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

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

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

Middlebury X-Factor: WR Jimmy Martinez ’19

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

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

Amherst X-Factor: Secondary

Matt Durborow ’21 leads Amherst DBs with 13 tackles

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

Everything Else:

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

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

Projected Score: Middlebury 31 Amherst 28

Familiar Territory: Week 2 Football Power Rankings

I may have hopped on the Hamilton football bandwagon a little too quickly, and now we find ourselves in a familiar NESCAC football picture. While each team looks to have settled in to a more classic position early on in the standings, it’s hard not to lament at what could have been if there were some upsets in week two. What we see now is Trinity’s continuing reign, with Middlebury, Amherst, and Tufts hot on the Bantams’ feathers. While Williams is 2-0 after an 0-8 season in 2016, they still have much to prove to be included in the title hunt. With week three around the corner, here is where each squad stands:

1: Trinity
Two games and two dominant results. The Bantam defense is unstoppable at the moment, not allowing points heading into October. After a 31-0 mark at the end of the first quarter, they cruised to victory as Sonny Puzzo ’18, Max Chipouras ’18, and Dominique Seagers ’18 had huge days. Seagers had a pick-six and a tackle for a loss. Even their special teams were perfect as kicker Eric Sachse ’19 made his only field goal attempt and John Spears returned a punt 51 yards to the Bates 16 yard line, leading to a Chipouras TD. An 11 game win streak, 86-0 aggregate season score, and all three prongs of the game in full force lead to a sure fire top ranking here.

Dakota Foster rises up to make a grab against Bates in week 2.

2: Middlebury
Middlebury stands out on offense right now. QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 is off looking for more TD records as he found the end zone four more times in week two, finding four different receivers in the process. Breakout WR Maxim Bockman ’20, Conrado Banky ’19, Max Rye ’20, and Jimmy Connell ’21  all had reason to celebrate, while Tanner Contois ’18 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 also had solid days. Their receiving depth is noteworthy, and although Diego Meritus ’19 was still out, he should be coming back soon. In his stead, Senior Matt Cardew ’18 shined in his biggest college game, running for 74 yards and a TD, looking like a solid option out of the backfield. They have an easy game against Colby in week three at home, and if Meritus is back it would be a good time to ease him into action and see what he can do alongside Cardew.

3: Amherst
Reece Foy ’18 is back after missing all of 2016. That’s big news for Mammoth fans as he brought a win along with him. While Amherst eased him in to action, he still ran for a TD in the first quarter and backup Ollie Eberth ’21 looked fine for most of the game. Jack Hickey ’19 led the way with two scored and 122 yards rushing, while Elijah Ngbokoli ’20 had a breakout game with a TD run of 39 yards in the third quarter. The defense also forced four turnovers against a Hamilton team that looked to be an up and coming threat. While the Mammoths certainly sent the Continentals back to earth, they looked clean and ready to take on the tougher teams in the process. Look for them to roll over Bowdoin.

Wesleyan celebrates their OT victory over Tufts.

4: Wesleyan
Nearly identically to last year, Wesleyan shrugged off their opening game loss against a tough team to beat another one in week two. They are here to stay, and although they have a tally in the loss column, they could make a run at the title just like they did until the final week of last season. Their OT win against Tufts saved their season and will be a great stepping stone after a defensively oriented game. Mark Piccirillo ’18 looked good passing but lost two fumbles, and the running game was weak, however, Ben Thaw ’20 and Shane Kaminski ’18 saved the day by each intercepting passes from Ryan McDonald. If Dario Highsmith ’20 can rebound against hamilton after rushing for just ten yards, then Wesleyan will be in good shape.

5: Tufts
Wesleyan avenged their 2016 week one loss to the Jumbos with an OT victory last week, dashing Tufts’ hopes of a perfect season. It’s really nice to think that the Jumbos aren’t totally out of the championship picture with the addition of the ninth game providing more hope, but it will be a tough road. After exiting the opening game against Hamilton early, Ryan McDonald ’20 returned but didn’t look good in the air, throwing two picks and zero TDs. He looked great on the ground though, running for over seven yards per carry and 122 yards total, including a TD. Tufts didn’t muster much offense other than his rushing though as if it weren’t for an 85 yard punt return from Jack Dolan ’20, they would’ve been routed in regular time. If Ryan Hagfeldt can return for week three, he might see some pocket action against Bates as the Jumbos should easily rout the Bobcats on their way to a 2-1 start.

