DT: Grant Williams ‘19 DT: Bobby Nevin ‘19 DE: TBD
Projected Starters: Special Teams (*Returning)
KR: Eric Meyreles ‘18*
PR: Eric Meyreles ‘18*
Wesleyan finished last season at 6-2, very much in the mix as one of the top teams in the league. They did it with a dynamic, powerful defense that was complemented by a run based offense that very rarely turned the ball over. This is usually a pretty solid and sustainable formula for success. However, the Cardinals lost a lot of the pieces that made that formula work in the offseason. They are that rare team that could go either way this season. They could rely on their depth and have young players step up to help them make the leap to the true top tier, or they could fall to the middle of the pack.
On offense, most of their losses affect that crucial running game. Lead back Lou Stevens is gone, as is, of course, versatile threat Devin Carrillo. Carrillo’s loss particularly stings,as he was a factor in every part of Wesleyan’s offense. He had 12 rushing touchdowns, and was also their leading receiver. To replace that kind of production, senior QB Mark Piccarillo will have to become elite. He is close to that level already, accounting for 15 total touchdowns last season, but without Stevens and Carillo to fall back on he will be asked to make more difficult throws and to run the ball with more authority. Luckily for the Cardinals, they are still very deep at receiver, with Eric Meyreles ‘18 and Mike Breuler ‘18 forming one of the better duos in the league.
Defensively, they lost two of their standouts in DT Jordan Stone and DB Justin Sanchez. They were both all-league level players, but more than that they, along with Coach DiCenzo and his staff, were responsible for forming the tough as nails defensive identity for which Wesleyan has become known. Luckily, that identity has seeped into the pores of the other players. LB Shayne Kaminski ‘18 is more than ready to take over that leadership mantle, and Wesleyan boasts a trio of junior DT’s that stop opposing rushing attacks where they stand. Defense has never been a worry for the Cardinals, and it won’t be this year.
Depth is what the Cardinals hope will keep them afloat despite all these losses, and that leads to position battles. There are two major ones that we’re keeping an eye on. On offense, tight end is up in the air. Senior Jake Cronin ‘18 would appear to have an inside track due to his experience, but freshman Patterson ‘21 adds a receiving dimension to their offense. And on defense, that final LB spot is still open, although sophomore Will Kearney ‘20 has made an impressive push in camp and might be set as the starter. Wesleyan lost a great deal, but they also keep a great deal and look poised to make a leap.
Offensive MVP: WR Eric Meyreles ‘18
One of the strengths of Wesleyan’s offense is their versatility. Last season they used Devin Carrillo ‘17 as a weapon from pretty much everywhere on the field. Carrillo had 12 rushing touchdowns, as well as 29 receptions as a receiver. His departure leaves them with a hole in that receiver hybrid spot that is so popular in today’s game. Meyreles is the logical choice to fill that void. He was their third-leading receiver last year with 21 receptions, and also uses his speed to be one of the most dangerous return men in the league. Wesleyan could well give some of Carillo’s rushing sets to Meyreles, making him an even more versatile threat.
Defensive MVP: LB Shayne Kaminski ‘18
This choice is pretty straightforward. Kaminski was one of the best linebackers in the league last year as a junior, putting up 61 tackles and four sacks. Wesleyan as a team was one of the best defenses in the country, ranking towards the top in yards allowed for most of the season.Clearly, defense is Wesleyan’s identity. Unfortunately for them, they lost elite defensive back Justin Sanchez. This leaves a void at a leadership position for that elite defense, a void that Kaminski is more than ready to fill. Look for him at the end of the season as First Team and DPOY candidate.
Player to Watch: RB Dario Highsmith ‘20
Wesleyan has long relied on a strong rushing attack to complement their stellar defense. Last season they averaged nearly 180 yards per game on the ground, and scored 21 rushing touchdowns. However, between Carillo and fellow graduated senior back Lou Stevens, the Cardinals have lost a large chunk of those yards and touchdowns. Enter Dario. Highsmith put up an impressive first year last season, fitting in seamlessly to Wesleyan’s vaunted rushing attack, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and, most importantly, not fumbling once all season. Highsmith is poised to combine with Piccarillo, an excellent threat to run from the QB spot, to form a dynamic duo out of the backfield.
Biggest Game: @Trinity, November 11th
Wesleyan has their sights set on the top this season, and on paper they certainly have the talent to get their. Of course, the games aren’t played on paper, but say for the sake of this section of the preview that they and the Bantams run the table leading up to this match-up. Imagine iow exciting that game would be. Even if that hypothetical doesn’t come true, this game could very well serve as a de facto NESCAC championship. And aside from that, it’s a classic offense versus defense matchup, and those are always fun.
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.”
Offensive POY: Running Back Chance Brady ‘17 (Tufts)
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)
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)
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.
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.
We’re very sad to see football season go. Covering all of the drama, success and disappointment this season, it’s felt at times like we were on the field ourselves, living through the ups and downs. On a grand scale, Amherst took a lot of the drama out of the season by so consistently dispatching its opponents, but let’s not downgrade the exceptional performances of so many individuals on every team across the league. Even amongst so many standout showings, a few deserve recognition above all else.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tufts RB Chance Brady ’17
Brady was on our radar coming into the year, but we had no idea he was this good. Not only did he split carries last season with Zack Trause ’15 practically 50-50, but Tufts has historically been one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NESCAC. That completely changed this season with Brady serving as a workhorse for the Jumbos. Brady had 187 carries (two behind Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17), and led all qualified running backs in yards, yards per game and yards per carry while also tallying 11 rushing scores, two shy of the Tufts single-season record.
Honorable Mention: Middlebury QB Matt Milano ’16, Middlebury WR Matt Minno ’16, Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18, Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ’18, Colby RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17
Defensive Players of the Year: Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 and Bates LB Mark Upton ’17
Adam – Sheer production is the best way to describe Mark Upton’s career at Bates, and he gets my vote for DPOY because of his leadership on a young defense to go along with those gaudy stats. Bates lost a lot from their 2014 defense, including the majority of the linebackers who played besides him. Teams game planned towards Upton unlike before, and while he couldn’t quite match the 84 tackles he had last year, he came close. Upton finished with 71 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He played best down the stretch averaging 9.8 tackles per game in his final five games.
