Welcome to the Thunderdome: Middlebury at Trinity, Your Week 6 Game of the Week

Middlebury looks to keep the wheels turning this weekend against Trinity, which will be no easy task (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).
Middlebury looks to keep the wheels turning this weekend against Trinity, which will be no easy task (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Middlebury (5-0) at Trinity (5-0), 12:30 PM, Hartford, CT

On Saturday October 29th the Panthers will challenge the Bantams in their house. Who is scarier? Since it is Halloweekend after all, if we look strictly at the mascots, a Panther is much more intimidating than a little chicken, but it is the guys wearing the costumes this weekend that people should fear. These #1 and #2 squads on our power rankings face off in week six, and no matter what you think their respective order should be on that list, they are clearly alone at the top.  Midd has fared incredibly well so far this year, topping Amherst and handling their business against the lower tier NESCAC teams, but Trinity hasn’t scored less than 36 points this year. So the real question is, if each team showed up to your front door to trick-or-treat, who’s ‘Boo!’ would frighten you more?

 Last Time They Met and What’s On the Line: October 31st, 2015, Middlebury, VT. Trinity defeats Middlebury 26-14

Last year, Middlebury held on to a 14-13 halftime lead, but couldn’t muster any offense in the second half and ultimately let up two 4th quarter TD’s to lose.  However, the last one was on a drive with time running out to tie the game when QB Matt Milano ’16 threw a pick-6. It was a great matchup and is sure to be similar this year, although each team has improved greatly from where they were at last year. It’s a little bit too early to tell if this is going to be the quasi NESCAC championship game (another reason why NESCAC football should have playoffs), but this is going to be a top 3 game of the season. While Sid discussed earlier this week how it’s still possible for Wesleyan to win the crown of the conference, he just casually assumed Tufts would roll over Midd, which is bold to say the least. Barring an unthinkable, unpredictable, and unlikely ending to the year, either Trinity or Middlebury will win the NESCAC and this is going to be a huge game in deciding that future.

 Trinity X-Factor: DB Spencer Donahue ‘17

Spencer Donahue '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Spencer Donahue ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

This isn’t a bold prediction by any means, as Donahue leads the Bantams with two INT’s, 20 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumbles recovered, and one block. He’s good. He’s great. But can he stop WR Conrado Banky ’19? While he might not cover Banky, he will definitely need to play a big part in containing the speedy wide-out who leads the Panthers with 614 receiving yards and eight TDs. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 is a big time passing QB who has thrown 20 TDs this year, but five of them were to Ryan Rizzo ’17. What does this have to do with Donahue? Well, since Ryan Rizzo is now out for the year with a fractured wrist, Banky becomes the center of the receiving core, and if Donahue can neutralize him, with Trinity’s ruthless offensive attack, Middlebury will have a tough time keeping up.

Middlebury X-Factor: The Linebacker Core’s Big 2

Addison Pierce '17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Addison Pierce ’17 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson '18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
John Jackson ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)







Middlebury averages 35.8 points a game and Trinity averages 37.4 ppg. These teams are going to score this weekend, and that’s why each team’s X-Factor defensive. Addison Pierce ’17 and John Jackson ’18 are the center of the defensive unit and each have a monsterous 40 tackles on the season, and their ability to stop Max Chipouras ’19 and Lucas Golon ’19, averaging 175 collective yards per game on the ground, is going to be a key to limiting the Bantam’s point to under 36 for the first time this year. The senior captain, Pierce, also adds three sacks and one forced fumble and combined with Jackson’s five sacks and two forced fumbles, the Trinity running backs are going to have their hands full. If Sonny Puzzo ’18 is forced to throw because of the rush defense, only allowing 2 yards per carry last week and -0.4 yards per carry against Amherst on week four, then the Panthers would have the comparative advantage on offense.

 Everything Else

These two offensive juggernauts lead the league in almost every offensive category and are going to hit each other head-on on Saturday. Middlebury offense gains 429.2 yards per game compared to the league leader Trinity at 482 yards per game, while each squad’s defense ranks fourth and third, respectively, in yards allowed per game.

Trinity definitely had an easier game week one against Bates than Middlebury did last weekend, as the Panthers went down 9-0 before rumbling back to score 28 unanswered points. However, each team has played well against the other Maine schools, and beaten all of the teams they needed to, as expected. The only two really interesting games each has played were Midd vs. Amherst, and Trinity vs. Tufts. Each team clearly came out on top, but Trinity did so much more convincingly than Middlebury. Up until last weekend, Middlebury’s year to date strength of schedule appeared to be higher, but Amherst’s brutal loss to Wesleyan drastically lowered their stock, and therefore the quality of the week three win for Midd. Tufts on the other hand is about just as good as expected and has leapfrogged Amherst in the power rankings, showing that perhaps Trinity’s victory over the Jumbos was much more impressive than the Panthers’ victory over the Purple & White.

Defense hasn’t been Middlebury’s strongest area, as they faltered against Williams during week four, but an underrated key player is Nate Leedy, who had a big interception last weekend against Bates to thwart the early Bobcat threat.  His ferocity should continue this weekend. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 should be scared of this senior captain as he will lurk in the secondary, ready to pounce and add on to his season total of 15 tackles and go for his second straight week with a pick. As I mentioned above, Rizzo’s injury is a big hit to the Panther offense, and while they were able to beat Bates without him, the Bobcats’ defense is not exactly the top in the league. Trinity’s secondary is no joke, drawing my comparison to Seattle’s Legion of Boom earlier in the year. Because of this deficit and Trinity’s balanced offense, on paper it appears that they are the favorite. Puzzo has drastically improved his TD:INT ratio from last season, and still only has one pick on the year. Lebowitz is having a better year, but if RB Diego Meritus can’t take some of the load off of the receivers’ backs, I’m uncertain as to whether the air game will be as sustainable for Middlebury this weekend. Having said that, while the current forecast in Hartford predicts sun and 60 degree temperatures, weather changes rapidly because, after all, this is New England. The Panthers are also not going to go down easily as Wesleyan is creeping behind these top two teams in the standings and none wants to play second fiddle to the undefeated team. Middlebury wants this game, Trinity wants this game, and there is only one King Sized Kit-Kat bar left at the bottom of the candy bin. Who will take it?

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.

NbN 2015 End of Year Football Awards

Big plays, big hits, and jaw-dropping performances - We love NESCAC football. (Courtesy of Michael O'Hara/Middlebury Campus)
Big plays, big hits, and jaw-dropping performances – We love NESCAC football. (Courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Middlebury Campus)

We’re very sad to see football season go. Covering all of the drama, success and disappointment this season, it’s felt at times like we were on the field ourselves, living through the ups and downs. On a grand scale, Amherst took a lot of the drama out of the season by so consistently dispatching its opponents, but let’s not downgrade the exceptional performances of so many individuals on every team across the league. Even amongst so many standout showings, a few deserve recognition above all else.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tufts RB Chance Brady ’17

Chance Brady '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Chance Brady ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Brady was on our radar coming into the year, but we had no idea he was this good. Not only did he split carries last season with Zack Trause ’15 practically 50-50, but Tufts has historically been one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NESCAC. That completely changed this season with Brady serving as a workhorse for the Jumbos. Brady had 187 carries (two behind Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17), and led all qualified running backs in yards, yards per game and yards per carry while also tallying 11 rushing scores, two shy of the Tufts single-season record.

Honorable Mention: Middlebury QB Matt Milano ’16, Middlebury WR Matt Minno ’16, Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18, Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ’18, Colby RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17

Defensive Players of the Year: Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 and Bates LB Mark Upton ’17

Mark Upton '17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Mark Upton ’17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Adam – Sheer production is the best way to describe Mark Upton’s career at Bates, and he gets my vote for DPOY because of his leadership on a young defense to go along with those gaudy stats. Bates lost a lot from their 2014 defense, including the majority of the linebackers who played besides him. Teams game planned towards Upton unlike before, and while he couldn’t quite match the 84 tackles he had last year, he came close. Upton finished with 71 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He played best down the stretch averaging 9.8 tackles per game in his final five games.