6: Williams
2-0! A perfect start for a team that had a perfectly bad season in 2016. Is this the story of 2017 NESCAC football? Don’t get too excited too fast as the Ephs have yet to play a team from the top half of the division. They have some great pieces that they are rolling out as new QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WRs Frank Stola ’21 and Justin Nelson are running the show. They were down 7-0 and then up just 10-7 at half against Colby, but turned up the heat in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 24 unanswered points. Their first real test will be this weekend at Trinity, and if they can pull off this upset I will be shocked. If they put up a close game then they should still be considered the real deal. Let the Coop bring its worst, the Ephs are warmed up.

7: Hamilton
Well, I will admit defeat with this one. I wanted so badly to see a Cinderella story with the Continentals in 2017, but am realizing how that train has already left the station. Hamilton came off a hard fought loss against Tufts and just got abused by Amherst. Ball security was an issue as two RBs and a WR fumbled, leaving the Continentals with a poor red zone execution rate. Gray also threw a pick and with those four turnovers, they never had a shot. Granted these aspects of the game are correctable as Gray looked solid, and so did lead receiver Christian Donahue ’20, but they still couldn’t gain any traction on the ground. Their rush defense was also pitiful, and against other top teams like Trinity and Wesleyan with good backs, they will continue to watch their deficits shoot up.

8: Bowdoin
Bowdoin didn’t look great against Middlebury, particularly their defense, and only scored garbage time TDs. They did score twice though, putting them ahead of Colby and Bates in the rankings. This was an important game though as it was the first start for Griff Stalcup ’21 who took over for Noah Nelson ’18 (as predicted). Stalcup struggled some, completing just 12 passes for 105 yards, but ran the ball well, rushing ten times for 54 yards and a TD. If he keeps developing he could be an exciting dual threat player for the Polar Bears, although I will keep in mind it was against the Panthers’ reserves. Lebowitz had all day to throw for Middlebury, as he was sacked just once, and if they can’t pressure the QB, the opposition if going to keep having a field day against Bowdoin.

9: Colby
The Mules move up in the rankings by virtue of getting on the scoreboard in week two, but are only marginally higher than Bates. Sure they only lost by 17 (is that even a bright side?), but getting dominated by Williams, regardless of how good they might be, is not a good result. QB Jack O’Brien had an OK day, not throwing a pick, completing over 50% of his passes, and finding the end zone, but he also fumbled and failed to keep his team in the game. Jake Schwern had a solid day on the ground with 71 yards rushing, and the positives stop with him. The Mule defense sacked Williams’ QB Maimaron just twice and recorded five tackles for losses compared to 12 from the Ephs, pointing to line troubles on both sides of the ball. This was probably a game that was circled on the Colby schedule as a victory before the season and is going to hurt for a while.

10: Bates
There are four 0-2 teams and one of them had to bite the bullet. Bates is last on these rankings due to lack of a point scored in week two. Their offensive struggles of week one worsened and that is a big issue for a team that looked to be on the rise a season ago. As I predicted, QB Sandy Plashkes’ (’18) lack of production led to Matt Golden taking over, although with limited success. Plashkes’ completions to the Bobcats matched his completions to the Bantams (one each) and the Bates QBs threw for just 45 yards combined. They stayed true to their system of a run oriented offense, but besides Kyle Flaherty (seven rushes, 43 yards) no player with over two attempts averaged more than three yards per carry. If Bates’ defense continues to struggle, then running the ball in such a high volume without a dynamic back won’t lead to many comebacks. On the bright side, Justin Foley netted 247 total yards on punts.

