Well here we are. It’s 34 degrees outside, it’s supposed to snow next Tuesday, and another NESCAC football season has come and gone. And what a season it was. Trinity was supposed to use the rest of the league as target practice, and for the most part they did. But the Mammoths stunned them in Week Seven, and gave us one of the more exciting final weekends in recent memory. We had an incredible senior class that gave us highlights galore all year, and they will all be missed. But there are also talented young players who have the league set up for the future, especially the first year QB crew of Williams’ Bobby Maimaron, Amherst’s Ollie Eberth and Bates’ Brendan Costa.
However, the biggest story of the season might not have to do with the players at all. 2017 was the first season in which the teams played a full nine game schedule, ensuring that everyone played everyone else. I don’t know what the readers think, but to me it was a roaring success. The biggest reason that the final weekend was so exciting was that head-to-head play was such a factor. Amherst could have clinched the title with a win over Williams because of their win over Trinity, which gave them the tiebreaker. And Middlebury’s win over Tufts mattered because the tie breakers they had with Wesleyan and Amherst would have allowed them to share the title had Trinity lost. In the past, there’s a chance Amherst and Trinity wouldn’t have even played. Count us in as big fans of the ninth game.
Speaking of Williams, the Ephs have to be the other biggest story of the season. Last year, Williams went 0-8 and were outscored on the season 99-263. In the Biggest Little Game in America 2016, Williams lost 28-3. Fast forward a year, and Williams beat Amherst 31-24 to finish at 6-3 keep their hated rivals from a NESCAC title. Credit for this incredible turnaround has to go to Head Coach Mark Raymond. Raymond vaporized the culture of losing that had permeated the Williams locker room in about five minutes, and created one of the tougher teams in the league. They had wins over two of the best teams in the league (Amherst and Middlebury) in the two most exciting games of the year, showing their knack for clutch play. The culture that Raymond that has established in such a short time is borderline unbelievable. Coach of the Year is his by a mile.
Of course, the next most credit has to go to the players. Despite having the youngest team in the league, Williams showed that they’re already one of the elite teams in the league. QB Bobby Maimaron ‘21 is a star, adjusting his game to fit the opponent. Against Middlebury, he matched Jared Lebowitz ‘18 throw for throw to pick apart Middlebury’s iffy secondary. And against the dominant Amherst defense, he kept it on the ground and ran for four touchdowns, including the game winner in OT. In an offseason that will see the departure of three elite quarterbacks, Maimaron is the next superstar. With other impressive first years like WR Frank Stola, RB T.J Dozier and LB T.J Rothman, Williams may well be the favorite to win the title next season. Imagine saying that two years ago.
As I said earlier, this was a season full of stellar seniors. Wesleyan’s tandem of QB Mark Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler put up video game numbers all year, and forced some record book re-writing. Breuler ended the season with 87 receptions and 1167 yards, both records, and Piccirillo finished the season with a 70.4% completion percentage, top five in the country. These two stars might be the top two contenders for POY, but they weren’t the only stars who will be leaving the NESCAC sky. Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ‘18 closed his career with back to back NESCAC titles, and picked apart Wesleyan in his final game to the tune of 228 yards and three touchdowns (2 passing one rushing.) Puzzo is one of the most successful QB’s in recent NESCAC history.
And then there’s Jared Lebowitz. I promised myself (and every other writer) that I wouldn’t write this whole article about him, but just a few words. When he went down against Bates, he was having one of the best QB seasons in recent NESCAC history, with 18 touchdowns against just two interceptions. His matchup with Puzzo and Trinity is one of the great “what-ifs” of the season, as if he had played it might have been an all-time classic. No matter what, Lebowitz will go down as maybe the best of the Middlebury quarterback dynasty, and one of the best on any team. I may still vote for him as the Second Team QB (I kid, I kid.)
There’s one more, considerably less athletic graduating senior to mention; me. This will be my last season covering NESCAC football for this blog. I’m in the library and crying is frowned upon so I won’t write too much, but just know that this blog has been the best choice I’ve made in my college career. I got my start with football, and getting to write about the teams that I’ve grown up loving (Middlebury) and loathing (Amherst) is an incredible pleasure. To all the players, parents and fans, you’re the reason we do it, thank you for reading.
In the words of Bill Belichick, we’re on to basketball.
With Amherst knocking off Trinity last week in impressive fashion, a more dominant showing than the 28-20 final score would indicate, the Mammoths control their own destiny—win their final game and they are NESCAC champions. But that game is the 132nd installment of the Biggest Little Game in America, to be played out in Williamstown where the Ephs have a legitimate chance to defeat their archrival for the first time in a while. Led by a breakout freshmen class, Williams looks to have put their recent struggles in the past, and at 5-3 are certainly good enough to snap Amherst’s 6 game winning streak in the rivalry. With Amherst looking to clinch a championship, and Williams looking to send their seniors off in style and prevent any celebrating from being done on their own turf, this game is truly up for grabs.
Amherst couldn’t have been much happier with how they played last week, snapping Trinity’s 16 game win streak and leapfrogging over them to the top of the standings. While I admittedly did not give them much of a chance in last week’s preview, they did do all of the things I said they needed to do to knock off the Bants. They never let Max Chipouras ’19 get settled in for Trinity, which for him translated to 26 carries for “only” 92 yards and a touchdown. They forced Sonny Puzzo ’18 to beat them and he couldn’t, throwing for 172 yards and an interception. And Reece Foy ’18 hit James O’Regan ’20 for a 55 yard touchdown pass, which means we hit my keys to the game trifecta of:
1. Make someone other than Chipouras beat you
2. Force turnovers and short fields and
3. Hit a home run play on offense.
This Amherst team is legit. It may have taken 8 weeks and a lot of badgering from the Facebook comment sections to make us say that, but following their performance against Trinity they have truly proven themselves. Their lack of a superstar QB and the fact that Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 split carries for their dominant rushing attack mean that no one on their offense really jumps out at you, and they don’t have the depth of dangerous playmakers on defense that teams like Trinity and Tufts do, but they’re legit. They have the best offensive line in the league, the best linebacking corps in the league, and probably the best group of cover corners in the league as well.
But they will be tested in every which way by this Williams team. QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WR Frank Stola ’21, and the rest of the weapons on Coach Raymond’s offense can put points up in a hurry, and you just know they’ll have some tricks up their sleeve for this one. Their defensive line started out really strong, but has faded in recent weeks. If they can return to their early season form, and link up with their linebackers, who have been really good in their own right all year, this game is going to come down to the wire. This rivalry has been quite one-sided for more than half a decade now, but that’s not going to be the case on Saturday.
Amherst X-Factor: WR James O’Regan ’20
Their leading receiver in every statistical category except for the fact that he has one less reception than Bo Berluti ’19 (36), O’Regan ’20 might be the most under appreciated skill player in the NESCAC. His 18.7 yards per catch lead the league and his ability to stretch the field vertically is one of the factors that have gone into Hickey and Figueroa’s success on the ground. The weak spot in the Williams defense is their cornerbacks. They’ve combined for 1 interception, and it was a desperation heave to the back of the end zone against Hamilton. Four different Wesleyan receivers had receptions of 20+ yards, and if O’Regan can hit them for big plays like that, it’s going to be really hard for them to key in on the Amherst run game like they’re going to want to.