Jordan Stone '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletics)
Jordan Stone ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletics)

Joe – I went with Jordan Stone because he was a physical monster. Not only that, but Stone played alongside a bunch of freshmen on the D-line, and the Wesleyan defense as a whole was very green, so his numbers stand out that much more – and boy are they impressive. Thirty-five total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Ten! When thinking about these kinds of awards, my biggest question is always, Which player would it hurt the most to lose? I think this season it was Stone.

Honorable Mention: Amherst LB Evan Boynton ’17 , Middlebury DL Gil Araujo ’16, Bowdoin LB Branden Morin ’16, Middlebury CB Nate Leedy ’17, Trinity S Paul McCarthy ’16, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18

Kicker/Punter of the Year: Trinity K/P Kyle Pulek ’16

K/P Kyle Pulek '16 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
K/P Kyle Pulek ’16 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Pulek was consistently great punting the football (15 inside the 20, including six against Middlebury alone, which was a huge difference in the Bantams winning that contest), but it was his proficiency once thrust into the kicking role that gives him the edge over Amherst’s Jackson McGonagle ’16. Last season, Trinity’s kicking faults more or less directly led to a pair of Trinity losses. This season, kicker Eric Sachse ’19 was doing a fine job before he went down with an injury. Pulek came on and looked like a seasoned vet, making 10-10 extra points and 5-8 field goals – two of those misses were blocks, and the other was from 39 yards out.

Honorable Mention: Amherst P Jackson McGonagle, Tufts K/P Willie Holmquist ’17, Hamilton P Pat Donahoe ’16

Return Man of the Year: Trinity KR/PR Darrien Myers ’17

KR/PR Darrien Myers '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
KR/PR/WR Darrien Myers ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Not a ton of options on this one, and Myers is a more than deserving candidate, mostly because of his work on punt returns. He averaged 13.5 yards per return, a pretty sick number. Two of his returns went for touchdowns, and his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against Middlebury was a huge lift in their eventual win. Myers was not as dynamic on kickoffs as he has been in the past averaging 22.3 yards per return, but he still was a clear choice for us.

Honorable Mention: Tufts KR/PR Mike Rando ’17 and Williams KR/PR Mark Pomella ’16

Rookie of the Year: Hamilton DE Tyler Hudson ’19

DE Tyler Hudson '19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
DE Tyler Hudson ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Hudson exploded out of the gates with as good a debut in the NESCAC as anyone has had in awhile. Against Tufts he had 15 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. Keep in mind that he plays defensive end! He wasn’t that productive the rest of the year, but the final stats of 47 tackles, four sacks, and 12.5 TFL (second in the NESCAC) are pretty nifty. Hudson is so good that he even was on the field for the Continentals goal line package, though he never was able to bring in a reception. Hudson will be fun to watch for the next three years.

Honorable Mention: Tufts DB Tim Preston ’19, Trinity LB Shane Libby ’19, Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19, Bowdoin DB Cam Rondeau ’19

Coach of the Year: Tufts’ Jay Civetti

Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

With apologies to EJ Mills who cranks out 8-0 seasons like they can be made on an assembly line, Coach Jay Civetti deserves this one. The Jumbos went 6-2 and took another big step forward as a program. This season Tufts turned into a team that ran the ball first and forced big plays on defense. That is the EXACT opposite of what this team was just two years ago. It took Civetti a little time to have the results show up on the field, but what he is building at Tufts both on and off the field is impressive, and we were impressed with how he fit his game plan to his players’ talents.

Honorable Mention: Amherst’s EJ Mills, Wesleyan’s Dan DiCenzo

Breakout Player of the Year: Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18

QB Reece Foy '18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
QB Reece Foy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Our biggest worry for Amherst coming into the year was that they would be plagued by subpar QB play. Foy was not perfect this year, but he was the catalyst for the Amherst offense. He played his best football in the first half putting up more than 250 yards of total offense between running and passing in each of his first three games. He didn’t surpass that mark again the rest of the way, but he still made enough plays down the stretch of games. He ranked in the top five amongst starters for passing yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdowns, so calling him above average is a pretty easy call.

Honorable Mention: Hamilton WR Charles Ensley ’17, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18, Bowdoin WR Nick Vailas ’18, Trinity LB Liam Kenneally ’18, Bates CB Trevor Lyons ’17

Most Surprising Team: Tufts

Tufts took the lead by storm this season. They are for real. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tufts took the lead by storm this season. They are for real. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Well this couldn’t have been easier. Tufts was the most surprising team a year ago, and they still managed to up their play this season. By beating one of the big dogs in Week 8, Tufts really made a statement about their ability to compete in the future. Two years removed from a 31-game losing streak, Tufts might be a title contender in 2016.

Honorable Mention: Hamilton

Best Single Unit: Amherst LBs

Thomas Kleyn ’16 (#52) and Evan Boynton ’17 (#40) led Amherst’s dominant linebacking corps. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Given that Amherst graduated two VERY good linebackers from the 2014 team, not many would have thought this unit would end up here. But Evan Boynton ’17, Tom Kleyn ’16, Parker Chapman ’17 and Jack Drew ’16 were phenomenal. Their individual statistics are all great of course, and you can look at them here. As a group they were great tacklers, never allowing for big plays. Unlike many linebackers in the NESCAC, this group was equally good against the run and pass, making the Amherst defense able to adjust to anything.

Honorable Mention: Trinity OL, Middlebury DBs, Wesleyan RBs, Amherst K/P

Consistency Award: Middlebury LB Tim Patricia ’16

LB Tim Patricia '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
LB Tim Patricia ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Patricia gets this award not just for his performance in 2015, but for the entire body of work that is his stellar career. The California native came all the way to Vermont to play ball and made an impact right away. Patricia started 32 games in his career and amassed 289 tackles – the third-most in Middlebury history since 1994 when they started recording individual defensive statistics. It’s rare to see a player lead an entire defense from Day One and never miss a beat.

Honorable Mention: Amhest WR Devin Boehm ’17, Amherst DB Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16, Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18, Chance Brady, Jabari Hurdle-Price

Senior Days: Weekend Preview 11/13

QB Pat Dugan '16 OL Sean Lovett '18 after something good happened. Clearly. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
QB Pat Dugan ’16 and OL Sean Lovett ’18 after something good happened. Clearly. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Well, the best that can be said about this weekend’s match ups is that three of the following four games feature teams within one game of each other in the standings. I know, I’m supposed to be a salesman and get you excited for the rest of the article, but I’ve already got your click, so I really don’t care….

I do care, of course, and even though none of the game’s below will factor into the Championship race (barring the upset of the millenium – and I mean that), there’s still a lot of intrigue around these games, and it definitely means something to all of the senior playing their last game of football on Saturday.

No more clichés need be wrought about the sentimental value of this weekend’s games, so let’s get into the meat of the matter.

Four to Watch: Senior Edition

Bates Defensive Lineman Tucker Oniskey ’16

Oniskey has been possibly the Bobcats’ best lineman three years running. The big man has gone from 23 tackles and nine pass break ups in seven games in 2013 to 26 tackles and five break ups in seven games a year ago to 37 tackles and four break ups in his first seven games this year.

Oniskey’s ability to get in the face of the opposing quarterback will be important against Hamilton, which likes to air the ball out downfield. We saw last week how a good secondary can take advantage of Hamilton QB Cole Freeman ’19, who was picked off four times by Middlebury last Saturday. The Bates secondary has been exploited at times this year, although CB Trevor Lyons ’17 has had a pick-six in two straight games. If Oniskey can get pressure on Freeman, Lyons might just get his third INT TD of the season.