Doubters Beware: Middlebury Football 2016 Season Preview

The Middlebury faithful are eager to pack the stadium on Saturday as the Panthers host Bowdoin (Courtesy of Middlebury Football).
The Middlebury faithful are eager to pack the stadium on Saturday as the Panthers host Bowdoin (Courtesy of Middlebury Football).

Welcome NESCAC fans to the season preview for Middlebury football. After a well-earned 10-7 win in a scrimmage over Dartmouth College, the Panthers are heading full tilt into Homecoming Weekend for their first NESCAC game against the Bowdoin Polar Bears on September 24th.

Lets get to it.

Projected Record: 5-3

Projected Offensive Starters: ( *Nine returning)

QB:  Jared Lebowitz ‘18*

RB: Diego Meritus ’19*

WR: Ryan Rizzo ‘17*

WR: James Burk ‘17

WR: Tanner Contois ‘18*

TE: Dan Fulham ‘18

LT: Win Homer ’17*

LG: Will Fleming ’17*

C: Chris McGuire ’17*

RG: Alec Auwaeter ’17*

RT: Andy Klarman ‘17*

Projected Defensive Starters: ( *Seven returning)

CB: Matt Daniel ‘19

SS: Kevin Hopsicker ‘18*

FS: Justin Fahey ‘19

CB: Nate Leedy ‘17*

LB: Addison Pierce ‘17*

LB: Aaron Slodowitz ‘18*

LB: Wes Becton IV ‘18*

DL: Henry Castillo ‘17*

DL: Rob Wood ‘18*

DL: Henry Muter ‘18

DL: Roman Trevino ‘19

Projected Specialists:  (*Two returning)

PK: Max Rye ’20

P: Charlie Gordon ’19*

KR/PR: Tanner Contois ‘18*/Jimmy Martinez ‘19

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Jared Lebowitz ’18.

The Las Vegas native transferred from UNLV (a Division 1 program), but with stud Matt Milano ‘16 leading the pack, Lebowitz mostly watched from the sidelines. Now, the D1 transfer has a chance to lead this high-powered Middlebury Offense to a NESCAC title. If the Milano and Matt Minno ’16 combo sheds any light on the situation, we can expect Lebowitz to air it out pretty consistently. Can he get the job done?

Offensive Pressure is on: Running Back Diego Meritus ’19.

As a freshman, Meritus had a great campaign, averaging 57 yards and 2 TD’s per game. With Milano and Minno gone, Meritus has to pick up the offensive reigns until Lebowitz proves his pass ability. Fellow players mentioned that Meritus had an outstanding preseason- hopefully that same energy is displayed against the Polar Bears for the season opener.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Nate Leedy ’17.

Apparently, Leedy has been an absolute force in camp so far,  and he is hitting harder and faster than ever before. After averaging a total of 3.4 tackles per game in his junior year, he is clearly hungry for more in 2016. He is a seasoned veteran in the secondary and will make sure to punish those who come into his airspace. It will be exciting to see if opponents are willing to test his defensive abilities. Watch out for that hit stick.

Biggest game: October 8th vs Amherst @ 1:30pm

Last year the Lord Jeffs handed the Panthers a 24-7 loss, but Middlebury will enjoy home field advantage and have a huge appetite for revenge this season. Lebowitz and Meritus are expected to wreak havoc in the air and on the ground, while the defensive units look to level anyone holding that pig skin. Can’t wait for this NESCAC classic.


Who cares the Minno and Milano graduated? Yes, everybody in the NESCAC knows that they were absolute beasts, but a new era is emerging for Middlebury Football. A talented freshman class is pushing the upperclassmen to compete every single day and everyone is pumped.

“Everyone is really excited to be back out here on the field,” said Wes Becton ’18. “There is definitely a sense that we playing with a chip on our shoulder after falling short of last years expectations. Everyone’s mind is in the right place and we are all focused on achieving potential and hopefully bringing home a NESCAC championship.”

Middlebury’s core strength lies within their offensive line, as they only lost Michael Brady from last year. Win Homer ‘17, Will Fleming ‘17, Chris McGuire ‘17, Alec Auwaeter ‘17 and Andy Klarman ‘17 are total animals looking forward to execute their only job: protect the QB. This unit of experienced seniors is hungry to leave it all on the field in their final season.

