Is This the One?!: Trinity @ Amherst Game of the Week Preview

Overview:

 As Pete mentioned last week, and as we have really mentioned all fall, the pros that come with the incredibly backloaded NESCAC schedule this season—the one that gave us about 3 games worth watching through October, is that there is always a really big game down the stretch that decides the league champion. From the get go, Trinity and Middlebury’s Week 7 matchup was always slated to be this matchup as they flexed their muscles through the first 6 games of the season. But this year’s lopsided schedule means that we have been gifted with a second unofficial championship game this Saturday, when undefeated Trinity travels once again to face a one loss team, this time in the form of Amherst at Pratt Field.

Have we run out of things to say about Trinity? It certainly feels like it. Every week they just chug along and take care of their business. Jared Lebowitz ’18’s absence for Middlebury took almost all the fun out of that game, as it was as ugly as the 27-5 scoreline would indicate, but the Bantams continue to impress. They passed a tough road test against a Tufts team that is much better than their 4-3 record would indicate, and although we didn’t know it at the time, their 17-9 win against Williams in Week 2 was indicative of their ability to do whatever it takes to win. There isn’t really much else to add: they’re the reigning league champs, winners of 16 in a row, with the best offense and best defense in the league. They are a great football team, and it is going to be really hard to beat them on Saturday.

Enough about Trinity. Everyone is sick of hearing about Trinity. In fact, everyone is so sick of hearing about Trinity that people want to hear about Amherst, which might be the Bantams’ most impressive accomplishment of the year. Amherst has gotten absolutely no love from everyone all year, and I would put myself at the top of that list. Two weeks ago I had them at 5th in the Power Rankings, citing the fact that their 4 wins at the time were against the four worst teams in the league, and writing that they could be “anywhere from a 4-5 team to an 8-1 team”. Well following statement wins at home versus Wesleyan, and on the road at Tufts, it’s safe to say they have much more 8-1 in them than 4-5. They have flown under the radar week after week, but this week they share the spotlight with a chance to take the wheel in the race for the NESCAC championship. They have a defense with the potential to give Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 fits, and a balanced offense that is right behind Trinity’s with 33 points per game. They don’t have any one or two go to guys on offense to rely on that most of the top NESCAC offenses have, i.e. a Puzzo and Chipouras, or Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo and Mike Breuler, and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron and Frank Stola, but they have consistently put points up on the board, only scoring less than 31 points in a gritty 21-17 win against Wesleyan. They have the guys to hang with Trinity for 60 minutes, but will they?

X-Factor for Trinity: QB Sonny Puzzo ’18

Not exactly taking a big leap here—for Trinity to win, especially in a game of this magnitude, their quarterback has to play well. Puzzo has had a bit of a weird season. He’s only 6th in the league in passing yards per game with 208, and tied for 3rd in touchdowns with 13, which isn’t as good as it sounds when you consider there are only really 6 quarterbacks in the league capable of airing it out, but only Jared Lebowitz ’18 has thrown less interceptions amongst starting QBs. He also just turned in arguably the worst passing game of his career, completely just 9 of 20 passes for 114 yards against Middlebury, but he picked up 76 yards and 2 touchdowns with his feet, showing the balance that makes him so dangerous.

Amherst is better suited to lock down Max Chipouras than anyone, so Sonny Puzzo ’18 may have to air it out.

Max Chipouras is going to show up on Saturday, and that is just a cold, hard fact. Amherst has spent all week game planning and scheming for him, but he’s still going to produce because that is all he has done all year. His “worst” statistical game of the season was 80 yards and a TD against Williams, and the only game all year he hasn’t found the end zone was last week against Middlebury and he rushed for 182 yards. A dominant performance from him is already penciled in as a given for this week, which is what makes Puzzo’s game all that much more important. If Puzzo can be his normal self, which means having success in obvious passing situations, extending plays and converting short yardage plays with his feet, and taking care of the ball, which are three things he has done excellently all year, there really isn’t a lot Amherst can do in this game. If Puzzo and Chipouras are clicking, then there probably isn’t a high probability of them pulling the upset, as it’s going to have to be a low scoring game (if you’re counting on Amherst winning 45-38 you should probably check a couple of Trinity defensive box scores first).

X-Factor for Amherst: LBs Andrew Sommer ’19 and Andrew Yamin ’19

Andrew Yamin
Andrew Yamin ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Again, in a big game, the stars need to shine. Pete highlighted Aaron Slodowitz ’18 and the rest of the Middlebury linebacking corps’ importance in their game against Trinity, and their ability to tackle—a somewhat important skill when it comes to facing the best running back in the league. I’m choosing Sommer ’19 and Yamin ’19 for slightly similar but ultimately different reasons this week. These two have traded off monster weeks the last two Saturdays. Yamin’s 11 tackle, 5.5 sack performance against Wesleyan is still fresh in everyone’s (especially Mark Picarillo’s ) minds, and Sommer ’19’s 10 tackles and 2 sacks against Ryan McDonald ’19 and Tufts would’ve earned him DPOTW honors from me, but they’re going to have to find a way to do it at the same time this week.