Williams WR Mark Pomella ’16

Pomella had been exclusively a quarterback in his first three years in Williamstown. He had hoped to be the team’s starter last season until BC-transfer Austin Lommen ’16 beat him out for the gig. Head Coach Aaron Kelton hinted in the preseason that Pomella could switch roles because of his athleticism, but it took three games for Pomella to finally make the switch. Between Weeks 3-7, Pomella has 33 catches (6.6/game) for 421 yards (84.2/game) and one TD. Pomella has been the team’s clear top option since Week 3. He’s also served as the team’s punt returner, especially with RB Connor Harris ’18 out. He will need a monster game in Week 8 to help the Ephs upset Amherst.

Colby D-Linemen Ryan Ruiz ’16 and Harry Nicholas ’16

Bowdoin’s top three running backs are out for the year, and the Polar Bears rushed for negative six yards last week. They’ve broken 63 yards rushing just once this year. By default, Bowdoin has to throw the ball. Ruiz and Nicholas have a combined eight sacks this year. Bowdoin QB Tim Drakeley ’17 is back in starting lineup, but he hasn’t really played since Week 3, which will provide Ruiz and Nicholas a chance to capitalize and have one of their best games.

Tufts RT Justin Roberts ’16 and LT Akene Farmer-Michos ’16

Justin Roberts
Justin Roberts
Akene Farmer-Michos
Akene Farmer-Michos

I’m not sure about this, but I think Roberts and Farmer-Michos are the only offensive linemen we’ve ever featured as players to watch or X-factors, and now we’ve done it twice. Apologies to all the other great O-linemen out there around the league.

Roberts and Farmer-Michos are big reasons why RB Chance Brady ’17 is running his way towards history, and the Jumbos need to run well on Saturday to beat Middlebury. The Panthers have been very hit or miss against the run defensively, surrendering 301 yards on 59 carries (5.1 ypc) against Wesleyan, 190 yards on 49 (3.8 ypc) against Amherst and 204 yards on 61 carries (3.3 ypc) at Bates, while also allowing just 33 yards on 31 carries (1.1 ypc) against the vaunted Trinity attack. Inside LB Tim Patricia ’16 will have to make a lot of stops this weekend, and per usual he is leading Middlebury in tackles. If he can’t, Roberts and Farmer-Michos will be opening up some wide lanes for Brady to bounce through.

Elo Ratings

Maybe you’ve never heard of Elo Ratings. I hadn’t until very recently. But recently a little NbN fairy whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and now we have Elo Ratings. If you want the history of what Elo Ratings are, read here. If you want to know about the mainstream sports applications that inspired this fairy to do some great statistical work on NESCAC football, check out FiveThirtyEight.com. If you are averse to clinking on links that may take you to strange places, I’ll give you the rundown here.

Elo Ratings are a system that quantify the gains and losses to each team after each contest. Wins produce gains in ratings, and losses produce reductions in ratings. In our system (again, I can’t take any personal credit for this work), margins of victory compared to expected winning margin also effect the changes in Elo Ratings. At the end of each season, team ratings are regressed towards the mean, which makes sense because in college athletics there is often a lot of turnover between seasons, so teams have to prove it both on the field and in the Elo Ratings.

Our timeline currently stretches back to 2005. In our ratings, all teams begin with an “average” rating of 1500, meaning that at the beginning of our timeline, teams were very closely clustered together. I’ll spare you the math – because I don’t want my brain to start hurting – but trust me when I say that there is a way to convert each team’s Elo Rating into their probability of winning their next game, and by comparing two teams’ win probabilities and putting them into some kind of magical/mathematical cauldron, you can conjure up a spread for every game. It’s also important to note that home teams are allotted a four-point advantage throughout the spreads.

Below is a graph that depicts each team’s Elo Rating from the beginning of the 2005 season through Week 7 of the 2015 season. This should give you some idea of how each team’s stock has risen and fallen over the past decade.

NESCAC Elo Ratings 2005-2015
NESCAC Elo Ratings 2005-2015

What’s the point of showing you this? Well, if you’re a stat nerd, the value is obvious. This is pretty cool. Secondly, though, this week we are sharing the spreads for each game in our predictions and discuss the spread a little bit. In the information you will see which team is giving points this week.

Game Previews

Bates (2-5) (-10) at Hamilton (1-6), Clinton, NY, 12:00 PM

Despite the ugly records, both of these teams are on the upswing. Bates is coming off of two straight wins and a CBB title, the program’s third in the past four years, making the 2016 class the first since 1900 to claim three outright CBB titles in its tenure. A win will also make the 2016 class 16-16, which would tie last year’s class as the winningest since 1983. Finally, Hamilton is the only program which Bates holds the series advantage over, with the Bobcats currently in the lead 19-18.

Hamilton, meanwhile, has returned to relevance this year. Not only did the Conts get their first win in over three years at Williams, but they’ve been very competitive, losing to Tufts by three in double OT, Wesleyan by five, Bowdoin by 10, Colby by five and Middlebury by five. With a lot of young players making impacts, specifically on defense and at QB Cole Freeman, there is a lot of hope for this program next year.

As for this year, though, the focus for both teams is finishing on a high note and giving its seniors a great last memory. When analyzing a Bates game, the first thing to ask for its opponent is whether they can stop the run. In Hamilton’s case, they’ve done a pretty good job of that this season. Tufts, Wesleyan and Trinity put up big rushing totals, but they also ran the ball around 50 times against Hamilton, and on the season the Continentals are allowing 3.28 yards per rush. Not exactly 1980’s Steelers, but passable, and I actually think that practicing against Hamilton’s new Wildcat read option will actually have prepared the Continentals to stop the Bates attack. If Hamilton can force QB Pat Dugan ’16 to the air, it will be a long day for Bates. No one besides Bats WR Mark Riley ’16 scares you in the passing game.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, need to step up their pass defense. Hamilton, as a team, has the highest yards per completion average. They don’t necessarily complete that many passes, though. Freeman and Chase Rosenberg ’17 have combined for a 43.9 percent completion rate. DB Brandon Williams ’17 will be on alert and trying to add to his league-best five interceptions.

The Continentals won a big game two weeks ago, and are still feeling good about themselves after taking Middlebury to the wire. They’ll be good enough to cover the spread, but the final decision goes to Bates.

Prediction: Bates 24 – Hamilton 21

Amherst (7-0) (-22.5) at Williams (2-5), Williamstown, MA, 12:00 PM

If you take a peek at the Elo Rating chart above, you might notice that Amherst is currently at the highest it’s ever been, and Williams is at the lowest. The spread of (-22.5) is actually lower than last year’s (-24), but it definitely feels like more of a lopsided matchup this year. That’s what I meant when I said it would take the upset of the millennium for the championship hunt to be impacted this weekend. Williams would have to cover a 22.5 point spread and beat Amherst in order to give Trinity a shot at sharing the title.

On paper, this game is clearly a blowout. The Jeffs have played some competitive games, but none have really ended up that close besides the 16-7 win over Trinity a week ago. The next closest margin was a nine-point win over Wesleyan in Week 5 in which Amherst needed a five-plus minute drive late in the fourth to clinch the win. The only question for Amherst is which QB Reece Foy ’18 will show up? The efficient, dual-threat Foy, or the clumsy turnover-prone Foy? He’s had five picks the last three games after having one pick in the first four. All he has to do is get the ball near his awesome receivers, including WR Jackson McGonagle ’16, who is a big play threat when Foy is able to hit him downfield, and rely on the bruising rushing attack lead by Kenny Adinkra ’16. As an entire team, Amherst is averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Enough said.

