Two Teams Left: Week Eight Power Rankings

The Middlebury-Trinity game fell flat due to Jared Lebowitz’ injury against Bates. This has thrown the league for something of a loop, but it doesn’t really change the top that much. Trinity and Amherst play this weekend in the game that decides the league championship. If Trinity wins, no one can catch them, as they’d have the tie-breaker with Amherst even if they happened to lose in the final week of the season (unlikely.) There are several other terrific games this weekend with huge implications for the final standings. Let’s take a look at where those standings are at before those games.

1) Trinity (7-0)

The Bantams face their final challenger this weekend when they travel to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. Last weekend they easily dispatched the Lebowitz-less Panthers, forcing backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 into three turnovers (two picks and a fumble.) It was another dominant defensive performance, and LB Dago Picon-Roura ‘2 picked up the Defensive Player of the Week award on the strength of an amazing one handed interception. The run game was also dominant, as Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 combined for 258 yards on their own, with Puzzo scrambling in for two touchdowns. This defensive, pounding gameplan made up for a very poor effort from Puzzo through the air. He was only 9-20 throwing the ball for 120 yards, and had several throws that should have been intercepted by the Middlebury secondary. Amherst’s offense should be able to give their defense more of a rest than Middlebury’s did, so Puzzo will have to play better this weekend.

2) Amherst (6-1)

We may owe Ollie Eberth ’20 a small apology. For much of this season we’ve been talking about Amherst’s “QB uncertainty.” Eberth had been playing all year with the spectre of Reece Foy ’18 behind him. And indeed, even last week Foy threw a touchdown pass in his four attempt. But Eberth is clearly the guy, and he showed it against Tufts. He managed the game masterfully and took care of the ball, throwing for 250 yards and no interceptions. And he was dynamic with his legs, rushing for two scores. on his way to his first Offensive Player of the Week honor. Eberth will get an even bigger test against Trinity, a defense that turns people over better than anyone. He should get a lot of help from his defense. Andrew Yamin ’19 has 11.5 sacks this season and eats offensive linemen like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs. Amherst is the team most suited to beat Trinity, and they have their chance at home.

Andrew Yamin ’19 is listed on the Amherst website as playing a position called “Buck.” I have no idea what that means but it’s very scary and so is he so maybe it does make sense.

3)  Williams (5-2)

We have yet another first year star in Williamstown. After Connor Harris ’18 went down with an injury, it was TJ Dozier ‘s (’21) time to step up. And that he has, getting more and more confident every week leading up to their game with Hamilton last Saturday. And against the Continentals (admittedly porous) defense, he broke out, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. The speedy back is proving he can be a workhorse, which is important for the Williams offense. They like to run a lot of play action and read plays to take advantage of Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his quick feet, but to do that you need a running back that scares the other enough to make them buy the fake. Williams has another suspect defensive matchup this weekend in Wesleyan, but the Cardinals offense should offer much more of a fight than Hamilton’s did. Dozier and the other young Ephs will get another chance to prove themselves as the future of the league.

4) Middlebury (5-2)

This ranking is based on where Middlebury is now, not where they’ll end up. The Lebowitz injury is devastating, not just to the Panthers but to the league as well. It ruined our best chance of not having to crown Amherst or Trinity as league champ, but more than that, it takes away one of the most electrifying players in recent NESCAC memory, and maybe the best of Middlebury QB dynasty. We’ll have a deeper career retrospective on Lebowitz coming out in the offseason, but we just wanted to acknowledge the impact he’s had on the league and on our hearts (okay too far, but I’m a homer.)

It’s hard to know where Middlebury will end up this season. Backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 made some impressive plays against Trinity, but he also had three turnovers and completed under 50% of his passes. And the defense made some big plays as well, despite having virtually no rest for the entire game. Middlebury still has the skeleton of an elite team. Conrado Banky ’19, Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 are an enviable set of weapons for Meservy to take over, and the senior linebacking trio of Slodowitz, John Jackson and Wesley Becton is as good as any in the league. But Lebowitz was the heart, and without him, it’s hard to know how they’ll do. A matchup at home with Hamilton is winnable, but also not a guaranteed win, and they close the year at Tufts in what is now a very tough game.