Andrew Sommer
Andrew Sommer ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As indicated by Sommer’s team lead in tackles and Yamin’s team (and league) lead in sacks, they play two different styles of linebacker, and that is why I think they have a chance to really disrupt Trinity. Their best chance of stopping them will be not by stopping Max Chipouras’ 19, because like I said I find that a little unrealistic, but by getting the ball out of his hands. If they can put Trinity in a lot of 2nd and 8-11 situations and 3rd and 5+, the Bantams might be forced to pass more than they want. A combination of Sommer ’19 stopping the run early and Yamin ’19 getting to Puzzo is how they neutralize Chipouras. This Trinity offense is legit, no doubt about that. But if Amherst can put them in longer yardage situations and keep Puzzo in the pocket, they’ll take their chances against Koby Schofer ’20 and an otherwise below average group of receivers. It will be difficult, and quite frankly, unlikely, but if they’re going to limit Trinity, this is how it’s going to have to happen, and it starts with these two.

Everything Else:

A lot of things need to happen for Amherst to win this game, and they’ll need to do a lot of things they haven’t done much of this year. I could sit here and write about their top ranked rushing duo of Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18, how Ollie Eberth ’20 is really coming into his own, or how Amherst’s home-field advantage could play a huge role (it won’t—Trinity went on the road to both Tufts and Middlebury and came away just fine, they’re used to it at this point). But I’m not going to lie to you and talk you into Amherst winning this game, because Trinity is the better football team, and they’ve been on the receiving end of the entire league’s best effort every week for almost three years now, yet they continue to win. If Amherst wants to win this game, they are going to need to force turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, and hit a couple of home run plays on offense. The logic is the same for both of these factors—Trinity will have the better offense and the better defense in this game, the longer a drive lasts, the more opportunities for them to show this. While Amherst relies on their running attack, they can’t expect to have any 14 play, 85 yard, 8 minute drives on this Trinity defense.

As Middlebury found out last week, the most threatening part of the Bantam’s attack is their swarming defense.

They can’t hope to survive many of those drives from Trinity either. The more touches for Chipouras, the more chances to break one open. They’ve turned teams over 9 teams in 6 games, and all of WR James O’Regan ’20, WR Craig Carmilani,, and RB Hasani Figueroa ’18 have broken plays for 75 yards or more. A big play like that early would force Trinity to play from behind and rely on Puzzo more than Chipouras, and forcing turnovers would supply them with a short field more conducive to their running game. It could happen if Amherst can do the aforementioned, all of which they’ve done before. But you wouldn’t get very rich betting against Trinity, and I’m not going to start trying now.

Final Score: Trinity 27, Amherst 13

Where’s JT!?: Trinity @ Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

Trinity (6-0) @ Middlebury (5-1), 1:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Overview:

One of the results of the lack of parity in the NESCAC football (and of course the lack of a playoff system) is that every year there is a regular season game that serves as a de facto “Super Bowl” for the league. The two best teams in the league meet in a game that pretty much decides who will finish with the best record in the league. The 2017 iteration of that game is this weekend, when 6-0 Trinity travels down to Alumni Field to take on 5-1 Middlebury.

Trinity has spent the whole season as the best team in the league. They have gutted out defensive battles against the two high quality opponents they’ve played (Williams and Tufts) and have absolutely blasted lower tier teams, including a 63 point performance against Bowdoin last weekend. However, Williams was able to make their offense look very fallible. They did this by using a strong defensive front to shut down star RB Max Chipouras ’19. Chipouras only had 80 yards on 28 carries against the Ephs, by far his least efficient performance of the season. Shutting down Chipouras forces QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 to play more traditionally, instead of running outside the pocket and making big plays. Puzzo is easily good enough to do this and win (as Williams saw,) but it eliminates a huge part of their offense.

Unfortunately, the Trinity defense has yet to look fallible. They have forced 16 turnovers on the season, and have players all over the field who are threats to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. They don’t have any real statistical standouts on the defensive end–although that is in large part due to the fact that their starters rarely play fourth quarters–but LB Liam Kenneally ’18 is terrific in coverage and in stopping the run game. And more importantly for the match up with Jared Lebowitz ’18 and the pass-happy Panthers is their dominant secondary. Dominique Seagears ’18 is one of the most dangerous coverage men in the league, with two interception return touchdowns to his credit. He and Samier Madden ’19 form a duo that should give Lebowitz trouble like Lionel Richie would–all night long.