If Williams has one thing going for them, it’s experience. Five starters on offense and five on defense are all seniors, so they won’t shy away from the daunting task ahead of them. DE James Howe ’16 has had massive expectations heaped on him the past couple of seasons, but teams have been able to neutralize him much of the time by scheming for him, but he’s been productive this season with two sacks, and has opened the door for fellow D-lineman Jack Ryan ’16 to get 3.5 sacks of his own.

Despite Williams’ significant series lead (71-53-5), Amherst is expected to win its fifth straight contest against their rivals and clinch not only the NESCAC title, but also its 32nd Little Three title, which we’ve barely even talked about because it’s seemed like a formality for awhile now. And yes, I think they cover that massive spread.

Prediction: Amherst 35 – Williams 7

Colby (1-6) (-0.5)  at Bowdoin (1-6), Brunswick, ME, 12:30 PM

This game is basically a pick ’em, and that’s all I can do, because I don’t know what to think about either team. For the most part, it’s been a lot of meaningless second halfs for these teams this season. Bowdoin has no running game right now, and Colby is afraid to throw the ball and might have a QB battle in camp next season.

The Mules’ rushing attack has been solid after a slow start though, thanks to RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and the heavy lifting of FB Robert Murray ’16. They just can’t do anything through the air. QB Gabe Harrington ’17 has one touchdown and 11 interceptions, and Christian Sparacio ’18 has gotten time in spurts, but he’s completed less than half of his attempts and is more like a Wildcat QB with the ability to throw right now. Defensively, LB Stephen O’Grady ’16 has been a workhorse, leading the team in tackles.

It’s going to be a challenge for Tim Drakeley to be effective in the passing game for Bowdoin with no rushing threat. He’ll be looking to find WR Dan Barone ’16 early and often, and there will be a lot of pressure on All-NESCAC C Matt Netto ’16 and his squad to keep Drakeley upright. On the defense, it will have to be a big day for LB Branden Morin ’16 and companion LB Phillipe Archambault ’19, who’s stepped right in and tallied 49 tackles in six games.

It’s going to be low-scoring, with neither team able to move the ball quickly. With that being the case, I have to tip the scales in favor of Colby, who will be able to move the ball on the ground and get after the passer on third and longs. It’s going to be a sad Senior Day in Brunswick.

Prediction: Colby 23 – Bowdoin 17

Middlebury (5-2) (-6) at Tufts (5-2), Medford, MA, 12:30 PM

LB Tim Patricia '16 is the heart of the Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Brad Banky)
LB Tim Patricia ’16 is the heart of the Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Brad Banky)

When was the last time this game was relevant? Probably 2008, when the Panthers beat Tufts 38-24 to finish 5-3, ahead of the 4-4 Jumbos. Tufts hasn’t beaten Middlebury since Nov. 10, 2001. That’s 5,116 days. However, for the first time in a long time, Tufts and Middlebury come into the game with the same record, and in all honesty, I’m not sure Middlebury deserves to be favored in this game.

We’ve talked a lot about the injuries to the Panthers, and that is a big reason why they’ve played some close games recently and I’m feeling like Tufts can pull this off. Early in the week, though, Head Coach Bob Ritter was hopeful that some of his offensive linemen would be healthy by Saturday, which was probably directed at C James Wang ’16, though Ritter didn’t say for sure. Wang’s been dealing with a lingering leg injury all season, which is pretty much par for the Panthers’ course.

I still think the Middlebury passing attack will be productive. In the finale of two brilliant careers for QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16, don’t be surprised to see those two connect early and often. Very often. Minno is chasing history, needing two touchdowns to become the all-time TD reception leader in Middlebury history and 40 yards to reach second in receiving yards for a career. Those two milestones are pretty much a lock. Elsewhere, TE-turned-slot receiver Trevor Miletich ’16 should have a big game, too. When he’s been healthy this season he’s been a favorite target for Milano.

I’ve already discussed the need for Tufts to run the football, but will they be able to move the pigskin through the air? If so, they’ll need to attack the corner opposite boundary CB Nate Leedy ’17. PSA to NESCAC teams: Don’t throw at this kid. Leedy picked off two balls a week ago, and if every team challenged him like Hamilton did he’d have two picks per game. He is also probably the hardest hitter on the Panther defense. Sometimes his shoulder-first launches result in missed tackles because he doesn’t wrap up, but it actually happens less than you’d think. When he connects, the ball carrier goes down. Hard. So, if Tufts QB Alex Snyder ’17 is smart, he’ll try the other side of the field, putting pressure on CB Andrew McGrath ’18 if he’s healthy, but more likely CB Matt Daniel ’19. Safety Dan Pierce ’16 will be a huge factor in plugging up the run, as well.

Maybe it’s just too hard to pick against my team in the last game of my classmates’ careers, or maybe I’m jaded because I’ve watched the Panthers trash Tufts for the last three seasons, but in either case, I’m taking Middlebury even though they’re (-6). There are a lot of Midd haters out there right now because they’ve played some close games against teams that they “should” have blown out. But they’ve still won those games. And that kind of resiliency and winning attitude will play the difference in this one-touchdown game.

Prediction Middlebury 28 – Tufts 21

The Picks (Straight Up)

NbN Staff Last Week: 3-2

NbN Staff This Season: 26-9

The Amherst Dynasty: Power Ranks 11/12

SS Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn '16 hauls in one of his two INTs of the day as Amherst pulled away in the NESCAC Championship race. (Courtesy of Greg Sullivan)
SS Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 hauls in one of his two INTs of the day as Amherst pulled away in the NESCAC Championship race. (Courtesy of Greg Sullivan)

The Lord Jeffs enjoyed (proverbial) champagne showers following their victory over the Bantams. It will likely be their sixth NESCAC title since 2000, sharing the reigns with Trinity on the modern-era All-Time Championships list. There was no better way for the 2016 class to go out on Senior Day than by earning their third consecutive ring. Besides Amherst, the rest of the NESCAC has an opportunity to move up the ladder as the final week is filled with exciting rivalry games dating back to the 1800s. Should be a beautiful week of football, and it will be thrilling to see where teams end up.

1. Amherst Lord Jeffs (7-0; Last Week: 1)

Amherst essentially walked away with their third consecutive NESCAC title Saturday as they took down Trinity. The Lord Jeffs took advantage of Trinity’s mistakes, and that seemed to be the biggest difference between these two teams Saturday. They controlled the second half, running all over the Bantams, with Reece Foy ’18, Kenny Adinkra ’16, Nick Kelly ’17, Jack Hickey ’19, and Jackson McGonagle ’16 all averaging at least 3.6 yards per carry. Amherst SS Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 went out with a bang with two interceptions and a crucial blocked field goal to end the first half. Amherst will wrap up their season against the Ephs in Williamstown, Mass for the Biggest Little Game In America — a game that dates back to 1884, and is the most-played Division-III game in the country.

Trinity Bantams (6-1; Last Week: 2)

Despite analyst Joe MacDonald’s bold prediction of a Bantam victory, Trinity was unable to get it done down the stretch. Amherst did a good job depriving kick and punt returner Darrien Myers ’17 in the forms of pooching and squibbing, which put a lot of pressure on the offense to move the ball up the field. The Trinity faithful felt some home cooking involved between a questionable touchdown catch and the Bantams racking up 12 penalties resulting in 98 yards opposed to Amherst’s three penalties.