Joe – I went with Jordan Stone because he was a physical monster. Not only that, but Stone played alongside a bunch of freshmen on the D-line, and the Wesleyan defense as a whole was very green, so his numbers stand out that much more – and boy are they impressive. Thirty-five total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Ten! When thinking about these kinds of awards, my biggest question is always, Which player would it hurt the most to lose? I think this season it was Stone.
Honorable Mention: Amherst LB Evan Boynton ’17 , Middlebury DL Gil Araujo ’16, Bowdoin LB Branden Morin ’16, Middlebury CB Nate Leedy ’17, Trinity S Paul McCarthy ’16, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18
Kicker/Punter of the Year: Trinity K/P Kyle Pulek ’16
Pulek was consistently great punting the football (15 inside the 20, including six against Middlebury alone, which was a huge difference in the Bantams winning that contest), but it was his proficiency once thrust into the kicking role that gives him the edge over Amherst’s Jackson McGonagle ’16. Last season, Trinity’s kicking faults more or less directly led to a pair of Trinity losses. This season, kicker Eric Sachse ’19 was doing a fine job before he went down with an injury. Pulek came on and looked like a seasoned vet, making 10-10 extra points and 5-8 field goals – two of those misses were blocks, and the other was from 39 yards out.
Honorable Mention: Amherst P Jackson McGonagle, Tufts K/P Willie Holmquist ’17, Hamilton P Pat Donahoe ’16
Return Man of the Year: Trinity KR/PR Darrien Myers ’17
Not a ton of options on this one, and Myers is a more than deserving candidate, mostly because of his work on punt returns. He averaged 13.5 yards per return, a pretty sick number. Two of his returns went for touchdowns, and his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against Middlebury was a huge lift in their eventual win. Myers was not as dynamic on kickoffs as he has been in the past averaging 22.3 yards per return, but he still was a clear choice for us.
Honorable Mention: Tufts KR/PR Mike Rando ’17 and Williams KR/PR Mark Pomella ’16
Rookie of the Year: Hamilton DE Tyler Hudson ’19
Hudson exploded out of the gates with as good a debut in the NESCAC as anyone has had in awhile. Against Tufts he had 15 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. Keep in mind that he plays defensive end! He wasn’t that productive the rest of the year, but the final stats of 47 tackles, four sacks, and 12.5 TFL (second in the NESCAC) are pretty nifty. Hudson is so good that he even was on the field for the Continentals goal line package, though he never was able to bring in a reception. Hudson will be fun to watch for the next three years.
Honorable Mention: Tufts DB Tim Preston ’19, Trinity LB Shane Libby ’19, Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19, Bowdoin DB Cam Rondeau ’19
Coach of the Year: Tufts’ Jay Civetti
With apologies to EJ Mills who cranks out 8-0 seasons like they can be made on an assembly line, Coach Jay Civetti deserves this one. The Jumbos went 6-2 and took another big step forward as a program. This season Tufts turned into a team that ran the ball first and forced big plays on defense. That is the EXACT opposite of what this team was just two years ago. It took Civetti a little time to have the results show up on the field, but what he is building at Tufts both on and off the field is impressive, and we were impressed with how he fit his game plan to his players’ talents.
Honorable Mention: Amherst’s EJ Mills, Wesleyan’s Dan DiCenzo
Breakout Player of the Year: Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18
Our biggest worry for Amherst coming into the year was that they would be plagued by subpar QB play. Foy was not perfect this year, but he was the catalyst for the Amherst offense. He played his best football in the first half putting up more than 250 yards of total offense between running and passing in each of his first three games. He didn’t surpass that mark again the rest of the way, but he still made enough plays down the stretch of games. He ranked in the top five amongst starters for passing yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdowns, so calling him above average is a pretty easy call.
Honorable Mention: Hamilton WR Charles Ensley ’17, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18, Bowdoin WR Nick Vailas ’18, Trinity LB Liam Kenneally ’18, Bates CB Trevor Lyons ’17
Most Surprising Team: Tufts
Well this couldn’t have been easier. Tufts was the most surprising team a year ago, and they still managed to up their play this season. By beating one of the big dogs in Week 8, Tufts really made a statement about their ability to compete in the future. Two years removed from a 31-game losing streak, Tufts might be a title contender in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Hamilton
Best Single Unit: Amherst LBs
Given that Amherst graduated two VERY good linebackers from the 2014 team, not many would have thought this unit would end up here. But Evan Boynton ’17, Tom Kleyn ’16, Parker Chapman ’17 and Jack Drew ’16 were phenomenal. Their individual statistics are all great of course, and you can look at them here. As a group they were great tacklers, never allowing for big plays. Unlike many linebackers in the NESCAC, this group was equally good against the run and pass, making the Amherst defense able to adjust to anything.
Patricia gets this award not just for his performance in 2015, but for the entire body of work that is his stellar career. The California native came all the way to Vermont to play ball and made an impact right away. Patricia started 32 games in his career and amassed 289 tackles – the third-most in Middlebury history since 1994 when they started recording individual defensive statistics. It’s rare to see a player lead an entire defense from Day One and never miss a beat.
Honorable Mention: Amhest WR Devin Boehm ’17, Amherst DB Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16, Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18, Chance Brady, Jabari Hurdle-Price
Game Information: Wesleyan (5-2) at Trinity (6-1) (-7.5): 12:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Wesleyan and Trinity meet this Saturday in the I-91 Rivalry (did we just make that a thing?!) with both teams boasting quality records but battling for second place (we know, we know, Amherst still has to beat Williams and it’s a rivalry game so anything is possible …). If that sounds familiar, it’s because these two were in the exact same situation last year but with the roles switched. This year Trinity is the one-loss team, and Wesleyan is the two-loss team with losses to Middlebury and Amherst.
The game Saturday will be a spirited affair as last year’s win by Wesleyan broke a 13-game winning streak in the rivalry for Trinity. Many of those games were lopsided affairs, including the 2013 game that saw the Bantams blow out Wesleyan 40-10. The game last year was a 20-19 win for Wesleyan in part because Trinity went for a two-point conversion twice (including for the win after the Bantams final touchdown with under two minutes left) and failed both times. Trinity at that point was down to Spencer Aukamp ’18 at quarterback (Aukamp is not on the Trinity roster this year). The loss was the second one-point loss in a row for Trinity and left them a somewhat shocking 5-3.
However, in our eyes, the game tomorrow is just as important for next year. I’m not a believer that winning the last game of the season will lead to a much better off-season (player leadership is the primary factor in that), but the winner of this game will enter the 2016 season as the primary challenger to Amherst. Both of these teams are young and will have most of their talent back next year. Neither the coaches nor players for either team are particularly worried about next year quite yet, though.