5) Wesleyan (5-2) 

The Cardinals put up a fairly lackluster performance against Bowdoin, winning 21-10 and allowing 317 passing yards to Griff Stalcup ’21, who has improved every week but still has no business out throwing Mark Piccirillo ’18 by nearly 60 yards. Piccirillo-Mike Breuler ’18 is the best QB-WR connection in the league, and it accounted for all three of Wesleyan’s touchdowns (by the way, Breuler should be getting A LOT of POY hype. He’s unbelievable. More on that later.) But Wesleyan’s defense is becoming a problem. They have forced the fewest turnovers of any team in the league, and that includes the Maine teams. No one is scared of the Wesleyan defense, as Bowdoin proved, and Amherst should be licking their chops as they plan to triple team Breuler and throw the ball all over the field.

Mike Breuler ’18 is having one of the best seasons by a WR in recent NESCAC memory

6) Tufts (4-3)

What song would Tufts be playing to the top tier teams to get them to let them in? Tell us in the comments!

Tufts continues to stand outside the window looking in at the top tier teams like Lloyd in Say Anything. The biggest thing separating them from the elite is turnovers. Ryan McDonald ’19 is an unbelievable athlete, but he also has 11 giveaways all by himself this season. That is simply unacceptable. If he wants to sit at the table with Puzzo, Lebowitz, Piccirillo (and arguably Maimaron,) he has to take care of the ball. They also don’t really scare anyone on defense, giving up a middling 20 points per game and only forcing seven turnovers. They have a dominant pass rush, led by Micah Adickes ’18 and Zach Thomas ’18 (12.5 sacks between them) but once the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand it is usually completed. Luckily, they end the season with Colby and then Middlebury (probably) sans-Lebowitz. This is a golden chance to finish 6-3.

7) Hamilton (2-5)

Like Tufts, Hamilton has an unexpectedly good chance to finish the season 2-0 thanks to the Lebowitz injury. Before he got hurt, their game in Middlebury this weekend was a guaranteed blowout. But now, it’s a chance for a quality win before they close the season with Bates. To beat Middlebury they need to establish the run early and often. Marcus Gutierrez had good success against the excellent Williams front, putting up 77 yards on just 15 carries. He should have gotten 10 more carries at least in my opinion, as Kenny Gray ’20 completed under 50% of his passes with two interceptions. Hamilton should try to move to a more balanced offense, with a threatening running game setting up Gray to hook up with dynamic WR Joe Schmidt ’20. They will need to against Middlebury, who still has one of the better secondaries in the league.

8) Bates (1-6)

Brendan Costa
Brendan Costa ’21 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

The Bates Second-Half Redemption Tour reached its apex last weekend with their first win of the season, a surprisingly exciting 27-24 thriller over Colby. And as has been the case for most of their recent improvement, QB Brendan Costa deserves much of the credit. Costa had his best game of the season, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another 155 yards and a TD. That’s the first game this season that a NESCAC QB has had 150 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and no turnovers. And to go along with Costa, the defense finally made some big plays, with two interceptions. Bates is having a feel-good end to the season, and they end the season with Bowdoin and Hamilton. A three game winning streak would take much of the sour taste left over from the 0-6 start out of the Bobcat’s mouths.

9) Bowdoin (0-7)

Bowdoin also got an encouraging performance from their young QB, as Griff Stalcup ’21 threw for a season high 317 yards against Wesleyan. Much of this came on an 85 yard throw to WR Nick Vailas ’18, but it’s still encouraging. Even more exciting than that is the defense. A week after giving up 63 (!!) points to Trinity, they held maybe the other best offense in the league reasonably in check, and came within 17 yards of out-gaining them in total yards (389-372.) This was mostly thanks to an impressive pass rush. They had four sacks on the day, two by DL Nat Deacon ’20. Their game with Bates this weekend may be a sneaky-exciting one.

