Coming for the Crown: 2017 Middlebury Football Preview

2016 Record: 6-2

Projected 2017 Record: 8-1

Projected Starters: Offense (*3 Returning)

QB: Jared Lebowitz ‘18*

RB: Diego Meritus ‘19*

WR: Conrado Banky ‘19*

WR: Jimmy Martinez ‘19

WR: Tanner Contois ‘18

TE: Frank Cosolito ‘20

OL: Andrew Rogan ‘19

OL: Joao Rocha ‘18

OL: Connor Roche ‘18

OL: TBD

OL: TBD

Projected Starters: Defense (*6 Returning)

LB: John Jackson ‘18*

LB: Wesley Becton ‘18*

LB: Clay Hunt ‘19*

DL: Robert Wood ‘18*

DL: Martin Williams ‘20

DL: Ibrahim Nasir ‘20

DL: TBD

CB: Matthew Daniel ‘19

FS: Justin Fahey ‘19*

SS: Kevin Hopsicker ‘19*

CB: TBD

Projected Starters: Special Teams (4 Returning*)

K: Carter Messingill ‘20*

P:  Maxwell Rye ‘20*

KR: Willis Mckissick ‘20*

PR: Kevin Hopsicker ‘18*

 

Jared Lebowitz
Sources tell us that the key to Lebowitz’ offseason training regimen was giving people moustache rides.

Offensive MVP: QB Jared Lebowitz ‘18

Admittedly this is kind of a Chris Broussard take, but there may be no player in the league more important to their team than Lebowitz is to the Panthers. The entire Middlebury offense is designed around his ability to throw darts all over the field. The rest of the league has caught to them, but Middlebury is still the leader in no-huddle throughout the league. That can’t happen without Lebowitz. However, he “only” competed 57% of his passes last year, and threw 12 interceptions in eight games. Of course, he also threw 29 touchdowns, so these complaints are nitpicking to a certain extent. But for Middlebury to really compete with Trinity (and most likely Amherst this year,) Lebowitz will have to bring his game up still another notch. And the graduation of receivers James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, as well as several key offensive linemen, will make his job harder than ever.

John Jackson
John Jackson ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Defensive MVP: LB John Jackson ‘18

Middlebury has lost a lot of talent in a lot of places this off-season, and linebacker is certainly one of them. This is almost entirely due to Addison Pierce ‘17. Pierce was a terrific linebacker, leading the team in tackles with 62, but his influence on the team was wider than that. He was a leader, and many players on the team, offensive and defensive alike, have mentioned that he will be missed. However, luckily for the Panthers and their fans, John Jackson is still around to pick up the slack. Jackson uses tremendous speed and agility to be a menace in the backfield, picking up 7.5 sacks last season. He’s also effective in coverage, picking up one interception and several deflections. He picked up 41 tackles as well, despite Pierce’s presence. He will certainly get more chances to eat up opposing running backs this season.

Tanner Contois
Tanner Contois ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Player to Watch: WR Tanner Contois ‘18

The Panther receiving corps was among the best in the league last season, and that was with Contois missing pretty much the entire season with a knee injury. Now that James Burke and Ryan Rizzo graduated, the Panthers are in need of another threat at receiver. Conrado Banky ‘19 might well be the best in the league, but teams are going to double and even triple team him every chance they get. Contois has been very impressive in camp thus far, and looks fully recovered in terms of speed and quickness. If he and lanky deep threat Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can be weapons, teams won’t be able to key in on Banky, and the Panther offense will keep right on rolling.

Key Game: October 28 vs. Trinity

Middlebury lucks out this year and gets to play Trinity at home. As Colby pointed out in his preview, Trinity was the league champion last year and brings back nearly every key contributor, especially on offense. Therefore, they are the odds on favorite to win this season. If Middlebury has any hope of taking the crown, they will need to take care of the Bantams.

Best Tweet:

As Division Three college football team twitter pages go, this is actually not that bad a joke. Trust me, I’ve looked few a bunch of them.