Fortunately for O’Regan, at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, he is going to have a huge advantage over whichever cornerback Williams chooses to throw at him. Desmond Butler ’19 is 5’11 and Amhyr Barber ’19 is 5’10. It doesn’t get any bigger at the safety position, so unless they plan on throwing a linebacker like 6’2″ 205 TJ Rothman ’21 on O’Regan in select packages and losing arguably their best run stopper, it is simply going to be an uphill battle for whoever matches up with O’Regan. Everything is set up for him to have a big day.
Williams X-Factor: DE Jameson DeMarco ’19
There were a lot of options for this pick, as is the case when you play a really good team. But beating Amherst begins and ends with stopping the run. TJ Rothman ’21 (3rd, 79), Jarrett Wesner ’21 (7th, 65), and Luke Apuzzi ’20 (9th, 63), all rank in the top ten in the league in tackles, but as those numbers indicate, there’s no doubt that they’ll bring it on Saturday. Instead, it’s the Williams defensive front that needs to really step it up, and DeMarco is going to need to lead that unit. DeMarco leads the team in sacks with 4.5 and is second on the team in tackles for loss, but a lot of those numbers came earlier in the year. This defense made a big splash in Week 3 when they held Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19 to just 80 yards on 28 carries, by far his most inefficient game of the season, and DeMarco was the main culprit behind that effort, going for 7 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss. Williams as a team hasn’t been tested against a traditional rushing attack really at all since they faced Trinity, being matched up against aerial threats like Middlebury’s Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo ’19, or dual threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19 at Tufts.
While it’s a small sample size, just one game, it was against the league’s best running back in Chipouras, and their performance against a smash mouth back like him should give them confidence in being able to stop Hickey and Figueroa. They have other playmakers on their D-Line such as DeMarco’s counterpart DE Austin Thomas ’19, and NT Chris Hattar ’18, that will be relied on to stop Amherst’s offense, but DeMarco has done it before and he needs to do it again on Saturday.
This is going to be a really fun one. The biggest Division III rivalry in the country, and one of the biggest in all of collegiate sports, two exciting, talented teams, and a championship on the line. While College Gameday isn’t going to be in Williamstown this week, this is probably the most exciting installment of this rivalry to take place in the Berkshires since Chris, Lee, and Herbie came to town in 2007. This time last year Williams was 0-7 and Amherst was 3-4. But now the two teams find themselves in much different, better places. Williams has turned 0-7 into 5-3 with some new young stars, and Amherst, after flying under the radar all season, finds itself needing to win one game to win a league title, with the chance to celebrate it on their hated nemesis’s field.
Like any football game really, all eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks. With it being both Amherst’s Ollie Eberth ’20 and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron ’21’s first experience under center in this rivalry, it will be interesting to see how they handle the nerves that come with it. But Eberth ’20 has impressed week in and week out, passing every test along the way, and Maimaron has rarely looked like a freshman this fall. I think both young quarterbacks, and both teams really, will come out and play their best games. Both teams are well coached and in the last week of the season, should be the most prepared they’ve been all year.
This game will probably be decided by something as simple as who takes care of the ball better and commits less turnovers. There is enough playmaking on both teams that any of 8-10 guys could be the hero in what will be an otherwise pretty even game (Amherst has the better offensive line and secondary, but it’s just about a wash everywhere else). I may be biased, but if Pete was doing this preview he’d find a way for Middlebury to win the game so I’ll survive (Editor’s Note: Actually if Williams wins this game, Middlebury has a chance to tie for the league title, so Middlebury could actually be won of the winners in this one.) Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his favorite target, classmate Frank Stola ’21, will end their explosive freshman seasons in style, conjuring up the same late game magic they brought to Midd in Week 5, and the Ephs will eke one out in the 30 degree weather on Homecoming, ending a 6 game win streak and Amherst’s title hopes in style.
What a weekend! Here we go, headed into the first ever Week Nine with the NESCAC championship hanging in the balance. After Amherst’s 28-20 victory over the previously undefeated Trinity Bantams, the Mammoths are in first place and in control of their own destiny. However, Amherst has no easy task in their game against Williams, who surprisingly got blown out by Wesleyan 35-0. Middlebury knocked off Hamilton (41-20), and Tufts routed Colby easily (28-14), each showing a bit more fight than expected. Bates was able to defeat Bowdoin 24-17, winning the CBB for the fourth straight year. There is a lot in store for this coming weekend, with lots of potential tiebreakers on the table, but these rankings focus on where teams are now. Heading into the last week with a leapfrog at the top of the standings, this is how things shake out:
I didn’t expect to see another team other than Trinity in this spot all year, let alone Amherst. When I wrote off Amherst earlier in the season, I considered only their lack of a superstar at QB, making it difficult to win the league. While Ollie Eberth is solid, teetering on elite, he is not as good as Trinity’s Sonny Puzzo. With the NESCAC being a QB centric league, a team at the top of the standings without the best QB is a bit puzzling. With their victory over Trinity, the Mammoths proved that defense can rule all as this team’s ability to stop the run puts them over the top. Andrew Yamin and John Callahan had big games on Saturday, collecting a sack and five tackles for a loss between them, limiting RB Max Chipouras to just 3.5 yards per carry. Amherst has a stellar defense, QB depth, a solid receiving group, and a top back in Jack Hickey. It’s there for the taking; bring it home, Mammoths.
Let’s be clear—Trinity is not far below Amherst. A one possession loss as their only slip up as the entire season is not exactly a cause for drastic distance in these ranks. Chipouras struggled but is still the best RB in the league and won’t be stopped this weekend. Sonny Puzzo is still one of the top three QBs in the NESCAC despite an INT. Trinity’s defense is still by and large the best in the league, but matched up poorly against the deep Amherst rushing attack. Amherst has a better rush D, but Trinity still has the best secondary and has allowed the fewest points all year—the main goal for defenses. They were bested on Saturday by two Jack Hickey rushing TDs, one Eberth rushing TD, and a Reece Foy passing TD. Trinity could still win it all with a win against a hot Wesleyan team and an Amherst loss, but they are second this week. Let it sink in, folks, the winning streak is over.
I was quite critical of Wesleyan after their poor offensive performance in their 21-10 victory against Bowdoin in week seven. They really proved me wrong. Like really, really did the opposite of what I thought. And that’s one of the reasons why college football is so great and why I don’t get paid. QB Mark Piccirillo flipped the switch in their 35-0 trouncing of a great Williams team, winning NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week and accounting for four TDs (two throwing, two rushing). The Cardinal defense also picked off Bobby Maimaron twice, big steps if they are to have a chance against Trinity this week. Sans Dario Highsmith, their offense proved that it is not to be trifled with, beating a much better defense than that of the Polar Bears who they struggled against. They made adjustments, kept the ball in Piccirillo’s hands more and trusting his decision-making. They should do the same in their finale against Trinity, he’s proven himself.