Behind this line of massive humans, Meritus will take charge of the running game while Drew Jacobs ‘18, who is back from last year’s knee injury, will compete with Matt Cardew ’18 for time behind the sophomore back. And…obviously, all eyes will be on Lebowitz. The Division 1 transfer will finally have a chance to show why the NESCAC should fear his play. Look for Conrado Banky ‘19 to break out as a reliable target for Lebowitz this season alongside the rest of the veteran receiving corps.

Not only is Middlebury’s offense seemingly stronger than last year as Lebowitz looks to fill Milano’s shoes, but the defense is also making more noise than prior years. Henry Castillo ‘17, Rob Wood ‘18, Henry Muter ‘18 and Roman Trevino ‘19 will man the defensive line this year, but if anybody happens to make it through, Addison Pierce ‘17, Aaron Slodowitz ‘18 and Wes Becton ‘18 will be there to flatten them.  Nate Leedy ‘17 and Matt Daniel ‘19 will protect the secondary level alongside Kevin Hopsicker ‘18 and Justin Fahey ‘19.

Naturally, after a 5-3 season, the Panthers might be overlooked. But Lebowitz is ready to take over an offense that is pass heavy. Meritus is ready to build off an outstanding freshman season. Captain Nate Leedy is ready to lead this team, and hopes to prove doubters wrong in 2016.

NESCAC football is back, and we will be anxiously waiting to see if the Panthers play to their potential.

The Cream Will Rise: The Weekend Preview

No team impressed more last week than Jeff Devanney's Trinity squad. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
No team impressed more last week than Jeff Devanney’s Trinity squad. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

Well, we went 4-1 in our predictions last week, but pretty much nothing went as expected. We got the Williams-Bowdoin game wrong. It seems as if the Ephs just have the Polar Bears figured out. They’ve now outscored Bowdoin 63-7 over the past two seasons. The Bantams won pretty handily as we thought they would, but we didn’t foresee a shutout coming. Hamilton forced OT before eventually falling to Tufts and QB Chase Rosenberg ’17 went completely bananas throwing the football. We got the spread on the Amherst-Bates game fairly close, so I guess that’s a check in the win column for the NbN staff. But the kicker was really Middlebury-Wesleyan, the Week 1 Game of the Week. I went for an ambitious 35-14 prediction in favor of the Panthers, and while they were able to rack up four TDs, the final score was much closer than I thought it would be.

So let’s take another shot. Week 1 provided us with some good information that will shed some light on the coming weekend.

Four to Watch

1. Wesleyan RB LaDarius Drew ’15
If you just look at the box score, you might think that Jaylen Berry ’18 has taken over as the Cardinals’ feature back, having garnered 122 yards on 21 carries as opposed to Drew’s 35 yards on six carries. However, that Drew didn’t enter the game until the second quarter was suspicious. There must have been a reason that Drew was held out for the first quarter – and I don’t know what it is, but I think it was predetermined for Drew to sit out the first quarter. Whether that’s true or not, by the time he entered the game against Middlebury, Berry had gotten rolling and there was no reason to stop him. I think Drew gets back into the action early on this weekend, and there should be plenty of rushing yards to go around for the Wesleyan backs tomorrow against Hamilton.
2. Hamilton QB Chase Rosenberg ’17
As a freshman and sophomore, Rosenberg started nearly every game, but as a team the Continentals found very little success. He was supplanted by transfer Brandon Tobin ’18 for the start in Week 1 and saw some limited action in the game’s first half, but a leg injury sent Tobin to the sidelines for good just before halftime. Rosenberg couldn’t have capitalized on his chance any better, going 14-23 for 301 yards and three touchdowns and no picks. Rosenberg will likely be the signal-caller tomorrow, so the pressure is on to keep up this level of play.
3. Middlebury RB Jonathan Hurvitz ’17
Head Coach Bob Ritter believes that Middlebury will be able to have an effective rushing attack as the season goes on, but the Panthers showed no evidence of that in Week 1. The passing game was working for Middlebury against Wesleyan in the second half, so it made since to continue to air it out, but 0.45 yards per rush is simply not going to cut it going forward. Hurvitz is the lead back for Middlebury, but Diego Meritus ’19 will see plenty of touches, too, and Matt Cardew ’18 – though he didn’t see the field against Wesleyan – could still make an impact.
4. Williams LB Russell Monyette ’17
Where did this guy come from? Monyette barely played a year ago, but in Week 1 he led the Ephs with six tackles, one for a loss, while filling in for the injured James O’Grady ’16. No word yet on whether O’Grady will be back for Week 2, and if he is we don’t know what Monyette’s role will be. Williams’ Week 2 opponent, Trinity, will look to pound the ball on the ground with multiple weapons, so the onus will be on the Williams linebacking corps to stop this multi-faceted attack.