Nat Deacon ’20 had two sacks against Wesleyan

10) Colby (0-7)

Colby has nearly tripled their season point total in the last two weeks. Coming into their game two weekends ago with Hamilton, they had only scored 27 points in five games, which is not ideal. But they have now scored 24 points in each of the last two games. Unfortunately, the teams they have played, Bates and Hamilton, have each scored 27. Colby hasn’t been able to take advantage of choice match-ups with other lower tier teams, and it’s hard to imagine them coming out of this season with a win. But they deserve a great deal of praise for continuing to work hard and improve despite an unimaginably difficult first half of the season.

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.

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

We’re still sorting through the wreckage of Williams’ comeback, last-second, upset win in Middlebury last Saturday, and I mean that both in a “how does it affect the league” sense and a “how does Pete recover from it emotionally” sense. What we do know is this; two losses will not earn you any share of the league championship. Middlebury, and any other team hoping to earn that coveted co-title (as always, terrific to not have any playoffs to sort this out) will need to win out. For the Panthers, Cardinals and Mammoths, that means beating Trinity. I don’t see more than one team potentially doing that, so the biggest story the rest of the way will be who has the best shot. The title is, now more than ever, Trinity’s to lose.

Colby (0-5) @ Hamilton (1-4), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM

Hamilton stuck their flag in the ground last week as the Best of the Bad Teams, demolishing Bowdoin 28-7. As always, it was the offense that carried the Continentals to this strong performance. They gained 448 total yards, including 208 on the ground. 158 of those yards came on the back of first year RB Mitch Bierman. Bierman is making a delayed push for Rookie of the Year (Non Williams-division,) with touchdowns in 2 of his last three games and this dominant performance. More promising for their future, however, was the strong play of the defense. They held Bowdoin to 275 total yards, only 60 of which came from Nate Richam, and totaled five sacks. This matchup with Colby is another choice matchup for the Continentals, who would love to get another win under their belts before they play Middlebury and Williams.

The good news is that Colby tied their season high in points last week. The bad news is that their season high in points is 7. They simply do not have any offensive players who scare anyone, and by the end of the first quarter their defense is too tired to make much of a difference. If the offense could sustain some drives and give the defense a break, defensive back Don Vivian ’18 is a menace to quarterback who could give turnover-prone Kenny Gray ’20 fits. Hamilton’s offense might not allow this to happen, however.

Predicted Score: Hamilton 24, Colby 10 

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

I can’t go quite as far as calling this a “trap game” for the Panthers, but it is important. Middlebury suffered one of the most demoralizing losses possible last weekend; the feeling at Alumni Field as Williams celebrated reminded me of when _________ died in Game of Thrones (no spoilers here.) And next weekend, Trinity looms. Middlebury not only needs to win this game (which they will,) they need to dominate and carry momentum into the game that may well decide the season. It would help if Jared Lebowitz ’18 could get his full compliment of weapons. Although he still played well against Williams (304 yards, three touchdowns,) by the end of the game Williams had figured out how to stop Maxwell Rye ’20, Frank Cosolito ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19. With star receiver Conrado Banky ’19 out with an injury, Williams was able to eventually key in on the receivers and get stops.

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

Another thing Middlebury should take this game to work on is rush defense. Bates got the moral victory trophy last weekend in their 41-23 loss to Wesleyan. This was by far their best performance of the season, and the reason for this is that they discovered an offensive identity. The Bobcats put up an impossible 287 rushing yards, 170 of which came from QB Brendan Costa ’20. Bates biggest problem all season has been choosing a QB, and it seems that Costa has won the job. This is actually bad news for Middlebury, as it was an inability to contain Bobby Maimaron ’21 (15 rushes for 93 yards) that helped spell their doom against Williams. Middlebury should work on stopping the run this game, because they know it’s coming against the Bobcats, and even more so against Trinity in two weeks. I think Bates comes out and runs the down the Panthers throats at first, but Middlebury’s offense versus the Bates defense is a perfect storm for Middlebury.