While Colby (0-8) is not good at football, Tufts (5-3) had some bright spots in their 28-14 win. Ryan McDonald looked a little bit iffy, but still ran the ball well, accumulating 65 yards, giving way to Ryan Hagfeldt later in the game. Mike Pedrini was a work horse in the game, rushing 31 times for 135 yards. His development into a more established and reliable back for the Jumbos should make 2018 very interesting. The Tufts secondary, namely Alex LaPiana (INT), Brett Phillips (INT) , and Tim Preston (two INTs) were on fire against the Mules, giving hope for a final win against Midd this weekend. They have been a bit inconsistent this season, putting up some duds, but also beating Williams—so what they bring to the table is a bit up in the air. They look to have a top tier QB, a true starting RB, decent receivers, and a good secondary—a recipe for success against the current Midd team.
You might be thinking how could a three loss team (Tufts) possibly be above a two loss team (Midd is now 6-2 after beating Hamilton)? Well for one, it’s boring to just rank teams off of their overall records—if that’s how it was then you wouldn’t need rankings and could just look at the standings. Secondly, these rankings are about where team are now not where they were earlier in the season and what their aggregate season totals are. Jack Merservy would be in the ‘Stock Up’ category if this was a stock report, but it isn’t. He is still unproven—Hamilton isn’t good—and Tufts’ Ryan McDonald is proven. The run game for the Panthers just isn’t there. Diego Meritus finally had a solid game in an injury hampered season, but they still are comparably weaker to the other top teams. Their receivers are still awesome, but their defense performed weakly against a first time Continental QB and a below average RB in Mitch Bierman. Crazily enough, they still could win a share of the NESCAC title if they beat Tufts, Trinity loses to Wesleyan, and Amherst loses to Williams. Of course, that share of the title would be based on their past successes and not how good they are right now without Jared Lebowitz.
This ranking wasn’t too difficult and it looks as if the Ephs are locked into their sixth place spot for the season. A 35-0 defining loss to Wesleyan surely spells the end of the magic for this young and coming team. They have dropped 2-3 games to teams that they were favorites against (Tufts and Wesleyan) and sit at 5-3 after a blistering start to the season. QB Bobby Maimaron had his first collegiate football hiccups after throwing two picks and for just 51 yards and zero points. It was bad all around for the Ephs and they looked as bad as they did last year in week eight. Let’s hope that they salvage their morale and promise for next season with a solid closing performance against Amherst.
The Bobcats and Hamilton are essentially tied for this seventh spot, but Bates (2-6) takes the cake with the hot hand. They really embodied their offensive style against Bowdoin, totally giving up on throwing and dominating the ground for a 24-17 win. Part of that was surely a factor of the score of the game and weakness of their opponent, but it’s cool to see such dynamic rushers getting high volumes of chances. They attempted five passes and 51 rushes, accumulating 367 yards of offense, 344 from the rush. Brendan Costa ’21, a wildcat, RB in QB form, elusive player, showed the Polar Bears what he’s made of with 170 of those yards. While they didn’t see another up and coming QB in Griff Stalcup—a huge bummer as a 2021 QB matchup would’ve been pretty sweet—they still shut down the more experienced Noah Nelson. The final week will settle this battle with Hamilton in the rankings as it will decide, truly, who is the best of the rest.
Another decent offensive performance against a top team and another loss, 41-20. It’s been a tough season for this team (2-6) in that they have looked like they are ready to pull off an upset but can never really get over the hump to win against a team not named Bowdoin or Colby. They were never in the game against Midd, but at least scored some garbage time points. Their defense is their biggest weakness, as 41 straight Panther points spelled a quick doom for the Continentals. Sam Foley made his first start of the year and did alright, finding Joe Schmidt and Connor Cates frequently, collecting a TD and 276 yards in the air. The second and third tiers of their defense—linebackers and DBs—stood no chance against the Midd receivers. While they beat Bowdoin and Colby just like Bates, they haven’t been able to limit opposing offenses and could easily let Costa run all over them.
While I am uncertain about the nature of Griff Stalcup’s absence from their week eight loss, it’s easy to say even without him, the Polar Bears are better than Colby. Finally, one of these teams will get into the win column, and if Stalcup is playing, it will likely be Bowdoin. Bowdoin consistently puts up double digit points regardless of their opponent, and has manageable if not good receivers. In what is Bryan Porter’s and Nick Vailas’ last games, whoever throws the ball will throw to them. They are the playmakers putting Bowdoin over Colby and should take them into the 1-8 promise land.
This has been a season of despair for a team that represented a guaranteed win for all other NESCAC teams in 2017. Jack O’Brien tried to make a push towards a mid-tier QB level, but threw too many picks to do so. Jake Schwern tried to establish himself as a reliable back but lacked the efficiency. LB Sebastien Philemon and DB Don Vivian tried to tackle every single opponent and pick off every pass, but had zero help. They didn’t have depth, consistency, playmakers, or hope. Sorry, Mule fans, start hoping for a good class of 2022 and strong recoveries for the injured offensive linemen in your football futures as this program needs to rebuild.
After what seemed like an eternity, Week 8 in the NESCAC awoke us from what had been a 7 week snooze fest. Trinity finally fell, Amherst roared to the front, and everything in the middle is really starting to shape up. With a champion still yet to be crowned, however, and a lot of spots to be settled in the standings, let’s see who’s playing their best football at the right time.
I don’t know at what point over my two decades of being a Patriots fan I realized that Bill Belichick was a genius and some sort of football savant, but I’ve never felt more confident in that opinion than after Saturday afternoon in Middletown. Following a visit from the legendary head coach during practice in the lead up to the game, Wesleyan absolutely trounced Williams 35-0. Bill Belichick has done some truly exceptional things in his football career, famous for turning late round draft picks and free agent cast offs into stars, but motivating this Wesleyan defense to pitch a shutout against a standout and prolific Williams offense, holding them to just 127 (127!) yards of total offense, as well as rallying Mark Picarillo ’19 to turn in his best game of the season, 26-32 for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as 69 more yards and two more touchdowns with his feet, all without starting running back Dario Highsmith ’20, might be his most impressive.
Great to have Wes Alum Coach Belichick come talk to the team before big game against Williams! #ChooseGreatness#RollCards pic.twitter.com/EnhnxPjG4a
Trinity had a chance to clinch the league at Pratt Field on Saturday, but Amherst showed up in a big way to snap their 16 game win streak. Instead, Amherst finds itself holding the head to head tiebreaker between the two 7-1 teams. Now the league championship will be settled in Williamstown on Saturday, where Amherst and Williams will play what should be their most exciting game in years. If Amherst wins, they’ll be league champs. If Trinity wins and Amherst loses, then everyone will lose their minds trying to figure out tiebreakers between potentially 4 two loss teams. Either way, the league being decided in its most famous rivalry is a whole lot better than Trinity having already locked it up. Amherst @ Williams and Trinity @ Wesleyan will be must watch games.
