, which means we hit my keys to the game trifecta of:

1. Make someone other than Chipouras beat you

2. Force turnovers and short fields and

3. Hit a home run play on offense.

Not bad.

This Amherst team is legit. It may have taken 8 weeks and a lot of badgering from the Facebook comment sections to make us say that, but following their performance against Trinity they have truly proven themselves. Their lack of a superstar QB and the fact that Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 split carries for their dominant rushing attack mean that no one on their offense really jumps out at you, and they don’t have the depth of dangerous playmakers on defense that teams like Trinity and Tufts do, but they’re legit. They have the best offensive line in the league, the best linebacking corps in the league, and probably the best group of cover corners in the league as well.

The Amherst secondary did an excellent job on Mike Breuler ’18 against Wesleyan, and will look to do the same to Frank Stola ’21.

But they will be tested in every which way by this Williams team. QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WR Frank Stola ’21, and the rest of the weapons on Coach Raymond’s offense can put points up in a hurry, and you just know they’ll have some tricks up their sleeve for this one. Their defensive line started out really strong, but has faded in recent weeks. If they can return to their early season form, and link up with their linebackers, who have been really good in their own right all year, this game is going to come down to the wire. This rivalry has been quite one-sided for more than half a decade now, but that’s not going to be the case on Saturday.

Amherst X-Factor: WR James O’Regan ’20

James O'Regan
James O’ Regan ’21 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Their leading receiver in every statistical category except for the fact that he has one less reception than Bo Berluti ’19 (36), O’Regan ’20 might be the most under appreciated skill player in the NESCAC. His 18.7 yards per catch lead the league and his ability to stretch the field vertically is one of the factors that have gone into Hickey and Figueroa’s success on the ground. The weak spot in the Williams defense is their cornerbacks. They’ve combined for 1 interception, and it was a desperation heave to the back of the end zone against Hamilton. Four different Wesleyan receivers had receptions of 20+ yards, and if O’Regan can hit them for big plays like that, it’s going to be really hard for them to key in on the Amherst run game like they’re going to want to.

Fortunately for O’Regan, at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, he is going to have a huge advantage over whichever cornerback Williams chooses to throw at him. Desmond Butler ’19 is 5’11 and Amhyr Barber ’19 is 5’10. It doesn’t get any bigger at the safety position, so unless they plan on throwing a linebacker like 6’2″ 205 TJ Rothman ’21 on O’Regan in select packages and losing arguably their best run stopper, it is simply going to be an uphill battle for whoever matches up with O’Regan. Everything is set up for him to have a big day.

Williams X-Factor: DE Jameson DeMarco ’19

Jameson DeMarco
Jameson DeMarco ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

There were a lot of options for this pick, as is the case when you play a really good team. But beating Amherst begins and ends with stopping the run. TJ Rothman ’21 (3rd, 79), Jarrett Wesner ’21 (7th, 65), and Luke Apuzzi ’20 (9th, 63), all rank in the top ten in the league in tackles, but as those numbers indicate, there’s no doubt that they’ll bring it on Saturday. Instead, it’s the Williams defensive front that needs to really step it up, and DeMarco is going to need to lead that unit. DeMarco leads the team in sacks with 4.5 and is second on the team in tackles for loss, but a lot of those numbers came earlier in the year. This defense made a big splash in Week 3 when they held Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19 to just 80 yards on 28 carries, by far his most inefficient game of the season, and DeMarco was the main culprit behind that effort, going for 7 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss. Williams as a team hasn’t been tested against a traditional rushing attack really at all since they faced Trinity, being matched up against aerial threats like Middlebury’s Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo ’19, or dual threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19 at Tufts.

While it’s a small sample size, just one game, it was against the league’s best running back in Chipouras, and their performance against a smash mouth back like him should give them confidence in being able to stop Hickey and Figueroa. They have other playmakers on their D-Line such as DeMarco’s counterpart DE Austin Thomas ’19, and NT Chris Hattar ’18, that will be relied on to stop Amherst’s offense, but DeMarco has done it before and he needs to do it again on Saturday.

Everything Else:

 This is going to be a really fun one. The biggest Division III rivalry in the country, and one of the biggest in all of collegiate sports, two exciting, talented teams, and a championship on the line. While College Gameday isn’t going to be in Williamstown this week, this is probably the most exciting installment of this rivalry to take place in the Berkshires since Chris, Lee, and Herbie came to town in 2007. This time last year Williams was 0-7 and Amherst was 3-4. But now the two teams find themselves in much different, better places. Williams has turned 0-7 into 5-3 with some new young stars, and Amherst, after flying under the radar all season, finds itself needing to win one game to win a league title, with the chance to celebrate it on their hated nemesis’s field.

Like any football game really, all eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks. With it being both Amherst’s Ollie Eberth ’20 and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron ’21’s first experience under center in this rivalry, it will be interesting to see how they handle the nerves that come with it. But Eberth ’20 has impressed week in and week out, passing every test along the way, and Maimaron has rarely looked like a freshman this fall. I think both young quarterbacks, and both teams really, will come out and play their best games. Both teams are well coached and in the last week of the season, should be the most prepared they’ve been all year.

Bobby Maimaron ’21 gets his first taste of the rivalry following the worst game of his career. Can he recover?

This game will probably be decided by something as simple as who takes care of the ball better and commits less turnovers. There is enough playmaking on both teams that any of 8-10 guys could be the hero in what will be an otherwise pretty even game (Amherst has the better offensive line and secondary, but it’s just about a wash everywhere else). I may be biased, but if Pete was doing this preview he’d find a way for Middlebury to win the game so I’ll survive (Editor’s Note: Actually if Williams wins this game, Middlebury has a chance to tie for the league title, so Middlebury could actually be won of the winners in this one.) Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his favorite target, classmate Frank Stola ’21, will end their explosive freshman seasons in style, conjuring up the same late game magic they brought to Midd in Week 5, and the Ephs will eke one out in the 30 degree weather on Homecoming, ending a 6 game win streak and Amherst’s title hopes in style.

Final Score: Williams 31, Amherst 27

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