Trinity X-Factor: Center Matt Porter ’16
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Amherst shut down the run game for Trinity last week, the Bantams had 140 yards on 37 carries for a relatively healthy 3.8 yards per carry. You just don’t fear Trinity running the ball the same way as before, and Middlebury proved that you can stifle them completely in Week 6. Wesleyan was incredibly stout against the run to begin the year, but they’ve come way down from that lofty position to still be second in the NESCAC. Beyond the running game, Porter and his linemates have to protect Sonny Puzzo ’18 against Jordan Stone ’17 and the rest of the Wesleyan pass rush. The Bantams have allowed 17 sacks this year, even after not allowing any to Amherst.
Wesleyan X-Factor: Outside Linebacker Jon Spivey ’16
Spivey has flown under our radar pretty much the whole year in part because his contributions have been consistent but unremarkable. He is listed at 5’8″, which might be a little generous even, but he also weighs 200 pounds meaning he has enough strength to give offensive lineman trouble either on run or pass plays. From his outside position, Spivey is great at recognizing the defense quickly and adjusting. Seniors have a knack for saving their best for last, so Spivey and the other seniors in this game are all liable to have a big game.
These are such similar teams that it makes you think Mike Whalen was copying the Trinity blueprint when he built up the Wesleyan program (spoiler: he was). The rosters are littered with kids from Connecticut and New Jersey, there is plenty of young talent on both defenses, and their quarterbacks are both threats to run.
About that quarterback position, Mark Piccirillo ’19 and Gernald Hawkins ’18 just about split snaps against Williams. Hawkins started the game and saw all the action in the first quarter. I don’t think one of them has seized the starting role yet, something that a coaching staff hates to have. Hawkins began the year as the undisputed starter but has begun ceding snaps to his understudy. Piccirillo is the more accurate and consistent passer, Hawkins more of a threat to run the ball. Honestly though, these two are similar players. Instead of comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing tangerines and clementines: both are good, have varying sweetness, but carry the same essence.
The loss of Devon Carrillo ’17 has been offset by the production of Eric Meyreles ’18 at wide receiver. He backed up his 10-reception game against Bowdoin with a solid five receptions, 64 yards and a touchdown. Wesleyan has the ability to give the Bantams fits in the passing game, though they’ve been inconsistent in that regard.
It was also great to see LaDarius Drew ’15 back on field last week after it was unclear if he would be able to return because of a knee injury against Hamilton in the second game of this year. He might not make a big difference in his final game, but he has had to go through a lot to get to this point.
Even though Trinity lost last week, I came away more impressed with the defense than before. Yes, the Bantams allowed 16 points, but the two touchdown drives for Amherst had to go just 32 and 46 yards because of great field position. The only problem that Trinity had was getting off the field on third down as Amherst was 8-13 in that category. Paul McCarthy ’16 got his fifth interception vs. the Jeffs, his first in a few weeks. Frank Leyva ’16 being back healthy gives a little more experience to the linebacking corps which I like. The Bantams do have to stop Wesleyan’s run game a little bit better, though, than they did against Amherst.
I’ve been pretty snake bitten in my picks recently, so take this pick with a nice lump of salt. I give Trinity the edge because they get the Cardinals at home. This is a classic line of scrimmage game: both teams pride themselves on winning that battle. The Coop’s streak is over, but I think Trinity rallies around the idea of never allowing Wesleyan to win in Hartford, and takes this one by the slimmest of margins, meaning that Wesleyan covers the spread but loses where it counts.
Yes, the game between Trinity and Amherst is very important. Yada, yada, yada. Joe has you covered there if you want to read about that. Spoiler alert, it’s a bold prediction. Elsewhere, it’s rivalry season in the NESCAC with the second leg of the CBB and Little Three taking place this weekend. Bowdoin makes the quick jaunt up to Lewiston to face off against Bates who just won the first leg of the CBB against Colby, and Williams visits Wesleyan in the Little Three. For the Ephs, this is the first of back-to-back games against Wesleyan and Amherst, and the final two weeks might be the last two for Coach Aaron Kelton. Since going to 2-1, Williams has lost three in a row with last week’s loss to Hamilton a particularly stinging loss because it broke the long losing streak for the Continentals. Last year the Ephs managed just 123 yards of offense and no points in a 22-0 loss that would have been even more lopsided if Wesleyan hadn’t had to kick five short field goals. Unless the loss last week galvanized the team, expect this year’s result to be similar.
Meanwhile Bates can complete the salvaging of their year if they beat Bowdoin on Saturday. After going 13-11 over the past three seasons, the Bobcats have lost a good deal of close games and are just 1-5. A win over Bowdoin seals the fifth consecutive year of the CBB for Bates and means the graduating Bobcats will have never lost to the Polar Bears. Bates certainly isn’t happy to have the record they do, but their final two games against Bowdoin and Hamilton are both winnable ones. If they can finish at 3-5 with a three-game winning streak and an uncontested CBB title, things would look drastically different than they did just a week ago. However, that is still a ways away.
Four to Watch
Running Back Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 (Colby): Despite a disappointing season for the Mules overall, Hurdle-Price has been fabulous. A slow start to this season is long in the past as he has had four straight games of over 100 yards rushing, including 202 yard, two TD performance against Wesleyan in Week 3 that served as the tone setter. What has really made him so valuable though is his receiving as he has 19 receptions for 146 yards. Then you add in his kickoff returns and in total you get the NESCAC leader for all-purpose yards at 171.7 per game, well above the next highest total of 144.7 from Darrien Myers ’17. The Mules are a heavy underdog at home against Tufts, but regardless of what happens, Hurdle-Price is going to get his yards.
Linebacker Branden Morin ’16 (Bowdoin): After having just two tackles in the season opener, Morin has been a tackling machine averaging 10.8 per game, and he now leads the league. Last week he had a sack to go along with his 11 tackles. The Bowdoin defense has been bad overall against the run, allowing 209.5 yards per game, 54.2 more yards per game than anybody else. That stat is probably the biggest reason why Bates is feeling confident entering tomorrow. Morin has to be able to make another dozen or so tackles in order to keep Bates from marching up and down the field all day long. Some of the other linebackers for Bowdoin are very inexperienced and have not played against Bates, and the coaching staff is relying on him to be a steadying force up front.