Tufts’ Balance Heading into 2018
Sitting at 5-3 and mathematically eliminated from championship contention, Tufts has begun looking forward towards next year, and they should have a lot to be excited about. Understandably so, they may never fill the hole Chance Brady ’17 left in their backfield, but following RB Mike Pedrini ’21’s 135 yard and 3 TD performance against Colby, they can see that it is slowly being repaired. If Pedrini can continue to produce like he has of late, the idea of the Jumbos returning dual-threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19, Pedrini, and top WR Jack Dolan ’19 for 2018 should project them to be one of, if not the, top offense in the league next year.
Bates’ 24-17 victory over Bowdoin clinched their 4th straight CBB title, as the Bates senior class became the first class in the 123 year history of Bates football to go a combined 8-0 against Bowdoin and Colby. Things have been bleak in Lewiston for most of the year, but I would imagine this has to feel pretty good.
Morale in Williamstown
I think a lot of people thought this year’s matchup against Wesleyan was going to go differently than last year’s, a 59-14 final that would have been a lot worse had Wesleyan Head Coach Dan DiCenzo not called off the dogs at 56-14, which was the score at halftime. Williams’ rapid turnaround under second year Coach Mark Raymond, and the breakthrough of QB Bobby Maimaron ’21 and the rest of their stud freshman class (way too many to name, seriously) has been one of the stories of this season, but they were certainly brought down to Earth after a 35-0 drubbing. They need to turn things around in a hurry to give their senior class a legitimate chance (which they have) to beat Amherst for the first time in their careers, and 6-3 sounds a whole lot better than 5-4.
It’s coming to an end, folks. Just one more week in what has turned out to be quite a season in the NESCAC. Winter sports have started up and pretty soon all the pristine turf fields around New England’s elite small colleges will be draped in snow. As mentioned earlier, this is shaping up to be quite the finale, so enjoy it while you can.
The story of Williams’ rapid resurgence has been the stellar play of their first years. TJ Rothman ’21 and Jarrett Wesner ’21 share the team lead in tackles with 38 each, anchoring a defense that is 2nd in the NESCAC in both points allowed and yards allowed. 5 different first years have found the end zone already this season, led by Frank Stola ’21’s 5 to go along with his 632 all-purpose yards, which are 2nd in the league as well.
But as is the case for almost all good teams, it starts and ends with the quarterback position, and that has been no different for the Ephs, who have had stellar quarterback play from rookie Bobby Maimaron ’21. Off to an already impressive start, Maimaron turned in the best performance of his short college career when he exploded for 334 yards of total offense and 4 TDs in a 47-14 trouncing of Bates, a showing that earned him his first NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Through 4 weeks, Maimaron has thrown for 7 touchdowns and added another with his feet, but most importantly has only turned the ball over twice, a huge reason why Williams has jumped out to a 3-1 start, quickly putting last year’s winless campaign in the rearview mirror.
Maimaron, from Duxbury, MA, came into Williams with a lot of buzz. Named the 2016-17 Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year, Maimaron broke the state passing touchdown record, throwing for 122, 40 of which came in his senior year, in addition to winning the MIAA Division II State championship. Despite having his sights set on the Ivy League, he made the choice to commit to Coach Raymond and Williams before his senior season started. “I just wanted to make a decision and get it out of the way, so I could focus on the season. The Ivy’s, they kept putting me off, telling me ‘We’ll let you know next week’, then the week after that, the week after that. Once Harvard took another quarterback I chose Williams. They were the first school to start recruiting me, and I really liked Coach Raymond and the rest of the staff, they’re great people and it’s such a great school”. But he didn’t exactly show up on day 1 of camp as the anointed starter. “I figured I had a good chance to win the job coming in. I had played in a spread offense in high school and thought I would be able to pick up on this system pretty quickly”, Bobby said, but added that “to be honest with you, I didn’t really know what the competition was going to look like”.
An injury to his leg kept him out of camp for a week, adding another challenge to the already difficult task of transitioning to playing college football, as well as living on his own for the first time. The NESCAC’s practice rules mean that the football team, as well as the rest of the fall athletes, move in at the same time as everybody else. So once he got all settled in, it was time to jump right into football. “It was tough having to get up at 7 and have practice and meetings and other team stuff all day, and then back to my room at 11, exhausted, and have to study and try to learn more new plays on offense, and just do that for 10 days in a row basically. Being out because of my leg for a week, I just felt helpless, like there wasn’t a lot I could do except continue to learn the offense”.
But Maimaron, was able to come back in time and win the job for Week 1 at home against Bowdoin. It took the offense a little bit to get going, but early in the second quarter Maimaron and Frank Stola ’21 connected for a 93 yard touchdown pass to put the Ephs up 7-0, leading to an eventual 28-14 win in which Maimaron threw for 283 yards and 2 TDs. “When Frankie broke that tackle, and we were able to get that first [touchdown] off of our backs, it just gave us so much confidence, and kind of vindicated us starting 6 freshmen [on offense], and that’s kind of carried through so far. I feel so much more confident now than I did that first game against Bowdoin, it feels like a different game now”.
Maimaron and his fellow stand out classmates have given Williams a lot to get excited about, not just for the next four years, but for this season as well. The Ephs are in an interesting spot. Though they are 3-1, their three wins have come against Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, who are a combined 0-12. Their game against Trinity, an ugly 17-9 loss, was their only real test of the year, one that many feel they passed, despite the outcome. But a trip to Middlebury this week to face the 4-0 Panthers is a real chance for them to prove just how good they feel they can be. “We’re excited for this week” Maimaron said, “we’ve gotten so much better over this first month and a half, and we want to show it in our remaining games against some good teams”. If the Ephs continue to improve week to week as they have so far this year, it is not unrealistic to think that they could win 7 or 8 games. None of these freshmen have looked like freshmen, and as long as Maimaron continues to set that tone, the sky is the limit for this group. It will certainly be something to keep an eye on in the Purple Valley.
The NESCAC schedule this season seems to share a structure with the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There is a first half that is somewhat formulaic and drags on forever, and then a second half that blows it all out of the water with incredible drama, despite some dull plot holes . The first half of the season featured good teams playing bad teams, and now the good teams play the good teams and the bad teams play the bad teams. This is obviously the time in which the championship will be decided, so let’s see where the teams stand heading into the “Judy” half of the season (watch the movie folks!)
Until Trinity loses, they have earned the top spot in the rankings. They have the best running back in the league in Max Chipouras ‘18, the third best quarterback in the league in Sonny Puzzo ‘18 (dm us on Twitter, I can defend my claims,) and a defense that seems to have a new MVP every week. Recently, it has been the linebacking corps that has stepped up. The secondary has been impenetrable all year, giving up only 126 passing yards per game, a very impressive stat in the pass-heavy NESCAC. But the rush defense is rounding into shape. Linebackers Shane Libby ‘19 and Dago Picon-Roura ‘19 have stuffed rushing attacks to the tune of 98 rushing yards per game. And it’s a good thing they did, because Williams has a tremendously underrated rushing attack. Stopping Connor Harris ‘18 and freshman weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21 was the key to Trinity surviving a strong upset bid. The season is about to get interesting for the Bantams. They haven’t played any of the upper tier yet, which has contributed to their aura of invincibility. But with Tufts this weekend, that will change. That rush defense will again be tested by Ryan McDonald ‘20. And, through no fault of their own, they have a legitimate challenger in Middlebury, and their matchup with the Panthers in two weeks looms.