WR Jackson McGonagle '16 incredibly hauled in this twisting grab to help dispatch the Bantams. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
WR Jackson McGonagle ’16 incredibly hauled in this twisting grab to help dispatch the Bantams. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Despite edging Amherst’s 247 offensive yards with 314 of their own and possessing the ball for 38 minutes of the game, Trinity had too many blunders. A fatal sideline pass intercepted at the Trinity 37 yardline resulted in Amherst taking the lead and never looking back. Trinity’s Max Chipouras ’19, Sonny Puzzo ’18, and Myers averaged 3.8 yards per rush, but the Amherst running game was even more efficient. Trinity still has life to live as they take on long-time rivals Wesleyan in the homecoming game that will be featured on CPTV Sports.

3. Middlebury (5-2; Last Week: 3)

Middlebury took care of business Saturday against Hamilton, but their stock dropped with such a tight game. They were able to keep their spot at No. 3 for Week 7, but that could change as they take on the Jumbos this weekend.

Middlebury trailed late in the first half, when QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16 connected to even the score pending a QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 two-point conversion rush. Milano threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns with one pick, while Diego Meritus ’19 picked up 75 of the Panthers’ 89 rushing yards. Minno leaped out of the water catching a season-high three touchdowns on six catches for 171 yards. Naples native and CB Nate Leedy ’17 picked off Hamilton’s Cole Freeman ’19 twice. S Kevin Hopsticker ’18 also added an interception and 10 tackles in what was probably his best game as a Panther.

4. Tufts (5-2; Last Week: 5)

Tufts outscored Colby 28-10, and QB Alex Snyder ’17 only passed 13 times for one touchdown caught by WR Mike Miller ’18. Chance Brady ’17 averaged 7.9 yards on 27 attempts scoring two touchdowns. His longest run was 49 yards. Brady also was the Jumbos’ leading receiver, with two catches for 49 yards, en route to being named NESCAC Offensive POTW and the second NESCAC player this season to be dubbed the New England Football Writers’ Gold Helmet winner. Colby was able to move the ball on Tufts, nearly gaining more offensive yards than the Jumbos. Tufts return man Mike Rando ’17 ran one kick back 85 yards for a touchdown, and he took a second one back for 37 yards. The Jumbos’ Zach Thomas ’18 racked up 3.5 sacks. It is tough to say how Tufts will fair with Middlebury next week; I could see either team taking that game. A Tufts upset could stir up rival tensions between the two foes.

5. Wesleyan (5-2; Last Week: 4)

Wesleyan will have a chance to move up the ranks next week when they take on Trinity for the rivalry game that dates back to 1885. The Cardinals took on Williams Saturday in a convincing win. QB Mark Piccirillo ’19 stepped up and completed 11-14 passes with one touchdown for 105 yards, and he continues to show off his accurate arm. It was just the freshman’s second game playing a pivotal role, as Gernald Hawkins ’18 threw just 12 times and only completing six. They will likely continue to keep with their dual quarterback threat to keep the Bantams off balance, so it will be interesting to see how Trinity is able to respond. S Justin Sanchez ’17 picked a ball off and forced a fumble with six tackles. K Ike Fuchs’17 missed a short field goal wide right, and also missed an extra-point that was pushed back five yards due to a penalty, and things have just not been right with the formerly reliable Fuchs. If Wesleyan is going to win next week, they will probably need Fuchs at his best.

6. Hamilton (1-6; Last Week: 8)

The Continentals gave Middlebury a run for their money, something they have done to every team besides Trinity this year. They proved they can hang with the big dogs which has pushed them up to the No. 6 spot, a big jump from where they began the season. Yes, QB Cole Freeman threw four interceptions, but none of them resulted in a Panther score, and it seems like Coach Dave Murray is fine with Freeman taking shots down field as part of his learning process. The Continental defense did a good job containing the run game, keeping Middlebury to 2.6 yards per rush, but Matt Milano’s 14 completions were too deadly. RB LaShawn Ware ’18 played well – especially in the first quarter – picking up 77 yards on 21 carries, and WR Charles Ensley ’17 caught a 78-yard touchdown pass. Hamilton did not lay down easy as they posted a safety in the fourth quarter on Sean Tolton’s ’19 blocked punt. The whole league has been impressed with the Continentals this year, and is excited as it raises the competition. Hamilton has a chance to earn their second win of the season as they take on a rolling Bates.

7. Bates (2-5; Last Week: 6)

Slotback Tyler Janssen '17 lays a tender kiss on the CBB trophy. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
Slotback Tyler Janssen ’17 lays a tender kiss on the CBB trophy. (Courtesy of Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

CBB Champions. Bates shellacked Bowdoin, shutting them out 31-0, waltzing their way to a killer recruiting tool in the CBB —Bates has won three of the last four CBB Titles. The Bobcats are on the cusp of – in the words of the great Lou Brown – a winning streak.

They have a chance to end on a high note at Hamilton and make up for all those closes losses earlier this year. The Bobcats outplayed Bowdoin last week in all facets, tackling the Polar Bears for a loss five times for 29 yards including three sacks. CB Trevor Lyons ’17 had a pick-six that he took 50 yards all the way back. QB Pat Dugan ’16 put on a show, running and throwing for a touchdown as he piled up 252 of Bates’ total 380 offensive yards. Another big win will vault the Bobcats back over the Continentals in the ranks.

8. Williams (2-5; Last Week: 9)

After a scoreless first 23 minutes, the Ephs let up a 21-yard touchdown pass to Wesleyan’s Eric Meyreles ’18. Williams’ lone touchdown came on a last minute, three-yard pass by Austin Lommen ’16, who threw for 150 yards including an interception. RB Noah Sorrento ’19 got his first crack as the starter and ran for 105 yards on 21 carries, including one for 45 yards. This weekend’s rivalry game will not have as much hype as most years due to the fact that Amherst is a heavy, heavy favorite. Williams moves up from last week, like Colby, more by virtue of the lackluster performance that Bowdoin put on last weekend.

9. Colby (1-6; Last Week: 10)

Colby lost to the better team Saturday when they hosted Tufts. Colby’s QB Gabe Harrington ’17 continued to struggle, throwing two interceptions while completing 53 percent of his passes. RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 got his touches and scored a touchdown on 21 attempts, though only averaging 2.1 yards per carry. John Baron ’18 kicked a 37-yard field goal and an extra point. Despite a crooked score, Colby compiled 320 yards compared to Tufts’ 325.

The consolation game of the CBB will happen this week, and it is a chance for each Colby and Bowdoin to rid themselves of the shame of being part of a one-win program.

10. Bowdoin (1-6; Last Week: 7)

Not to take away from Bates, but that game shouldn’t have gotten out of hand like it did. It was a sad sight to see for Polar Bear fans Saturday as they rushed for negative six yards. Negative six. When they did have the ball in their hands, they fumbled three times, only making it into Bobcat territory four times. The Polar Bears were closest to a score when QB Noah Nelson ’19 threw an interception from the Bates 25-yardline. Bowdoin let Bates run right over them, as they let up 12 rushing first downs. Bowdoin will take on Colby for the runner-up of the CBB this weekend.


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.

Panthers Make Rude Guests in Hartford: Stock Report 10/26

Every streak will end at some point, and Trinity’s vaunted home winning streak of 53 games finally came to a stunning finish on Saturday. Like any streak of such length, the Bantams endured many close calls before Saturday, but the Panthers sucked out any potential drama long before the final whistle. Middlebury scored the first 20 points of the game, and a Brendan Rankowitz ’15 touchdown catch with 6:07 left made it 27-7, essentially ending the game.

So just how did Middlebury manage to take down the unbeatable Bantams? Well, considering the margin of victory, the simple answer is that Middlebury just outplayed Trinity. From a more philosophical point of view, this was speed beating size. The Trinity starting offensive line averages 280 pounds while the three down lineman for Middlebury average 247 pounds. That didn’t matter as Middlebury was still able to get to the ball.

