Well here we are. It’s 34 degrees outside, it’s supposed to snow next Tuesday, and another NESCAC football season has come and gone. And what a season it was. Trinity was supposed to use the rest of the league as target practice, and for the most part they did. But the Mammoths stunned them in Week Seven, and gave us one of the more exciting final weekends in recent memory. We had an incredible senior class that gave us highlights galore all year, and they will all be missed. But there are also talented young players who have the league set up for the future, especially the first year QB crew of Williams’ Bobby Maimaron, Amherst’s Ollie Eberth and Bates’ Brendan Costa.
However, the biggest story of the season might not have to do with the players at all. 2017 was the first season in which the teams played a full nine game schedule, ensuring that everyone played everyone else. I don’t know what the readers think, but to me it was a roaring success. The biggest reason that the final weekend was so exciting was that head-to-head play was such a factor. Amherst could have clinched the title with a win over Williams because of their win over Trinity, which gave them the tiebreaker. And Middlebury’s win over Tufts mattered because the tie breakers they had with Wesleyan and Amherst would have allowed them to share the title had Trinity lost. In the past, there’s a chance Amherst and Trinity wouldn’t have even played. Count us in as big fans of the ninth game.
Speaking of Williams, the Ephs have to be the other biggest story of the season. Last year, Williams went 0-8 and were outscored on the season 99-263. In the Biggest Little Game in America 2016, Williams lost 28-3. Fast forward a year, and Williams beat Amherst 31-24 to finish at 6-3 keep their hated rivals from a NESCAC title. Credit for this incredible turnaround has to go to Head Coach Mark Raymond. Raymond vaporized the culture of losing that had permeated the Williams locker room in about five minutes, and created one of the tougher teams in the league. They had wins over two of the best teams in the league (Amherst and Middlebury) in the two most exciting games of the year, showing their knack for clutch play. The culture that Raymond that has established in such a short time is borderline unbelievable. Coach of the Year is his by a mile.
Of course, the next most credit has to go to the players. Despite having the youngest team in the league, Williams showed that they’re already one of the elite teams in the league. QB Bobby Maimaron ‘21 is a star, adjusting his game to fit the opponent. Against Middlebury, he matched Jared Lebowitz ‘18 throw for throw to pick apart Middlebury’s iffy secondary. And against the dominant Amherst defense, he kept it on the ground and ran for four touchdowns, including the game winner in OT. In an offseason that will see the departure of three elite quarterbacks, Maimaron is the next superstar. With other impressive first years like WR Frank Stola, RB T.J Dozier and LB T.J Rothman, Williams may well be the favorite to win the title next season. Imagine saying that two years ago.
As I said earlier, this was a season full of stellar seniors. Wesleyan’s tandem of QB Mark Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler put up video game numbers all year, and forced some record book re-writing. Breuler ended the season with 87 receptions and 1167 yards, both records, and Piccirillo finished the season with a 70.4% completion percentage, top five in the country. These two stars might be the top two contenders for POY, but they weren’t the only stars who will be leaving the NESCAC sky. Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ‘18 closed his career with back to back NESCAC titles, and picked apart Wesleyan in his final game to the tune of 228 yards and three touchdowns (2 passing one rushing.) Puzzo is one of the most successful QB’s in recent NESCAC history.
And then there’s Jared Lebowitz. I promised myself (and every other writer) that I wouldn’t write this whole article about him, but just a few words. When he went down against Bates, he was having one of the best QB seasons in recent NESCAC history, with 18 touchdowns against just two interceptions. His matchup with Puzzo and Trinity is one of the great “what-ifs” of the season, as if he had played it might have been an all-time classic. No matter what, Lebowitz will go down as maybe the best of the Middlebury quarterback dynasty, and one of the best on any team. I may still vote for him as the Second Team QB (I kid, I kid.)
There’s one more, considerably less athletic graduating senior to mention; me. This will be my last season covering NESCAC football for this blog. I’m in the library and crying is frowned upon so I won’t write too much, but just know that this blog has been the best choice I’ve made in my college career. I got my start with football, and getting to write about the teams that I’ve grown up loving (Middlebury) and loathing (Amherst) is an incredible pleasure. To all the players, parents and fans, you’re the reason we do it, thank you for reading.
In the words of Bill Belichick, we’re on to basketball.
There is another championship caliber game this week in Trinity @ Amherst, which has its own separate preview, but there are still a number of interesting games with pride on the line. The final nine positions in the standings are still up for grabs, and while that might not mean much to some, many programs will benefit in morale, momentum, and recruiting (which obviously doesn’t happen in the NESCAC for our readers from admissions offices) for future seasons. Bates and Bowdoin have the battle for Maine, Williams and Wesleyan are tied in the standings with Williams looking to jump even higher up the ladder from 2016, Midd needs to put up or shut up, Hamilton could still put up a respectable record, and Tufts is in danger of falling to .500. Sorry to Colby Mule fans, there isn’t much going on for you this week other than a potential for a monstrous defeat. Lots to watch this weekend and here is what to expect:
Bowdoin (0-7) @ Bates (1-6), 12:30 PM, Lewiston, ME
Two promising first year QBs for struggling teams in this game. Is this the future of the NESCAC? The next two teams to make a Williams/Bobby Maimaron-esque jump to the top in 2018? Only time will tell how each young signal caller turns out and how their teams develop with them, but for now, Griff Stalcup ’21 and Brendan Costa ’21 should provide an intense matchup in their first of four career head to head battles. Stalcup struggled mightily against Trinity (63-14 loss), looking like he was in danger of losing his job, but knocked it out of the park in a 21-10 loss to Wesleyan. He threw for 317 yards, a TD, and didn’t turn the ball over. Despite a loss, the two possession difference against Wesleyan is a positive for this struggling Polar Bear squad. With Nate Richam ’18 out, the Bowdoin running game is much weaker, but they adjusted from the Trinity to Wesleyan games, making a stab at a late comeback. They also resorted to a more pass oriented offense as Robert Kollmer isn’t nearly as dangerous as Richam. While Richam and Kollmer are both young and promising for the Bowdoin future, without Richam, the passing game will once again be on display. Defense has been a big issue for the Polar Bears, holding off the Cardinals’ running attack, although they were without lead back Dario Highsmith ’20. Their passing defense isn’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern against a run-heavy Bobcat offense. Their senior receivers Nick Vailas and Bryan Porter should be open for Stalcup, but their key will be stopping the rush. They have a shot, but Costa might be too much to handle.
A run oriented offense against a weak rush defense (actually, the worst rush defense, allowing 205.7 yards per game). This is a recipe for success for Brendan Costa and the slot-receivers of Bates football. Coming off of a rather ugly win against Colby (27-24, we must not forget that Bates could still easily be 0-7 and in search for their first win. I mean, looking at the matchup and how Costa played, they are the favorite here, but they shouldn’t be by much. If it weren’t for the perfect opponent for this offense, there’s no way the Bobcats could be projected to win. They allow the most pass yards per game (273) and points per game (40.6!) in the NESCAC. Granted Bowdoin, as previously mentioned, allows the most rush yards per game and also the second most points per game (34.7). This is a recipe for Costa to find some success to Mickoy Nichol, and for him, Nichol, and Frank Williams to find some room on the ground. This game should be a defensive nightmare, but will also be a mano-a-mano battle of the new guy QBs for bragging rights in Maine.
Predicted Score: Bates 31, Bowdoin 28
Williams (5-2) @ Wesleyan (5-2), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT
Another exciting game between two top teams who are just barely out of it, still feeling the sting of Trinity’s dominance. Pride is on the line for both, while Williams looks to one up another top team who dominated them a year ago. With such a young team, each high intensity game gives them an edge for next year when they face the Bantams again. With Williams’ depth, they should be the favorites as without Dario Highsmith, injured against Bowdoin, Wesleyan is not nearly as dangerous offensively. Connor Harris has been the lead back all year, but TJ Dozier has really come on the past three games, putting a hurting on Hamilton last game with 112 yards in their 24-6 win. With Bobby Maimaron at the helm, Rashad Morrison, Harris, and Dozier on the ground, and Frank Stola, Justin Nelson, and Adam Regensburg on the hands team, the Eph offense is scary good. Their only real flawed game was against Tufts in a 21-13 loss where they were vulnerable in the secondary. S Luke Apuzzi, LB Jarrett Wesner, and LB TJ Rothman will need to be strong in the second and third tiers of the defense helping the DBs in order to limit Piccirillo.