Summary:

The Panthers spent much of last season in a three way tie with Tufts and Trinity for the top spot in the league. However, they lost handily to both those teams, and Wesleyan climbed into the mix. By the end of the year it was clear that they were a step away from contending with those powerhouses, and Middlebury ended with a slightly disappointing fourth place finish. Now star quarterback Reece Foy ‘18 has returned to Amherst after missing all of last season with a knee injury, so the Mammoths seem poised to take their spot back in the upper tier. Additionally, the Panthers had one of the largest departing classes in the league, both in numbers and in talent. Middlebury has their work cut out for them if they want to improve on their 6-2 mark from 2016. But they certainly have the talent returning to it.

The Panthers’ biggest losses are definitely on offense. For most of the last decade, Middlebury’s philosophy has been to air it out, and with good reason. Coach Ritter certainly has earned the right to call himself a quarterback guru, with Don Mckillop, McCallum Foote and Matt Milano all earning All-NESCAC nods under him. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 has the talent to be the best one yet, and put up a mostly-stellar season last year. This was due in large part, however, to most talented receiving class in the league. Phenom Conrado Banky ‘19 earned an All-NESCAC First Team nod, James Burke ‘17 landed on the Second Team, and Ryan Rizzo ‘17 offered a dynamic third option and also excelled as a return man. Only Banky remains from that group. Unless young receivers like Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can step up, Middlebury might need to balance their offense more than in years past. Running back Diego Meritus ‘20 showed flashes of excellence last year, and should be ready to explode in his junior year with a heavier workload.

Jared Lebowitz will look to lead the Panthers to new heights this season.

Lebowitz’s job will also be made more difficult by a young offensive line. Senior leaders like Andy Klarman provided needed stability to a unit that struggled at times last season, and there is still uncertainty about who will fill those spots. Lebowitz showed himself to be prone to rushed decisions at times last year, and a shaky offensive line could only exacerbate that problem.

The defense mostly returns, with a few notable exceptions. DB Nate Leedy and LB Addison Pierce provided stability and toughness to a unit that was otherwise very young, and they both graduated. Leadership responsibilities now fall largely on the shoulders of LB John Jackson ‘18, and anyone else who steps up throughout the year. However, for all that leadership Middlebury still gave up 48 points to Tufts and 49 to Trinity. The defense will have to improve a great deal for the Panthers to remain one of the elite NESCAC programs. Middlebury lost a lot in the off-season, but that could give several youngsters a chance to step up. Hopefully they continue their high level of play and Amherst returns to glory, giving us a real five way race at the top of the league.

Put It Over the Fireplace: The Postseason Awards Blog

Darrien Myers and Trinity ran away with the title this weekend in Hartford (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Darrien Myers and Trinity ran away with the title this weekend in Hartford (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

First of all, congratulations to Trinity on an amazing season. In a league that featured four real threats to win the NESCAC title this year, Trinity was dominant from start to finish. The Bantams had the most consistency of any team, and it was this consistency that brought the championship trophy back to Hartford. This marks Trinity’s 7th 8-0 season in the current format, with Amherst and Williams being the only two other schools to put together perfect seasons. Congrats Trinity on another phenomenal season. We’ll discuss your accomplishments in greater depth tomorrow, but for now, let’s get to the awards.

The actual awards will be coming out presently, so these are less of a blog necessity and more of an excuse for Rory and I to talk about NESCAC football all day on a Sunday instead of doing homework. The main evidence that we used to make our decisions was statistics, as our biggest weakness as bloggers is our inability to watch every game at once. However, we also tried to spread the wealth fairly evenly throughout the league. There is of course a natural bias towards more successful teams (better teams tend to have better players), but we looked to get every school represented. The toughest call was probably QB, as Middlebury’s high volume passing attack led to Jared Lebowitz having by far the highest numbers. But we couldn’t overlook Puzzo’s consistency and performances in big games.  As always, any complaints can be directed to our “Suggestion Box.”

