Six Down, Three To Go: Football Weekend Preview 10/20

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.

Predicted Score: Hamilton 24, Colby 10 

Middlebury (4-1) @ Bates (0-5), Lewiston, ME, 1:00 PM

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.

Brendan Costa ’21 ran for 170 yards against Wesleyan, and will look to do the same against Middlebury.

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.

Predicted Score: Middlebury 51, Bates 17

Wesleyan (4-1) @ Amherst (4-1), Amherst, MA, 1:00 PM

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.

Shane Kaminski ’18 will have to dominate for Wesleyan to win.

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.

Predicted Score: Amherst 28, Wesleyan 24

Bowdoin (0-5) @ Trinity (5-0), Hartford, CT, 1:00 PM

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.

Predicted Score: Williams 28, Tufts 17

 

Two (Undefeated) Teams Enter: Amherst-Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

Game Time: 2:00 PM EST, Amherst, MA.

After a week of rather dull and predictable results, its refreshing to see this game set on the schedule as one of the remaining undefeated teams will fall. Two 3-0 records will enter and one will exit the weekend with a blemish, however, each will likely have different starting lineups at the end of the season. Both the Panthers and Mammoths lack totally healthy rosters like most teams at this point in the college football season, but they both miss key players. Coming off of easy wins for both teams, this will be Middlebury’s first real test since week one against Wesleyan and Amherst’s first test of the season.

Middlebury X-Factor: WR Jimmy Martinez ’19

Jimmy Martinez plays football a whole lot better than he takes photos

Martinez is not just another one of the many pieces that QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 has to choose from, he is also the best return man in the NESCAC. With two special teams TDs already, he is a hidden gem and potential game changer in an area that Amherst hasn’t seen much talent this season. With 11 receptions this season, his is six shy from his career total, all accumulated last season. He is averaging 51.7 yards per game in the air, including a score, and isn’t tasked with increasing his volume of catches due to the deep nature of the Midd receivers. The sky is the limit for Martinez as his unmatched speed as an All-American in the 400 meter dash gives him a big edge on both punts and kickoffs. He has only had one punt return thus far but took it to the house against Colby and is also averaging over 40 yards per return on kickoffs. He could be the one thing that Amherst won’t be able to match on Saturday and if he scores on a kick then it could be the turning point of the game.

Amherst X-Factor: Secondary

Matt Durborow ’21 leads Amherst DBs with 13 tackles

The Amherst secondary will have its hands full on Saturday as all of Middlebury’s offense will be geared towards an air assault. With youngster Charlie Ferguson ’20 and injured Diego Meritus ’19 the two tailbacks for the Panthers, they likely will stick to their specialties; namely, Jared Lebowitz and his army of young receivers. Since Lebowitz has had his way with defenses thus far, the key to stopping them will be in the hands of the Amherst secondary. John Ballard ‘20, Zach Allen ‘19, and Matt Durborow ’21 will need to be on their A game to subdue the Middlebury offense as this game is likely headed to high scores on both sides. So far, Ballard is the only one with a pick of the three, but Nate Tyrell ’19 and John Rak ’19 should also be able to help out against the Midd receivers. The secondary should have a more significant role than the linebackers as Lebowitz has deep threats as targets in Banky and Martinez. Should they be able to keep Lebowitz to under three passing TDs they should be able to score enough to overcome the visiting squad.

Everything Else:

Going to Amherst and taking on the Mammoths is a daunting task for Middlebury, but nobody is hotter than them right now. They have a win against a solid opponent already and have coasted to wins the past two weeks, not rushing Meritus back into action, and holding off on playing those with nagging injuries. Amherst, on the other hand, hasn’t seen any real challenges and have more uncertainty heading into week four. Reece Foy has been getting eased back into action for Amherst in his return from injury, and while Ollie Eberth is playing solid football in his stead, he is no POY candidate. For the Panthers, WR Maxim Bochman ’20 was a late scratch with a hamstring pull, RB Diego Meritus ‘19, the 2016 starter, is yet to play in 2017 but is eyeing a return this week, and Matt Cardew ’17 sprained his MCL against Bowdoin. Luckily for Midd, Charlie Ferguson ’21 has performed well in his extensive action lately and could share the workload with Meritus as he is eased back into action.