Speaking of the Panthers, they are starting to look as dominant on offense as Trinity does on defense (and pretty formidable on defense as well.) To continue my quest to compliment Jared Lebowitz ‘18 in every article, he has raised his level of play past even where it was last year. We wrote at the beginning of the season that the key to Middlebury’s title hopes would be taking care of the ball, and Lebowitz only has two interceptions this year after having five at this point last season. Additionally, in Wesleyan and Amherst, Middlebury has played two of the best defenses in the league. Lebowitz has not dominated those games. Against Amherst he only had 205 yards, and against Wesleyan he only completed 50% of his passes. But in those two games he has 6 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, lo and behold, Middlebury has won both games.
Lebowitz not turning the ball over has allowed Middlebury to win games in other ways. Jimmy Martinez ‘19 is a combination of Tyreek Hill and a Power Ranger in the return game. He’s so terrifying that teams would rather squib kicks than give him the chance to run them back. This gives Lebowitz the Panthers excellent starting field position. And the defense, after struggling against Wesleyan in the fourth quarter in Week One, has become one of the most explosive units in the league. They scored two touchdowns against Amherst, including one from LB Wesley Becton ‘18, who is quickly becoming a First Team candidate. The unit leads the league in interceptions, and have done it against elite competition, unlike Trinity.
The Amherst Football redemption tour bus hit a pothole last weekend when they dropped a key home game to Middlebury. A win against the Panthers would have put them in a great position to at least split the league title; now they’ll need some help from the teams remaining. Defense was not the problem for the Mammoths against Middlebury. They held the vaunted Middlebury offense to just 287 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. And the three passing touchdowns that the Panthers produced were heavily aided by 3 Amherst interceptions. One of those came from starter Ollie Eberth ‘21, but two came from Reece Foy ‘18. Herein lies Amherst’s problem. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Foy is not ready to be the player he was before his injury last off-season. Eberth is a great talent, but the prospect of beating Trinity with a first year QB is not a promising one. Amherst has the best rushing attack in the league, with Jack Hickey ‘19 and Hasani Figueroa ‘18 (189 yards combined against Middlebury.)Amherst should up both of their carries to make up for the inconsistencies at QB, but you can’t beat teams like Middlebury or Trinity without a well-rounded offense.
I really wanted to put the Cardinals ahead of Amherst here, but after the outcry against the Stock Report I thought better of it. The Cardinals offense continued to fly high last weekend against Colby, as did the remarkable season of QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18. He is tied with Lebowitz for the league lead in touchdowns and passing yards per game, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the country at over 70%. He does have a propensity for interceptions (6 already on the year,) and that hurt them in their opening loss to Middlebury. Their rushing attack is coming together nicely as Dario Highsmith ‘20 continues to flash huge potential, and they might even be able to give him more carries and keep some pressure off of First Team Candidates Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler ’18.
For Wesleyan, the fault is not in their stars, dear Brutus, but in their defense. The stats are solid (between third and fourth in the league in yards and points per game,) but they are not as dangerous as they were last season. The unit has only forced four turnovers on the season, the lowest of the top teams, and that includes none against Middlebury. That may seem like a bit of a nit-picky complaint against a unit that has only given up 15 points per game despite playing Middlebury and Tufts already, but it matters. They simply haven’t been as dangerous on defense as Middlebury and Trinity have, and that is why they’re just outside of the upper echelon.
I know that Bates’ defense make every team they play look like me in online Madden (that is, unbeatable,) but Williams’ performance last week.was still impressive. They put up 590 yards of total offense, including 289 rushing yards, and 47 points, the second most in the league this year. Bobby Maimeron ‘21 continued his star turn in his freshman year, and Frank Stola ‘21 netted 172 and two touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions against the overmatched Bates offense. It was an all around domination that showed just how far Williams has come from being one of the worst teams in the league just last season. Something to watch for out of this game was the emergence of versatile weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21. After not playing in the first three games, the speedy receiver exploded for 85 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Between him and Connor Harris ‘18, Williams has two explosive backfield options who can break games with their speed. The Ephs are very much here to stay, and have another chance to notch a huge upset this weekend in Middlebury. The Panthers should be very wary.
Tufts has done nothing to deserve being dropped in the rankings. I’m just getting that out the way now before Rory and Sid text me and call me names. They suffered a tough loss to Wesleyan in Week Two, and since then have beaten up on lower tier teams, just like the teams above them on this list. Ryan McDonald ‘18 is the best dual-threat QB in the league, averaging over 90 rushing yards per game in addition to 220 passing yards. However, he is their entire offense. RB Dom Borelli ‘19 has struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year, and they lack an explosive playmaker outside of swiss army knife WR Jack Dolan ‘18. This is what separates them from the likes of Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan. They don’t have enough other weapons to win when they face a team that has the athleticism on defense to stop McDonald. Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst all have that.
The Continentals have got to be a little frustrated, both in the schedulers and in themselves. For a couple years they’ve been amassing young talent, and it looked as if they, not Williams, would be the team to rise up out of the bottom tier and take on the big dogs. And after a close loss to Tufts in Week One, the “Hamilton is good now” train (on which I was the conductor) took off a little prematurely. Hamilton still hasn’t won a game yet this season, despite exciting young players such as QB Kenny Gray ’20 and WR Joe Schmidt ’20. However, they have also had to play all of those “big dogs” pretty immediately, and right in a row. Hamilton has played, in this order, Tufts, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity. So their record and anemic defensive and rushing statistics can be partially attributed to a young team playing very good teams early in the season. In the second half, they still have Middlebury, but they also finally play teams like Bates and Colby, whom they should beat. Look for Hamilton to grab some wins in the next couple weeks.
Here we are, the bottom tier. Bowdoin gets the “moral victory” trophy for being at the top of this group on the strength of their surprisingly solid rushing attack, led by Nate Richam ’20, who in his sophomore year is averaging 71 yards per game on five yards per carry. He doesn’t get a lot of red zone chances, as Bowdoin’s quarterback play has been less functional than the Trump White House and just as hard to watch. But in Richam, Bowdoin has the semblance of an identity, a power running team that works hard for every possession. They also have played a very difficult schedule thus far, and should use the second half to work on this identity.
These bottom two teams are both here for opposite, and historically bad reasons. For Colby, it is their offense. They don’t seem to have one. Colby has only scored 20 points all season, for an average of five per game. They only have 786 total yards, or to phrase it differently, nearly five hundred fewer than Jared Lebowitz has on his own. These numbers are bad no matter who they’ve played, and doesn’t bode well for even the easier games in the second half.