Trinity finished the game with 85 yards rushing on 38 attempts, a 2.2 yards per carry average. The last time Trinity was held to under 100 yards rushing was October 2, 2010 when Williams held the Bantams to 87 yards rushing. Not coincidentally that was also a loss for Trinity. The 85 yards was the lowest total in a game since October 11, 2008 when Tufts (yes, Tufts) held the Bantams to 50 yards rushing. (Of course in that game Trinity threw for 470 as well to win a wild overtime game 28-27.)

The fact that the two top tacklers for Middlebury were defensive backs tells us that while the Panthers won the line of scrimmage, they didn’t do it conventionally. Waves of defenders threw themselves at the point of attack on running plays without exposing any lanes for cutbacks. Trinity’s longest run in the game was 19 yards.

Matt Minno '16 hauls down one of his three touchdowns in the Panthers' victory. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (http://www.sevenstrong.net/TrinityFootball)
Matt Minno ’16 hauls down one of his three touchdowns in the Panthers’ victory. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (http://www.sevenstrong.net/TrinityFootball)

Not having Sonny Puzzo on the roster for Trinity hurt the Bantams because Foye is not a runner. Puzzo gave the Trinity offense a little more diversity and defenses had more difficulty keying on one player. Spencer Aukamp ’18 has the running capabilities to replicate Puzzo, but Aukamp is not as polished of a passer. Henry Foye ’15 was able to come back from a touchdown deficit last week against Bowdoin, but he is not a quarterback capable of leading a team back from the hole Trinity found themselves in early in the second half.

Meanwhile, Matt Milano ’16 played a nearly perfect game. He went 25-36 for 286 yards. Though he threw one interception, he made up for it with four touchdowns. Matt Minno ’16 reemerged from the shadows last week against Bates, and he confirmed that he is back with his best game of the season: a three touchdown, 90 yard day. Milano actually played better than Mac Foote ’14 did last year when Middlebury beat Trinity in Vermont. Throw out the debacle against Amherst, and Milano has been stellar.

The running game led by Drew Jacobs ’18 was nothing special, but it did enough to keep Trinity honest. The Bantams could not load up on 3rd and long and come after Milano, especially because the Middlebury offense is designed to get the ball out quickly.

Finally, credit should be given to the Middlebury special teams which had two big plays early in the second half. The first was a gutsy on-side kick call coming out of the half. Rather than giving Trinity the ball back with the score 13-0 Middlebury, the Panthers dialed up an onside kick that they recovered. Two plays later, Milano hit hit Minno for his third touchdown of the game. The next drive Trinity tried a fake punt on 4th and 2 from their own 43-yard line, but Middlebury was not fooled at all. Michael Budness ’15 gained only one yard and the Trinity gambled failed.

The last time Trinity lost at home was to Williams in September of 2001. Every Trinity football player starting with the class of 2006 until the class of 2014 was undefeated at home. The thing for Trinity is that their path to a NESCAC championship remains unchanged. If they can rally and beat Amherst and then Wesleyan, they will at least earn a share of the NESCAC title. With only two weeks to still go, both Connecticut schools have now lost when before the season it looked possible that both would go undefeated until they faced each other.

Stock Up

Safety Dan Pierce ’16 (Middlebury): Seems like every week we highlight another Panther defensive player that has emerged as a cog in a defense that has become the strength of Middlebury. Pierce had a great all around game totaling 12 tackles and two interceptions. He had the play of the game midway through the second quarter. With Middlebury up 7-0, the Bantams drove the ball down to the five yard line. Then Pierce picked off Henry Foye ’15 in the end zone and returned it 71 yards to the Trinity 29-yard line. Four plays later, Middlebury punched it in to go up by two touchdowns forcing Trinity out of their comfort zone. Pierce now leads the Panthers in tackles on the season and is fourth overall in the NESCAC. We know it is early, but given that players like Pierce, Tim Patricia ’16,  and Nate Leedy ’17 will all be back on defense along with Milano leading an offense that will return all of its playmakers with the exception of Rankowitz, Middlebury should be the favorite entering next year.

Wide Receiver Steven Kiesel ’15 (Williams): Saturday was just another ho-hum day for the senior receiver as he finished with five catches, 62 yards, and a touchdown that ended up being the difference in Williams’ 21-14 victory. Kiesel’s performance was notable because of how normal it has become. He has had at least five receptions in all but one of Williams’ games and now leads the NESCAC in receptions for the year. With the Ephs backed up on their own one, Austin Lommen ’16 went to his favorite target and hit Kiesel for a 32-yard gain that ended with Kiesel’s touchdown catch. The Williams running game has struggled for long stretches of this season, and Kiesel has been the most reliable source of offense for the Ephs. It might be a longshot given they are only 2-4, but Williams can salvage their season starting Saturday with a big upset over Wesleyan.

Quarterback Matt Cannone ’15 (Bates): The CBB picked up right where it left off last year in terms of excitement. The Bobcats QB returned just in time to get the Bates offense moving. He was still bothered by his ankle so that he was not much of a threat out of the pocket, but Cannone still played admirably. He went 18-32 for 203 yards and four touchdowns. His main target was Mark Riley ’16, but with the game on the line he used Riley as a diversion and went to Frank Williams ’18. On 4th and goal, Cannone found Williams for the game tying touchdown with under a minute left. Then in overtime the same connection worked again for a 25 yard touchdown and the victory. The win gives Bates the early lead in the CBB with the Bobcats visiting Bowdoin this week. Now Cannone will look to seal the CBB.

Running back LaShawn Ware ’17 (Hamilton): Sometimes, you have to admit that you’ve made a mistake. At the beginning of the season, in our Breakout Players of 2014 article, we highlighted Hamilton backs Rico Gonzalez ’16 and converted safety Jeff Hopsicker ’15. Gonzalez hasn’t been much of a factor all year, and had two carries against Williams. Hopsicker started out as the team’s primary back, but has seen his carries total dwindle ever since Week 2. When we spoke with head coach Dave Murray at the beginning of the year, he highlighted the speedy Ware as someone who could make an impact, but we just saw too much competition in the backfield. Well, Ware now leads the team in rushing yards and yards per carry, and racked up a career-high 115 yards against Williams. It looks like Murray has settled into a two-headed attack, with Ware moving the ball down the field and Amman Weaver ’18 getting the chances to punch it in near the goal line. It’s another lost season for the Continentals, but there will be weapons back in 2015.

Stock Down

Tufts Offensive Execution: A few stats from the Tufts-Amherst game: Tufts first downs – 11, Amherst first downs – 12. Tufts total yards – 249, Amherst total yards – 244. Tufts return yards – 78, Amherst return yards – 93. So how was this game 30-3 in favor of the Jeffs? As the Tufts website notes, every single Amherst scoring drive started in Tufts territory. Seventy-nine of those return yards came on interceptions for Amherst, with Chris Gow ’16 returning one Alex Snyder ’17 pass to the house. The Lord Jeff defense is very good and known for their takeaways, but this was another level. A big reason for that was because Jack Doll ’15 did not start and only threw the ball six times. It would have been extremely difficult for the Jumbos to upset Amherst at home with the Jeffs smelling a conference championship, but the offense let down a defense that played much better than the score indicated.

Bowdoin Secondary: One week after allowing Henry Foye to enjoy his best game of the season, Jesse Warren ’15 threw for five touchdowns against the Bowdoin secondary. Early in the game Bowdoin was getting pressure, but Warren converted two third downs of more than 12 yards on the first touchdown drive. For the game Wesleyan was 10-17 on third down. The Polar Bears have had problems slowing down the opposition’s passing attack all year with teams finding ways of making big plays consistently. Though Jay Fabien ’15 was slowed, Josh Hurwitz ’15 stepped up and had three touchdown catches. The Bowdoin secondary will have to rise to the occasion and stop Bates’ Riley on Saturday.