Regardless of who plays tailback for the Panthers, Amherst will have the edge on the ground as Jack Hickey has been off to the races so far this season. Especially interesting will be seeing how Ollie Eberth ’20 plays against a solid Midd defense and if Foy increases his work load from the last two weeks. Not to be forgotten also are Amherst’s stand out receivers James O’Reagan ’20, Bo Berluti ’19, and Craig Carmelani ’18. Berluti is off to a slow start but has talent and could have a breakout game, especially if his familiar signal caller Foy gets more snaps this week. Due to Hickey’s 8.4 yards per carry, Berluti hasn’t been needed nearly as much and neither has a significant aerial attack in the first three weeks. Essentially, Amherst has been playing with their eyes closed up to this point. It was a nice warm up for them, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for this game. A home game against a team with a number of injuries is a great time to play their first tough competition. If Foy was back to 100%, I would probably take Amherst just due to their depth in all aspects of the game, but Middlebury’s big play ability gives them an edge and they won’t need to run the ball if Lebowitz turns it on. Each team has their own advantages heading into this game, but with a stronger leader under center in what looks to be a shoot out, Midd has a slight edge.

Projected Score: Middlebury 31 Amherst 28

Same Old, Same Old; Power Rankings Week 3

Not a whole lot has changed from last week other than the fact that Williams is no longer undefeated. With that said though, they proved that they are significantly ahead of any sort of rebuilding designation and that they are above the bottom half of the league no question. Their strong defensive effort against the Bantams, including a shut down of Max Chipouras really showed the rest of the NESCAC that they are ready to make the leap to the next step. What we saw in the other four games did not surprise anybody, and at this point Hamilton has all but rejoined the bottom tier of the league after their exciting week one game. Not much has changed, but here’s where they stand:

1: Trinity
I thought about moving the Bantams down, but they have still only allowed nine points all season and that is not enough of a negative to knock them off of their pedestal. Max Chipouras’ 2.9 yards per carry are a slight cause of concern heading into what’s basically an assured win against Hamilton. My concern is that now he is no longer the NESCAC God of Running. He had a bad game, but still scored a TD and his team can likely win on Saturday with a blindfold on. Until they face a better team, it will be hard to tell exactly how unbelievable this team is, but for now they are ready to roll to 4-0.

2: Middlebury
Middlebury is coming off their second straight win against a sub-par opponent and looks ready to take on Amherst. While they lack a significant running game at this point, young Charlie Ferguson ’21 is averaging nearly 7 yards per carry in his 15 touches this season. While it is a limited sample size, he has filled in nicely the past two games in low pressure situations while Diego Meritus rehabs on his way back to the field. If Meritus comes back strongly, then Midd will be firing on all cylinders.

Conrad Banky and the Panthers are on a roll

3: Amherst
Amherst is in a virtual tie with Midd for the second spot on these rankings, but due to their schedule weakness up to this point they are slightly below. They will face their first tough competition this weekend against the Panthers but with Jack Hickey, an array of solid receivers and a middle-tier NESCAC QB in Ollie Eberth, they don’t have much to worry about in terms of overall position. Kicker John Rak had an uncharacteristically unsuccessful performance by missing three field goals, and he needs to flip the switch for this Saturday because it will be the first time there is any pressure on him all season. Their game against Midd will likely come down to the wire and he needs to be ready to boot it through the uprights from deep, maybe even over 50 yards like last year. There are no major concerns with this team right now, but unless they show some more prowess this weekend, they might not be quite as elite as Midd and Trinity.

4: Wesleyan
By virtue of their opening week loss, this is where the Cardinals sit in the rankings, although they have had a tough schedule up to this point. They knocked off Tufts in OT which was a great sign for their ability to beat the top teams in the conference, and they have what should be two easy wins coming up. They shouldn’t have any issue with Colby or Bates and will be heading into a week six matchup against Amherst with a 4-1 record barring an impossible upset. While QB Mark Piccirillo has been finding the end zone just fine, there is a concern with his high turnover numbers as he has already tossed five picks in three games. They showed that Hamilton is indeed a weaker opponent with a blowout win and their defense has been strong thus far. Their one concern would be the rush D which allowed over 200 yards on the ground two weeks ago. They should sit pretty in this spot, and maybe move up to #3 depending on the outcome of the Midd/Amherst game.

