The Last Football Show: Week 9 Weekend Preview

As always, make sure you check out Matt’s excellent piece on the Game of the Week, Amherst @ Williams. But that is far from the only good game here on the last weekend of the season. Middlebury @ Tufts has major championship implications, as does, of course, Trinity vs Wesleyan. And the other games feature young teams battling it out for pride and confidence, which can often produce the best games. This is how the season ends, not with a whimper, but with a bang.

Middlebury (6-2) @ Tufts (5-3), 12:30 PM, Medford, MA

It would take a good deal of help from Wesleyan and Williams for this game to have championship ramifications but it could. If Wesleyan beats Trinity, Williams beats Amherst, and Middlebury beats Tufts, then the Panthers would be one of four teams (Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst and them) who finish at 7-2. Additionally, Middlebury would have the head to head tiebreaker over Wesleyan and Amherst. There’s a lot of moving parts to that equation, but all of them are very possible, so Middlebury has quite a bit to play for in this game. Tufts has no championship hopes, but they;d love to play spoiler and grab a win over an elite team.

As has been the case for Middlebury for the last two weeks, the big key is the play of Jack Meservy ‘19. He got knocked around by Trinity (the best secondary in the league) and did some  knocking of his own against Hamilton (arguably the worst.) Against the Continentals he flashed a nice touch on deep balls, throwing two deep touchdowns to speed merchant Jimmy Martinez ‘19. Tufts ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of NESCAC secondaries (with Hamilton and Trinity as the two ends.) Tim Preston ‘18 is a threat, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help this year, and Tufts defensive numbers are middling at best. A good showing here could cement Meservy’s spot as next year’s starter… or Lebowitz could come back. We shall see.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is made to attack the Middlebury defense.

Middlebury’s defense has been really excellent since Lebowitz went down, allowing the offense many chances to put it together. But they haven’t faced an attack quite like Tufts yet. Ryan McDonald ‘19 challenges defenses with his legs even more than Puzzo and Maimaron, two quarterbacks whom Middlebury often allowed to escape the pocket and move the chains through scrambling. And plus, the Jumbos’ run game is starting to look more like last year’s albeit without one star. In their last three weeks, which feature a win over Williams and an impressive loss to amherst (31-26,) Tufts has used a committee of talented backs to beat teams on the ground and set up play action throws on the run for McDonald. It’s hard to predict which back will be the lead, but Mike Pedrini ‘21 and Andrew Sanders have both played well. Run defense has killed Middlebury in both of their losses, particularly containing quarterbacks. I think it hurts them again this week.

Score Prediction

Tufts 20, Middlebury 15

Wesleyan (6-2) @ Trinity (7-1), 12:00 PM, Hartford, CT

This classic offense-defense matchup features Trinity fighting to keep the solo championship which was all but guaranteed for much of the season. They’ll need help from Williams, of course, but nothing happens unless they win here. And boy do they have their work cut out for them. Wesleyan may well have played the best all-around game of any team this season last week, pasting Williams 35-0. They held the Ephs to just 127 total yards, and phenom QB Bobby Maimaron to just 51, with two interceptions. And on the other side of the ball, QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 stuck his namely firmly at the front of the POY race. He has now not thrown an interception in three games after throwing seven in the first five, and has five passing touchdowns in the last two. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the year (with no fumbles in the last five games) and is in the top five in the country in completion percentage at over 70%. With Lebowitz possibly done, Piccirillo is the best QB in the conference, and a win over the Bantams would cement his legacy and secure his hardware.

Trinity has to be pretty steamed following a pretty severe beatdown at the hands of the Mammoths. The final score of 28-20 is misleading–Amherst dominated the whole way, and the Bantams scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left to make it more respectable. Much of Trinity’s offense is created by their defense; takeaways set them up in great field position and force opposing defense back onto the field quickly tiring them out and allowing Max Chipouras ‘19 to find the holes. Amherst didn’t turn the ball over once, and as such was able to dominate time of possession 36:22 to 23:07. As I said above, Wesleyan has not been turning the ball over at all lately. Piccirillo has cleaned it up, and they have a pen of sure-handed running backs, like Sean Penney ‘21 and Glenn Smith ‘21, who hold onto the ball and can run out the clock or set up Piccirillo scrambles. Trinity has to force turnovers in this game, and they may have to look outside of Dominique Seagears ‘18, who will have his hands full with Mike Breuler ‘18. The linebacking corps of Dago Picon-Roura ‘19, Liam Kenneally ‘18 and Carty Campbell ‘18 may make the difference. If they can pick of a slant pass or force a fumble from one of those young running backs, Trinity is back in business.