Defensive End Jordan Stone ’17 (Wesleyan): It’s a given that Williams is going to throw all the time, and that is exactly what Stone wants to hear. He leads the Cardinals with 5.5 sacks, and he has three in the past two weeks. Williams has been decent at keeping QB Austin Lommen ’16 upright, but Stone will be one of their hardest challenges yet. The Ephs are unlikely to get much going on the ground which will allow Stone to pin his ears back and rush the passer. Stone isn’t quite a sack specialist as he is important for Wesleyan’s run defense also, but he is definitely one of the best pass rushers in the league.
Wide Receiver Charles Ensley ’17 (Hamilton): My goodness, Ensley has turned on the jets recently. His statistics from the past three games: 19 receptions for 376 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers coincide with Cole Freeman ’18 becoming the starting QB midway through the game against Bowdoin. Ensley was in this spot two weeks ago, but I don’t feel bad putting him here again because of how well he has done. Freeman also deserves credit for his job coming in after starting the season as the third string QB. Freeman only has one pick in 124 pass attempts. If Hamilton wants to get their second straight win, Ensley must have a big day against the Middlebury secondary.
Hamilton (1-5) at Middlebury (4-2): 12:30 PM
The Continentals got on the right side of the win-loss column last week in part by taking advantage of mistakes by Williams. They also were able to run the ball more effectively than usual as they broke 100 yards rushing for the first time all year. They still averaged just 2.9 yards per carry (amazingly, Hamilton has not had a game this year where they average at least 3.0 yards per carry). They will have a harder time on the ground against the Middlebury run defense led by Tim Patricia ’16 and, if he’s active, Addison Pierce ’17. Even if Pierce is out, Aaron Slodowitz ’18 is more than capable fill-in.
One advantage for the Continentals is how banged up Middlebury is at receiver. Of course, Matt Minno ’16 is still relatively healthy which should cause problems. Every team has injuries, especially at this point of the season, and they really hurt when grouped together in a particular position group. This will be closer than the 37-9 blowout last season, but it won’t be that close. The only worry I have for Middlebury is that they come out flat after last week’s physical loss.
Prediction: Middlebury over Hamilton 26-13
Bowdoin (1-5) at Bates (1-5): 12:30 PM
I already talked about the stakes for Bates. The win against Colby was a huge confidence booster, but they can’t be that confident as the offense took a huge step backwards after the big day they had two weeks ago against Middlebury. Passing for only 43 yards against Colby is not going to cut it versus a Bowdoin team that is weak against the pass. The matchup of corner Jibrail Coy ’16 vs. wide receiver Mark Riley ’16 will be a fun one to keep an eye on. The Bobcats are dealing with injuries to some of their skill players which has hurt them.
Speaking of injuries, Bowdoin will not have its top two running backs, Tyler Grant ’17 or Andrew Tichy ’19 tomorrow. Given how much they have been throwing the ball, one wouldn’t expect that to be too big of an issue. The team that scores first will put a lot of pressure on their opponent as this could be another low-scoring CBB affair.
Prediction: Bowdoin over Bates 17-13
Tufts (4-2) at Colby (1-5): 1:00 PM
So the Jumbos didn’t managed to put much of a scare into Amherst last weekend. It happens. Running against Amherst was never going to be easy, and allowing a defensive touchdown to the Jeffs made things pretty much impossible. The Jumbos will have to go to the air in order to beat Colby because the Mules strength of defense is the defensive line. This is the game that Tufts really wants in order to get to five wins.
The Mules are in a little bit of disarray on offense as Christian Sparacio ’18 got significant playing time at quarterback against Bates and scored the Mules’ one touchdown. Gabe Harrington ’17 had looked better in the previous two weeks, but he regressed back to his early season form vs. the Bobcats. The offense has really been the downfall of Colby this year, and there is no magic formula in Week 7.
Prediction: Tufts over Colby 24-17
Williams (2-4) at Wesleyan (4-2): 1:00 PM
As mentioned above, Hamilton was able to run against the Ephs, and that does not bode well at all for this weekend. Watching Wesleyan last week, I thought that the Cardinals were trying to get too fancy on offense instead of relying on that bulldozing offensive line to get easy yards on the ground. Against Williams, Wesleyan is probably going to keep things pretty simple for whomever ends up starting at QB, Gernald Hawkins ’18 or Mark Piccirillo ’19. The Cardinals still feel like they have plenty to play for in the last two weeks even if they are out of the conference race.
I don’t know what to expect from Williams. They have in the past shown up in rivalry games more so than other games. The Ephs have almost completely given up on running the ball, and the defense is soft against the run. On paper Wesleyan should win this game relatively easily.
This is a week full of intrigue for NESCAC teams and loyal ‘CAC fans alike. There’s something for everyone in Week 6. For the championship hopefuls, two games have major implications. The Game of the Week features Amherst traveling to Tufts and trying to extend the 16-game winning streak. Up in Middlebury, the undefeated Bantams will fight to avoid another late-season slide like the one suffered years ago. For other teams not fighting for a title there is still plenty to play for. Bates and Colby open up CBB play this weekend, always a point of pride for these football programs. Elsewhere in Maine, Wesleyan still has a lot to prove. They’ve played to the level of their competition all season long, and the Cards would like to do some damage against what should be a weaker team in Bowdoin. Bowdoin will also be dealing with a question mark at quarterback, as Tim Drakeley ’17 is expected to be healthy, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll take the reins from impressive first-year Noah Nelson ’19. Hamilton heads to Williamstown for the final game of the weekend. Hamilton is, yet again, trying to get off the schneid and get its first win since 2012. The streak has stretched to 25 games now, and is coming up on the Tufts’ record of 31 straight losses. Meanwhile, the home team might be playing to save the boss’ job. There is widespread discontent over a program that has gone from an 8-0 season in 2010 to 5-3 in 2011, 4-4 in 2012 and 2-6 the past two seasons. It’s hard to say which team needs this win more.
Players to Watch
Middlebury RB Diego Meritus ’19
The Panthers are rushing for 2.1 yards per carry. Not good. It’s not all Meritus’ fault, of course. He’s actually a good runner, and has shown his ability to make guys miss in the screen game. He’s a big body and fast, so it’s surprising that Middlebury hasn’t had more success on the ground. Head Coach Bob Ritter seems committed to the first-year, though, and no one else has gotten significant carries since Week 1. Especially with WR Conrado Banky ’19 out now, the rushing game will take on more importance for Middlebury.
Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18
With the first-year Nelson under QB, Porter needs to play a big role to help out the youngster. Two weeks ago, when Nelson had a phenomenal debut, Porter caught five balls and a touchdown, and last week his one catch was a 37-yard TD. Don’t expect there to be a lot of room downfield for the Bowdoin wideouts, meaning that Nelson is going to have to rely on Porter. It’s going to be huge for Bowdoin to convert on third downs in order to keep the ball out of the Cardinals’ hands. If Wesleyan is able to milk the clock with the running game, this will be over early.
Colby DE Ryan Ruiz ’16
When playing the triple-option, it’s imperative for the defense to keep to its assignments and not fly up field. Therefore, the impetus is on Ruiz, the Mules’ best defensive lineman, to lead the charge. He needs to keep the Bates slot backs from breaking out wide by getting outside leverage on the guy blocking him and allowing his teammates to make plays. If Colby can get a sizeable lead, though, then Ruiz will have a chance to pressure Pat Dugan ’16 and improve on his team-leading 2.5 sacks.
Hamilton RB LaShawn Ware ’18
I could essentially copy and paste the summary for Meritus from above, except that Hamilton Head Coach Dave Murray has shown a willingness to give some carries to Jason Nastovski ’18. Any time a team is having as much trouble running the ball as Middlebury and Hamilton are, a lot of that comes down to offensive line play. Running backs need holes to run through. The problem is exaggerated for Hamilton, though, because they aren’t having much success in the passing game, either. Ware averaged 3.9 yards per carry a year ago with 3/5 of the same offensive line. Things won’t change around for the Conts until Hamilton can get the ground game going.
Five weeks ago, we had no idea what to think about the Wesleyan Cardinals. A year removed from a senior class that brought the program back to relevance and competed for a championship three years in a row – earning a shared title in 2013 – Wesleyan had a plethora of questions coming into 2015. They’ve performed admirably, scaring Middlebury at home in Week 1 and putting up a good fight and outplaying the Lord Jeffs in every aspect but points scored a week ago in Amherst. Now the Cardinals are 3-2 and if they want to even have a minuscule shot at sharing a NESCAC title this year – and they’ll need a lot of help – they can’t lose again. I think this is a case of an inexperienced team coming into its own, and things are just looking up for them.
As for Bowdoin, the 30-20 win two weeks ago over Hamilton and the debut of Nelson gave hope to Polar Bear fans, but it now appears that it was false hope. No first-year should be expected to put up the kind of eye-popping numbers every week that Nelson posted against Hamilton, but without that kind of play Bowdoin doesn’t have enough fire power to topple the Cardinals. Losing their top two running backs has really hurt Bowdoin, which has only 58.4 rushing yards per game this season.
With that in mind, Bowdoin is forced to drop back and throw the football more often than not, which has to have Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 salivating as he wakes up this morning. Stone is one of the most physically-talented defensive players in this league and doesn’t get talked about too much on this blog, but that’s not because of his play, and more so because we just don’t talk about line play a ton. But Stone has 4.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NESCAC with Micah Adickes ’18 of Tufts. Tufts teammate Zach Thomas ’18 leads the NESCAC with 5.5 sacks. Here’s the kicker, though. The Wesleyan defense has faced 150 pass plays. Tufts? 188 pass plays.
With the Cardinals starting to figure things out as a team and still a bevy of concerns for the Polar Bears, it’s going to be a frightful Halloween for Bowdoin.
A year ago this week the championship-hopeful Bantams were stunned in the Coop by Middlebury, breaking a more than decade-old home winning streak of 53 games. That loss sent the Bantams spiraling to three losses to end the year. Once again, these teams meet with Trinity undefeated and Middlebury with an outside shot at a shared title. The ramifications will be large no matter which way the result ends up.
This matchup bodes well for the Bantams. The Middlebury run defense, expected to be stout this season, has bent pretty considerably against some top rushing attacks. The Panthers allowed 5.1 yards per carry to Wesleyan in Week 1 and 3.9 per carry to Amherst in Week 3. They’ve effectively shut down the rushing games of Colby, Williams and Bates, but Trinity’s freshman tailback Max Chipouras ’19 will provide a stiff challenge. What’s more, the Panthers have to be prepared for the dual-threat at QB that Sonny Puzzo ’18 provides.
The key for Middlebury, as always, is to score early and force teams to throw the football – something that they haven’t done particularly well this year. Their halftime scores so far this season: 7-13 at Wesleyan, 21-2 vs. Colby, 7-10 at Amherst, 9-7 vs. Williams and 14-10 at Bates. In all but one game, Middlebury was within four points at halftime. When they’ve started to get the offense rolling in the second half and forced teams to throw, the Panthers defense has responded with some big takeaways and shut down the opposition. That strategy could be particularly effective this week given Puzzo’s recent struggles – he had two picks at Tufts and only completed 10 of 20 passes last week vs. Bowdoin.
Offensively for Middlebury, the rushing attack has been bad, plain and simple. Only once, in the Panthers’ blowout victory over Williams, has the running game been effective. But, frankly, Middlebury has proven that they don’t need to run the ball in order to be successful. It would be nice, but Middlebury makes up for its rushing deficiency with short passes and running back screens. With Banky apparently out for the season with an ankle injury, the impetus now falls on slot-turned wideout Ryan Rizzo ’17, slot receiver Tanner Contois ’18 and All-League player Matt Minno ’16 on the other side to make some big plays in the receiving game for Matt Milano ’16. I think they do just enough to squeak by the Bants.
The CBB is under way, and with both of these teams populating the bottom of the standings, the Maine championship becomes the primary focus. This game turned into a high-scoring OT affair a season ago at Bates, but I don’t see the same thing happening this time around. Though RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has really turned it on for Colby as of late, the offense still ranks last in the ‘CAC with 13.4 points per game. Gabe Harrington ’17 has really struggled with eight interceptions in five games, but he’s also been sacked 10 times and his receivers aren’t exactly running free all over the field. It’s hard to tell who’s to blame on the Colby offense because nothing is going right at the moment, but if they are going to break out – particularly throwing the ball – this could be their chance.
The Bates defense has been only slightly better than Colby, allowing 27.0 points per game, and is last in the league with 305.6 passing yards per game allowed. Wideouts Mark Snyder ’17 and Mbasa Mayikana ’18 are big targets on the Colby offense even if they haven’t been that productive so far, and could be found on a couple of deep balls for big plays.