Image result for recycling bin
We recycle our suggestions here at Nothing But NESCAC.

First Team Offense:

QB: Sonny Puzzo (Trinity)

(16 TD, 4 INT, 186.5 YD/G, 60.1)

RB: Chance Brady (Tufts)

(17 TD, 1099 YD, 137.5 YD/G, 5.4 Y/A, 0 fumbles lost)

RB: Max Chipouras (Trinity)

(7 TD, 910 YD, 113 YD/G, 5.8 Y/A)

WR: Conrado Banky (Middlebury)

(925 YDS, 115.6 YDS/G, 12 TD)

WR: Darrien Myers (Trinity)

(485 YD, 69.8 YD, 8 TD)

WR: Bo Berluti (Amherst)

(498 YD, 62.3 YD/G, 8 TD)

WR: Devon Carrillo (Wesleyan)

(349 YD, 49.3 YD/G, 13 TD *twelve rushing*)

TE: Bryan Porter (Bowdoin)

(310 YD, 14.1 Y/C, 2 TD)

OL: Chris Simmons (Trinity)

OL: Joe Wilson (Wesleyan)

OL: Beau Butler (Wesleyan)

OL: Joe Farrah (Trinity)

OL: Gian Calise (Tufts)

First Team Specialists

PK: Eric Sachse (Trinity)

(13-13 FG, 38-38 XP)

P: Justin Foley (Bates)

(81 P, 37.9 Y/P, 20 IN20)

RET: Darrien Myers (Trinity)

(9 KR, 22.7 Y/KR, 1 TD, 17 PR, 14.6 Y/PR)

First Team Defense

DL: Tyler Harrington (Bates)

(34 TKL, 6.5 SCK, 9 TFL)

DL: Micah Adickes (Tufts)

(32 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 5.5 TFL)

DL: Robert Wood (Middlebury)

(28 TKL, 5 SCK, 9.5 TFL)

DL: Patrick Fabrizio (Bowdoin)

(19 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 7.5 TFL)

DL: Jordan Stone (Wesleyan)

(26 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 7 TFL)

DL: Niyi Odewade (Amherst)

(32 TKL, 4.5 SCK, 9.5)

LB: Mark Upton (Bates)

(87 TKL, 7 SCK, 14 TFL, 1 INT)

LB: Greg Holt (Tufts)

(98 TKL, .5 SCK, 6 TFL)

LB: Parker Chapman (Amherst)

(66 TKL, 2 SCK, 2 FF, 1 INT)

LB: John Jackson (Middlebury)

(61 TKL, 7.5 SCK, 11.5 TFL, 2 FF, 1 INT)

DB: Spencer Donahue (Trinity)

(46 TKL, 3 SCK, 3 FF, 2 INT, 5 Break-ups)

DB: Tim Preston (Tufts)

(28 TKL, 5 INT, 6 Break-ups)

DB: Ian Dickey (Colby)

(52 TKL, 1 FF, 3 INT)

DB: Kevin Hopsicker (Middlebury)

(37 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 INT)

DB: Nate Taylor (Wesleyan)

(19 TKL, 1 TFL, 3 INT)

DB: Joe Frake (Bates)

(43 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT)

Offensive POY: Running Back Chance Brady ‘17  (Tufts)

Chance Brady
Chance Brady ’17 (Courtesy Tufts Athletics)

If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of picking Brady for this award, just ask any of the corpses he left strewn all over Middlebury’s field on Saturday. Middlebury and Tufts’ matchup had tremendous championship implications, but it also effectively decided the Offensive POY race. Brady and Jared Lebowitz were the two front runners heading into the game. Lebowitz struggled in the first half before mounting an impressive comeback in the second, and Brady absolutely buried the Panthers throughout afternoon. He had five total touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving), including three in the decisive second quarter that saw Tufts take a 34-7 lead into halftime. Brady eviscerated the entire league this season, and his work put him in the NESCAC history books – on Saturday, Brady set the record of most rushing touchdowns in a single season with 17. What a stud.