Predicted Score: Trinity 27, Wesleyan 20

Bates (2-6) @ Hamilton (2-6)

The “Best of the Rest” championship could actually be a pretty thrilling game. Both teams are high octane offenses with bad defenses. That’s the recipe for a lot of points, and in a hurry. Bates’ offense is more of a recent development. QB Brendan Costa ‘21 has found the easier half of the schedule to his liking, turning into ‘08 Madden Michael Vick before our eyes. He leads all NESCAC players in rushing yards over the last four weeks, and has made some big throws as well. Bates is inverting the NESCAC offensive trend of the season, by using passes as a change of pace for a run-heavy offense. Mickey Nichol, Brian Daly and Jaason Lopez are all receivers who can make big plays out of short, dump-off passes in between Costa’s electrifying runs. Against bad defenses, this offense is very fun to watch, and tremendously successful.

Jaason Lopez ’21 is a big play threat for the Bobcats due to his incredible speed.

Hamilton is a more traditional offense, but can also light up weak defenses. QB Kenny Gray ‘20 is underrated, and he has legit set of weapons in Joe Schmidt ‘20, Christian Donohoe ‘20, and RB Mitch Bierman ‘21. Gray missed their game against Middlebury last week, and his status for this game is up in the air. If he doesn’t play, Bates should have an easy path to victory. But even if he does, the porous hamilton defense should let Costa do whatever he wants in leading the Bobcats to victory.

Predicted Score: Bates 35, Hamilton 28

Colby (0-8) @ Bowdoin (0-8), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME

If you remember Season Four of Friday Night Lights, the “Toilet Bowl” was a huge moment of team bonding for East Dillon Lions. It was their first win, and for a team that had to forfeit their home opener due to injury concerns, the importance of that win could not be overstated. For one of these teams, that will also be the case. Bowdoin has enjoyed some offensive success as of late. Promising first year QB Griff Stalcup played a great game against Wesleyan, but missed last week’s loss to Bates. But Noah Nelson ‘19 was able to step in against Bates and put up a very effective performance, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Bowdoin has the weapons to be an effective offense with consistent QB play. RB Nate Richam ‘18 is injured, but Gregory Olsen ‘21 looked like his NFL counterpart last week, catching two touchdowns. WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18 have long been underrated based on playing in Bowdoin. The Polar Bears have the offense to make this a laugher.

Colby doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of Bowdoin, but they have real difference-makers on defense. LB Sebastian Philemon ‘19 (69 tackles) and S Don Vivian ‘19 (3 INT)  are legit All-League candidates. Against Bowdoin’s precariously good offense, the two of them should be real difference makers. Add in versatile RB Jake Schwern ‘19, who should get a ton of touches, and this really is anybody’s game. I’ll take the Polar Bears at home.

Predicted Score: Bowdoin 24, Colby 14

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

Overview:

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

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

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

X-Factor for Trinity: QB Sonny Puzzo ’18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Else:

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

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

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

Final Score: Trinity 27, Amherst 13

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.

Battle Royale: Week Seven Power Rankings

It felt like it would never end, but the first six weeks of NESCAC football and the atrociously mismatched scheduling that came with it are in the past. With the exception of a couple of recent games, there have been few results that have made a serious impact on the league’s landscape. If this was a season of Game of Thrones, this upcoming week would be Episode 9, the penultimate episode of each season when everything hits the fan and we are left absolutely stunned. Everything is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

  1. Trinity

Yawn. Did anyone expect anything different? Trinity rolled Bowdoin 63-14 on Saturday, putting up 49 points in the first half while having the ball for barely 10 minutes. They took their foot off the gas after that and were able to give Max Chipouras ’19 and the rest of the starters an early shower in advance of next week’s tilt against Middlebury, but this was the type of Trinity performance that reminded people why they are a cut above the rest of the league right now. They’ve taken care of their business week in and week out and still sit in the driver’s seat. Needless to say, their trip to Middlebury this week is their biggest test of their season, but they continue to check all of the boxes of a championship team.