Without Dario Highsmith, QB Mark Piccirillo will need to step up in a big way if Wesleyan is to better their 6-2 record from 2016. Piccirillo looked good against Bowdoin, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen because of how weak their defense is. Therefore, recently, Piccirillo has struggled mightily. Besides the Bowdoin and Amherst games, he has thrown INTs in every game (including games against Hamilton, Bates, AND Colby). In the game he didn’t throw one against the Mammoths, he got absolutely abused, sacked nine times for 51 yards. Even against Bowdoin he was sacked four times. So maybe, he is just learning to go to the ground and not make late passes when he is being bore down upon by defensive linemen. The Cardinals offensive line is clearly a factor here as their RB Highsmith is injured and Piccirillo is getting hit at an incredible rate, spelling trouble against a strong Williams defense (fourth in the NESCAC with 20 sacks). Williams has a good secondary to boot, so Piccirillo has a tough test here. Now, I am critical of Piccirillo because of how one bad decision could easily change the course of this game. He still leads the NESCAC in passing yards, passing TDs (18), and has the best receiver in the league in Mike Breuler. This is going to have to be a two man show for the Cardinals, and unless Piccirillo learns how to scramble a bit better, he might be in for some trouble. Can he take care of the ball enough to get it to Breuler two times or more? Possible, but unlikely.
Predicted Score: Williams 27, Wesleyan 17
Hamilton (2-5) @ Middlebury (5-2), 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT
Sadly, Middlebury must now prepare for life post-Lebowitz three games earlier than expected. Jack Meservy ’19 is the heir apparent, and this game is critical for his development. He got knocked around big time by Trinity, but impressed many with his perseverance and arm strength. Middlebury is a quarterback factory, and he has all the tools to succeed. A choice matchup with Hamilton is a great opportunity for Meservy to gain some confidence going into a tough final game at Tufts, and then his senior season.
Against Trinity, Middlebury tried to take some pressure off Meservy by establishing the run, never an easy thing to do against the Bantams. It didn’t work. Middlebury only averaged 3.1 yards per carry against Trinity, down from their season average. Middlebury isn’t built to run the ball, as their entire offense has been set up around Lebowitz’ elite arm. Against Hamilton, they should be free to use much more of the original playbook, as the Continentals give up the third most passing yards per game. Look for Middlebury to get back to their high-flying ways, and potentially use this game as an audition of sorts for Meservy as the starter of the future.
As much as this game is an opportunity for Middlebury, it is far more of one for Hamilton. They will NEVER get as good a chance to knock off a top tier team as this one, and a win against Middlebury would give their various young stars a huge confidence boost. To do this they need to vary their offense. Middlebury’s defense played a fabulous game against Trinity despite getting virtually no rest; they held Sonny Puzzo to his lowest completion percentage and fewest yards of the season. The odds are that they can do the same to Kenny Gray ’20. Middlebury has a plethora of excellent athletes in the secondary to throw at Joe Schmidt ’21, so the run game is the key this week for the Continentals. Mitch Bierman ’21 has been largely ineffective since a breakout against Bowdoin two weeks (and as always, offensive performances against Bowdoin don’t count,) but Marcus Gutierrez ’18 has been running well lately. Look for both of them to get more carries than usual to try and set up Gray’s big play ability. Hamilton will try to seize this opportunity to take down the Panthers, but I think they still fall short.
Predicted Score: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 17
Tufts (4-3) @ Colby (0-7), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME
The only one-sided game on paper this weekend features a Tufts team that is struggling to remain on the upper crust of the league. They have one quality win; a 21-13 victory over Williams two weeks ago, but other than that they have lost all three of their games against teams with winning records. It is turnovers that have been their downfall. Each of their losses has been decided by one possession and they have 13 turnovers in 7 games. You’re not going to beat Trinity or even Wesleyan if you give them free possessions. QB Ryan McDonald has 11 of those turnovers, keeping him out of the POY conversation even though he is electrifying to watch. McDonald should use this game as an exercise in taking care of the ball, as their Week Nine game with Middlebury will be another golden chance to beat a top tier team.
Luckily for the Jumbos, Colby’s offense is likely not good enough to make them pay if they do turn the ball over. But it’s an improvement to even say likely. After not scoring more than seven points in any of the first five games of the season, they have scored 24 points in each of the last two. This is largely the result of lesser competition; Colby finally reached the other lower tier teams part of the schedule. But they have also finally worked out some QB issues. Jack O’Brian ’20 has found success in the read option, using his legs to create Colby’s best scoring chances of the season. It won’t matter against Tufts, but Colby has enough pride to make this a game if Tufts takes it too lightly.
The Middlebury-Trinity game fell flat due to Jared Lebowitz’ injury against Bates. This has thrown the league for something of a loop, but it doesn’t really change the top that much. Trinity and Amherst play this weekend in the game that decides the league championship. If Trinity wins, no one can catch them, as they’d have the tie-breaker with Amherst even if they happened to lose in the final week of the season (unlikely.) There are several other terrific games this weekend with huge implications for the final standings. Let’s take a look at where those standings are at before those games.
1) Trinity (7-0)
The Bantams face their final challenger this weekend when they travel to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. Last weekend they easily dispatched the Lebowitz-less Panthers, forcing backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 into three turnovers (two picks and a fumble.) It was another dominant defensive performance, and LB Dago Picon-Roura ‘2 picked up the Defensive Player of the Week award on the strength of an amazing one handed interception. The run game was also dominant, as Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 combined for 258 yards on their own, with Puzzo scrambling in for two touchdowns. This defensive, pounding gameplan made up for a very poor effort from Puzzo through the air. He was only 9-20 throwing the ball for 120 yards, and had several throws that should have been intercepted by the Middlebury secondary. Amherst’s offense should be able to give their defense more of a rest than Middlebury’s did, so Puzzo will have to play better this weekend.
2) Amherst (6-1)
We may owe Ollie Eberth ’20 a small apology. For much of this season we’ve been talking about Amherst’s “QB uncertainty.” Eberth had been playing all year with the spectre of Reece Foy ’18 behind him. And indeed, even last week Foy threw a touchdown pass in his four attempt. But Eberth is clearly the guy, and he showed it against Tufts. He managed the game masterfully and took care of the ball, throwing for 250 yards and no interceptions. And he was dynamic with his legs, rushing for two scores. on his way to his first Offensive Player of the Week honor. Eberth will get an even bigger test against Trinity, a defense that turns people over better than anyone. He should get a lot of help from his defense. Andrew Yamin ’19 has 11.5 sacks this season and eats offensive linemen like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs. Amherst is the team most suited to beat Trinity, and they have their chance at home.
3) Williams (5-2)
We have yet another first year star in Williamstown. After Connor Harris ’18 went down with an injury, it was TJ Dozier ‘s (’21) time to step up. And that he has, getting more and more confident every week leading up to their game with Hamilton last Saturday. And against the Continentals (admittedly porous) defense, he broke out, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. The speedy back is proving he can be a workhorse, which is important for the Williams offense. They like to run a lot of play action and read plays to take advantage of Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his quick feet, but to do that you need a running back that scares the other enough to make them buy the fake. Williams has another suspect defensive matchup this weekend in Wesleyan, but the Cardinals offense should offer much more of a fight than Hamilton’s did. Dozier and the other young Ephs will get another chance to prove themselves as the future of the league.
4) Middlebury (5-2)
This ranking is based on where Middlebury is now, not where they’ll end up. The Lebowitz injury is devastating, not just to the Panthers but to the league as well. It ruined our best chance of not having to crown Amherst or Trinity as league champ, but more than that, it takes away one of the most electrifying players in recent NESCAC memory, and maybe the best of Middlebury QB dynasty. We’ll have a deeper career retrospective on Lebowitz coming out in the offseason, but we just wanted to acknowledge the impact he’s had on the league and on our hearts (okay too far, but I’m a homer.)
It’s hard to know where Middlebury will end up this season. Backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 made some impressive plays against Trinity, but he also had three turnovers and completed under 50% of his passes. And the defense made some big plays as well, despite having virtually no rest for the entire game. Middlebury still has the skeleton of an elite team. Conrado Banky ’19, Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 are an enviable set of weapons for Meservy to take over, and the senior linebacking trio of Slodowitz, John Jackson and Wesley Becton is as good as any in the league. But Lebowitz was the heart, and without him, it’s hard to know how they’ll do. A matchup at home with Hamilton is winnable, but also not a guaranteed win, and they close the year at Tufts in what is now a very tough game.
5) Wesleyan (5-2)
The Cardinals put up a fairly lackluster performance against Bowdoin, winning 21-10 and allowing 317 passing yards to Griff Stalcup ’21, who has improved every week but still has no business out throwing Mark Piccirillo ’18 by nearly 60 yards. Piccirillo-Mike Breuler ’18 is the best QB-WR connection in the league, and it accounted for all three of Wesleyan’s touchdowns (by the way, Breuler should be getting A LOT of POY hype. He’s unbelievable. More on that later.) But Wesleyan’s defense is becoming a problem. They have forced the fewest turnovers of any team in the league, and that includes the Maine teams. No one is scared of the Wesleyan defense, as Bowdoin proved, and Amherst should be licking their chops as they plan to triple team Breuler and throw the ball all over the field.