Game Previews

Bowdoin (0-1) at Amherst (1-0): Amherst, Massachusetts, 1:00 PM

These are two teams coming off of vastly different Week 1 performances. Going into enemy territory is going to be a big challenge for Bowdoin. However, I think both teams regress towards the mean somewhat this week. We’re just learning what Reece Foy ’18 can do as the Amherst QB, and he might turn out to be as good as he was in Week 1, but don’t expect him to look great every single time out. As for the Polar Bears, there wasn’t much to like last Saturday. Still, I think another week to learn a new system, get comfortable with a new coach and to work out some kinks will prove to make a big difference. Will it be enough, though, to surprise the LJs? Doubtful.

Prediction: Amherst 31-Bowdoin 7

Wesleyan (1-0) at Hamilton (0-1): Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM

The Continentals played some inspired football last weekend. Hamilton fans came away pleasantly surprised, I would imagine, and this week we’ve tipped our cap to Coach Dave Murray and crew. There’s reason to believe that things are be turning around in Clinton. That being said, Hamilton played what might have been its best game and still lost to a middling Tufts squad. Meanwhile, Wesleyan looked very tough against Middlebury. I’m extremely impressed by how Coach Dan DiCenzo was able to get a green group so ready to play in Week 1, and that rushing attack is simply deadly. I think the good Hamilton vibes take a big hit this weekend, unfortunately. It’s going to get better, but this game could be ugly.

One thing I can’t predict is who will lead the rushing attack for the Cardinals, but I expect it will be as potent as in Week 1. WR/Wildcat QB Devon Carrillo ’16 is looking like a staple in the Cards’ attack as a sweep/option threat. I wonder if they might try to get him the ball in space with some screens out of the slot this week, as he had zero receptions against Middlebury.

Prediction: Wesleyan 33 – Hamilton 7

Colby (0-1) at Middlebury (1-0): Middlebury, VT, 1:00 PM

At face value this looks like an easy contest for Middlebury. But wait, do I smell a trap game? The Panthers got beat up against a physical Wesleyan team, and next week is circled on their calendars as they will be traveling to Amherst. For some reason, I’ve got a feeling that Middlebury is still shaking off the cob webs a little bit. The statistics don’t necessarily suggest that (except for the aforementioned rushing problems), but the offense doesn’t look to be a full steam yet. Defensively, the nearly 300 rushing yards allowed in Week 1 was very disappointing. That should get better, but will it happen this week? And for Colby, the questions are endless. Nothing went right against Trinity. What happened to that two-headed monster at tailback? And how was Trinity able to rip through the Mules’ D so easily? Perhaps they’ll do better against an aerial attack than they fared against Trinity’s ground game. But I don’t think they do well enough to overcome the home team.

Prediction: Middlebury 28 – Colby 17

Williams (1-0) at Trinity (1-0): Hartford, CT, 1:30 PM

The Ephs surprised us with a beatdown of the Polar Bears last week, but they did the same thing in Week 1 a year ago and ended up 2-6. Will this be a repeat of Williams’ 2014 campaign, or was the 27-7 win in Week 1 truly a statement of a new and improved Ephs squad?