5: Tufts
Tufts only cruised to their win against Bates after the first half, showing weaknesses in their defense by allowing the poor Bobcat offense to score 17 points. Their holes were in the rush defense, and it was the starters who showed the weakness. Bates scored all of their points in the first half, and this game was never totally out of hand. The Jumbos have allowed more rush yards than any of the teams above them in these rankings. Also with only four turnovers on defense, they lack the stoppage power that Trinity and Amherst have while also seeing their run game disappear from last year. Ryan McDonald looked great last weekend though and the duel threat QB is carrying the Jumbos up to this point. They should have an easy time against Bowdoin this weekend, heading into their daunting week five matchup against Trinity.

6: Williams
They are close to passing Tufts on these rankings with their strong defensive performance against Trinity. Their only fault so far is that they don’t have a win against a top tier team, and while Tufts doesn’t either, they still took Wesleyan to OT. Allowing the aforementioned 2.9 yards per carry to Chipouras and just 163 yards passing to Sonny Puzzo, they look capable of quieting any offense. Bobby Maimaron ’21 showed weakness for the first time this season, but did so against the league’s best defense in the Bantams. As an added bonus they have possibly the best athlete in the NESCAC in Adam Regensburg ’18 who played WR, DB, and was an unreal punter last weekend. Oh yeah, he starts on the baseball team too. Look for them to handily beat Bates.

7: Hamilton
Ok so now it’s been three weeks, and other than one close game, Hamilton has looked pretty bad. So why are they sitting at 7th on the rankings and not lower? Well, first of all, they are the only team at this point that has shown any possibility of beating or competing with one of the top teams, and they also have only faced the upper echelon of the NESCAC. Kenny Gray has looked servicable thus far, but without a strong running game, they lack the tools for offensive sustainability in competition with the top dawgs. Their defensive line also has some work to do as they sacked Piccirillo just one time last weekend, allowing him ample time in the pocket. On the bright side, Bryce Phillips and Justin Leigh both had INTs giving me just enough hope that they can beat the bottom teams in the conference. They won’t beat Trinity, but after this week, they will have ended their streak of a brutal strength of schedule.

8: Bowdoin
Well at this point you can pretty much chalk Bowdoin’s predicted game outcomes to a score of about 30-40 points allowed and 14 points scored. They have only faced winning teams thus far and could have success against Bates, Colby, and Hamilton, but still need to show some hope for preventing huge scores on defense. Griff Stalcup ’21 looks to be the QB of the future for the Polar Bears as he took over the starting job and played decently in his second start of the year, making great strides from the first one. He was able to find the end zone for the first time in his passing career, racking up TDs thrown to Bryan Porter and Nick Vallas, the strongest Bowdoin offensive pieces. Like Hamilton, they lacked much presence on their D-line and gave Ollie Eberth plenty of time in the pocket. With another tough contest coming up against Tufts, they probably won’t find the win column this weekend.

Bates couldn’t quite keep up with Tufts on Saturday despite improvements

9: Bates
The Bobcat offense looked much improved against Tufts, actually staying in the game until well into the fourth quarter. With new QB Brendan Costa under center, effectively benching Sandy Plashkes, the Bobcats had a bit more life. Costa showed similarly to Plashkes in ’16 that he can run it a little bit, finding the end zone and accumulating 97 yards on just 16 carries. Granted, one of those was a 70 yard run, proving his other 15 carries non-impactful, but that big play speed is just what Bates needs. Bates matched Tufts with four tackles for losses, but their secondary appeared continually weak by allowing four TD passes to McDonald. Bates should hope Costa keeps improving as his long TD run is basically their lone bright spot up to this point in the season. Look for them to compete initially but fall true to their lack of scoring against Williams.

10: Colby
Bates and Colby are kind of rotating in and out of this last spot by virtue of which team played a worse game the week before. The Mules looked bad against Middlebury last weekend. With just 112 yards passing and 179 yards of total offense, they never stood a chance. Here was the positive: They actually won the first quarter. From then on it was bad news. They were outscored 33-0 the rest of the game, and couldn’t even make their extra point. Don Vivian added a pick on Lebowitz too putting Colby at third place on total turnovers so far. They should compete against Bowdoin and Bates, and just maybe Hamilton, but that’s about it.