6) Tufts (4-3)
Tufts continues to stand outside the window looking in at the top tier teams like Lloyd in Say Anything. The biggest thing separating them from the elite is turnovers. Ryan McDonald ’19 is an unbelievable athlete, but he also has 11 giveaways all by himself this season. That is simply unacceptable. If he wants to sit at the table with Puzzo, Lebowitz, Piccirillo (and arguably Maimaron,) he has to take care of the ball. They also don’t really scare anyone on defense, giving up a middling 20 points per game and only forcing seven turnovers. They have a dominant pass rush, led by Micah Adickes ’18 and Zach Thomas ’18 (12.5 sacks between them) but once the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand it is usually completed. Luckily, they end the season with Colby and then Middlebury (probably) sans-Lebowitz. This is a golden chance to finish 6-3.
7) Hamilton (2-5)
Like Tufts, Hamilton has an unexpectedly good chance to finish the season 2-0 thanks to the Lebowitz injury. Before he got hurt, their game in Middlebury this weekend was a guaranteed blowout. But now, it’s a chance for a quality win before they close the season with Bates. To beat Middlebury they need to establish the run early and often. Marcus Gutierrez had good success against the excellent Williams front, putting up 77 yards on just 15 carries. He should have gotten 10 more carries at least in my opinion, as Kenny Gray ’20 completed under 50% of his passes with two interceptions. Hamilton should try to move to a more balanced offense, with a threatening running game setting up Gray to hook up with dynamic WR Joe Schmidt ’20. They will need to against Middlebury, who still has one of the better secondaries in the league.
8) Bates (1-6)
The Bates Second-Half Redemption Tour reached its apex last weekend with their first win of the season, a surprisingly exciting 27-24 thriller over Colby. And as has been the case for most of their recent improvement, QB Brendan Costa deserves much of the credit. Costa had his best game of the season, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another 155 yards and a TD. That’s the first game this season that a NESCAC QB has had 150 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and no turnovers. And to go along with Costa, the defense finally made some big plays, with two interceptions. Bates is having a feel-good end to the season, and they end the season with Bowdoin and Hamilton. A three game winning streak would take much of the sour taste left over from the 0-6 start out of the Bobcat’s mouths.
9) Bowdoin (0-7)
Bowdoin also got an encouraging performance from their young QB, as Griff Stalcup ’21 threw for a season high 317 yards against Wesleyan. Much of this came on an 85 yard throw to WR Nick Vailas ’18, but it’s still encouraging. Even more exciting than that is the defense. A week after giving up 63 (!!) points to Trinity, they held maybe the other best offense in the league reasonably in check, and came within 17 yards of out-gaining them in total yards (389-372.) This was mostly thanks to an impressive pass rush. They had four sacks on the day, two by DL Nat Deacon ’20. Their game with Bates this weekend may be a sneaky-exciting one.
10) Colby (0-7)
Colby has nearly tripled their season point total in the last two weeks. Coming into their game two weekends ago with Hamilton, they had only scored 27 points in five games, which is not ideal. But they have now scored 24 points in each of the last two games. Unfortunately, the teams they have played, Bates and Hamilton, have each scored 27. Colby hasn’t been able to take advantage of choice match-ups with other lower tier teams, and it’s hard to imagine them coming out of this season with a win. But they deserve a great deal of praise for continuing to work hard and improve despite an unimaginably difficult first half of the season.
And then there were two. With Jared Lebowitz’s absence, Middlebury pose no threat to Trinity, losing 27-5, making the NESCAC a two team race between the Bantams (7-0) and Amherst (6-1). With two games to go in the 2017 season, there is another championship game looming ahead for week eight. As Pete mistakenly predicted and deemed the Midd/Trinity game the quasi-NESCAC championship, Amherst took care of business against Tufts 31-26 and now put all their chips into this decisive week. The results from my weekend preview were as predicted except for an even smaller challenge from the underdogs than I thought there would be. With some competitive games the last few weeks, players’ true colors are showing and here’s the scoop:
The Bantams game against Middlebury showed the rest of the conference two things: 1. Trinity is not just a favorite for the championship on the season, but a dominant team, ripping the heads off of everything in their path. 2. In the presence of a red-hot Panther secondary, they adjusted and totally shifted to a ground heavy offense, letting Chipouras take over. Yes, Chipouras is the best back in the league right now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get better. He didn’t even score a touchdown, letting Sonny Puzzo put the final touches on two different drives, but 182 yards is ridiculous. He was a work horse last weekend, running the ball 33 times, an NFL caliber workload. While both Amherst and Trinity have challenging schedules for week nine (vs. Williams and Wesleyan, respectively), the rings should go to the winning team this weekend. On that note, Amherst’s rush defense is the biggest obstacle in Trinity’s undefeated quest, and Chipouras has what it takes to take them home to 8-0 after this week.
2018 Bobcat Football
Bates’ season was lost from the get go as their six game losing streak will define their year. However, they admirably play 100% week in and week out, and look to build momentum going into next season. What better way to do that than to win their Maine rivalry games and take the CBB Consortium home with them? They love to run the ball, and finally have a future QB who could take them to the promise land and follow their style at the same time. Brendan Costa is getting better from week to week, winning the job under center, and controlling the offense. His passing game is by far the weakest aspect of his skill set, although he did avoid any turnovers against Colby (0-7), bringing them to a 27-24 win and a 1-6 record on the season. He looked like a more ethical and humane version of Michael Vick (I’m sure he loves dogs—I wouldn’t suggest otherwise in a liberal arts audience), rushing for 155 yards on 26 attempts. Once he gets to be a more disciplined passer, this could turn into a dynamic offense.
I wrote Amherst off in the championship race after they lost to Midd, but they are still sticking around. Defensive touchdowns by Middlebury lost them that game, but their defense has been exceptional all season, even with a slightly below average performance against Tufts. Their ability to stop the run all season has been impressive, although slightly lacking last week. Their secondary played great against a strong Ryan McDonald, not too far off of Sonny Puzzo caliber. Jack Hickey and QB Ollie Eberth both found the end zone and significant running room, with their three top receivers all hauling in at least four catches for over 80 yards. Even Reece Foy got in on the action with a second quarter TD pass. They have the talent in all parts of the game to overtake Trinity in their one meet up, even if they are the underdogs. It will be particularly interesting to see how Foy is used against the Bantams, mixing up the style from Eberth and adding in lots of experience. They still have a shot to win it all, folks.
Full Hearts for Middlebury
I’m not quite sure how Coach Taylor of Dillon would feel about Middlebury’s performances against Trinity and Williams. They lost a heartbreaker to the Ephs, I’ll give them that, but they still had a ch
ance to go for the rings against the Bantams. In a situation where they lost senior star QB Jared Lebowitz to injury (aka the Jason Street of these Panthers), giving junior Jack Merservy (aka Matt Saracen) his chance to become the future QB, they came up way short. I’m not blaming Merservy, as he made some good plays even with his mistakes, but the fight in a win or go home game just wasn’t there. The rush defense went home early, dominated all game by both Puzzo and Chipouras. In their second straight year losing 2/3 games with championship hopes on the line, these last two weeks will show their true colors. They looked like they didn’t care for most of their final game against Tufts in 2016, coming out flat until a late comeback attempt that fell short. They should be able to beat Hamilton (2-5) even if they show up half asleep, but might be in for another final game trouncing by the Jumbos if they don’t get their priorities straight.
Tufts is free falling in the standings and now are only 4-3 on the season. While they aren’t in danger of falling below .500, only because playing Colby is an assured win, their defense looked really vulnerable against Amherst. They allowed three rushing TDs, over 300 passing yards, and didn’t force any turnovers. They only tallied one sack on the day and might come into week nine against Middlebury in a who-wants-to-lose-it-more matchup. They have been great at rushing the QB all season, second in sacks to Amherst with 26, showing how uncharacteristically poorly they played against the Mammoths. They really just didn’t show up, similarly to Middlebury’s defensive line, in a game that ultimately didn’t mean anything for them other than for pride. Lets hope they don’t embarrass themselves against Colby.
One of the results of the lack of parity in the NESCAC football (and of course the lack of a playoff system) is that every year there is a regular season game that serves as a de facto “Super Bowl” for the league. The two best teams in the league meet in a game that pretty much decides who will finish with the best record in the league. The 2017 iteration of that game is this weekend, when 6-0 Trinity travels down to Alumni Field to take on 5-1 Middlebury.
Trinity has spent the whole season as the best team in the league. They have gutted out defensive battles against the two high quality opponents they’ve played (Williams and Tufts) and have absolutely blasted lower tier teams, including a 63 point performance against Bowdoin last weekend. However, Williams was able to make their offense look very fallible. They did this by using a strong defensive front to shut down star RB Max Chipouras ’19. Chipouras only had 80 yards on 28 carries against the Ephs, by far his least efficient performance of the season. Shutting down Chipouras forces QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 to play more traditionally, instead of running outside the pocket and making big plays. Puzzo is easily good enough to do this and win (as Williams saw,) but it eliminates a huge part of their offense.