Colby’s Depth: The brutal opening schedule robbed Colby of a good deal of their players, and in an effort to get their best talent on the field, wide receivers Luke Duncklee ’15 and Nick Joseph ’15 have started playing on defense as well. Many NESCAC players went both ways in high school so they are somewhat used to it, but doing it in college is especially hard because it is much harder to take any plays off. The duo played well Saturday totaling 14 tackles between them, but it was not enough for Colby to hold off Bates. Advocates for expanding the current roster to more than 75 players might point to Colby’s issues as evidence. It is possible that the issue comes up again in conversations between coaches and administrators, but schools are unlikely to look at this one instance and consider it enough reason to change a longstanding rule.


Is an Upset on the Horizon? The Weekend Preview 10/23

Conventional thinking for this season has been that three teams have a legitimate chance at winning the NESCAC title-Amherst, Wesleyan, and Trinity-and that the title would come down to the results of the games between those teams. This week will be the strongest test of that thinking as all three top teams face varying challenges this weekend. Middlebury traveling to Trinity is the highlight, but Tufts visiting Amherst and Bowdoin at Wesleyan could also offer intrigue. The big advantage for the top three teams is that they all play at home, though on the season home teams are only 12-13.

If one of the top three teams loses, then the final two weeks could become much more complicated. It would not necessarily drop Amherst or Trinity from the conversation because both teams are still undefeated, but Wesleyan knows they must win out to have a chance. Elsewhere the CBB gets underway with Colby and Bates, and Hamilton looks to notch their first win at home against Williams.

Three to Watch

Quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 (Wesleyan): Perhaps lost somewhat in Wesleyan’s loss last Saturday and their inability to run the ball, has been how good Warren has played this season. The knock on him last year was that he didn’t need to throw the ball often and his stats were a product of teams loading the box to stop the run. This year he has proven that wrong in all respects. He is averaging over 45 more yards per game while also being more efficient as his yards per attempt is up 0.9 yards and his completion percentage has edged up from 64.7 percent to 66.9 percent. To top it off he still has only thrown one interception this year while also tossing nine touchdowns. Last week Trinity was forced to turn to Henry Foye ’15 and air the ball out against Bowdoin, and a similar situation could see itself play out again this week. If Warren continues his stellar play, the Cardinals are in good hands.

Linebacker Tom Szymanski ’15 (Trinity): The Bantams defense is a very deep unit that has talent all across the board, but Szymanski has been the leading man so far. His 31 tackles are the most on the team. He has also been a force in the pass rush with two sacks on the season. The senior had his biggest game a few weeks ago against Hamilton totaling 12 tackles. The Bantams are banged up on defense (more on that later), and Szymanski will have to be a steadying force to make Middlebury one-dimensional through the air. Even though the Panthers have not run the ball particularly well (second to last in the NESCAC per carry), they will try to establish something on the ground.

Running Back Nick Kelly ’17 (Amherst): After some early season missteps, the Amherst offense seems to be on track with Kelly as the main horse for the Jeffs. Kenny Adinkra ’16 was the starter entering the season, but injuries have forced him to miss multiple games. Kelly has stepped in and been a force. His first highlight came when he iced Bates with a 42-yard touchdown. After only gaining 28 yards in week two, Kelly has busted out for three straight 100+ yard performances. Kelly is a powerful back who also has breakaway speed once he turns the corner and gets a full head of steam. Amherst will need him to approach the 100 yard mark again this week, but it might not be as easy as you might expect against Tufts. Though they are not usually associated with a strong run defense, the Jumbos stonewalled Williams for 46 yards on 29 carries last Saturday.

Trinity Looks to Make Sure There is NPITC
Trinity Looks to Make Sure There is NPITC (No Poop in the Coop)

The Picks

Game of the Week: Middlebury (3-2) at Trinity (5-0)

Trinity survived on the road last Saturday, and they are more than happy to be back at home protecting their 53-game home winning streak. Meanwhile Middlebury comes in on a two-game winning streak and hoping for a signature win to their season.  Sources told us this morning that Chudi Iregbulem ’15 will give it a go tomorrow after not playing last week.

Middlebury has lost both of its games by one touchdown, and their main issue has been offense in those games. Matt Milano ’16 and company have put up 28.3 points per game in their victories but only 7.0 in their two losses. Granted, they played Amherst in a driving rain storm that was a huge boon for the Jeffs in terms of stopping the Panther passing game. The Bantams stack right up there with Wesleyan and Amherst on defense allowing only 7.6 points per game.

The Trinity defense has been even better than their stats as well. Teams have only scored two touchdowns on drives of more than 40 yards through their first five games. The rest of the touchdowns given up by the Bantams were because of short fields after a turnover. They are strongest against the run allowing only 2.5 yards per carry, and the Panthers should expect few lanes open.

Injuries on the defensive side of the ball are a major issue. Safety Mike Mancini ’15, linebacker Mike Weatherby ’14, and cornerback Brian Dones ’15 are all questionable for the game because of injury. Head Coach Jeff Devanney has said he thinks it is possible all of them play, but as Iregbulem’s injury shows, the Bantams do not reveal a lot of information about injuries. Not revealing injuries is of course part of the game and Trinity is under no obligation to tell anybody who will be playing. However, at this point Trinity appears to be healthy, and all those players will try to play tomorrow.

Dones in particular is important because when healthy he can shut down one side of the field. Grant Luna ’17 did not play last week due to a concussion so his status is up in the air, but Matt Minno ’16 and Brendan Rankowitz ’15 are more than capable of making plays for Milano and Luna’s replacement, Ryan Rizzo ’17, is just as athletic as (and faster than) every receiver on the Panthers’ roster. The major difference between this year’s Middlebury offense and those of past years’ is the lack of a pass catching tight end. William Sadik-Khan ’14 and Billy Chapman ’13 were both big targets in the middle of the field that were match-up nightmares for NESCAC teams. No tight end has more than five catches on the year right now for Middlebury.

On the other side of the ball Middlebury will look to make Trinity rely on the passing game. Bowdoin did a good job of this last week, but Henry Foye ’15 proved he could make throws when it mattered. In the second half Foye had a handful of throws down the field that helped make his receivers open. This entire video of Trinity coach Jeff Devanney going over game film is worth watching, and he does a good job of breaking down some of Foye’s throws starting at 9:15.

The Middlebury secondary should be more up to the task of shutting down Ian Dugger ’16 and Chris Ragone ’15. Nate Leedy ’17 is the top corner for the Panthers, and safeties Matt Benedict ’15 and Dan Pierce ’16 make a lot of big plays as well. On the season the Panthers have allowed the second least amount of passing yards though per attempt teams fare reasonably well against them.

If Iregbulem is still slowed then the Panthers have a good shot at pulling the upset. It will be imperative for Milano not to make any costly mistakes. Since throwing for two interceptions against Wesleyan, he has passed for eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Still, though health is an issue for Trinity, the Bantams will have enough to keep the streak alive for at least one more week.

Prediction: Trinity 27 over Middlebury 21

Tufts (3-2) at Amherst (5-0): No team has a bigger disparity between their home and away performance than the Jumbos, and unfortunately for them Amherst hosts this week, but that doesn’t mean Tufts has no chance. Jack Doll ’15 is right up there with Warren for top QB in the NESCAC so far, but throwing on the Jeffs is always difficult. As mentioned before, Tufts loves to get the ball into the flats quickly, something that Amherst is adept at covering. Gene Garay ’15 emerged as Max Lippe’s ’15 security blanket underneath last week. Tufts needs its defensive stars Mike Stearns ’17 and Matt McCormack ’16 to be presences all day long in order to slow down Amherst. The Tufts have a good chance of getting to .500 on the year, but it won’t happen this week.