The Bates offense, as we know, relies on misdirection and the running game. The loss of slotback Shaun Carroll ’16, who had been averaging 5.3 yards per carry, really hurts, but the Bobcats hope to offset that loss with the return of Sean Peterson ’18 to the lineup. His debut a week ago against Middlebury was not very impressive in the running game, but he caught a few passes and was able to show off his athleticism in open space. That he garnered 14 carries despite averaging just a yard per rush shows that he is expected to be a big part of the offense down the stretch. Peterson and crew will need to have a big-time day on the ground in order to get their second win. I think Colby will land the first punch in the CBB battle but hitting on a couple of deep throws and burning clock with Hurdle-Price, and as long as that defensive line stays disciplined the back seven can make enough plays to continue Bates on offense.
Things are not good in Clinton and Williamstown these days. For the Continentals part, there has been a lot of moral victories, including an OT loss against Tufts and two close games with Wesleyan and Colby. The defense has really stood on its head at times despite playing some younguns, and Cole Freeman ’19 stepped into the limelight two weeks ago at QB and would have lead Hamilton to a victory if not for Nelson’s Godly performance for Bowdoin. At the end of the day though, you can’t argue with the scoreboard, and Hamilton is still 0-5. The Ephs, meanwhile, amidst some rumblings of discontent from people around the program (nothing concrete), started off well with two wins sandwiched around a handy and expected beatdown against Trinity. However, the last two weeks have been disastrous for Williams, and with a roadtrip to Wesleyan in Week 7 and a rivalry game with Amherst in Week 8 looming, this might be the Ephs’ last shot at a victory to move to 3-5 and avoid a third straight 2-6 record, something that seems impossible for such a storied program.
Williams has allowed just 198.0 yards per game through the air, but they’ve also been behind for considerable amounts of a few games and have faced Bates, so coincidentally they rank eighth in rushing yards allowed per game. Nevertheless, I think that Williams is better against the pass than the run, which is good when matching up with Hamilton, who hasn’t been able to get a sputtering running attack going whatsoever. LaShawn Ware ’18, a talented runner who showed some potential a season ago, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, and subsequently Jason “Bane” Nastovski, previously cast as a fullback, led the squad with 12 carries last week to Ware’s nine. Combined, the pair had just 62 yards rushing on 21 carries. Clearly, a lot of pressure will be placed on Freeman and his receivers, particularly Charles Ensley ’17, a dynamic playmaker who just needs to get the ball in his hands, and the reliable Pat Donahoe ’16.
So do the Conts finally get the monkey off their back this week, or do the Ephs get mad and pull out a victory? I’m expecting an ugly game, with, as usual, a turnover being the difference. That Williams is at home I think benefits them, and Hamilton has been much worse on the road, losing 29-4 at Trinity and 30-20 at Bowdoin. Williams gets its third win of the season.
Amherst and Middlebury is the main attraction this weekend, and Joe broke that down in detail yesterday, but the other four games still offer plenty to chew on. Trinity and Wesleyan are heavy home favorites against Hamilton and Colby respectively, but those games are still important measuring sticks. Bowdoin has beaten Tufts five straight times, and it would certainly behoove the Polar Bears to extend that streak to six in order to get their first win of the year. Bates and Williams meet in Western Massachusetts as both teams are in need of a win.
Four to Watch
1. Defensive End Zach Thomas ’18 (Tufts):
Last year Thomas saw the field mostly as a kicker filling in for the injured Willie Holmquist ’16, and he has played great through two games at DE after playing there sparingly in 2014. He had 2.5 sacks against Bates, two of which came on third down to end Bates’ drives. Bowdoin allowed six sacks last week (admittedly Amherst is a different animal than most), and Thomas will get plenty of chances to rush the QB if Tufts gets up early. Along with Shane Thomas ’17 (no relation), the sophomore is part of a young group who are emerging for Tufts as difference makers, something that the Jumbos have lacked for a long time.
2. Wide Receiver Colin Brown ’16 (Williams):
Brown and fellow wide out Darrias Sime ’16 probably spent much of the week drooling at the tape of Jack Cooleen ’16 ripping up the Bates secondary. Brown is 6’5″, but he was shut down last week against Trinity. A year ago he had by far his best game of the season against Bates hauling in eight catches for 96 yards. The young Bates secondary has to figure some way of forcing Brown and Sime to be physical, not just when the ball is in the air but also at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, that lies outside of how Bates usually plays, meaning that Brown should get a lot of clean breaks off of the line. Once he gets moving, he is much more difficult to stop.
3. Running Back Nick Gaynor ’17 (Trinity):
Hats off to Gaynor who has transitioned to running back almost as smoothly as one could hope. Given the long history of Trinity backs, nobody expected the Bantams to have to turn to a wide receiver. He has answered the call averaging 4.5 yards per carry so far. He still retains some of his receiver instincts to cut outside and only try to run through arm tackles, but that is also playing to his strengths as a shifty runner. The one concern for Gaynor is his three fumbles so far. Those are the only turnovers that Trinity has had all year. Freshman Max Chipouras ’19 could take carries away from Gaynor as the year goes along, but for now Gaynor is the signature back for the Bantams.
4. Defensive Lineman Tyler Hudson ’19 (Hamilton):
The Continental defense has looked much better in 2015, and Hudson has been a stud for them already as a freshman. He was everywhere against Tufts with 4.5 TFLs, and he proved that it wasn’t a fluke against Wesleyan with a sack and pass batted down. His 5.5 TFL are the most in the league. Hudson is from Whitesboro, New York which is a 15-minute drive away from Hamilton. Coach Dave Murray is a longtime coach and recruiter in Central New York, and Hudson is exactly the type of football player that Murray is trying to convince to stay close to home. Already……….
Bowdoin (0-2) at Tufts (2-0): Medford, Massachusetts, 1:00 PM
These two met last year with the same records, and the result was Bowdoin’s first win of the year. The Jumbos have found a way to take that magic oil that helped them win all four home games on the road the first two weeks, eeking out an overtime win and a one-point win. They are still not a great football team, but they are coming close to good and that’s enough to beat the lower half of the league. Chance Brady ’17 might not play because of a concussion, but Dom Borelli ’19 has looked good as the backup running back so far.