Unfortunately, the Trinity defense has yet to look fallible. They have forced 16 turnovers on the season, and have players all over the field who are threats to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. They don’t have any real statistical standouts on the defensive end–although that is in large part due to the fact that their starters rarely play fourth quarters–but LB Liam Kenneally ’18 is terrific in coverage and in stopping the run game. And more importantly for the match up with Jared Lebowitz ’18 and the pass-happy Panthers is their dominant secondary. Dominique Seagears ’18 is one of the most dangerous coverage men in the league, with two interception return touchdowns to his credit. He and Samier Madden ’19 form a duo that should give Lebowitz trouble like Lionel Richie would–all night long.
As dominant as Trinity has been, Middlebury has been equally so, except for a fatal five minute stretch in the fourth quarter against Williams. Middlebury’s offense is based around Lebowitz and his squadron of speedy, tall receivers, and it is a well oiled machine when all the pieces are healthy. Middlebury averages the second most points and yards per game (second to Trinity, but still,) and that is despite a mediocre rushing attack. That is also despite a schedule that has included Williams and Amherst, two of the three best defenses in the league by any statistical measure. Against Amherst, who leads the league in sacks and is second in yards per game, Lebowitz threw three touchdowns and was only sacked twice. That is what makes this game so exciting; these two teams are both best suited to beat each other. Just as it should be in the Super Bowl.
Key Player for Middlebury: LB Aaron Slodowitz ’18
This pick is a very optimistic one. Lebowitz left the Bates game halfway through with an ankle injury, forcing backup Jack Meservy ’19 to fill in, which he did admirably. If Lebowitz is out, Meservy immediately becomes the key, as Middlebury cannot win this game without a great QB performance. But on the assumption that Lebowitz will play, Slodowitz and the rest of the linebackers become the key. Much of Middlebury’s defensive success rests on the backs of the three star senior linebackers; Slodowitz, Wesley Becton ’18 and John Jackson ’18. Becton and Jackson are particularly valuable in coverage, leaving Slodowitz free to crush running backs. Which he does with aplomb. Having fully recovered from a knee injury last season, Slodowitz had 18 tackles against the run-dominant Bates and leads the team with 46 overall. He doesn’t get in the backfield much, with 0 sacks on the year, but Becton and DL Alex Norton ’20 handle that. Slodowitz simply tackles dudes, and as Williams showed the league, the way to hang with Trinity is tackle one dude; Max Chipouras.
Key Player for Trinity: WR Koby Schofer ’20
Assuming that Middlebury succeeds in slowing down Chipouras considerably, Trinity will have to throw the ball, especially to keep up with the Panthers breathless, pass-heavy scheme. This brings up the closest thing that Trinity has to a weakness; they really only have one weapon in the passing game, and that is Schofer. He is quite a weapon, however. Despite playing very little in the blowout of Bowdoin (as was the case with several Bantam starters,) Schofer is still fourth in the league in receptions with 35 and fifth in yards with 508. Schofer is actually quite similar to Middlebury WR Conrado Banky ’19. They are both smaller receivers who beat often larger defenders with quickness and terrific hands. The difference is that Middlebury has other receivers to pick up the slack from Banky (or replace him if he’s injured.) Schofer is so far and away Trinity’s best pass catcher that Middlebury will most likely double team him. In a game that is shaping up to be an aerial affair, Schofer is going to have to get around those double teams and give Puzzo a solid target.
Conrado Banky has missed two games in a row, and his status for this one is very much in doubt. If he misses the game, Middlebury will be again looking for big performances from Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19, two large, fast targets for Lebowitz. Additionally, TE Frank Cosolito ’20 will be a big part of the passing attack. Cosolito has improved every week, and has a knack for showing up in big games. He had six catches for 58 yards and TD against Amherst. If Banky does play, all these guys will be key supplementary targets, and the Middlebury offense may well be unstoppable.
Special teams are going to be a key part of this game. Trinity K Eric Sachse ’19 is one of the best in the league (5/8 FG and 26/28 XP,) giving their offense a dimension in close games that many other teams don’t have. Additionally, Colin Beaulieu ’21 is a dangerous return man whom Middlebury has to watch out for. Of course, he is nowhere near as dangerous as Jimmy Martinez. Martinez has two of the four return touchdowns in the whole league this year, and the only kickoff return touchdown. Even when he doesn’t score, Martinez is constantly putting Middlebury in terrific field position, either through returns or by forcing bad kicks due to teams trying to avoid him. On the other end, P/WR Maxwell Rye has a huge leg, and often pinned Williams deep in their own territory. He will have to do this against Trinity, as giving them a short field is a death sentence. This is the kind of game that should come down to a single play, and that play may well be on special teams. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited. I hope you all are as well.
Predicted Score:* Middlebury 27, Trinity 24
*This prediction is made with the assumption that Lebowitz is healthy and will play.
It felt like it would never end, but the first six weeks of NESCAC football and the atrociously mismatched scheduling that came with it are in the past. With the exception of a couple of recent games, there have been few results that have made a serious impact on the league’s landscape. If this was a season of Game of Thrones, this upcoming week would be Episode 9, the penultimate episode of each season when everything hits the fan and we are left absolutely stunned. Everything is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Yawn. Did anyone expect anything different? Trinity rolled Bowdoin 63-14 on Saturday, putting up 49 points in the first half while having the ball for barely 10 minutes. They took their foot off the gas after that and were able to give Max Chipouras ’19 and the rest of the starters an early shower in advance of next week’s tilt against Middlebury, but this was the type of Trinity performance that reminded people why they are a cut above the rest of the league right now. They’ve taken care of their business week in and week out and still sit in the driver’s seat. Needless to say, their trip to Middlebury this week is their biggest test of their season, but they continue to check all of the boxes of a championship team.
The Panthers return to the number 2 spot following an equally comfortable win over Bates, a game in which they jumped out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back. 10 different Panther receivers caught passes, but their biggest concern is that they caught them from two different quarterbacks as Jared Lebowitz ’18 was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with some sort of lower body injury. While the game was already out of doubt, any fan of the league should hope it was merely a precaution, because without a healthy Lebowitz, Middlebury’s already slim chances of beating Trinity will be far slimmer. It’s do or die for Midd this week and they need to play their best game to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the NESCAC title.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the week was the Mammoths, who knocked off Wesleyan in a come from behind 21-17 win in Amherst. Their then league leading offense never really got going, but Hasani Figueroa ’18’s 51 yard run with 1:27 left was enough to secure them their biggest win of the year to date. What was most impressive about this win was their ability to win a dirty, tight, defensive game. They scored less than 30 points for the first time all year but held Wesleyan’s offense to 197 total yards. The Picarillo-Breuler combination was completely shut down and although no one stood out offensively for Amherst, Andrew Yamin ’19 was an absolute monster on the other side of the ball, making 12 tackles—including 4.5 sacks. Being able to get that type of pressure next week against dual threat Ryan McDonald ’18 will be crucial if they want to get out of Somerville with a win, and the road doesn’t get any easier with Trinity and Williams to finish out the season, but Amherst is now one of the 3 teams with a shot at winning the league. I certainly wouldn’t count them out.
A big time bounce back week for Tufts, traveling to Williams and extinguishing a red hot Ephs squad. Ryan McDonald ’18 had a big time bounce back game, throwing for 336 and running for an additional 55. But the story of this one, and not for the first time, was the Tufts front 7, who were absolutely everywhere on Saturday, particularly in the Ephs backfield, racking up another 4 sacks to bring their total on the year to 25. It was consistent pressure from Micah Adickes ’18, Doug Harrison ’18 and co., as Bobby Maimaron ’21 was never really able to settle in, and in turn their offense could never really get going. It was a gritty road performance like this that reminded everyone why Tufts is such a good team in the first place. They have so much talent on defense, and their offense is starting to find a steady balance in ways to beat you. McDonald ’18 was his usual slippery self on the ground, but the way they were able to mix in Mike Pedrini ’20 on key short yardage plays was what allowed them to target big play threat Jack Dolan ’19 to the tune of 5 catches, 119 yards, and a touchdown. Other than Trinity, there is not an offense in the league right now that can boast this type of balance. Additionally, this is an experienced, senior-laden team, and I expect that to play a big role as they look towards the final stretch of their season, which, like everybody else, doesn’t get any easier.
A bit of a deflating loss for Williams, as they too had championship aspirations following their buzzer beating win at Middlebury. Instead, they join the pack of 2 loss teams looking to finish out their season strong. As I mentioned previously, Tufts’ front 7 kept this offense in check for nearly all of the game, holding them to 13 points on 299 yards of total offense. One of the things that had made freshman standout Bobby Maimaron so successful was his ability to stay out of trouble, keeping plays alive with his legs and making other smart decisions that were key to their only taking 2 sacks through their first 5 games. But Tufts was able to get a steady stream of pressure all day long, limiting his options and consistently putting them in long yardage situations.