Predicted Score: Middlebury 51, Bates 17

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

That Bates rushing explosion came at the hands of Wesleyan’s defense, which has been pedestrian all season. They are the only top team to not have a defensive touchdown all season, and they still haven’t forced a fumble. This lack of dynamism from the defense hurt them against Bates. Mark Piccirillo ’18 had to throw them to victory, as he has done all season. But against Amherst on the road, this is not so easy a proposition. Amherst has the most dangerous running game in the league. Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 combine to average over 120 yards per game, and the team has a whole averages 195. If Wesleyan couldn’t stop Bates rushing attack, which is excellent but is not nearly as polished as Amherst’s, the Cardinals are in trouble. The key to this game will be the Wesleyan D-Line. Shane Kaminski ’18 is excellent at getting into the backfield (3 sacks,) and he will be busy this game.

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

The other thing that Amherst has going for them is a stingy defense. They only give up 242 total yards per game, which is the best in the league. It is their rush defense that is most impressive, but in generally they do an excellent job breaking up opposing offenses. Andrew Yamin ’19 is the league leader in sacks with 5, and will be coming at Piccirillo all night. And their defensive backs, especially John Rak ’19, are all adept tacklers. Wesleyan’s offense is already not particularly diverse, and Amherst will excacerbate that problem. I see them forcing the turnover prone Piccirillo into trouble, and running the ball to victory.

Predicted Score: Amherst 28, Wesleyan 24

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

Not a lot to say about this one. Bowdoin has given up the most yards per game in the league, and Trinity has gained the third most (477 and 438, respectively.) Max Chipouras ’18 might have 200 yards in this game. But, as Tufts found out, Trinity’s offense is not even the most dangerous part of their game. It’s the defense that has won them the two games they’ve played against upper level opponents. In their wins against Williams and Tufts, Trinity has only averaged 20 points and around 385 yards gained, well below their season averages. But in both those games, they have locked down excellent offenses, and the defense has made huge, return touchdown type plays to give them the win. Last week against Tufts it was CB Dominique Seagears ’18 who returned his second pick of the year for a 100 yard touchdown, which ended up being the difference in the game. Trinity won’t have to make any of those big plays this week to win, but the will anyway, and they definitely will next week against Middlebury.

Predicted Score: Trinity 40, Bowdoin 0

GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts (3-2) @ Williams (4-1), Williamstown, MA, 1:30 PM

As Matt pointed out in the Power Rankings, this is a really fascinating game. Williams has catapulted themselves into title consideration with their upset of Middlebury, but they can easily fall back out of it with another loss. And Tufts just unseated Williams as the team that played the best against Trinity, but that still counts as a loss. If Williams loses, they will be effectively out of title contention, as Tufts already is. The Jumbos should love the chance to play spoiler.

The Tufts defense subscribed to a “Bend don’t Break” approach against Trinity. They gave up 402 total yards, including 165 to Max Chipouras. But they were able to stand strong in the red zone several times, only giving up two offensive touchdowns, including the game winner to Chipouras in the fourth quarter. Indeed, what really did the Bantams in was inconsistency on offense. QB Ryan McDonald ’19 threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a 100 yard touchdown. He will need to control the ball better against the powerful Williams pass rush and secondary, which have combined to hold QB’s to the lowest YPG average in the league.

Williams will need to keep McDonald inside the pocket. Their pass rush eventually affected Lebowitz, but even he (not known as a burner) was able to hurt them on scrambles. That is McDonald’s game. He is adept at moving the chains with his legs, and on individual plays he gives Jack Dolan ’19 and his other receivers ample time to get open. This is how Tufts will have to win; McDonald will have to carry them. On the road against a confident Williams teams, however, I don’t think he will.

Predicted Score: Williams 28, Tufts 17