  1. Middlebury

The Panthers return to the number 2 spot following an equally comfortable win over Bates, a game in which they jumped out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back. 10 different Panther receivers caught passes, but their biggest concern is that they caught them from two different quarterbacks as Jared Lebowitz ’18 was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with some sort of lower body injury. While the game was already out of doubt, any fan of the league should hope it was merely a precaution, because without a healthy Lebowitz, Middlebury’s already slim chances of beating Trinity will be far slimmer. It’s do or die for Midd this week and they need to play their best game to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the NESCAC title.

With injuries overcoming Middlebury’s offense, the defense will have to step up against the Bantams.
  1. Amherst
Andrew Yamin
Andrew Yamin ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Perhaps the biggest winner of the week was the Mammoths, who knocked off Wesleyan in a come from behind 21-17 win in Amherst. Their then league leading offense never really got going, but Hasani Figueroa ’18’s 51 yard run with 1:27 left was enough to secure them their biggest win of the year to date. What was most impressive about this win was their ability to win a dirty, tight, defensive game. They scored less than 30 points for the first time all year but held Wesleyan’s offense to 197 total yards. The Picarillo-Breuler combination was completely shut down and although no one stood out offensively for Amherst, Andrew Yamin ’19 was an absolute monster on the other side of the ball, making 12 tackles—including 4.5 sacks. Being able to get that type of pressure next week against dual threat Ryan McDonald ’18 will be crucial if they want to get out of Somerville with a win, and the road doesn’t get any easier with Trinity and Williams to finish out the season, but Amherst is now one of the 3 teams with a shot at winning the league. I certainly wouldn’t count them out.

  1. Tufts

A big time bounce back week for Tufts, traveling to Williams and extinguishing a red hot Ephs squad. Ryan McDonald ’18 had a big time bounce back game, throwing for 336 and running for an additional 55. But the story of this one, and not for the first time, was the Tufts front 7, who were absolutely everywhere on Saturday, particularly in the Ephs backfield, racking up another 4 sacks to bring their total on the year to 25. It was consistent pressure from Micah Adickes ’18, Doug Harrison ’18 and co., as Bobby Maimaron ’21 was never really able to settle in, and in turn their offense could never really get going. It was a gritty road performance like this that reminded everyone why Tufts is such a good team in the first place. They have so much talent on defense, and their offense is starting to find a steady balance in ways to beat you. McDonald ’18 was his usual slippery self on the ground, but the way they were able to mix in Mike Pedrini ’20 on key short yardage plays was what allowed them to target big play threat Jack Dolan ’19 to the tune of 5 catches, 119 yards, and a touchdown. Other than Trinity, there is not an offense in the league right now that can boast this type of balance. Additionally, this is an experienced, senior-laden team, and I expect that to play a big role as they look towards the final stretch of their season, which, like everybody else, doesn’t get any easier.

  1. Williams

A bit of a deflating loss for Williams, as they too had championship aspirations following their buzzer beating win at Middlebury. Instead, they join the pack of 2 loss teams looking to finish out their season strong. As I mentioned previously, Tufts’ front 7 kept this offense in check for nearly all of the game, holding them to 13 points on 299 yards of total offense. One of the things that had made freshman standout Bobby Maimaron so successful was his ability to stay out of trouble, keeping plays alive with his legs and making other smart decisions that were key to their only taking 2 sacks through their first 5 games. But Tufts was able to get a steady stream of pressure all day long, limiting his options and consistently putting them in long yardage situations.

While it is only one loss and

TJ Dozier ’21 (7) has stepped up in the absence of Connor Harris ’18, but will need to become even more threatening if Williams wants to finish out the season strong against Wesleyan and Amherst.

doesn’t warrant an overreaction, there is cause for a little bit of concern in Williamstown. With top running back Connor Harris ’18 out for the year with a broken collarbone, this dynamic offense all of a sudden has a look of one dimensionality in the name of Frank Stola ’21, their big play wide receiver. TJ Dozier ’21 has been a strong deputy out of the backfield but will now need to step up as their feature back if they hope to continue putting up points.