While it is only one loss and
doesn’t warrant an overreaction, there is cause for a little bit of concern in Williamstown. With top running back Connor Harris ’18 out for the year with a broken collarbone, this dynamic offense all of a sudden has a look of one dimensionality in the name of Frank Stola ’21, their big play wide receiver. TJ Dozier ’21 has been a strong deputy out of the backfield but will now need to step up as their feature back if they hope to continue putting up points.
Additionally, while any number of Eph wideouts have shown the ability to contribute, someone needs to emerge as a strong number 2 to Stola ’21 so that they can continue to hurt teams with their fast paced passing attack. Adam Regensburg ’18 and Justin Nelson ’21 are the two most likely candidates for that role, and a home game versus Hamilton is the perfect opportunity for them to figure it out, but with Little 3 foes Wesleyan and Amherst looming, this young breakout team will need to earn what they hope will be an equally strong finish to an already impressive season.
Last week I wrote that Wesleyan has the offensive capability to beat anyone, and they certainly didn’t do that on Saturday. Mark Picarillo ’19 was held to 129 passing yards and 0 touchdown passes, as Andrew Yamin ’19 and the rest of the Amherst defense sacked him 10 times. Their defense was impressive, as they had held the league’s top offense to 7 points through 3 quarters, but ran out of gas in the 4th when Amherst scored twice to eventually take the game. Picarillo ’19 was only able to find standout WR Mike Breuler ’18 3 times for 57 yards on a day for the offense to forget. The Cardinals will have a pretty good chance to clinch a winning record on the year when they play Bowdoin next week, but with Williams and Trinity to follow, this team is all of a sudden trending towards a potential 5-4 finish. It all depends on which offense shows up for Wesleyan. If it’s the one they brought to Amherst, they’re not spoiling anybody’s title plans.
Catching their second win in a row this week was Hamilton, and they looked thoroughly unimpressive doing it. They allowed 24 points in the first half to the worst offense in the league, a Colby team whose previous season high in points was 7. It was 17-0 Colby before Hamilton woke up and began to play football. But nonetheless they were able to come back and eke out a win behind Kenny Gray ’20’s 3 second quarter TDs in a span of about 6 minutes that really turned the game around. The Conts now sit at 2-4, and with one more game against a team from Maine (Bates), should like their chances to get to 3-6—although those chances are a lot slimmer if they play like they did on Saturday. Bates’ offense has come a long way in the last two weeks, and if Hamilton’s defense starts like it did against Colby, Bates could bury them.
Speaking of the Bobcats, they held their spot as the strongest first-grader this week following a comfortable shellacking against Middlebury. While Colby giving Hamilton a serious run for their money would warrant some consideration, but I’m sticking with Bates after another strong performance from Brendan Costa ’21 who has improved in each week he’s been the starting quarterback. 138 rushing yards on Saturday as well as 141 passing yards (a decent amount in a triple option scheme) and a TD, this kind of consistency and the closest thing to firepower any of these bottom three teams have is why I’m picking Bates to finish the year at 2-7. Their matchup against Colby will pit the league’s worst defense against the league’s worst offense, so who knows how that will end up. But Costa very well may be the best player on the field come Saturday, and that could make all the difference.
Colby moves up a spot here following their best performance of the season to date, a game in which they led 24-20 for much of the second half, before Mitch Bierman ’21 won the contest for Hamilton with just under 7 minutes to play. The Mules were treated to something they haven’t really had all year: good quarterback play. Jack O’Brien ’20 had by far his best game of the year, going 28-41 for 242 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Jake Schwern ’19 continues to give his best Chris Thompson impersonation, catching 10 balls out of the backfield while also leading the team in rushing. Unfortunately for Colby, most of that production came in the first half, and they left most of it in the locker room as they were shutout in the second. We will find out next week against Bates if this offense has made some actual adjustments and improvements, or if the first half against Hamilton was just a fluke.
We don’t have many rules here at Nothing but NESCAC, but one of our general guidelines is that if you’re a winless team and someone scores 63 on you, you’re last in the power rankings. We knew this was never going to be a game in Hartford, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. Trinity had their way with Bowdoin and it got ugly in a hurry—21-0 in the first nine minutes of the game. Not a whole lot more to add to this one, Bowdoin plays Wesleyan next week and they probably won’t win that one either. They can only hope to keep improving as a team and give themselves the best shot to catch a couple W’s against Bates and Colby.
Although we saw a relatively unsurprising series of results in this weekend’s games, there were certainly some important headlines and things to focus on as we move into the final third of the season. The only real excitement this week was that Amherst (5-1) topped Wesleyan (4-2) in an ugly game out at Amherst, but then again someone had to lose that game as we start to see the top teams in the league squaring off against each other. Hamilton squeaked out a 3-point victory over Colby at home, holding on to their unofficial title as “the best of the rest,” and now Trinity, Middlebury, and Amherst are the only remaining teams with championship hopes. And luckily for us, Middlebury and Trinity meet this Saturday in a de-facto league championship.
This one could just be called the O’Brien-Snyder duo, but I will give credit to Colby’s entire offense. Against Hamilton, QB Jack O’Brien ’20 did his best Matt Stafford impression, going 28-41 for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns, while throwing no interceptions, to ultimately still fall short 27-24. Colby entered the game with just 7 points as their previous season high, so finishing with 24 is clearly an upgrade no matter what the outcome. O’Brien’s favorite target was undoubtedly WR Mark Snyder ’18, whom he connected with 7 times for 99 yards and 2 TDs. Putting up 24 points is obviously a huge step forward for Colby’s offense, not only scoring more points, but allowing their defense to actually get a break on the sideline instead of having to come right back onto the field. Look for O’Brien and Snyder to continue to do damage as Colby gets into their CBB matchups against the much weaker Bates and Bowdoin squads.
There really was not much to highlight from the Bates-Middlebury matchup this weekend, as Middlebury did exactly what they expected to do, blowing out Bates 43-17. What was interesting about Middlebury’s offensive attack, however, was that 10 different receivers caught a pass of at least 5 yards, 7 receivers had at least 2 receptions, and 7 receivers had between 20 and 75 receiving yards. This is an incredible amount of balance in a receiving corps that leads the league in yards and touchdowns, with much thanks to QB Jared Lebowitz ’18. Despite a week 5 loss to Williams, Middlebury’s title hopes are still very much alive thanks to early season wins over Amherst and Wesleyan. This type of balance and depth will give Middlebury a chance to score a lot of points against an elite defense as Trinity comes to town for a big week 7 showdown.
I was hesitant to include this one, because I don’t feel that Amherst has done much to lose credibility despite a somewhat down year in 2016. Prior to the Wesleyan game, Amherst had not beaten a “top tier” team. They took care of Bates, Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton, but fell to Middlebury, keeping them in the middle of the conference. After grinding out a 21-17 against Wesleyan, they have certainly solidified their place amongst the top teams in the NESCAC, even while dealing with quarterback uncertainty all year.
Wesleyan’s Title Hopes
I know the same could be said for Williams this week too, but with all due respect to the Ephs, Wesleyan’s expectations for this season were a little bit higher. After losing week 1 to Middlebury, the Cardinals got hot, winning 4 in a row. Amherst had been struggling to find a consistent quarterback, and Wesleyan was just not able to capitalize. Lots of credit needs to go to the Amherst defense, who held Piccirillo and co. to just 197 yards of total offense. Piccirillo ’18 didn’t throw an interception and Wesleyan didn’t lose a fumble, which is why I am more inclined to say that Wesleyan simply could not get anything going on offense. With Dario Highsmith ’20 out, there was no rushing attack for Amherst to respect, so they could key in on the secondary. Wesleyan has no choice but to play the spoiler for the rest of the season, with intriguing matchups versus Williams and Trinity on the horizon.
Jared Lebowitz’s Health
Potentially the biggest story of the weekend is that Middlebury QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 left the game against Bates in the second quarter with what appeared to be some sort of ankle or knee injury. This is not meant to be a knock on the rest of Middlebury’s team, but it is no secret that their offense is contingent upon having Lebowitz’ under center. I don’t know the full extent or even much about the injury at all – it is possible that he was merely roughed up on a play against Bates, and with the game being so secure, the substitution was merely precautionary. I certainly hope this is the case, because like any other NESCAC fan, I’m eager to see how Middlebury’s offense stacks up against the mighty Trinity defense. Either way, this is worth keeping an eye on because even if Lebowitz plays next week, his performance could be limited.
We’re still sorting through the wreckage of Williams’ comeback, last-second, upset win in Middlebury last Saturday, and I mean that both in a “how does it affect the league” sense and a “how does Pete recover from it emotionally” sense. What we do know is this; two losses will not earn you any share of the league championship. Middlebury, and any other team hoping to earn that coveted co-title (as always, terrific to not have any playoffs to sort this out) will need to win out. For the Panthers, Cardinals and Mammoths, that means beating Trinity. I don’t see more than one team potentially doing that, so the biggest story the rest of the way will be who has the best shot. The title is, now more than ever, Trinity’s to lose.
