Rivalry Restored: Amherst @ Williams Game of the Week Preview

With Amherst knocking off Trinity last week in impressive fashion, a more dominant showing than the 28-20 final score would indicate, the Mammoths control their own destiny—win their final game and they are NESCAC champions. But that game is the 132nd installment of the Biggest Little Game in America, to be played out in Williamstown where the Ephs have a legitimate chance to defeat their archrival for the first time in a while. Led by a breakout freshmen class, Williams looks to have put their recent struggles in the past, and at 5-3 are certainly good enough to snap Amherst’s 6 game winning streak in the rivalry. With Amherst looking to clinch a championship, and Williams looking to send their seniors off in style and prevent any celebrating from being done on their own turf, this game is truly up for grabs.

Amherst couldn’t have been much happier with how they played last week, snapping Trinity’s 16 game win streak and leapfrogging over them to the top of the standings. While I admittedly did not give them much of a chance in last week’s preview, they did do all of the things I said they needed to do to knock off the Bants. They never let Max Chipouras ’19 get settled in for Trinity, which for him translated to 26 carries for “only” 92 yards and a touchdown. They forced Sonny Puzzo ’18 to beat them and he couldn’t, throwing for 172 yards and an interception. And Reece Foy ’18 hit James O’Regan ’20 for a 55 yard touchdown pass, which means we hit my keys to the game trifecta of:

1. Make someone other than Chipouras beat you

2. Force turnovers and short fields and

3. Hit a home run play on offense.

Not bad.

This Amherst team is legit. It may have taken 8 weeks and a lot of badgering from the Facebook comment sections to make us say that, but following their performance against Trinity they have truly proven themselves. Their lack of a superstar QB and the fact that Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 split carries for their dominant rushing attack mean that no one on their offense really jumps out at you, and they don’t have the depth of dangerous playmakers on defense that teams like Trinity and Tufts do, but they’re legit. They have the best offensive line in the league, the best linebacking corps in the league, and probably the best group of cover corners in the league as well.

The Amherst secondary did an excellent job on Mike Breuler ’18 against Wesleyan, and will look to do the same to Frank Stola ’21.

But they will be tested in every which way by this Williams team. QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WR Frank Stola ’21, and the rest of the weapons on Coach Raymond’s offense can put points up in a hurry, and you just know they’ll have some tricks up their sleeve for this one. Their defensive line started out really strong, but has faded in recent weeks. If they can return to their early season form, and link up with their linebackers, who have been really good in their own right all year, this game is going to come down to the wire. This rivalry has been quite one-sided for more than half a decade now, but that’s not going to be the case on Saturday.

Amherst X-Factor: WR James O’Regan ’20

James O'Regan
James O’ Regan ’21 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Their leading receiver in every statistical category except for the fact that he has one less reception than Bo Berluti ’19 (36), O’Regan ’20 might be the most under appreciated skill player in the NESCAC. His 18.7 yards per catch lead the league and his ability to stretch the field vertically is one of the factors that have gone into Hickey and Figueroa’s success on the ground. The weak spot in the Williams defense is their cornerbacks. They’ve combined for 1 interception, and it was a desperation heave to the back of the end zone against Hamilton. Four different Wesleyan receivers had receptions of 20+ yards, and if O’Regan can hit them for big plays like that, it’s going to be really hard for them to key in on the Amherst run game like they’re going to want to.

Fortunately for O’Regan, at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, he is going to have a huge advantage over whichever cornerback Williams chooses to throw at him. Desmond Butler ’19 is 5’11 and Amhyr Barber ’19 is 5’10. It doesn’t get any bigger at the safety position, so unless they plan on throwing a linebacker like 6’2″ 205 TJ Rothman ’21 on O’Regan in select packages and losing arguably their best run stopper, it is simply going to be an uphill battle for whoever matches up with O’Regan. Everything is set up for him to have a big day.