I tend to lean towards the former. Maybe this team is better than a year ago, but I also think Trinity is elite. The cream is going to continue to rise to the top in the NESCAC, and I think that divide will become a lot clearer this week with Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Amherst all picking up wins. Oops, I guess I just spoiled my prediction…

Prediction: Trinity 38 – Williams 7

Milano, Minno and a Couple of Pierces: Middlebury Season Preview

The Panthers have benefited from practicing against themselves, but will be eager to take on a different opponent. They get their first chance to do so on Sunday against Dartmouth. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
The Panthers have benefited from practicing against themselves, but will be eager to take on a different opponent. They get their first chance to do so on Sunday against Dartmouth. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Editors’ Note: While 99 percent of the work done in these previews is credited directly to the author, the projected records are a decision made together by the editors, Adam and Joe. So if you don’t like it, blame us.

Projected Record: 8-0

Projected Offensive Starters (*Six Returning)

QB: Matt Milano ’16*
RB: Jonathan Hurvitz ’17
WR: Matt Minno ’16*
WR: Ryan Rizzo ’17*
WR: James Burke ’17
TE: Trevor Miletich ’16*
LT: Win Homer ’17*
LG: Ryan Rudolph ’18
C: James Wang ’16
RG: Will Fleming ’17
RT: Andy Klarman ’17*

Projected Defensive Starters (*Six Returning)

DE: Jake Clapp ’16*
DT: Kyle Ashley ’16
DT: Gil Araujo ’16*
DE: Matt MacKay ’18
ILB: Tim Patricia ’16*
ILB: Addison Pierce ’17*
OLB: Wesley Becton ’18
Boundary CB: Nate Leedy ’17*
S: Dan Pierce ’16*
S: Kevin Hopsicker ’18
Field CB: Andrew McGrath ’17

Projected Specialists: (*One Returning)

K: Charlie Gordon ’19
P: Jim Simmons ’16
KR/PR: Ryan Rizzo ’17* / Conrad Banky ’19 / Kevin Hopsicker ’18

Offensive MVP: QB Matt Milano ’16

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ I think that will ultimately be the driving force behind the decision to start Milano in Week 1. Jared Lebowitz ’18 would have had to blow everyone out of the water in camp, I believe, in order to usurp Milano as the starter. Both have been very good, but I think Milano takes the majority of the snaps – and the entire league already knows what he can do on the football field. I do think that Lebowitz will see time in some capacity, though what that means I cannot be certain.

Defensive MVP: ILB Tim Patricia ’16

I thought about giving this prediction to DE Jake Clapp ’16 because of his ability to rush and pressure the passer in one-on-one situations, which makes everyone else’s job on the defense much easier. Then I remembered that this is the NESCAC, not the NFL, and every team but Middlebury and Tufts seems to be allergic to throwing the football. Patricia takes on the bulk of the run-stopping responsibility, but of course Addison Pierce ’17 and Dan Pierce ’16 are important in that regard, too. I think the three-time All-NESCAC Second Teamer, Patricia, carries this defense and makes the leap to the First Team.

Biggest Surprise in Camp: Head Coach Bob Ritter elected to point out a player on each side of the ball that has made a big leap from 2014. WR James Burke ’17 came into camp in great shape and has shown improvements in his route-running and pass-catching abilities, giving the coaching staff confidence that he’s ready to be a playmaker in the NESCAC. On the defense, Steve Bissainthe ’18 made the switch in the offseason from O-line to D-line, and has adapted well to his new role. There are a lot of names fighting for reps along the D-line, but with Middlebury’s tendency to rotate plenty on the D-line, Bissainthe has a shot to make an impact in his first season on defense.

Steve Bissainthe '18 has impressed in his first stint on the defensive line. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
Steve Bissainthe ’18 (51) has impressed in his first stint on the defensive line. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Biggest Game: October 10 at Amherst

The Amherst D embarrassed Middlebury last year at Alumni Stadium, shutting out the Panthers. However, that was early in the year before Milano really got rolling and the weather was not conducive to throwing the ball with wind and rain. Conditions ought to be better this time around, and the winner of this game will have the inside track on a title.

Best Tweet:

Really Mr. Castillo’s entire Twitter feed is worthy of a peruse, but we went with this one because it shows off that charming grin.