Bowdoin has looked pretty listless in their first two games. QB Tim Drakeley ’17 has thrown the ball well, but the Polar Bears have been forced to get away from running the ball with Tyler Grant ’17 because they have fallen behind so quickly. The defense, especially that secondary, has to play better as a unit. Until Bowdoin wins a game, you have to pick against them.
Prediction: Tufts over Bowdoin 19-13
Hamilton (0-2) at Trinity (2-0): Hartford, Connecticut. 1:00 PM
The easy opening schedule for Trinity continues, though the Bantams beat Hamilton by just 12 points last year. That game was at Hamilton, and the Bantams don’t have to worry about a long bus ride this year. Sonny Puzzo ’18 is playing great, attacking the defense downfield and not making any mistakes.
Hamilton is going to struggle unless Trinity suddenly catches the turnover bug. They don’t have the athletes to match up with Trinity in the open field, and they can’t sell out against the run like they did against Wesleyan. Charles Ensley ’17 and Pat Donahoe ’16 are underrated receivers, but even they will have trouble against the Trinity secondary. The scoreless streak ends, but the Bantams still cruise.
Prediction: Trinity over Hamilton 28-6
Bates (0-2) at Williams (1-1): Williamstown, Massachusetts. 1:00 PM
On the surface this is the same Williams team we saw last year: an easy win over Bowdoin before a shutout loss to Trinity. However, I think the Ephs have more going for them this year. Much of that rests on the shoulders of Austin Lommen ’16, and despite subpar statistics from him last week, I think he bounces back against Bates. Mark Pomella ’16 is there as a change of pace quarterback, but the Ephs will win or lose because of Lommen. The running game has not improved much, and the Ephs can be made one-dimensional. That might not be a terrible thing against Bates.
Williams’ biggest worry is that their young defense wilts against the triple option, though the Bobcats haven’t been very successful moving the ball so far this year. Shaun Carroll’s ’16 statistics are inflated by one 80-yard run, and the Bobcats have not sustained enough drives. After their tough loss last week, this game is a test of the Bobcats leadership and resilience. Bottom line for me is I see the Williams offense capitalizing at points a week after Trinity gave them chances to make plays and the Ephs failed every time.
Prediction: Williams 27 – Bates 20
Colby (0-2) at Wesleyan (1-1): Middletown, Connecticut. 1:00 PM
Colby has struggled to run the ball and is going up against a Wesleyan team that suffocates teams when they run. Gabe Harrington ’17 might throw the ball 30 times in this game, and he needs receivers like Ryder Arsenault ’17 to get open much more consistently than they have. Last week against Middlebury the only success that Colby had in the passing game was a few go-up-and-get-’ems from young wideout Mark Snyder ’18.
If Wesleyan’s talent is going to coalesce into a very good football team, this is the week for them to do it. A big victory would give the team a huge boost in confidence. Justin Sanchez ’17 has been relatively quiet, and tomorrow would be a great time for him to intercept Harrington once or twice. The front seven has already proven that it is up to snuff with Shayne Kaminski ’18 and Jordan Stone ’17 helping to lead the way. The Mules don’t have the horses (bad pun intended) to hang for four quarters.
QB: Gernald Hawkins ’18
RB: LaDarius Drew ’15
WR: Neil O’Connor ’17
WR: Mike Breuler ’18
TE: Ben Kurtz ’17*
TE: Dan Laorenza ’16
LT: Blake Cunningham ’16*
LG: Matt Polacek ’16
C: Matt Kuhn ’17
RG: Beau Butler ’18
RT: Shane Jenkins ’17
Projected Defensive Starters (*Two Returning)
DE: Jordan Stone ’17 DT: Shane Donovan ’16 DT: Jason Yu ’18 DE: Greg Blaize ’16
LB: Alex Daversa-Russo ’16*
LB: Shayne Kaminski ’17
LB: Jon Spivey ’16
DB: Justin Sanchez ’17*
DB: Elias Camacho ’18
DB: Zac Cuzner ’17
DB: Rob Manning ’16
Projected Specialists (*Returning)
K/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*
Offensive MVP: RB LaDarius Drew ’15
Drew is an elite talent in the NESCAC, and his return to the lineup after missing 2o14 with a foot injury might just be a Godsend. Running back is actually the Cardinals’ deepest position, with All-NESCAC First Teamer Lou Stevens ’17 and Jaylen Berry ’18 (5.6 YPC) backing up Drew – which means that this three-headed monster will be expected to carry a heavy load. A lot of responsibility will lie on the shoulders of captain and left tackle Blake Cunningham ’16 and his unit to create some holes for Drew and Co.
Defensive MVP: DB Justin Sanchez ’17
Sanchez and LB Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 were both Second-Team All-NESCAC last season and are the undisputed leaders of this defensive unit. Sanchez was the team’s leading tackler a year ago and picked off one pass. There is a bit more experience in Wesleyan’s defensive front than in the secondary, which might mean more chances for Sanchez to make plays and rack up big tackle numbers. Therefore I think he edges out Daversa-Russo as the team’s defensive MVP.
Biggest Game: September 26 vs. Middlebury
There are so many unknowns with this year’s team given the mass exodus (AKA graduation) from last year’s squad. For that reason, Week 1 will be a huge benchmark game for the Cards and first-year head coach Dan DiCenzo. Wesleyan will need to grind it out and shorten the game, not allowing the Panthers offense to get the ball too often. Look for Wesleyan to go right at the Middlebury front seven and try to overpower the Panthers while rotating all three of their running backs into the game. Sanchez and the rest of the inexperienced secondary might have difficulty slowing down the Middlebury passing attack, but they could force some errors and create turnovers for Wesleyan.
There’s not much that’s known about the 2015 Wesleyan Cardinals. The returning starters are beasts, we know that. Drew, Stevens, Cunningham, Daversa-Russo and Sanchez will be counted on to produce big seasons this year. Matt Polacek ’16 and Shane Jenkins ’17 have experience on the O-line, so that unit shouldn’t miss too much of a beat and the running game will remain strong. Replacing Jesse Warren’s ’15 unparalleled efficiency at QB will be very difficult for the green Gernald Hawkins ’18, but he beat out three other talented players to win the job so clearly he’s shown that he can compete at this level. Hawkins went to Miramar High School in Florida, a big time program that won a state title in 2009. That was also the year AFTER Jets quarterback Geno Smith graduated from Miramar High. Anyway, Hawkins is a threat both running and passing the ball, and his highlight tape shows him making really smart decisions against high level talent in Florida.