Additionally, while any number of Eph wideouts have shown the ability to contribute, someone needs to emerge as a strong number 2 to Stola ’21 so that they can continue to hurt teams with their fast paced passing attack. Adam Regensburg ’18 and Justin Nelson ’21 are the two most likely candidates for that role, and a home game versus Hamilton is the perfect opportunity for them to figure it out, but with Little 3 foes Wesleyan and Amherst looming, this young breakout team will need to earn what they hope will be an equally strong finish to an already impressive season.

  1. Wesleyan

Last week I wrote that Wesleyan has the offensive capability to beat anyone, and they certainly didn’t do that on Saturday. Mark Picarillo ’19 was held to 129 passing yards and 0 touchdown passes, as Andrew Yamin ’19 and the rest of the Amherst defense sacked him 10 times. Their defense was impressive, as they had held the league’s top offense to 7 points through 3 quarters, but ran out of gas in the 4th when Amherst scored twice to eventually take the game. Picarillo ’19 was only able to find standout WR Mike Breuler ’18 3 times for 57 yards on a day for the offense to forget. The Cardinals will have a pretty good chance to clinch a winning record on the year when they play Bowdoin next week, but with Williams and Trinity to follow, this team is all of a sudden trending towards a potential 5-4 finish. It all depends on which offense shows up for Wesleyan. If it’s the one they brought to Amherst, they’re not spoiling anybody’s title plans.

  1. Hamilton

Catching their second win in a row this week was Hamilton, and they looked thoroughly unimpressive doing it. They allowed 24 points in the first half to the worst offense in the league, a Colby team whose previous season high in points was 7. It was 17-0 Colby before Hamilton woke up and began to play football. But nonetheless they were able to come back and eke out a win behind Kenny Gray ’20’s 3 second quarter TDs in a span of about 6 minutes that really turned the game around. The Conts now sit at 2-4, and with one more game against a team from Maine (Bates), should like their chances to get to 3-6—although those chances are a lot slimmer if they play like they did on Saturday. Bates’ offense has come a long way in the last two weeks, and if Hamilton’s defense starts like it did against Colby, Bates could bury them.

  1. Bates

Speaking of the Bobcats, they held their spot as the strongest first-grader this week following a comfortable shellacking against Middlebury. While Colby giving Hamilton a serious run for their money would warrant some consideration, but I’m sticking with Bates after another strong performance from Brendan Costa ’21 who has improved in each week he’s been the starting quarterback. 138 rushing yards on Saturday as well as 141 passing yards (a decent amount in a triple option scheme) and a TD, this kind of consistency and the closest thing to firepower any of these bottom three teams have is why I’m picking Bates to finish the year at 2-7. Their matchup against Colby will pit the league’s worst defense against the league’s worst offense, so who knows how that will end up. But Costa very well may be the best player on the field come Saturday, and that could make all the difference.

Brenden Costa ’21 has given the Bobcats life in and otherwise disastrous season.
  1. Colby

Colby moves up a spot here following their best performance of the season to date, a game in which they led 24-20 for much of the second half, before Mitch Bierman ’21 won the contest for Hamilton with just under 7 minutes to play. The Mules were treated to something they haven’t really had all year: good quarterback play. Jack O’Brien ’20 had by far his best game of the year, going 28-41 for 242 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Jake Schwern ’19 continues to give his best Chris Thompson impersonation, catching 10 balls out of the backfield while also leading the team in rushing. Unfortunately for Colby, most of that production came in the first half, and they left most of it in the locker room as they were shutout in the second. We will find out next week against Bates if this offense has made some actual adjustments and improvements, or if the first half against Hamilton was just a fluke.

  1. Bowdoin

We don’t have many rules here at Nothing but NESCAC, but one of our general guidelines is that if you’re a winless team and someone scores 63 on you, you’re last in the power rankings. We knew this was never going to be a game in Hartford, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. Trinity had their way with Bowdoin and it got ugly in a hurry—21-0 in the first nine minutes of the game. Not a whole lot more to add to this one, Bowdoin plays Wesleyan next week and they probably won’t win that one either. They can only hope to keep improving as a team and give themselves the best shot to catch a couple W’s against Bates and Colby.