Defensive POY: Defensive Back Spencer Donahue ‘17 (Trinity)

Spencer Donahue
Spencer Donahue ’17 (Courtesy Trinity Athletics)

It is the mark of a truly great defensive back when they can have an impact on the activity in the backfield as well as in coverage, effectively putting their finger on the pulse of the game in all areas on the field. At times this season it seemed like there were three or four Spencer Donahues running around all over the field; that’s how dominant he was from the safety position. He was particularly effective at getting into the backfield, recording three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Donahue wraps up a tremendous career with an 8-0 season, and we think he should take home some personal hardware as well.

Rookie of the Year: Greg Holt ‘20 (Tufts)

Greg Holt
Greg Holt ’20 (Courtesy Tufts Athletics)

As one great defensive player leaves in Donahue, another one rises up in Greg Holt. Holt led the entire league in tackles with 98, and was the centerpiece of a defense that helped the Jumbos surprise many in the league and finish at 7-1. Early in the season Holt didn’t really get into the backfield, recording no sacks or forced fumbles in the first four games of the season despite 14 and 20 tackles in his first two college games. However, something clicked in the second half of the year, and Holt tallied .5 sacks and six tackles for loss over the final four games. Holt gives the Jumbos a player to build a defensive dynasty around.

Image result for steve holt
There is no relation between Greg Holt and Steve Holt…that we know of.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Devanney (Trinity)

Not a very tough call here. If your team finishes 8-0 with an average margin of victory of over 24 points, your status as coach of the year is pretty hard to argue. Trinity was the best team wire to wire this season (even though it took a couple weeks for the geniuses over at NbN to put them at #1 in the power rankings), and look poised to continue their run next year.

An Update to the Defensive Player of the Year Race

Last week I gave an update on the Offensive Player of the Year Race, and now heading into our final week of NESCAC football I’m here to provide you with the final defensive player of the year update. Clearly, Rory knows little about defense as he only predicted one member of this list back in September. Rory’s stupidity, however, is beside the point. Many newcomers have emerged in 2016, and without further adieu here is the final version of the NESCAC football Defensive POY race.

Safety/Outside Linebacker Spencer Donahue ’17, Trinity

Spencer Donahue '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Spencer Donahue ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Trinity has dominated the NESCAC the entire season and a big part of this is due to their defense. Anchoring this defense is senior co-captain Spencer Donahue. In 7 games this season Donahue has logged 37 tackles (leading Trinity), 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries (2 for touchdowns), and 2 interceptions. Donahue has a knack for finding the football, and his ability to force turnovers has won games for the Bantams. Don’t be surprised if you see Donahue with the football in his possession in his final collegiate game, week 8 against Wesleyan. He already has already 3 (!!!) NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week nods this fall after all. Donahue is the frontrunner at this point.

Linebacker Greg Holt ’20, Tufts

Greg Holt '20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Greg Holt ’20 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Watch the Tufts defense for one drive and you are likely to see number 54, Greg Holt in on pretty much every play. Only a freshman, Holt is tied for first in the NESCAC with 89 tackles. After graduating two valuable linebackers in 2015, the position was a big question mark heading into 2016 and Holt has filled that void for the 6-1 Jumbos. Though he may be at a disadvantage as a freshman in contention for the Defensive POY award, he will surely be terrorizing the dreams of NESCAC offensive coordinators for the next three years.

Linebacker Mark Upton ’17, Bates

Mark Upton '17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Mark Upton ’17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

An All-New England and First Team All-NESCAC selection in 2015, it is to no surprise that Mark Upton is back on this list. Upton has had a stellar career at Bates, but his senior campaign looks as though it is will be his most impressive. The stud linebacker has 78 tackles (12 TFL), 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception. In a 12-7 week 2 loss to Tufts, Upton totaled 17 tackles, 4 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. He will leave Bates as one of its best defensive players, totaling 263+ tackles in his four-year career, a pretty impressive feat. If Bates had a better record, it would definitely help Upton’s odds to win the Defensive POY, but by no means is he out of the running.