Among the newly-minted starters on the defensive side, DE Jordan Stone ’17 saw the most snaps in 2014. If this unit learned anything from the dominant 2015 class, which produced the very best YPG against average in all of D-III last season, they should still be an above average defense. The team’s overall MVP, however, might be K/P Ike Fuchs ’17, probably the league’s best kicker. Fuchs led all NESCAC kickers with 54 points last year. He hit 10 out of 13 of his field goals, and his misses came from 33, 34 and 43 – no gimmes at this level. He will take over the punting duties this year, as well, which were formerly handled by Warren.
Former Head Coach Mike Whalen, now the Wesleyan Athletic Director, has an amazing resume when it comes to building football programs in the NESCAC – first at Williams and now at Wesleyan. Now he hands over the reins to his former assistant DiCenzo, but only time will tell how this group will compare to the decorated 2015 class. Week 1 will – hopefully – answer a lot of our questions about the new wave of Cardinals.
Returning Starters: 19 (eight offense, 10 defense, one specialist)
You won’t find a more complete team on either side of the ball in the NESCAC. Eight All-NESCAC honorees return to the Cardinal lineup, four on offense. The Cardinals will lean heavily on the run, as they rushed 353 times last year compared to just 174 pass attempts. LaDarius Drew ’15 ran for 94.5 yards per game last year, and his “back-up,” if it’s fair to call it that, Kyle Gibson ’15 earned Second Team honors by rushing for 73.4 yards per game. If miraculously either of those two workhorses stumble, Lou Stevens ’17 averaged 5.9 yards per carry over his 40 touches. Quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 wasn’t an All-NESCAC recipient, but he had the highest completion percentage and yards per attempt in the league and was second to Mac Foote in TD passes. His only three interceptions came in the season finale at Trinity. Josh Hurwitz ’15 and Jay Fabien ’15 are both in their fourth years as starting receivers. Tight end Jonathan Day ’15 is another All-NESCAC honoree. He serves primarily as a run blocker but was fourth on the squad in receptions last year. The offensive line is stacked as well. Pat DiMase ’15 (Second Team) and Blake Cunningham ’16 line up at tackle, while there is some competition for starting time on the interior, although Taylor Bishop ’15, Shane Scannell ’15 and Austin Frank ’15 are the frontrunners and each has game experience.
The returning depth on the defensive side might even be more impressive than that of the offense. Linebacker Myers Beaird graduated, but starters are back everywhere else. Furthermore, the Cardinals like to rotate players on defense and keep legs fresh, so players up and down the roster have in-game experience. Nik Powers ’15 and grad student Jordan Otis line up at defensive end. Ibraheem Khadar ’15 and Mitch Godfrey ’15 will be on the interior. A host of others will rotate through the defensive line, including Alex Sakhno ’15, Greg Blaize ’16 and Jordan Stone ’17. The linebacking corps is a strength, with leading tackler Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 and Gregg Kelley ’15 back. The third spot will be filled by Jake Siciliano ’15, who opened 2013 as the starter but it was then discovered that he had a stomach tumor. Siciliano’s injury made room for Daversa-Russo in the line up, and having both on the field in 2014 will make the Wesleyan defense that much scarier. In the defensive backfield, grad student Jake Bussani will make a run for his fourth straight All-NESCAC First Team award. Vincent Davis ’15 will be the opposite corner. At safety, two-sport stud Donnie Cimino ’15 returns and is joined by Justin Sanchez ’17 who started in 2013. Lastly, Devon Carrillo ’17 will be on the field as a safety-linebacker hybrid. Carrillo was the team’s second-leading tackler, and was awarded All-NESCAC honors as a return man for his 25.7 yard average on kickoffs. In reality, the defense has more than 10 starters returning. Add Siciliano and Carrillo to the tally, and there are 12 players back who could be considered starters.
Three Big Questions
1. Can Wesleyan Win the Big One?
After rolling through the first half of the season, outscoring its opponents 163-22, Wesleyan saw some stiffer competition in the final four weeks, and squeaked out victories over its Little Three rivals by a total of eight points. Then disaster struck, Warren failed to take care of the ball as he had all season, the defense imploded, and Trinity closed out its season with a 40-10 beat down of the would-be outright champs. The Cardinals are out to prove that they have become the preeminent program in the NESCAC, and that they can beat big brother down the road in Hartford.
2. Will the Little Three Crown Stay in Middletown?
After a 43-year drought, Wesleyan finally defeated Amherst and Williams in the same season, earning the Little Three championship. Though as mentioned above, the victories were slim. Amherst essentially threw away that matchup with three interceptions and a fumble lost, allowing the Cardinals to get out of Amherst with a 20-14 win, while a late field goal was the difference in Wesleyan’s 16-14 defeat of Williams. Wesleyan will be the favorite in both games but victories will not come easily.
3. Who Steps in for Departed Placekicker Sebastian Aguirre?
Aguirre was arguably the best placekicker in the NESCAC last year, and indeed made the All-NESCAC Second Team for his efforts, and as noted above he kicked the game winner that sealed the Little Three title for the Cardinals. Options to replace Aguirre include backup QB Ike Fuchs ’16, who came into camp atop the depth chart, Corey Phillips ’17 and newcomer John Henry-Carey ’18.
Team MVP: LaDarius Drew. You know that the Cardinals are going to pound opponents with the run game, and Drew will be the team’s workhorse. Expect both him and Gibson to be at the top of the leaderboards in every rushing category. Oh by the way, if healthy Drew will easily become the school’s all-time leader in rushes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
Biggest Game of the Year: Nov. 8 against Trinity
Is there any doubt? These are probably the two best teams in the conference, they are a 25-minute drive up 91 apart from one another, and Wesleyan still has a sour taste in its mouth from last year when the Bantams took the Cardinals’ NESCAC title and divided it into three parts. It’s not impossible that both teams could be undefeated heading into this game.
Best Tweet of the Offseason: The Wesleyan Football Twitter account (@Wes_Football) kept its followers up to date on what a lot of the Cardinals were doing this summer. Kyle Gibson interned at JPMorgan and was offered a full-time job upon graduation, Josh Hurwitz worked with the Celtics organization and Mitch Godfrey was with the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League. But our favorite has to be this series of tweets about how LaDarius Drew spent his summer.
While not an internship, our very own Ladarius Drew '15 sent in this picture of him with his cousin, Milan. pic.twitter.com/DXJZCJeHGw