Summary: We’ve projected the Panthers to go 8-0 so take any criticisms that follow with a grain of salt. The offense should be dynamic as ever. Despite some inexperience on the O-line, the guys that end up stepping into starting roles are every bit as talented as the guys they replace. Most likely, more than three guys will rotate through those interior spots, and the projected starters above might find themselves as part of a rotation – or out of the rotation all together. Alec Auwaerter ’17 and Michael Brady ’16 are also in the mix. The WR position runs deep for Middlebury. Matt Minno ’16 is a stud, the type that can bail out a quarterback on a bad throw by making an incredible play. Burke will takeover as the starting wideout on the other side, and Ryan Rizzo ’17 will take the majority of the snaps early on from the slot. Rizzo is the team’s top returning receiver, and yet will be pushed for reps by newcomer Conrad Banky ’19. Banky will probably see reps at every wide receiver spot to spell the starters, and Rizzo might need extra rest early on as he recovers from a leg injury that kept him from conditioning much in the offseason – especially if Rizzo ends up returning kicks once again. Tanner Contois ’18 is a dark horse to make some catches, as well. Trevor Miletich ’16 is the team’s starter at TE, but Dan Fulham ’18 will get work and be a threat in the red zone. In the backfield, Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 did a nice job last season and is back, but he’ll share time with Matt Cardew ’18 and Diego Meritus ’19.

On the other side of the ball, Middlebury uses a hybrid-style defense that can loosely be described as a 4-2-5 (or a 3-4, or a 4-3, or, dare I say, a 3-2-6 … but I digress). It all centers around Patricia and Addison Pierce who are true middle linebackers. Aaron Slodowitz ’18 will spell both players. There are three D-line spots in which multiple people will be used. Gil Araujo ’16 is the most experienced returner in that group, and lost a lot of weight during this past offseason. Henry Muter ’18 backs him up. Kyle Ashley ’16 figures to get plenty of reps, while the third defensive line job is still up in the air, but Matt MacKay ’18 looks like the frontrunner right now. All of these guys, along with Robert Wood ’18 and Joe LaLiberte ’18, will play and move around on the D-line. Clapp often looks like a D-end, lined up with the strength of the offensive formation, but will sometimes drop into coverage as well. In that regard he plays much like a pass rushing OLB, but will usually have his hand down. He’s backed up by Henry Castillo ’17. The “fifth DB” is a strong safety/OLB hybrid. Wesley Becton ’18 and Carsen Winn ’17 should both see time there. The defensive backfield looks strong with the dominant Nate Leedy ’17 at boundary corner, Andrew McGrath ’18 on the other side and Kevin Hopsicker ’18 joining Dan Pierce ’16 at safety. S Justin Fahey ’19 will be one of the few rookies who can make an immediate impact for Middlebury this season.

Though a few of the graduated players from last year’s team were elite talents in the NESCAC, Middlebury actually has a chance to be better this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell short against Amherst or Trinity, but I don’t think that happens and I think those teams’ question marks are bigger than those of the Panthers. Time will tell, but the odds in favor of Middlebury winning just its second outright NESCAC title.

Takeaways from Middlebury’s Blue-White Scrimmage

Ryan Rizzo '17 brings in a pass from Matt Milano '16 for a score in Tuesday's Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
Ryan Rizzo ’17 brings in a pass from Matt Milano ’16 for a score in Tuesday’s Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

I had the pleasure of watching some early morning football yesterday at Alumni Stadium. First and foremost I have to thank Head Coach Bob Ritter for being so accommodating and allowing me to watch from the field as well as the stands.

Yesterday’s scrimmage primarily confirmed my thoughts going into the day. I had my eyes open for any surprises – potential breakouts, problem areas, etc. And while it was just a scrimmage, against one’s own team no less, there was some information gleaned from being in attendance.

