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.