Colby (0-5) @ Hamilton (1-4), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM
Hamilton stuck their flag in the ground last week as the Best of the Bad Teams, demolishing Bowdoin 28-7. As always, it was the offense that carried the Continentals to this strong performance. They gained 448 total yards, including 208 on the ground. 158 of those yards came on the back of first year RB Mitch Bierman. Bierman is making a delayed push for Rookie of the Year (Non Williams-division,) with touchdowns in 2 of his last three games and this dominant performance. More promising for their future, however, was the strong play of the defense. They held Bowdoin to 275 total yards, only 60 of which came from Nate Richam, and totaled five sacks. This matchup with Colby is another choice matchup for the Continentals, who would love to get another win under their belts before they play Middlebury and Williams.
The good news is that Colby tied their season high in points last week. The bad news is that their season high in points is 7. They simply do not have any offensive players who scare anyone, and by the end of the first quarter their defense is too tired to make much of a difference. If the offense could sustain some drives and give the defense a break, defensive back Don Vivian ’18 is a menace to quarterback who could give turnover-prone Kenny Gray ’20 fits. Hamilton’s offense might not allow this to happen, however.
I can’t go quite as far as calling this a “trap game” for the Panthers, but it is important. Middlebury suffered one of the most demoralizing losses possible last weekend; the feeling at Alumni Field as Williams celebrated reminded me of when _________ died in Game of Thrones (no spoilers here.) And next weekend, Trinity looms. Middlebury not only needs to win this game (which they will,) they need to dominate and carry momentum into the game that may well decide the season. It would help if Jared Lebowitz ’18 could get his full compliment of weapons. Although he still played well against Williams (304 yards, three touchdowns,) by the end of the game Williams had figured out how to stop Maxwell Rye ’20, Frank Cosolito ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19. With star receiver Conrado Banky ’19 out with an injury, Williams was able to eventually key in on the receivers and get stops.
Another thing Middlebury should take this game to work on is rush defense. Bates got the moral victory trophy last weekend in their 41-23 loss to Wesleyan. This was by far their best performance of the season, and the reason for this is that they discovered an offensive identity. The Bobcats put up an impossible 287 rushing yards, 170 of which came from QB Brendan Costa ’20. Bates biggest problem all season has been choosing a QB, and it seems that Costa has won the job. This is actually bad news for Middlebury, as it was an inability to contain Bobby Maimaron ’21 (15 rushes for 93 yards) that helped spell their doom against Williams. Middlebury should work on stopping the run this game, because they know it’s coming against the Bobcats, and even more so against Trinity in two weeks. I think Bates comes out and runs the down the Panthers throats at first, but Middlebury’s offense versus the Bates defense is a perfect storm for Middlebury.
That Bates rushing explosion came at the hands of Wesleyan’s defense, which has been pedestrian all season. They are the only top team to not have a defensive touchdown all season, and they still haven’t forced a fumble. This lack of dynamism from the defense hurt them against Bates. Mark Piccirillo ’18 had to throw them to victory, as he has done all season. But against Amherst on the road, this is not so easy a proposition. Amherst has the most dangerous running game in the league. Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 combine to average over 120 yards per game, and the team has a whole averages 195. If Wesleyan couldn’t stop Bates rushing attack, which is excellent but is not nearly as polished as Amherst’s, the Cardinals are in trouble. The key to this game will be the Wesleyan D-Line. Shane Kaminski ’18 is excellent at getting into the backfield (3 sacks,) and he will be busy this game.
The other thing that Amherst has going for them is a stingy defense. They only give up 242 total yards per game, which is the best in the league. It is their rush defense that is most impressive, but in generally they do an excellent job breaking up opposing offenses. Andrew Yamin ’19 is the league leader in sacks with 5, and will be coming at Piccirillo all night. And their defensive backs, especially John Rak ’19, are all adept tacklers. Wesleyan’s offense is already not particularly diverse, and Amherst will excacerbate that problem. I see them forcing the turnover prone Piccirillo into trouble, and running the ball to victory.
Not a lot to say about this one. Bowdoin has given up the most yards per game in the league, and Trinity has gained the third most (477 and 438, respectively.) Max Chipouras ’18 might have 200 yards in this game. But, as Tufts found out, Trinity’s offense is not even the most dangerous part of their game. It’s the defense that has won them the two games they’ve played against upper level opponents. In their wins against Williams and Tufts, Trinity has only averaged 20 points and around 385 yards gained, well below their season averages. But in both those games, they have locked down excellent offenses, and the defense has made huge, return touchdown type plays to give them the win. Last week against Tufts it was CB Dominique Seagears ’18 who returned his second pick of the year for a 100 yard touchdown, which ended up being the difference in the game. Trinity won’t have to make any of those big plays this week to win, but the will anyway, and they definitely will next week against Middlebury.
Predicted Score: Trinity 40, Bowdoin 0
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts (3-2) @ Williams (4-1), Williamstown, MA, 1:30 PM
As Matt pointed out in the Power Rankings, this is a really fascinating game. Williams has catapulted themselves into title consideration with their upset of Middlebury, but they can easily fall back out of it with another loss. And Tufts just unseated Williams as the team that played the best against Trinity, but that still counts as a loss. If Williams loses, they will be effectively out of title contention, as Tufts already is. The Jumbos should love the chance to play spoiler.
The Tufts defense subscribed to a “Bend don’t Break” approach against Trinity. They gave up 402 total yards, including 165 to Max Chipouras. But they were able to stand strong in the red zone several times, only giving up two offensive touchdowns, including the game winner to Chipouras in the fourth quarter. Indeed, what really did the Bantams in was inconsistency on offense. QB Ryan McDonald ’19 threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a 100 yard touchdown. He will need to control the ball better against the powerful Williams pass rush and secondary, which have combined to hold QB’s to the lowest YPG average in the league.
Williams will need to keep McDonald inside the pocket. Their pass rush eventually affected Lebowitz, but even he (not known as a burner) was able to hurt them on scrambles. That is McDonald’s game. He is adept at moving the chains with his legs, and on individual plays he gives Jack Dolan ’19 and his other receivers ample time to get open. This is how Tufts will have to win; McDonald will have to carry them. On the road against a confident Williams teams, however, I don’t think he will.
As the top half of the league spent the first half of this NESCAC season collectively pounding the state of Maine week after week, we were finally treated with a slate of games with legitimate championship implications, and it certainly lived up to the hype. With Trinity visiting Tufts and Middlebury welcoming Williams, as well as a pair of 0-4 teams in Hamilton and Bowdoin squaring off, Saturday was sure to make this rookie blogger’s Power Rankings debut a whole lot easier.
There is one team in this conference that is undefeated and as long as that holds true, Trinity will remain at the top of these rankings. Max Chipouras ’18 logged a season high 165 rushing yards on 29 attempts and the Bantams defense was able to turn Tufts over 4 times, 3 of those being interceptions off of Ryan McDonald ’18. They once again had a new defensive MVP, this time in the form of defensive back Dominique Seagears ’18 whose 100 yard interception return for a touchdown surely flipped this game on its head. It’s hard to imagine Trinity sliding out of this spot after next week’s matchup at home against Bowdoin, but Middlebury the following weekend will be their biggest test to date.
What a week for the Ephs and again what a week for Bobby Maimaron ’21. Maimaron connected with classmate Frank Stola with 0 seconds left on the clock to stun previously undefeated Middlebury 27-26. Maimaron impressed again, racking up 288 total yards of offense and 3 TDs, earning his second consecutive NESCAC offensive player of the week honor. But I think the most impressive part about this Williams win was how they got it done. They were outgained 432-378, they didn’t force any turnovers on defense, and they found themselves down two scores with 9 minutes left in the game, but still managed a way to win. Despite the fact that Jared Lebowitz ’18 made perhaps his strongest case for being the best quarterback in the league and a continued recipient of compliments from this blog, it was once again the first year QB on the other side of the ball who shone the brightest, leading his team on a 12 play, 80 yard drive in just over two minutes to win what was the biggest game for Williams football in a long time. While Wesleyan and Amherst also sit at 4-1, it’s the Ephs who earn the top spot for one-loss teams with a resume that features a win on the road against a title contender in Middlebury and a single loss to undefeated Trinity in Hartford. Until Wesleyan and Amherst show that they can hang with the big boys, it’s Williams who will hold onto this spot. A lot of things need to fall their way for them to have a chance to win this thing, and while I don’t have the metrics in front of me, I would imagine that still having Tufts, Wesleyan, and Amherst remaining puts them towards the front of toughest remaining schedules, but there is no reason this team should have anything less than championship aspirations, especially after this week.