Prediction: Amherst 31 over Tufts 21

Bowdoin (2-3) at Wesleyan (4-1): (Editor’s Note: Prediction and game blurb by Joe MacDonald) How the Cardinals respond mentally to their let down last week will go a long way in this game. Given all the seniors on the roster, the likelihood is they come out looking for revenge. Besides their Week 1 debacle, the Polar Bears tend to keep games close and have looked better every week. The Wesleyan defense will work hard to force turnovers to help put the offense into good situations. Jay Fabien ’15 has become the number one target for Warren through the air, and Lou Stevens ’17 enjoyed his biggest game of the year on the ground last week. Meanwhile Dan Barone ’16 has cemented himself as Bowdoin’s number one option and is enjoying a top five receiver caliber season. The Polar Bears don’t have enough talent to hang for 60 minutes, and Wesleyan will pull away.

Prediction: Wesleyan 31 over Bowdoin 17

Our favorite NESCAC football photo of all time (courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Our favorite NESCAC football photo of all time (courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Colby (1-4) at Bates (1-4): The Mules busted out last week, and if they play anything like they did last week, then Bates could be in trouble. Some regression should be expected however, and in the opener of the CBB this should be a close one. Strong play by the Bates defense has only led to one victory so far because of offensive struggles exacerbated by injuries especially to Matt Cannone ’15. It is still uncertain whether Cannone will play Saturday, and if he does how effective he can be because of his ankle injury. Both teams have endured grueling schedules to start the year, and are more than ready for this game to get underway. Whether Bates can find consistent gains on the ground will be the difference. The Bobcats want to hold the ball for the majority of the game and keep Luke Duncklee ’15 and Nick Joseph ’15 from getting loose deep. Consider this one basically a coin flip between these two teams, but we will give Colby the edge based on last week’s results.

Prediction: Colby 21 over Bates 20

Williams (1-4) at Hamilton (0-5): The wheels fell of the bus somewhere along the way from Clinton to Waterville last week for the Continentals, and the same can be said for Williams too. The Hamilton defense has been a hard luck group this year as they place last in the NESCAC in points allowed per game (32.6) but are fifth in yards allowed per game (334.0). Williams will look to get Alex Scyocurka ’14 the ball at least 25 times on the ground in an attempt to wear down the Continentals. Chase Rosenberg ’17 has to do a better job making the easy throw when open. He has not had a single game with a completion percentage above 60 percent. As long as the Ephs show up motivated and ready to play, they should keep Hamilton in the loss column.

Prediction: Williams 24 over Hamilton 14

Last Week: 4-1

Season Record: 21-4

Middlebury Team Preview – Panthers Look to Find Their Matt Saracen

2013 Record: 7-1

Returning Starters: 15 (5 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists)

Offensive Overview:

In case you hadn’t heard, there was some pretty good quarterback play in Middlebury over the last couple years. Mac Foote’s name is all over the NESCAC record book, right alongside his predecessor Donnie McKillop. The question now is whether there is a young Panther ready to step up and be the next great NESCAC quarterback. Middlebury’s one-back, spread offense depends heavily on good quarterback play, and three signal-callers are currently in the hunt for the starting job. Each has played well and shown improvement this preseason, and the competition is still up in the air. Matt Milano ’16 served as the primary back up in 2012 and 2013, but had just seven passing attempts in 2013. Eric Bertino ’15 fell behind Milano on the depth chart last season, but one more year of familiarity with the playbook will help him in this battle. Youngster Jake Stalcup ’17, who doubles as a reliever on the baseball team, has the best size of the group at 6’5″, and is absolutely a factor as well. The coaching staff probably won’t make a decision on its starter until the week before the team’s season opener.

There are further question marks on offense. All-NESCAC tight end Billy Sadik-Khan is gone to graduation, and explosive playmaker Joey Zelkowitz ’17 has followed the path of multiple two-sport stars before him at Middlebury and hung up the football cleats in order to focus on lacrosse. The offensive line has two returning starters in Blake Shapskinsky ’15 and Dan Finta ’15, and BC transfer Win Homer should provide stability at left tackle, but the other two spots are up for grabs. Whoever wins the QB battle will have talented and experienced receivers at his disposal with All-NESCAC First-Teamer Matt Minno ’16, Second-Teamer Brendan Rankowitz ’15 and Grant Luna ’17 all back. Ryan Hislop ’15 is the favorite to see the majority of the carries early on, but he has yet to show consistency in his career.

Defensive Overview:

The opening day defense will have more experience than its counterparts. Tim Patricia ’16 is among the best tacklers in the NESCAC, and indeed leads the league over the past two years in total tackles. There isn’t tremendous size on the defensive line, and coach Bob Ritter tends to rotate bodies through those positions in order to keep legs fresh. At the back, Matt Benedict ’15 is a strong all-around safety with a lot of experience, and Nate Leedy ’17 burst on the scene last year at cornerback and instantly became one of the NESCAC’s best, tallying one pick and seven pass break ups. Patricia and Benedict each made the All-NESCAC Second Team in 2013. The defense was above average last year, ranking fourth in points per game allowed despite seeing more snaps than any other team in the league, but will need to be even better while the offense goes through a transition.

Courtesy of Middlebury Campus
Courtesy of Middlebury Campus

Three Big Questions:

1. How great was Mac Foote’s impact?

The Middlebury offense always provides the opportunity for a few great individual seasons. But you still need talented players in order to be successful. The best player on the field for Middlebury over the past three seasons has been Foote, and it’s impossible to know right now if Minno and the rest of the receiving corp can repeat last year’s production with a new wing under center. Will Middlebury be able to hold onto the ball for long drives? Or will the defense be playing with a lot of short fields behind them? Can the offense repeat the level of red zone efficiency that it displayed in 2013? The ramifications of Foote’s departure are multiple, and his replacement will need to play at a similar level in order to come close to again earning a share of the NESCAC crown.

2. Can the defense create big plays?

Middlebury employed a bend-don’t-break strategy in 2013, allowing the fifth-most yards per game but only 16.2 points per game. It worked for the Panthers last year, but it is a dangerous way to play defense. Furthermore, the Panthers would like to improve on the eight interceptions and five fumble recoveries they garnered last season.

3. Is Middlebury here to stay?

The Panthers have three championships since 2000, but two of those (2000 and 2013) were one-third shares, with the only outright title coming in 2007. After a 4-4 2011, Middlebury has gone 7-1 in back-to-back seasons. Can the Panthers maintain their current level of success? It will come down to whether Coach Ritter and the rest of his staff have brought in enough talent to reload given the departure of so many impact players on the offensive side of the ball.

Team MVP: Middlebury will rely more heavily on its defense than in past years, and Nate Leedy has the ability to shut down a team’s best receiver. Cornerbacks don’t often get this kind of recognition, with the majority of the glory on defense going to the linebacking corps, but Leedy might be the most talented Panther on the defensive side of the ball.

Biggest Game: Oct. 25 at Trinity

Middlebury opens the season against tri-champion Wesleyan and meets Amherst, the third member of the championship trio, in Week 3, but both of those games come at home. While the first three weeks will tell us a lot about this year’s Panthers team, the most interesting game for Middlebury will be its Week 6 trip to Hartford. Trinity’s winning streak is well-documented, and assuming that Middlebury doesn’t sweep Wesleyan and Amherst (and the rest of its early season games), the Panthers will need a win at Trinity to stay in the championship hunt.

Best Tweet of the Offseason: From Middlebury freshman Logan Shrout, who has already figured out the best part of college sports.

The 2014 Panthers still have plenty of talent on the roster, and will undoubtedly have some newcomers make an impact. Is it enough to compete for a championship once again? Only time will tell.