Linebacker John Jackson ’18, Middlebury

John Jackson '18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Our third and final linebacker on the list is John Jackson. Starting his college football career as a running back, Jackson has come a long way, proving that he is one of the best linebackers in the NESCAC. In 2016, Jackson has compiled 47 tackles (9 TFL), and his 6 sacks leads the NESCAC. The junior has also forced 2 fumbles and tallied 1 interception. With a stellar week 8 performance against Tufts, Jackson could potentially jump ahead of fellow linebackers Holt and Upton to rival Donahue as the favorite for defensive POY. Stay tuned…

Cornerback Tim Preston ’19, Tufts

Tim Preston '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tim Preston ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

In 2015 Preston surged  onto the scene, leading the NESCAC with 6 interceptions. Fast forward a year and Preston is once again atop the NESCAC in interceptions with 5. And after his 99 yard pick-6 versus Colby this past weekend, the Tufts Bookstore began selling Preston Island T-shirts at halftime. Darrelle Revis even cut me in line to buy one. Tufts will rely heavily on their secondary to minimize the passing threat of Lebowitz and Middlebury this weekend, and I expect Tim Preston to be a huge part of this. At some point, you’ve gotta wonder when NESCAC quarterbacks are going to shy away from Preston as they drop back to pass.

Welcome to the Thunderdome: Middlebury at Trinity, Your Week 6 Game of the Week

Middlebury looks to keep the wheels turning this weekend against Trinity, which will be no easy task (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).
Middlebury looks to keep the wheels turning this weekend against Trinity, which will be no easy task (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Middlebury (5-0) at Trinity (5-0), 12:30 PM, Hartford, CT

On Saturday October 29th the Panthers will challenge the Bantams in their house. Who is scarier? Since it is Halloweekend after all, if we look strictly at the mascots, a Panther is much more intimidating than a little chicken, but it is the guys wearing the costumes this weekend that people should fear. These #1 and #2 squads on our power rankings face off in week six, and no matter what you think their respective order should be on that list, they are clearly alone at the top.  Midd has fared incredibly well so far this year, topping Amherst and handling their business against the lower tier NESCAC teams, but Trinity hasn’t scored less than 36 points this year. So the real question is, if each team showed up to your front door to trick-or-treat, who’s ‘Boo!’ would frighten you more?

 Last Time They Met and What’s On the Line: October 31st, 2015, Middlebury, VT. Trinity defeats Middlebury 26-14

Last year, Middlebury held on to a 14-13 halftime lead, but couldn’t muster any offense in the second half and ultimately let up two 4th quarter TD’s to lose.  However, the last one was on a drive with time running out to tie the game when QB Matt Milano ’16 threw a pick-6. It was a great matchup and is sure to be similar this year, although each team has improved greatly from where they were at last year. It’s a little bit too early to tell if this is going to be the quasi NESCAC championship game (another reason why NESCAC football should have playoffs), but this is going to be a top 3 game of the season. While Sid discussed earlier this week how it’s still possible for Wesleyan to win the crown of the conference, he just casually assumed Tufts would roll over Midd, which is bold to say the least. Barring an unthinkable, unpredictable, and unlikely ending to the year, either Trinity or Middlebury will win the NESCAC and this is going to be a huge game in deciding that future.