The Panthers were one play away from firmly planting themselves as the second horse in what looked as if could be a two horse race for the NESCAC, and this space would’ve been taken up with a discussion about 6-0 Middlebury vs. 6-0 Trinity in Week 7 after both teams steamroll Bates and Bowdoin respectively, but the defense couldn’t get a stop against Williams in the waning seconds on Saturday and instead find themselves amongst the rest of the one loss teams rooting for a Trinity loss (although aren’t we all rooting for a Trinity loss?). Unlike Amherst, whose loss against Middlebury a few weeks back raised as many questions about the actual quality of their team as much as it did their chances to get fitted for rings in November, this loss didn’t really do anything to make me feel that Middlebury can’t still sit atop the standings after 9 games. As I mentioned above, Middlebury still played great, Lebowitz ’18 was dynamite again, but Williams simply made more plays and won the game. This team is still a legitimate title contender, and although they can no longer go undefeated, their season was always going to boil down to Week 7 at Trinity. Win or lose against Williams, that was still going be the case. Beat the Bantams and they immediately become title favorites, lose to Trinity and start thinking about next year. This is still a very dangerous team.
Wesleyan and Middlebury have the same record but Middlebury beat Wesleyan so they go ahead of them, nothing complicated about that. As much as it pains me to admit, I think this Wesleyan team is going to sneak up on someone in the next few weeks and be a serious spoiler in the title race. Yet the simple fact that I’m talking about a team that is tied for second as a potential spoiler and not a contender should tell you how much they’re flying under the radar. Their lone loss was a 30-27 Week 1 defeat to Middlebury in Middlebury, they beat Tufts at home, and they’ve taken care of their business against the bottom half of the league to find themselves at 4-1. Mark Piccirillo ’19 is probably the best player that no one is talking about, as his 388 passing yards against Bates kept him comfortably at the top of the passing charts, his 333.2 YPG first in the league. Piccirillo, however, also leads the league with 7 interceptions, and he is yet to have a game without one. If he can find a way to limit the turnovers, then this team is talented offensively to outscore any one team for 60 minutes. Mike Brueler ’18 has comfortably been the best WR in the league this year, running away with the gold medal for receptions and receiving yards, and still leading in touchdowns as well. If Piccirillo and Brueler bring their A game they can throw a wrench in someone’s title plans. While I don’t think they quite have it defensively this year to make a serious splash, I’m confident enough to know that they are going to play a crucial role in the outcome of this season.
This team gives me a headache. I simply don’t know what to make of them. They’ve scored no less than 31 points in a game all season, and they lead the league in scoring offense with 35.8 points per game. But these guys don’t seem to scare anybody this year. Maybe it’s because of the fact that there isn’t one guy on the offensive side of the ball that scares anybody. Jack Hickey ’19 leads the top rushing offense in the NESCAC, but only averages 79.4 yards a game as he is simply half of their two-pronged attack alongside Hasani Figueroa ’18. Maybe it’s because at this point in the year I don’t think there are a lot of people who have much hope for Reece Foy ’18 to return to the POY caliber player he was before his injury, and Ollie Eberth ’20’s name is not going to be one of the first to come up in a debate over who the best quarterback in the NESCAC is. Maybe it’s because they have 4 wins over the 4 worst teams in the league and lost to the only good team they played in Middlebury. Regardless of what it is, I don’t think there is a team in this league with more to prove than the Purple and White. Their four remaining opponents are a combined 16-4, with the “worst” of those teams being Tufts, and Ellis Oval is never a fun place to play. The matchup I’m most looking forward to this week is Wesleyan @ Amherst because I think it’s the matchup we will learn the most from. Amherst’s performance this week will be the strongest indicator yet of what kind team they’re shaping up to be, which is anywhere from a 4-5 team to an 8-1 team.
Ahead of the Jumbos are 5 teams with better records, and below them are 4 teams with worse records, so slotting them in 6 was as easy as it gets this week. Tufts probably isn’t the 6th best team in this league, if I had to guess I think they’ll finish somewhere in the top 4, but as a product of some close games and outrageously lopsided scheduling to begin the season, this is where they stand. A loss to Wesleyan in Middletown in overtime, and a one possession loss to Trinity, a game in which they more than likely would’ve won if not for Dominque Seagears ’18’s 100 yard interception return for a touchdown, a play that turned what would’ve been a 14-7 score line in favor of Tufts into 13-7 the other way. But if we’re counting Williams’ 17-9 loss to Trinity as an impressive showing, then I suppose we have to feel this way about Tufts as well, who were able to put up more points on Trinity than any other team this year.
I know I sound like a broken record here, but this Tufts team’s deal isn’t different than any of the other teams chasing after the top. They have weapons on offense, and some guys on defense, but neither side is really dominant enough to put a scare in you. Ryan McDonald ’18 has proven his ability has a dual threat QB and Jack Dolan ’19 is as dangerous a big play threat as there is in the league, but they have yet to find a way to fill the Chance Brady sized hole in their ground game. McDonald carries for 76.4 yards a game, but it’s hard to really set the tone with a quarterback as your main rushing threat. Defensively, it seems like they have some talented guys, but it just hasn’t come together. The senior trio of monsters in Zach Thomas, Micah Adickes, and Doug Harrison all rank in the top 5 in the league in sacks, and the team itself is 1st with 21, but their ability to get to the quarterback hasn’t really amounted to much as they rank 5th in run defense and 6th against the pass. The Jumbos, like everybody else, have a remaining schedule that could go either way, as they are definitely capable of beating any of Williams, Amherst, Colby, and Middlebury. We will know a lot more about how good this team is after they visit Williams on Saturday.
Someone had to win this game Hamilton-Bowdoin game and it was the Continentals who escaped from the pack of winless teams to go to 1-4. Kenny Gray ’20 continued his strong individual season going 20-34 for 240 yards and 3 TDs, but the real story on offense for Hamilton was the breakout game of first year running back Mitch Bierman who ran for a career high 158 yards on 22 carries, providing a balanced attack for their first win of the season. Although by all accounts it has been a disappointing season for Hamilton, they still have a really good chance to finish 3-6 and end the season on a high note. They have Colby and Bates at home, both matchups in which they are the better team, and then they travel to both Williams and Middlebury. I’m fairly confident in counting both of these games as losses, but if the Conts want to turn that into bulletin board material and maybe catch one of those two looking past them at other obstacles in their race to a title, then I’m sure that would also be a tremendous moment for them as a program, and Pete could hop right back on as the conductor of the “Hamilton is Good” train for the 2018 campaign.
As long as these three teams remain winless, which unfortunately looks like it might carry on for another week, the moral victory trophy is going to be handed out on a relative week by week basis. Colby got pasted at home by Amherst, Bowdoin lost to previously winless Hamilton at home, and Bates went to Wesleyan and scored 23 points in a loss, losing by the least. So they will occupy the highly coveted 8th spot for this week.
On a more serious football note, Bates did impress in their trip to Wesleyan. Their option attack showed signs of life as they logged 287 yards rushing. Brendan Costa ’21 had his best game as the Bates QB1 with 170 rushing yards, but most importantly didn’t turn the ball over once, a significant improvement from his 4 interceptions in Williamstown the week before. No one’s asking Costa to look like Cam Newton, but if they’re going to prioritize the run then they need to take better care of the ball in passing situations. The defense continues to get smoked, as they allowed 41 more points this week, which actually brings their average DOWN to 43.4 points allowed a week. I don’t have a spin zone for that, the defense is just downright bad, but the offense trended in the right direction this week. Their run of pain should come to an end after they host Middlebury this week (don’t get your hopes up folks), and we’ll see how they can finish up against Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton.
Bowdoin lost to a previously winless team in Hamilton, and Colby got smoked by a quite decent team in Amherst, but the Polar Bears are going to occupy the 9 spot this week. I know I said that the moral victory trophy and 8th spot would be the decided on a relative week by week basis, but that’s not going to be the case at 9. Neither Bowdoin or Colby are any good, but Colby’s offense is so downright poor (5.4 points/184.2 yards a game), that it’s hard to justify putting them over anyone. We are at the point in the year for these bottom tier teams that you just have to find a couple of silver linings and focus on those. Nate Richam ’20 had some flashes of production, and first year quarterback Griff Stalcup ’21 played turnover free football. They are both obviously still young and hopefully can be two pillars to build on moving forward.
I really don’t have a whole to say here. Colby vs. the top offense in the NESCAC was always going to be ugly and Amherst didn’t disappoint, hanging 40 on the Mules. Just as Bates’ “holding” Wesleyan to 41 points lowered their points allowed average, Colby’s scoring 7 raised their offensive to a whopping 5.4 scored a game. This goes without saying but the biggest problem, among many, for this team is that they simply don’t have any weapons. Jake Schwern ’19 is both their leading rusher and their leading receiver, which is more of an indication that they have no one who can make plays downfield or a quarterback that can get it to them.
Luckily for Colby and Bowdoin, and Bates I guess, although my Maine sources tell me they are the third wheel in this whole Maine rivalry (just like Wesleyan in the Little Three even if they don’t realize it), is that they still have each other to look forward to, and any team with an archrival can tell you that having that game (or games) at the end of the season is like having your own championship or bowl game to play for. If Williams or Bowdoin went 1-7 last year but beat Amherst or Colby, respectively, in Week 8, it sure wouldn’t have felt like they went 1-7, and the same will go for these teams this year. They still have something to play for.