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

 

Change is a Good Thing: Football Power Rankings Week 6

As the top half of the league spent the first half of this NESCAC season collectively pounding the state of Maine week after week, we were finally treated with a slate of games with legitimate championship implications, and it certainly lived up to the hype. With Trinity visiting Tufts and Middlebury welcoming Williams, as well as a pair of 0-4 teams in Hamilton and Bowdoin squaring off, Saturday was sure to make this rookie blogger’s Power Rankings debut a whole lot easier.

  1. Trinity
Dominque Seagears
Dominique Seagears ’18 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

There is one team in this conference that is undefeated and as long as that holds true, Trinity will remain at the top of these rankings. Max Chipouras ’18 logged a season high 165 rushing yards on 29 attempts and the Bantams defense was able to turn Tufts over 4 times, 3 of those being interceptions off of Ryan McDonald ’18. They once again had a new defensive MVP, this time in the form of defensive back Dominique Seagears ’18 whose 100 yard interception return for a touchdown surely flipped this game on its head. It’s hard to imagine Trinity sliding out of this spot after next week’s matchup at home against Bowdoin, but Middlebury the following weekend will be their biggest test to date.

2. Williams

What a week for the Ephs and again what a week for Bobby Maimaron ’21. Maimaron connected with classmate Frank Stola with 0 seconds left on the clock to stun previously undefeated Middlebury 27-26. Maimaron impressed again, racking up 288 total yards of offense and 3 TDs, earning his second consecutive NESCAC offensive player of the week honor. But I think the most impressive part about this Williams win was how they got it done. They were outgained 432-378, they didn’t force any turnovers on defense, and they found themselves down two scores with 9 minutes left in the game, but still managed a way to win. Despite the fact that Jared Lebowitz ’18 made perhaps his strongest case for being the best quarterback in the league and a continued recipient of compliments from this blog, it was once again the first year QB on the other side of the ball who shone the brightest, leading his team on a 12 play, 80 yard drive in just over two minutes to win what was the biggest game for Williams football in a long time. While Wesleyan and Amherst also sit at 4-1, it’s the Ephs who earn the top spot for one-loss teams with a resume that features a win on the road against a title contender in Middlebury and a single loss to undefeated Trinity in Hartford. Until Wesleyan and Amherst show that they can hang with the big boys, it’s Williams who will hold onto this spot. A lot of things need to fall their way for them to have a chance to win this thing, and while I don’t have the metrics in front of me, I would imagine that still having Tufts, Wesleyan, and Amherst remaining puts them towards the front of toughest remaining schedules, but there is no reason this team should have anything less than championship aspirations, especially after this week.

3. Middlebury

The Panthers were one play away from firmly planting themselves as the second horse in what looked as if could be a two horse race for the NESCAC, and this space would’ve been taken up with a discussion about 6-0 Middlebury vs. 6-0 Trinity in Week 7 after both teams steamroll Bates and Bowdoin respectively, but the defense couldn’t get a stop against Williams in the waning seconds on Saturday and instead find themselves amongst the rest of the one loss teams rooting for a Trinity loss (although aren’t we all rooting for a Trinity loss?). Unlike Amherst, whose loss against Middlebury a few weeks back raised as many questions about the actual quality of their team as much as it did their chances to get fitted for rings in November, this loss didn’t really do anything to make me feel that Middlebury can’t still sit atop the standings after 9 games. As I mentioned above, Middlebury still played great, Lebowitz ’18 was dynamite again, but Williams simply made more plays and won the game. This team is still a legitimate title contender, and although they can no longer go undefeated, their season was always going to boil down to Week 7 at Trinity. Win or lose against Williams, that was still going be the case. Beat the Bantams and they immediately become title favorites, lose to Trinity and start thinking about next year. This is still a very dangerous team.