 Trinity X-Factor: DB Spencer Donahue ‘17

Spencer Donahue '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Spencer Donahue ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

This isn’t a bold prediction by any means, as Donahue leads the Bantams with two INT’s, 20 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumbles recovered, and one block. He’s good. He’s great. But can he stop WR Conrado Banky ’19? While he might not cover Banky, he will definitely need to play a big part in containing the speedy wide-out who leads the Panthers with 614 receiving yards and eight TDs. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 is a big time passing QB who has thrown 20 TDs this year, but five of them were to Ryan Rizzo ’17. What does this have to do with Donahue? Well, since Ryan Rizzo is now out for the year with a fractured wrist, Banky becomes the center of the receiving core, and if Donahue can neutralize him, with Trinity’s ruthless offensive attack, Middlebury will have a tough time keeping up.

Middlebury X-Factor: The Linebacker Core’s Big 2

Addison Pierce '17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Addison Pierce ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson '18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middlebury averages 35.8 points a game and Trinity averages 37.4 ppg. These teams are going to score this weekend, and that’s why each team’s X-Factor defensive. Addison Pierce ’17 and John Jackson ’18 are the center of the defensive unit and each have a monsterous 40 tackles on the season, and their ability to stop Max Chipouras ’19 and Lucas Golon ’19, averaging 175 collective yards per game on the ground, is going to be a key to limiting the Bantam’s point to under 36 for the first time this year. The senior captain, Pierce, also adds three sacks and one forced fumble and combined with Jackson’s five sacks and two forced fumbles, the Trinity running backs are going to have their hands full. If Sonny Puzzo ’18 is forced to throw because of the rush defense, only allowing 2 yards per carry last week and -0.4 yards per carry against Amherst on week four, then the Panthers would have the comparative advantage on offense.

 Everything Else

These two offensive juggernauts lead the league in almost every offensive category and are going to hit each other head-on on Saturday. Middlebury offense gains 429.2 yards per game compared to the league leader Trinity at 482 yards per game, while each squad’s defense ranks fourth and third, respectively, in yards allowed per game.

Trinity definitely had an easier game week one against Bates than Middlebury did last weekend, as the Panthers went down 9-0 before rumbling back to score 28 unanswered points. However, each team has played well against the other Maine schools, and beaten all of the teams they needed to, as expected. The only two really interesting games each has played were Midd vs. Amherst, and Trinity vs. Tufts. Each team clearly came out on top, but Trinity did so much more convincingly than Middlebury. Up until last weekend, Middlebury’s year to date strength of schedule appeared to be higher, but Amherst’s brutal loss to Wesleyan drastically lowered their stock, and therefore the quality of the week three win for Midd. Tufts on the other hand is about just as good as expected and has leapfrogged Amherst in the power rankings, showing that perhaps Trinity’s victory over the Jumbos was much more impressive than the Panthers’ victory over the Purple & White.

Defense hasn’t been Middlebury’s strongest area, as they faltered against Williams during week four, but an underrated key player is Nate Leedy, who had a big interception last weekend against Bates to thwart the early Bobcat threat.  His ferocity should continue this weekend. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 should be scared of this senior captain as he will lurk in the secondary, ready to pounce and add on to his season total of 15 tackles and go for his second straight week with a pick. As I mentioned above, Rizzo’s injury is a big hit to the Panther offense, and while they were able to beat Bates without him, the Bobcats’ defense is not exactly the top in the league. Trinity’s secondary is no joke, drawing my comparison to Seattle’s Legion of Boom earlier in the year. Because of this deficit and Trinity’s balanced offense, on paper it appears that they are the favorite. Puzzo has drastically improved his TD:INT ratio from last season, and still only has one pick on the year. Lebowitz is having a better year, but if RB Diego Meritus can’t take some of the load off of the receivers’ backs, I’m uncertain as to whether the air game will be as sustainable for Middlebury this weekend. Having said that, while the current forecast in Hartford predicts sun and 60 degree temperatures, weather changes rapidly because, after all, this is New England. The Panthers are also not going to go down easily as Wesleyan is creeping behind these top two teams in the standings and none wants to play second fiddle to the undefeated team. Middlebury wants this game, Trinity wants this game, and there is only one King Sized Kit-Kat bar left at the bottom of the candy bin. Who will take it?