The NESCAC schedule this season seems to share a structure with the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There is a first half that is somewhat formulaic and drags on forever, and then a second half that blows it all out of the water with incredible drama, despite some dull plot holes . The first half of the season featured good teams playing bad teams, and now the good teams play the good teams and the bad teams play the bad teams. This is obviously the time in which the championship will be decided, so let’s see where the teams stand heading into the “Judy” half of the season (watch the movie folks!)
Until Trinity loses, they have earned the top spot in the rankings. They have the best running back in the league in Max Chipouras ‘18, the third best quarterback in the league in Sonny Puzzo ‘18 (dm us on Twitter, I can defend my claims,) and a defense that seems to have a new MVP every week. Recently, it has been the linebacking corps that has stepped up. The secondary has been impenetrable all year, giving up only 126 passing yards per game, a very impressive stat in the pass-heavy NESCAC. But the rush defense is rounding into shape. Linebackers Shane Libby ‘19 and Dago Picon-Roura ‘19 have stuffed rushing attacks to the tune of 98 rushing yards per game. And it’s a good thing they did, because Williams has a tremendously underrated rushing attack. Stopping Connor Harris ‘18 and freshman weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21 was the key to Trinity surviving a strong upset bid. The season is about to get interesting for the Bantams. They haven’t played any of the upper tier yet, which has contributed to their aura of invincibility. But with Tufts this weekend, that will change. That rush defense will again be tested by Ryan McDonald ‘20. And, through no fault of their own, they have a legitimate challenger in Middlebury, and their matchup with the Panthers in two weeks looms.
Speaking of the Panthers, they are starting to look as dominant on offense as Trinity does on defense (and pretty formidable on defense as well.) To continue my quest to compliment Jared Lebowitz ‘18 in every article, he has raised his level of play past even where it was last year. We wrote at the beginning of the season that the key to Middlebury’s title hopes would be taking care of the ball, and Lebowitz only has two interceptions this year after having five at this point last season. Additionally, in Wesleyan and Amherst, Middlebury has played two of the best defenses in the league. Lebowitz has not dominated those games. Against Amherst he only had 205 yards, and against Wesleyan he only completed 50% of his passes. But in those two games he has 6 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, lo and behold, Middlebury has won both games.
Lebowitz not turning the ball over has allowed Middlebury to win games in other ways. Jimmy Martinez ‘19 is a combination of Tyreek Hill and a Power Ranger in the return game. He’s so terrifying that teams would rather squib kicks than give him the chance to run them back. This gives Lebowitz the Panthers excellent starting field position. And the defense, after struggling against Wesleyan in the fourth quarter in Week One, has become one of the most explosive units in the league. They scored two touchdowns against Amherst, including one from LB Wesley Becton ‘18, who is quickly becoming a First Team candidate. The unit leads the league in interceptions, and have done it against elite competition, unlike Trinity.
The Amherst Football redemption tour bus hit a pothole last weekend when they dropped a key home game to Middlebury. A win against the Panthers would have put them in a great position to at least split the league title; now they’ll need some help from the teams remaining. Defense was not the problem for the Mammoths against Middlebury. They held the vaunted Middlebury offense to just 287 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. And the three passing touchdowns that the Panthers produced were heavily aided by 3 Amherst interceptions. One of those came from starter Ollie Eberth ‘21, but two came from Reece Foy ‘18. Herein lies Amherst’s problem. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Foy is not ready to be the player he was before his injury last off-season. Eberth is a great talent, but the prospect of beating Trinity with a first year QB is not a promising one. Amherst has the best rushing attack in the league, with Jack Hickey ‘19 and Hasani Figueroa ‘18 (189 yards combined against Middlebury.)Amherst should up both of their carries to make up for the inconsistencies at QB, but you can’t beat teams like Middlebury or Trinity without a well-rounded offense.
I really wanted to put the Cardinals ahead of Amherst here, but after the outcry against the Stock Report I thought better of it. The Cardinals offense continued to fly high last weekend against Colby, as did the remarkable season of QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18. He is tied with Lebowitz for the league lead in touchdowns and passing yards per game, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the country at over 70%. He does have a propensity for interceptions (6 already on the year,) and that hurt them in their opening loss to Middlebury. Their rushing attack is coming together nicely as Dario Highsmith ‘20 continues to flash huge potential, and they might even be able to give him more carries and keep some pressure off of First Team Candidates Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler ’18.
For Wesleyan, the fault is not in their stars, dear Brutus, but in their defense. The stats are solid (between third and fourth in the league in yards and points per game,) but they are not as dangerous as they were last season. The unit has only forced four turnovers on the season, the lowest of the top teams, and that includes none against Middlebury. That may seem like a bit of a nit-picky complaint against a unit that has only given up 15 points per game despite playing Middlebury and Tufts already, but it matters. They simply haven’t been as dangerous on defense as Middlebury and Trinity have, and that is why they’re just outside of the upper echelon.
I know that Bates’ defense make every team they play look like me in online Madden (that is, unbeatable,) but Williams’ performance last week.was still impressive. They put up 590 yards of total offense, including 289 rushing yards, and 47 points, the second most in the league this year. Bobby Maimeron ‘21 continued his star turn in his freshman year, and Frank Stola ‘21 netted 172 and two touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions against the overmatched Bates offense. It was an all around domination that showed just how far Williams has come from being one of the worst teams in the league just last season. Something to watch for out of this game was the emergence of versatile weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21. After not playing in the first three games, the speedy receiver exploded for 85 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Between him and Connor Harris ‘18, Williams has two explosive backfield options who can break games with their speed. The Ephs are very much here to stay, and have another chance to notch a huge upset this weekend in Middlebury. The Panthers should be very wary.
Tufts has done nothing to deserve being dropped in the rankings. I’m just getting that out the way now before Rory and Sid text me and call me names. They suffered a tough loss to Wesleyan in Week Two, and since then have beaten up on lower tier teams, just like the teams above them on this list. Ryan McDonald ‘18 is the best dual-threat QB in the league, averaging over 90 rushing yards per game in addition to 220 passing yards. However, he is their entire offense. RB Dom Borelli ‘19 has struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year, and they lack an explosive playmaker outside of swiss army knife WR Jack Dolan ‘18. This is what separates them from the likes of Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan. They don’t have enough other weapons to win when they face a team that has the athleticism on defense to stop McDonald. Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst all have that.
The Continentals have got to be a little frustrated, both in the schedulers and in themselves. For a couple years they’ve been amassing young talent, and it looked as if they, not Williams, would be the team to rise up out of the bottom tier and take on the big dogs. And after a close loss to Tufts in Week One, the “Hamilton is good now” train (on which I was the conductor) took off a little prematurely. Hamilton still hasn’t won a game yet this season, despite exciting young players such as QB Kenny Gray ’20 and WR Joe Schmidt ’20. However, they have also had to play all of those “big dogs” pretty immediately, and right in a row. Hamilton has played, in this order, Tufts, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity. So their record and anemic defensive and rushing statistics can be partially attributed to a young team playing very good teams early in the season. In the second half, they still have Middlebury, but they also finally play teams like Bates and Colby, whom they should beat. Look for Hamilton to grab some wins in the next couple weeks.
Here we are, the bottom tier. Bowdoin gets the “moral victory” trophy for being at the top of this group on the strength of their surprisingly solid rushing attack, led by Nate Richam ’20, who in his sophomore year is averaging 71 yards per game on five yards per carry. He doesn’t get a lot of red zone chances, as Bowdoin’s quarterback play has been less functional than the Trump White House and just as hard to watch. But in Richam, Bowdoin has the semblance of an identity, a power running team that works hard for every possession. They also have played a very difficult schedule thus far, and should use the second half to work on this identity.
These bottom two teams are both here for opposite, and historically bad reasons. For Colby, it is their offense. They don’t seem to have one. Colby has only scored 20 points all season, for an average of five per game. They only have 786 total yards, or to phrase it differently, nearly five hundred fewer than Jared Lebowitz has on his own. These numbers are bad no matter who they’ve played, and doesn’t bode well for even the easier games in the second half.
Three out of the five highest scoring games this season have come against the Bobcats. The Bobcats just gave up 590 yards to Williams, which is the equivalent of giving up 985 yards to Trinity. Bates recently gave up 75 yards on the ground and a touchdown to the dog from Air Bud, who died several years ago (sorry.) Bates’ defense hasn’t gotten much help from the offense, which has ten turnovers. I do like the direction Bates is trending in, as they have entirely given their season over to building up young QBs Matt Golden ’20 and Brendan Costa ’21. This second half should be about auditioning those two for the QB of the future role. Bates has no hope of winning any games this year if their defense doesn’t approach mediocrity real soon.