Williams X-Factor: DE Jameson DeMarco ’19

Jameson DeMarco
Jameson DeMarco ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

There were a lot of options for this pick, as is the case when you play a really good team. But beating Amherst begins and ends with stopping the run. TJ Rothman ’21 (3rd, 79), Jarrett Wesner ’21 (7th, 65), and Luke Apuzzi ’20 (9th, 63), all rank in the top ten in the league in tackles, but as those numbers indicate, there’s no doubt that they’ll bring it on Saturday. Instead, it’s the Williams defensive front that needs to really step it up, and DeMarco is going to need to lead that unit. DeMarco leads the team in sacks with 4.5 and is second on the team in tackles for loss, but a lot of those numbers came earlier in the year. This defense made a big splash in Week 3 when they held Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19 to just 80 yards on 28 carries, by far his most inefficient game of the season, and DeMarco was the main culprit behind that effort, going for 7 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss. Williams as a team hasn’t been tested against a traditional rushing attack really at all since they faced Trinity, being matched up against aerial threats like Middlebury’s Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo ’19, or dual threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19 at Tufts.

While it’s a small sample size, just one game, it was against the league’s best running back in Chipouras, and their performance against a smash mouth back like him should give them confidence in being able to stop Hickey and Figueroa. They have other playmakers on their D-Line such as DeMarco’s counterpart DE Austin Thomas ’19, and NT Chris Hattar ’18, that will be relied on to stop Amherst’s offense, but DeMarco has done it before and he needs to do it again on Saturday.

Everything Else:

 This is going to be a really fun one. The biggest Division III rivalry in the country, and one of the biggest in all of collegiate sports, two exciting, talented teams, and a championship on the line. While College Gameday isn’t going to be in Williamstown this week, this is probably the most exciting installment of this rivalry to take place in the Berkshires since Chris, Lee, and Herbie came to town in 2007. This time last year Williams was 0-7 and Amherst was 3-4. But now the two teams find themselves in much different, better places. Williams has turned 0-7 into 5-3 with some new young stars, and Amherst, after flying under the radar all season, finds itself needing to win one game to win a league title, with the chance to celebrate it on their hated nemesis’s field.

Like any football game really, all eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks. With it being both Amherst’s Ollie Eberth ’20 and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron ’21’s first experience under center in this rivalry, it will be interesting to see how they handle the nerves that come with it. But Eberth ’20 has impressed week in and week out, passing every test along the way, and Maimaron has rarely looked like a freshman this fall. I think both young quarterbacks, and both teams really, will come out and play their best games. Both teams are well coached and in the last week of the season, should be the most prepared they’ve been all year.

Bobby Maimaron ’21 gets his first taste of the rivalry following the worst game of his career. Can he recover?

This game will probably be decided by something as simple as who takes care of the ball better and commits less turnovers. There is enough playmaking on both teams that any of 8-10 guys could be the hero in what will be an otherwise pretty even game (Amherst has the better offensive line and secondary, but it’s just about a wash everywhere else). I may be biased, but if Pete was doing this preview he’d find a way for Middlebury to win the game so I’ll survive (Editor’s Note: Actually if Williams wins this game, Middlebury has a chance to tie for the league title, so Middlebury could actually be won of the winners in this one.) Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his favorite target, classmate Frank Stola ’21, will end their explosive freshman seasons in style, conjuring up the same late game magic they brought to Midd in Week 5, and the Ephs will eke one out in the 30 degree weather on Homecoming, ending a 6 game win streak and Amherst’s title hopes in style.

Final Score: Williams 31, Amherst 27

Even Steven: Weekend Preview 11/3

There is another championship caliber game this week in Trinity @ Amherst, which has its own separate preview, but there are still a number of interesting games with pride on the line. The final nine positions in the standings are still up for grabs, and while that might not mean much to some, many programs will benefit in morale, momentum, and recruiting (which obviously doesn’t happen in the NESCAC for our readers from admissions offices) for future seasons. Bates and Bowdoin have the battle for Maine, Williams and Wesleyan are tied in the standings with Williams looking to jump even higher up the ladder from 2016, Midd needs to put up or shut up, Hamilton could still put up a respectable record, and Tufts is in danger of falling to .500. Sorry to Colby Mule fans, there isn’t much going on for you this week other than a potential for a monstrous defeat. Lots to watch this weekend and here is what to expect:

Bowdoin (0-7) @ Bates (1-6), 12:30 PM, Lewiston, ME

Two promising first year QBs for struggling teams in this game. Is this the future of the NESCAC? The next two teams to make a Williams/Bobby Maimaron-esque jump to the top in 2018? Only time will tell how each young signal caller turns out and how their teams develop with them, but for now, Griff Stalcup ’21 and Brendan Costa ’21 should provide an intense matchup in their first of four career head to head battles. Stalcup struggled mightily against Trinity (63-14 loss), looking like he was in danger of losing his job, but knocked it out of the park in a 21-10 loss to Wesleyan. He threw for 317 yards, a TD, and didn’t turn the ball over. Despite a loss, the two possession difference against Wesleyan is a positive for this struggling Polar Bear squad. With Nate Richam ’18 out, the Bowdoin running game is much weaker, but they adjusted from the Trinity to Wesleyan games, making a stab at a late comeback. They also resorted to a more pass oriented offense as Robert Kollmer isn’t nearly as dangerous as Richam. While Richam and Kollmer are both young and promising for the Bowdoin future, without Richam, the passing game will once again be on display. Defense has been a big issue for the Polar Bears, holding off the Cardinals’ running attack, although they were without lead back Dario Highsmith ’20. Their passing defense isn’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern against a run-heavy Bobcat offense. Their senior receivers Nick Vailas and Bryan Porter should be open for Stalcup, but their key will be stopping the rush. They have a shot, but Costa might be too much to handle.

Mickey Nichol is an emerging weapon for the Bobcats, both as a runner and a receiver.

A run oriented offense against a weak rush defense (actually, the worst rush defense, allowing 205.7 yards per game). This is a recipe for success for Brendan Costa and the slot-receivers of Bates football. Coming off of a rather ugly win against Colby (27-24, we must not forget that Bates could still easily be 0-7 and in search for their first win. I mean, looking at the matchup and how Costa played, they are the favorite here, but they shouldn’t be by much. If it weren’t for the perfect opponent for this offense, there’s no way the Bobcats could be projected to win. They allow the most pass yards per game (273) and points per game (40.6!) in the NESCAC. Granted Bowdoin, as previously mentioned, allows the most rush yards per game and also the second most points per game (34.7). This is a recipe for Costa to find some success to Mickoy Nichol, and for him, Nichol, and Frank Williams to find some room on the ground. This game should be a defensive nightmare, but will also be a mano-a-mano battle of the new guy QBs for bragging rights in Maine.

Predicted Score: Bates 31, Bowdoin 28

Williams (5-2) @ Wesleyan (5-2), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT

Another exciting game between two top teams who are just barely out of it, still feeling the sting of Trinity’s dominance. Pride is on the line for both, while Williams looks to one up another top team who dominated them a year ago. With such a young team, each high intensity game gives them an edge for next year when they face the Bantams again. With Williams’ depth, they should be the favorites as without Dario Highsmith, injured against Bowdoin, Wesleyan is not nearly as dangerous offensively. Connor Harris has been the lead back all year, but TJ Dozier has really come on the past three games, putting a hurting on Hamilton last game with 112 yards in their 24-6 win. With Bobby Maimaron at the helm, Rashad Morrison, Harris, and Dozier on the ground, and Frank Stola, Justin Nelson, and Adam Regensburg on the hands team, the Eph offense is scary good. Their only real flawed game was against Tufts in a 21-13 loss where they were vulnerable in the secondary. S Luke Apuzzi, LB Jarrett Wesner, and LB TJ Rothman will need to be strong in the second and third tiers of the defense helping the DBs in order to limit Piccirillo.