Three out of the five highest scoring games this season have come against the Bobcats. The Bobcats just gave up 590 yards to Williams, which is the equivalent of giving up 985 yards to Trinity. Bates recently gave up 75 yards on the ground and a touchdown to the dog from Air Bud, who died several years ago (sorry.) Bates’ defense hasn’t gotten much help from the offense, which has ten turnovers. I do like the direction Bates is trending in, as they have entirely given their season over to building up young QBs Matt Golden ’20 and Brendan Costa ’21. This second half should be about auditioning those two for the QB of the future role. Bates has no hope of winning any games this year if their defense doesn’t approach mediocrity real soon.
Finally a solid game in week 4 between Amherst and Middlebury. As I predicted, Midd came out on top, but not for the reasons that I had thought. In the rest of the league, things went as expected, and Williams continued their rise into the top tier of the NESCAC, seeing their young players continue to make plays leaps and bounds ahead of the Ephs timetable for rebuilding. The future is now, and they are the real deal. The rest of the league performed pretty ordinarily, but some individual performances, both good and bad, are noteworthy.
Middlebury needed to get a shout out here after beating their second top NESCAC team of the season, improving to 4-0. With wins against Wesleyan and Amherst, they now only have Tufts and Trinity (Williams is still TBD) as daunting opponents. While their receiving depth has been my favorite part of the team this season, offering Jared Lebowitz ’18 all the targets he could ask for, the running game is showing development, and the secondary is turning it on. With Diego Meritus ’19 still out (I keep hearing week in and week out he is coming back the next game—I no longer trust my sources) they still managed to make an impact on the ground with several different backs these last few weeks. Their secondary picked off Reece Foy twice and turned them into pick-sixes, putting the Panthers over the edge. Wesley Becton and Kevin Hopsicker joined the long list of Midd players that are now big time playmakers and with such depth, Trinity should watch out.
Williams Rushing Attack
While Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his fellow young Eph receivers have been the subject of high praise early on this year, for good reason, the run game showed against Bates last weekend that it deserves press recognition too. Rashad Morrison made the most out of his five carries on Saturday as he rushed for 85 yards (17 per carry!), while fellow teammates Connor Harris, Maimaron, and Steve Bohling accumulated a combined 174 additional yards. Each of Williams’ top four rushers averaged over five yards per carry, and while it was against a weak Bobcat defense, these numbers are still significant as they will need a balanced offensive attack to compete against Midd and Tufts in their upcoming games.
1. Amherst’s Title Hopes
And another undefeated team has fallen. This turned out to be a 35-31 one possession result, but in reality it wasn’t as close as the box score indicates. This game, played on the Mammoths’ home turf, was 35-17 with just over 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and if it wasn’t for two unanswered Amherst TDs then it would’ve looked like an easy win for Midd. This was Ollie Eberth’s first test against a solid opponent and he did fine–not great, not bad. He has limited running capabilities but really throws well to James O’Reagan. And with solid games from both Jack Hickey and Hasani Figueroa, their ground game was awesome. Here is the problem: They won’t be able to outscore Trinity, and Lebowitz was still able to have a solid day under center despite only 14 offensive points scored. Their defense is good, but not Trinity-esque, and with one loss already on their record, they need to go through the Bantams to have a shot at the title. What they needed was vintage Reece Foy. Up until last weekend, I believed that after working back in to live action slowly, they could again see the former POY candidate as his old self. However, after a brief two INT performance lacking any spark (-2.2 yards per rush), he doesn’t look to be the guy to take them to the top. Amherst is still a solid team in this conference, but won’t win any rings this year and now lack the potential to knock off the top teams that glimmered whenever Foy’s name was mentioned. They showed some hope in their rush defense against Midd, and they will need to bring that again and then some to stop Dario Highsmith this weekend.
This is similar to the stock down report on the unsurprising results from a week ago, but it really is something that disappoints me as a fan of the underdog. There has not been a single real upset in NESCAC football this year. Sure, Williams is now a contender and wasn’t last year (far from it as they were winless) but it didn’t shock anybody when they beat fellow second tier teams from a year ago in Bates, Colby, and Bowdoin. Their good performance against Trinity and Hamilton’s near win against Tufts were almost upsets, but they didn’t happen. So I’m sticking to my guns and saying that not a single upset has happened in 2017. Not one bottom tier team has beaten a top tier team. Even Amherst, a team caught in the middle of the NESCAC last year, couldn’t beat Middlebury. Maybe the NESCAC should adopt a first and second division soccer style where the lower teams of Colby, Bowdoin, Bates, Hamilton, and Williams are in the second division, and at the end of the year the top team gets to move up to the first division. Then the loser of the first division between Trinity, Midd, Amherst, Wesleyan, and Tufts would drop down for the following year. Williams would be on pace to win the lower division. Obviously it is a ridiculous proposal that wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen, but it would be nice to see some unexpected results and not all of these assured wins for the top teams. It allows them to play with a blindfold on and not worry about whether they will win for weeks at a time. Again, this problem could be solved with playoffs. A fan can hope.
2b. Validity of Statistics
Because this weekend went nearly exactly how I expected it to, there’s not a whole lot to say about stocks that went down because for so many teams, it can’t really get much worse. Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton all had hard schedules to start the season, resulting in each of their 0-4 records, so I guess their morale is pretty low. But for the teams who they have played, especially this last weekend, the scores were run up so high, it’s almost as if the entire games were played in garbage time. Wesleyan, Tufts, Trinity, and Williams all scored north of 30 points, each winning by a margin of over three possessions. Four TDs for Mark Piccirillo, four total TDs for Bobby Maimaron, three TDs for Sonny Puzzo, two TDs for Max Chipouras, two total TDs for Ryan McDonald. These stats get so inflated at the consequence of bad defense just as much as offensive prowess. It’s hard to distinguish who the best players are sometimes because aggregate season stats aren’t particular on which team they were collected against. The value of each touchdown should be measured against its importance in a game as some of these are accumulated without significant challenge.
Editor’s Note: Connor is a new writer joining us from Bowdoin College. He is a rising senior, and just wishes that everyone in the world could just get along and have fun.
