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.