Without Dario Highsmith, QB Mark Piccirillo will need to step up in a big way if Wesleyan is to better their 6-2 record from 2016. Piccirillo looked good against Bowdoin, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen because of how weak their defense is. Therefore, recently, Piccirillo has struggled mightily. Besides the Bowdoin and Amherst games, he has thrown INTs in every game (including games against Hamilton, Bates, AND Colby). In the game he didn’t throw one against the Mammoths, he got absolutely abused, sacked nine times for 51 yards. Even against Bowdoin he was sacked four times. So maybe, he is just learning to go to the ground and not make late passes when he is being bore down upon by defensive linemen. The Cardinals offensive line is clearly a factor here as their RB Highsmith is injured and Piccirillo is getting hit at an incredible rate, spelling trouble against a strong Williams defense (fourth in the NESCAC with 20 sacks). Williams has a good secondary to boot, so Piccirillo has a tough test here. Now, I am critical of Piccirillo because of how one bad decision could easily change the course of this game. He still leads the NESCAC in passing yards, passing TDs (18), and has the best receiver in the league in Mike Breuler. This is going to have to be a two man show for the Cardinals, and unless Piccirillo learns how to scramble a bit better, he might be in for some trouble. Can he take care of the ball enough to get it to Breuler two times or more? Possible, but unlikely.

Predicted Score: Williams 27, Wesleyan 17

Hamilton (2-5) @ Middlebury (5-2), 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT

Sadly, Middlebury must now prepare for life post-Lebowitz three games earlier than expected. Jack Meservy ’19 is the heir apparent, and this game is critical for his development. He got knocked around big time by Trinity, but impressed many with his perseverance and arm strength. Middlebury is a quarterback factory, and he has all the tools to succeed. A choice matchup with Hamilton is a great opportunity for Meservy to gain some confidence going into a tough final game at Tufts, and then his senior season.

Against Trinity, Middlebury tried to take some pressure off Meservy by establishing the run, never an easy thing to do against the Bantams. It didn’t work. Middlebury only averaged 3.1 yards per carry against Trinity, down from their season average. Middlebury isn’t built to run the ball, as their entire offense has been set up around Lebowitz’ elite arm. Against Hamilton, they should be free to use much more of the original playbook, as the Continentals give up the third most passing yards per game. Look for Middlebury to get back to their high-flying ways, and potentially use this game as an audition of sorts for Meservy as the starter of the future.

As much as this game is an opportunity for Middlebury, it is far more of one for Hamilton. They will NEVER get as good a chance to knock off a top tier team as this one, and a win against Middlebury would give their various young stars a huge confidence boost. To do this they need to vary their offense. Middlebury’s defense played a fabulous game against Trinity despite getting virtually no rest; they held Sonny Puzzo to his lowest completion percentage and fewest yards of the season. The odds are that they can do the same to Kenny Gray ’20. Middlebury has a plethora of excellent athletes in the secondary to throw at Joe Schmidt ’21, so the run game is the key this week for the Continentals. Mitch Bierman ’21 has been largely ineffective since a breakout against Bowdoin two weeks (and as always, offensive performances against Bowdoin don’t count,) but Marcus Gutierrez ’18 has been running well lately. Look for both of them to get more carries than usual to try and set up Gray’s big play ability. Hamilton will try to seize this opportunity to take down the Panthers, but I think they still fall short.

Predicted Score: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 17

Tufts (4-3) @ Colby (0-7), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

The only one-sided game on paper this weekend features a Tufts team that is struggling to remain on the upper crust of the league. They have one quality win; a 21-13 victory over Williams two weeks ago, but other than that they have lost all three of their games against teams with winning records. It is turnovers that have been their downfall. Each of their losses has been decided by one possession and they have 13 turnovers in 7 games. You’re not going to beat Trinity or even Wesleyan if you give them free possessions. QB Ryan McDonald has 11 of those turnovers, keeping him out of the POY conversation even though he is electrifying to watch. McDonald should use this game as an exercise in taking care of the ball, as their Week Nine game with Middlebury will be another golden chance to beat a top tier team.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is maybe the best dual threat QB in the league, when he holds on to the ball.

Luckily for the Jumbos, Colby’s offense is likely not good enough to make them pay if they do turn the ball over. But it’s an improvement to even say likely. After not scoring more than seven points in any of the first five games of the season, they have scored 24 points in each of the last two. This is largely the result of lesser competition; Colby finally reached the other lower tier teams part of the schedule. But they have also finally worked out some QB issues. Jack O’Brian ’20 has found success in the read option, using his legs to create Colby’s best scoring chances of the season. It won’t matter against Tufts, but Colby has enough pride to make this a game if Tufts takes it too lightly.

Predicted Score: Tufts 35, Colby 7