The Starting Defense Barely Played – but They Look Good

With LB Addison Pierce ’17 already sidelined yesterday with a minor injury, I think that the coaching staff saw no need to risk hurting any of the defense’s biggest contributors. Tim Patricia ’16, Dan Pierce ’16, Jake Clapp ’16, Nate Leedy ’17 and others all played roughly two series and look as good as ever. The offense, regardless of who was at the helm, sputtered for the first couple of series, probably due in large part to the strength of the Middlebury starting 11 on defense. The Panthers changed up their looks pretty frequently, sometimes having the end move around and often bringing a linebacker up to the line.

What I Know about the Quarterback Situation Is That I Know Nothing

That’s not entirely true, but suffice to say that no great secrets were revealed in this regard by watching practice yesterday. Matt Milano ’16, Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Jake Stalcup ’17 all played and looked sharp. As noted above, there was some rust to shake off early, and neither of the first two listed had much success against the starters on defense, but both got going eventually. All three found the end zone with one pass, Milano and Lebowitz on rollouts to the right side (check out the video below) and Stalcup with an 80-yard bomb that was really a misplay by the deep safety. Lebowitz also scampered for a short TD run.

No team in the NESCAC can boast the kind of depth at QB that Middlebury can. Pictured: (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
No team in the NESCAC can boast the kind of depth at QB that Middlebury can. Pictured: QBs Colin Waters ’19 (15), Matt Milano ’16 (yellow cap), Jared Lebowitz ’18 (7) and Jake Stalcup ’17 (14). (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Lebowitz is the unknown here so I was very interested to watch him play. He comes as advertised – good feet in the pocket, the ability to run if need be, and a strong arm. That being said, Milano also possesses all of those tools, and at this point I think the safe money is on Milano starting, playing almost every snap and once again being in the running for Offensive Player of the Year.

Safety Justin Fahey ’19 Stood Out

With so many experienced players on both sides of the ball for Middlebury, it was hard to pinpoint any underclassmen with a chance to get significant reps, but Fahey looks physically ready to play at this level. Right now, he appears to be the backup to Dan Pierce at one safety spot, with Cam Komisar ’16 – who reeled in the only interception yesterday – backing up Kevin Hopsicker ’18 as the other safety, but I wonder if Fahey could see reps at both spots in games to give the starters a breather. He made some nice plays in the run game early on and hits with authority, but also reacted slowly in some instances which is to be expected for a freshman in his first live action in college. Furthermore the coaches seem to have a vested interest in his development. Overall, I was impressed.

The O-Line Won’t Miss a Beat

My only real concern with the team coming into the day was that the offensive line might struggle after graduating a few seasoned vets, but I was wrong. James Wang ’16 at center will lead a strong unit that should give its quarterback all the time he needs.

My One Concern Going Forward: The Run Game

Somehow, year after year, Middlebury seems to find someone seemingly out of nowhere that excels in the backfield. In 2013 Matt Rea ’14 took over as the starter and bumped up his YPC average from 3.1 the year before to 3.9. Last season Drew Jacobs ’18 stepped on the scene and immediately became a factor, going for 81 yards on 20 carries in his first start and continued that success before being slowed by injury. Jacobs is out for the year with a Lisfranc fracture, so once again someone will have to rise to the top. Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 is a talented back and averaged over 3.0 yards per carry last season. Backing him up are the small but speedy Matt Cardew ’18 – who broke free for a 50-yard scamper yesterday showing off his ability to make defenders miss in open space – and the bulky Diego Meritus ’19. I did not get to see the last member of this group, Emilio Ovalles-Misterman ’19, who was inactive, but perhaps he could get some reps as well.

Running back play is crucial for Middlebury. Often there is one back alone with the QB in the shotgun, which means he must be able to protect his QB with chip blocks, know when to release and became an option in the passing game, and be able to be effective running from the shotgun which is difficult to do. I don’t doubt that this group can do all of that, but it is the area that concerns me most.

Overall, I came away from Tuesday’s scrimmage thoroughly impressed. The Panthers had some rust offensively early on, but that is to be expected. There is enough of a history here to trust that the offense will be running smoothly by Week 1. On defense there is enough returning talent to believe that last year’s No. 2 unit should be as good once again. As expected, Middlebury should be in the championship hunt again in 2015.