4. Wesleyan

Wesleyan and Middlebury have the same record but Middlebury beat Wesleyan so they go ahead of them, nothing complicated about that. As much as it pains me to admit, I think this Wesleyan team is going to sneak up on someone in the next few weeks and be a serious spoiler in the title race. Yet the simple fact that I’m talking about a team that is tied for second as a potential spoiler and not a contender should tell you how much they’re flying under the radar. Their lone loss was a 30-27 Week 1 defeat to Middlebury in Middlebury, they beat Tufts at home, and they’ve taken care of their business against the bottom half of the league to find themselves at 4-1. Mark Piccirillo ’19 is probably the best player that no one is talking about, as his 388 passing yards against Bates kept him comfortably at the top of the passing charts, his 333.2 YPG first in the league. Piccirillo, however, also leads the league with 7 interceptions, and he is yet to have a game without one. If he can find a way to limit the turnovers, then this team is talented offensively to outscore any one team for 60 minutes. Mike Brueler ’18 has comfortably been the best WR in the league this year, running away with the gold medal for receptions and receiving yards, and still leading in touchdowns as well. If Piccirillo and Brueler bring their A game they can throw a wrench in someone’s title plans. While I don’t think they quite have it defensively this year to make a serious splash, I’m confident enough to know that they are going to play a crucial role in the outcome of this season.

Mark Piccirillo ’18 leads the league in passing yards per game with 332, and makes the Cardinals offense dangerous to anyone.

5. Amherst

This team gives me a headache. I simply don’t know what to make of them. They’ve scored no less than 31 points in a game all season, and they lead the league in scoring offense with 35.8 points per game. But these guys don’t seem to scare anybody this year. Maybe it’s because of the fact that there isn’t one guy on the offensive side of the ball that scares anybody. Jack Hickey ’19 leads the top rushing offense in the NESCAC, but only averages 79.4 yards a game as he is simply half of their two-pronged attack alongside Hasani Figueroa ’18. Maybe it’s because at this point in the year I don’t think there are a lot of people who have much hope for Reece Foy ’18 to return to the POY caliber player he was before his injury, and Ollie Eberth ’20’s name is not going to be one of the first to come up in a debate over who the best quarterback in the NESCAC is. Maybe it’s because they have 4 wins over the 4 worst teams in the league and lost to the only good team they played in Middlebury. Regardless of what it is, I don’t think there is a team in this league with more to prove than the Purple and White. Their four remaining opponents are a combined 16-4, with the “worst” of those teams being Tufts, and Ellis Oval is never a fun place to play. The matchup I’m most looking forward to this week is Wesleyan @ Amherst because I think it’s the matchup we will learn the most from. Amherst’s performance this week will be the strongest indicator yet of what kind team they’re shaping up to be, which is anywhere from a 4-5 team to an 8-1 team.

6. Tufts

Ahead of the Jumbos are 5 teams with better records, and below them are 4 teams with worse records, so slotting them in 6 was as easy as it gets this week. Tufts probably isn’t the 6th best team in this league, if I had to guess I think they’ll finish somewhere in the top 4, but as a product of some close games and outrageously lopsided scheduling to begin the season, this is where they stand. A loss to Wesleyan in Middletown in overtime, and a one possession loss to Trinity, a game in which they more than likely would’ve won if not for Dominque Seagears ’18’s 100 yard interception return for a touchdown, a play that turned what would’ve been a 14-7 score line in favor of Tufts into 13-7 the other way. But if we’re counting Williams’ 17-9 loss to Trinity as an impressive showing, then I suppose we have to feel this way about Tufts as well, who were able to put up more points on Trinity than any other team this year.

I know I sound like a broken record here, but this Tufts team’s deal isn’t different than any of the other teams chasing after the top. They have weapons on offense, and some guys on defense, but neither side is really dominant enough to put a scare in you. Ryan McDonald ’18 has proven his ability has a dual threat QB and Jack Dolan ’19 is as dangerous a big play threat as there is in the league, but they have yet to find a way to fill the Chance Brady sized hole in their ground game. McDonald carries for 76.4 yards a game, but it’s hard to really set the tone with a quarterback as your main rushing threat. Defensively, it seems like they have some talented guys, but it just hasn’t come together. The senior trio of monsters in Zach Thomas, Micah Adickes, and Doug Harrison all rank in the top 5 in the league in sacks, and the team itself is 1st with 21, but their ability to get to the quarterback hasn’t really amounted to much as they rank 5th in run defense and 6th against the pass. The Jumbos, like everybody else, have a remaining schedule that could go either way, as they are definitely capable of beating any of Williams, Amherst, Colby, and Middlebury. We will know a lot more about how good this team is after they visit Williams on Saturday.