2016 Record: 0-8
2017 Projected Record: 2-7
Projected Offensive Starters: *Seven Returning
QB: Noah Nelson (‘19)*
RB: Nate Richam (‘20)*
WR: Nick Vailas (‘18)*
WR: Ejaaz Jiu (’19)*
WR: Chandler Gee (‘20)*
TE: Bryan Porter (‘18)*
OL: Elliot Borden (‘18)
C: AJ Mansolillo (‘19)*
Projected Defensive Starters: *Eight returning
LB: Tyler MacNeil (‘18)*
LB: Latif Armiyaw (*18)*
LB:Joe Gowetski (‘20)*
DL: Robert Caputo (‘19)*
DL: Jay Mobley (‘20)*
DB: Ryan Sanborn (‘18)*
DB: Nye Deskus (‘20)*
DB: Cameron Rondeau (‘19)*
DB: Henry Little (‘18)*
Projected Specialists: *Two returning
K: Andrew Sisti (‘18)*
P: Michael Chen (‘20)*
Offensive MVP:QB Noah Nelson ‘19
If the Polar Bears are going to compete for more than a few wins this season, it will largely depend on the play of Nelson. Entering preseason as the undisputed starting quarterback, Nelson will to prove that he is capable of leading this offense in high-scoring affairs. Bowdoin ranked towards the bottom of the NESCAC last year in passing effectiveness and statistical output, but Nelson showed signs of an ability to create offense and move the chains down the field. Equally as important, the Bowdoin offensive line will need to show significant improvement from last year, to allow Nelson to survey the field on offensive drives. A major staple of the receiving corps graduated last Spring (Ford ‘17), but senior Nick Vailas ‘18 figures to handle a hefty portion of the receiving workload. In addition, Chandler Gee ‘20 had some success in the slot last year. The buzz coming from preseason practice has also indicated that some first-year wideouts will figure to contribute significantly this season. The pieces are in place for Nelson to make a major step forward as the Polar Bears’ play caller.
Defensive MVP:Joe Gowetski ‘20
Gowetski came in and made an immediate impact for the Bowdoin defense last season. He was a beast from the linebacker position, racking up 52 tackles, as well as 1 sack. Those numbers led the league last year, and Gowetski has showed no signs of the proverbial ‘sophomore slump’ so far in practice. Gowetski figures to be a major stopper in the run defense, and his quickness and instincts make him effective in coverage as well. He has emerged as a team leader, and has put in the necessary work to be a major difference maker this season. Look for Gowetski’s name atop the NESCAC leaderboards again this season.
Biggest Game: @ Williams, September 16th
For the second year in a row, we’ve picked the first game on Bowdoin’s schedule as the most critical. After going winless last year, it is absolutely necessary that the Polar Bears show up for their first game this year. Although Bowdoin Coach JB Wells has an eye toward the future and has moved on from last year, fans of the program may not be so quick to do so. Wells has focused on improving his team day in and day out, and it must show on September 16th if Bowdoin is to rebound from a winless season. Whether or not you believe in sports momentum, the Polar Bears will certainly breathe a sigh of relief if they top Williams in week one.
This offseason and build-up to the first game has an air of ‘new beginnings’ for the Polar Bears. Bowdoin’s historic Whittier field is undergoing the final stages of a major renovation; it is set to open for their home opener (9/23 vs. Middlebury). Coach Wells and the rest of the football program is hopeful that this renovation will spur the team to hit the ground running this year (with the added security of the artificial turf, of course). More broadly, the team has let bygones be bygones, and has emphasized continual improvement and investment in the team’s goals. An 0-8 record last year definitely stings, but the Polar Bears are maintaining a positive outlook on their chances this year.
Bowdoin will benefit from its youth during this year’s elongated season: with a nine game schedule, durability and longevity will be key. Those are areas in which the Polar Bears are well equipped. A nice balance of experience and youth sets Bowdoin up to capitalize on the additional game, whereas some other teams might have trouble adjusting to the change.
Aside from the departure of Liam Ford ‘17 at wide receiver, the entire Bowdoin offense is returning and appear ready to capitalize on some bright spots from last year. Nate Richam ‘20 and CJ Markisz ‘20 figure to once again form a two-headed running attack, and the Bowdoin playcallers will rely on them to carry the workload. Chandler Gee ‘20 impressed with his speed and catching ability in the slot last year, and with the addition of some highly skilled freshman wideouts, the receiving corps looks ready to make a big impact. These new additions will complement consistent offensive presences WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18. As previously mentioned, Noah Nelson ‘19 will need to step up in big fashion if Bowdoin is to outscore opponents on a weekly basis.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bowdoin will be anchored by linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘20, who, between them, have some serious athleticism and high football IQ. Similar to previous seasons, one of Bowdoin’s keys to victory will be stopping the run (Bowdoin allowed a league-worst 200.1 rushing yards per game last year). To make matters worse, Bowdoin also allowed the most passing yards per game last year with 242.9. Clearly, the returning defenders (and the incoming players) will need to show improvements if Bowdoin is to even be competitive this season.
All in all, Bowdoin has a long way to go before they are NESCAC title contenders. There were flashes of potential last year, but none of them persisted long enough for the Polar Bears to grab a win. With a brand new facility and positive outlook on the season, it would seem as though Bowdoin is poised to make some noise in the league this year. The team will need to be far more effective on defense, and capitalize on their offensive capabilities, if they are to turn their fortune around. Despite the positivity and experienced roster, Bowdoin is still in rebuilding mode. While I don’t think they go winless for the second straight year, it may be another season of woes for the Polar Bears.
Admittedly this is kind of a Chris Broussard take, but there may be no player in the league more important to their team than Lebowitz is to the Panthers. The entire Middlebury offense is designed around his ability to throw darts all over the field. The rest of the league has caught to them, but Middlebury is still the leader in no-huddle throughout the league. That can’t happen without Lebowitz. However, he “only” competed 57% of his passes last year, and threw 12 interceptions in eight games. Of course, he also threw 29 touchdowns, so these complaints are nitpicking to a certain extent. But for Middlebury to really compete with Trinity (and most likely Amherst this year,) Lebowitz will have to bring his game up still another notch. And the graduation of receivers James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, as well as several key offensive linemen, will make his job harder than ever.
Defensive MVP: LB John Jackson ‘18
Middlebury has lost a lot of talent in a lot of places this off-season, and linebacker is certainly one of them. This is almost entirely due to Addison Pierce ‘17. Pierce was a terrific linebacker, leading the team in tackles with 62, but his influence on the team was wider than that. He was a leader, and many players on the team, offensive and defensive alike, have mentioned that he will be missed. However, luckily for the Panthers and their fans, John Jackson is still around to pick up the slack. Jackson uses tremendous speed and agility to be a menace in the backfield, picking up 7.5 sacks last season. He’s also effective in coverage, picking up one interception and several deflections. He picked up 41 tackles as well, despite Pierce’s presence. He will certainly get more chances to eat up opposing running backs this season.
Player to Watch: WR Tanner Contois ‘18
The Panther receiving corps was among the best in the league last season, and that was with Contois missing pretty much the entire season with a knee injury. Now that James Burke and Ryan Rizzo graduated, the Panthers are in need of another threat at receiver. Conrado Banky ‘19 might well be the best in the league, but teams are going to double and even triple team him every chance they get. Contois has been very impressive in camp thus far, and looks fully recovered in terms of speed and quickness. If he and lanky deep threat Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can be weapons, teams won’t be able to key in on Banky, and the Panther offense will keep right on rolling.
Key Game: October 28 vs. Trinity
Middlebury lucks out this year and gets to play Trinity at home. As Colby pointed out in his preview, Trinity was the league champion last year and brings back nearly every key contributor, especially on offense. Therefore, they are the odds on favorite to win this season. If Middlebury has any hope of taking the crown, they will need to take care of the Bantams.
As Division Three college football team twitter pages go, this is actually not that bad a joke. Trust me, I’ve looked few a bunch of them.