Dominique Seagears ’18 is deadly in the secondary, with two return touchdowns already this season.

As dominant as Trinity has been, Middlebury has been equally so, except for a fatal five minute stretch in the fourth quarter against Williams. Middlebury’s offense is based around Lebowitz and his squadron of speedy, tall receivers, and it is a well oiled machine when all the pieces are healthy. Middlebury averages the second most points and yards per game (second to Trinity, but still,) and that is despite a mediocre rushing attack. That is also despite a schedule that has included Williams and Amherst, two of the three best defenses in the league by any statistical measure. Against Amherst, who leads the league in sacks and is second in yards per game, Lebowitz threw three touchdowns and was only sacked twice. That is what makes this game so exciting; these two teams are both best suited to beat each other. Just as it should be in the Super Bowl.

Key Player for Middlebury: LB Aaron Slodowitz ’18

Aaron Slodowitz
Happiest Player in the CAC Aaron Slodowitz ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

This pick is a very optimistic one. Lebowitz left the Bates game halfway through with an ankle injury, forcing backup Jack Meservy ’19 to fill in, which he did admirably. If Lebowitz is out, Meservy immediately becomes the key, as Middlebury cannot win this game without a great QB performance. But on the assumption that Lebowitz will play, Slodowitz and the rest of the linebackers become the key. Much of Middlebury’s defensive success rests on the backs of the three star senior linebackers; Slodowitz, Wesley Becton ’18 and John Jackson ’18. Becton and Jackson are particularly valuable in coverage, leaving Slodowitz free to crush running backs. Which he does with aplomb. Having fully recovered from a knee injury last season, Slodowitz had 18 tackles against the run-dominant Bates and leads the team with 46 overall. He doesn’t get in the backfield much, with 0 sacks on the year, but Becton and DL Alex Norton ’20 handle that. Slodowitz simply tackles dudes, and as Williams showed the league, the way to hang with Trinity is tackle one dude; Max Chipouras.

Key Player for Trinity: WR Koby Schofer ’20

Koby Schofer
Koby Schofer ’20 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Assuming that Middlebury succeeds in slowing down Chipouras considerably, Trinity will have to throw the ball, especially to keep up with the Panthers breathless, pass-heavy scheme. This brings up the closest thing that Trinity has to a weakness; they really only have one weapon in the passing game, and that is Schofer. He is quite a weapon, however. Despite playing very little in the blowout of Bowdoin (as was the case with several Bantam starters,) Schofer is still fourth in the league in receptions with 35 and fifth in yards with 508. Schofer is actually quite similar to Middlebury WR Conrado Banky ’19. They are both smaller receivers who beat often larger defenders with quickness and terrific hands. The difference is that Middlebury has other receivers to pick up the slack from Banky (or replace him if he’s injured.) Schofer is so far and away Trinity’s best pass catcher that Middlebury will most likely double team him. In a game that is shaping up to be an aerial affair, Schofer is going to have to get around those double teams and give Puzzo a solid target.

Everything Else:

Conrado Banky has missed two games in a row, and his status for this one is very much in doubt. If he misses the game, Middlebury will be again looking for big performances from Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19, two large, fast targets for Lebowitz. Additionally, TE Frank Cosolito ’20 will be a big part of the passing attack. Cosolito has improved every week, and has a knack for showing up in big games. He had six catches for 58 yards and TD against Amherst. If Banky does play, all these guys will be key supplementary targets, and the Middlebury offense may well be unstoppable.

Conrado Banky ’19 adds yet another dimension to the Middlebury offense.

Special teams are going to be a key part of this game. Trinity K Eric Sachse ’19 is one of the best in the league (5/8 FG and 26/28 XP,) giving their offense a dimension in close games that many other teams don’t have. Additionally, Colin Beaulieu ’21 is a dangerous return man whom Middlebury has to watch out for. Of course, he is nowhere near as dangerous as Jimmy Martinez. Martinez has two of the four return touchdowns in the whole league this year, and the only kickoff return touchdown. Even when he doesn’t score, Martinez is constantly putting Middlebury in terrific field position, either through returns or by forcing bad kicks due to teams trying to avoid him. On the other end, P/WR Maxwell Rye has a huge leg, and often pinned Williams deep in their own territory. He will have to do this against Trinity, as giving them a short field is a death sentence. This is the kind of game that should come down to a single play, and that play may well be on special teams. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited. I hope you all are as well.

Predicted Score:*  Middlebury 27, Trinity 24

*This prediction is made with the assumption that Lebowitz is healthy and will play.