7. Hamilton

Mitch Bierman
Mitch Bierman ’21 wins both the “Breakout Star of the Week” award and the “Looks Most Like Landry Clarke from FNL” Award. (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Someone had to win this game Hamilton-Bowdoin game and it was the Continentals who escaped from the pack of winless teams to go to 1-4. Kenny Gray ’20 continued his strong individual season going 20-34 for 240 yards and 3 TDs, but the real story on offense for Hamilton was the breakout game of first year running back Mitch Bierman who ran for a career high 158 yards on 22 carries, providing a balanced attack for their first win of the season. Although by all accounts it has been a disappointing season for Hamilton, they still have a really good chance to finish 3-6 and end the season on a high note. They have Colby and Bates at home, both matchups in which they are the better team, and then they travel to both Williams and Middlebury. I’m fairly confident in counting both of these games as losses, but if the Conts want to turn that into bulletin board material and maybe catch one of those two looking past them at other obstacles in their race to a title, then I’m sure that would also be a tremendous moment for them as a program, and Pete could hop right back on as the conductor of the “Hamilton is Good” train for the 2018 campaign.

8. Bates

As long as these three teams remain winless, which unfortunately looks like it might carry on for another week, the moral victory trophy is going to be handed out on a relative week by week basis. Colby got pasted at home by Amherst, Bowdoin lost to previously winless Hamilton at home, and Bates went to Wesleyan and scored 23 points in a loss, losing by the least. So they will occupy the highly coveted 8th spot for this week.

On a more serious football note, Bates did impress in their trip to Wesleyan. Their option attack showed signs of life as they logged 287 yards rushing. Brendan Costa ’21 had his best game as the Bates QB1 with 170 rushing yards, but most importantly didn’t turn the ball over once, a significant improvement from his 4 interceptions in Williamstown the week before. No one’s asking Costa to look like Cam Newton, but if they’re going to prioritize the run then they need to take better care of the ball in passing situations. The defense continues to get smoked, as they allowed 41 more points this week, which actually brings their average DOWN to 43.4 points allowed a week. I don’t have a spin zone for that, the defense is just downright bad, but the offense trended in the right direction this week. Their run of pain should come to an end after they host Middlebury this week (don’t get your hopes up folks), and we’ll see how they can finish up against Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton.

 9. Bowdoin

Nate Richam ’20 is hidden on an otherwise weak offense, but is one of the best running backs in the league.

Bowdoin lost to a previously winless team in Hamilton, and Colby got smoked by a quite decent team in Amherst, but the Polar Bears are going to occupy the 9 spot this week. I know I said that the moral victory trophy and 8th spot would be the decided on a relative week by week basis, but that’s not going to be the case at 9. Neither Bowdoin or Colby are any good, but Colby’s offense is so downright poor (5.4 points/184.2 yards a game), that it’s hard to justify putting them over anyone. We are at the point in the year for these bottom tier teams that you just have to find a couple of silver linings and focus on those. Nate Richam ’20 had some flashes of production, and first year quarterback Griff Stalcup ’21 played turnover free football. They are both obviously still young and hopefully can be two pillars to build on moving forward.

10. Colby

I really don’t have a whole to say here. Colby vs. the top offense in the NESCAC was always going to be ugly and Amherst didn’t disappoint, hanging 40 on the Mules. Just as Bates’ “holding” Wesleyan to 41 points lowered their points allowed average, Colby’s scoring 7 raised their offensive to a whopping 5.4 scored a game. This goes without saying but the biggest problem, among many, for this team is that they simply don’t have any weapons. Jake Schwern ’19 is both their leading rusher and their leading receiver, which is more of an indication that they have no one who can make plays downfield or a quarterback that can get it to them.

Luckily for Colby and Bowdoin, and Bates I guess, although my Maine sources tell me they are the third wheel in this whole Maine rivalry (just like Wesleyan in the Little Three even if they don’t realize it), is that they still have each other to look forward to, and any team with an archrival can tell you that having that game (or games) at the end of the season is like having your own championship or bowl game to play for. If Williams or Bowdoin went 1-7 last year but beat Amherst or Colby, respectively, in Week 8, it sure wouldn’t have felt like they went 1-7, and the same will go for these teams this year. They still have something to play for.