The Panthers spent much of last season in a three way tie with Tufts and Trinity for the top spot in the league. However, they lost handily to both those teams, and Wesleyan climbed into the mix. By the end of the year it was clear that they were a step away from contending with those powerhouses, and Middlebury ended with a slightly disappointing fourth place finish. Now star quarterback Reece Foy ‘18 has returned to Amherst after missing all of last season with a knee injury, so the Mammoths seem poised to take their spot back in the upper tier. Additionally, the Panthers had one of the largest departing classes in the league, both in numbers and in talent. Middlebury has their work cut out for them if they want to improve on their 6-2 mark from 2016. But they certainly have the talent returning to it.
The Panthers’ biggest losses are definitely on offense. For most of the last decade, Middlebury’s philosophy has been to air it out, and with good reason. Coach Ritter certainly has earned the right to call himself a quarterback guru, with Don Mckillop, McCallum Foote and Matt Milano all earning All-NESCAC nods under him. Jared Lebowitz ‘18 has the talent to be the best one yet, and put up a mostly-stellar season last year. This was due in large part, however, to most talented receiving class in the league. Phenom Conrado Banky ‘19 earned an All-NESCAC First Team nod, James Burke ‘17 landed on the Second Team, and Ryan Rizzo ‘17 offered a dynamic third option and also excelled as a return man. Only Banky remains from that group. Unless young receivers like Jimmy Martinez ‘19 can step up, Middlebury might need to balance their offense more than in years past. Running back Diego Meritus ‘20 showed flashes of excellence last year, and should be ready to explode in his junior year with a heavier workload.
Lebowitz’s job will also be made more difficult by a young offensive line. Senior leaders like Andy Klarman provided needed stability to a unit that struggled at times last season, and there is still uncertainty about who will fill those spots. Lebowitz showed himself to be prone to rushed decisions at times last year, and a shaky offensive line could only exacerbate that problem.
The defense mostly returns, with a few notable exceptions. DB Nate Leedy and LB Addison Pierce provided stability and toughness to a unit that was otherwise very young, and they both graduated. Leadership responsibilities now fall largely on the shoulders of LB John Jackson ‘18, and anyone else who steps up throughout the year. However, for all that leadership Middlebury still gave up 48 points to Tufts and 49 to Trinity. The defense will have to improve a great deal for the Panthers to remain one of the elite NESCAC programs. Middlebury lost a lot in the off-season, but that could give several youngsters a chance to step up. Hopefully they continue their high level of play and Amherst returns to glory, giving us a real five way race at the top of the league.
Coach Devanney and the Bantams will look to defend their title with more authority this season with the longer schedule, offering a more universal ring than 2016. Although they lose several key members of the championship squad, they have the overwhelming majority of important players back for a return run at glory, including potentially the NESCAC’s best running back in Max Chipouras. The entire offensive line returns, giving quarterback (and fake name given by a celebrity at a hotel Sonny Puzzo ’18) exceptional protection to work with the less experienced receivers. And most of the D-Line returns as well, which means plenty of pressure on the opposing QBs.
On offense, the returners are guard Joe Farrah, center Steve O’Reilly, tackle Chris Simmons, tackle Austin Baiardi, and guard Sam Bowtell. The returning defensive linemen are guard Nick Rose, and nose tackle Matt D’Andrea. Corey Jean-Jacques and Brandon Blaise should look to step up into bigger starting roles this season as tackles on the line after splitting time in 2016. The linebackers, led by Liam Kenneally, also return Shane Libby on the outside and Henderson Watkins on the inside. Dago Picon-Roura should see time in both the first and second tier of the defense.The only real holes to fill are the skill positions.
Receivers and DBs were big pieces in the team a year ago. However, Coach Devanney is confident that John Spears and Brian Vieira can shoulder the load at receiver with Puzzo’s reliable arm supplying the ammunition. Spears will be an improved weapon simply because of the consistency of the O-Line, giving him time to develop his routes after less preseason action than usual with the lack of a scrimmage. Vieira will need to lead the way for Puzzo, and Spears has limited experience over the course of his first two years in the league.
First year players will play a big role in the depth of the team. Only eight of 14 corners and safeties who saw action in 2016 will be back and those eight all saw the playing field in a limited capacity. Spencer Donahue left a huge hole for John Medina to fill and Coach Deveanney stressed how he will be the main piece who will need to make an impact. Joining Medina as a starter in the secondary should be junior Sameir Madden who saw action in six games as a sophomore last season. I mentioned in my preview of Trinity last year how they had the NESCAC’s version of the ‘Legion of Boom,’ the nickname for the Seahawks secondary following their 2011 emergence. They will not have quite the same dominance that they wrought on opposing offenses anymore, however, they will likely compete near the top of the conference in this section. They could have the most lethal QB/RB combo in the ‘CAC though, similar to the Drew Brees/LaDainian Tomlinson combo of the Chargers in 2004. The Bantams also return both their punter Ian McDonald and place kicker Eric Sachse who were perfect one year ago, both looking to make an all-conference impact, leading what could also be one of the best special team pairs, second only to Amherst.
Offensive MVP: RB Max Chipouras ‘19
After being named USA College Football Division III Rookie All American and the NESCAC Rookie of the Year in 2015, Max Chipouras ran for nearly 300 more yards in his second season. Chipouras looks to continue his dominance of the NESCAC gridiron in his third campaign after earning All-NESCAC First Team honors last fall. His 910 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns will likely be eclipsed once more.
Defensive MVP: LB Liam Kenneally ‘18
After losing many key members of the defense, nearly all coming from the secondary, Kenneally will be the center of the Bantam defense in the linebacking core. He should lead the second tier for Trinity as he was second on the team with 44 tackles and led the team with six sacks. However, he will also assume a good deal of coverage responsibilities due to the multiple defensive backs who graduated.
Big Shoes to Fill: CB John Medina ‘19
Despite the lack of returners in the secondary for Trinity, John Medina should be a good candidate to replace stud graduate Spencer Donahue who dominated the NESCAC for four years. Medina will be the main piece looking to make an impact in the defensive skill positions as he had a pair of picks and played in all eight games in 2016.
Biggest Game: at. Amherst, November 4th, 1:00 PM
While the eighth game, for the first time in decades, is no longer the last game of the schedule, Amherst should be a championship contender in 2017 and this match up could well crown the winner of the NESCAC. The runner-up game for Trinity would be week nine against Wesleyan, but if Reece Foy ’18 comes back for the Mammoths as experts (me) predict, then this should be a barn burner.
There were a host of tweets that could’ve made the cut here. The Indianapolis Colts visited the Coop to check out some of the Bantams and Trinity retained their spot as the best football team in Connecticut. However, the one that drew my attention the most was one that questioned their own QB Sonny Puzzo’s loyalty. The Caldwell High (NJ) alumnus was featured in an article that showed him as he threw some passes in a practice session to the New York Giants’ Dwayne Harris. The tweet shows how despite his supposed Jets loyalties, he still tried to help the cross town NY Giants on their quest to beat the Pats in yet another Super Bowl.