The past week was, and excuse my language, a real shitty time. NESCAC campuses in particular have been tumultuous (not all bad, too). I will focus on the games that happened on Saturday, though, and I encourage you to read the student papers like the Amherst Student and the Bowdoin Orient (to name just a few) to learn more about how NESCAC campuses responded to global events. The football games on Saturday couldn’t wash away or solve these issues, but for me at least, watching a football game on Saturday helped me a little to focus on other things. Let this article serve as another piece of escapism if you need it.
The dominant NESCAC story of the weekend was the win by Amherst which clinched back-to-back 8-0 and NESCAC championship seasons. On the one hand, I feel like we’ve written tons about Amherst this fall. On the other, I don’t think the Jeffs have gotten enough credit for what has been a truly dominating season. A weirdly dominant one, but a dominant one all the same. The Jeffs had an average margin of victory of 17.63 points, a number that puts them just above the 2011 Amherst team that Peter Lindholm named the third best in modern NESCAC history.
Perhaps more impressive is that Amherst won every single game by multiple scores meaning that their opponents never had the chance to tie or take the lead on their final offensive possession. They faced deficits in the first half of several games, but by the end of 60 minutes they had stamped their style on the game. In fact, even though the Jeffs did seem to start the game slowly, they were still so good that in their eight games, they only were tied or trailed in the second half in one game: against Wesleyan for just two minutes and forty seconds at the beginning of the third quarter.
The calling card for the Jeffs continues to be their defense, which was not quite the same monster as the 2014 one but was probably closer than you think. Amherst allowed 9.9 points per game in 2015 compared to 8.9 points per game in 2014, and they allowed 20 more yards per game this year, with most of that difference due to an uptick in passing yards given up. This year’s unit was content often to let teams move the ball between the 20’s, giving up plays of four or five yards in order to not allow any big plays. The depth of the unit was exceptional with a different player stepping up every week. From Evan Boynton ’17 to Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 to even part-time nose tackle Rob Perdoni ’16, everyone on the defense had a specific role that they filled well.
What this defense was great at was improving as the game went along. The best way of looking at the way that Amherst shut down teams as time progressed is to isolate the statistics of the four games against teams with winning records: Wesleyan, Trinity, Middlebury and Tufts. In those four games they allowed an average of 9.75 points, impressive when you consider the caliber of those offenses. The numbers get even better when you look at just the second half. Amherst allowed six points total in the second halves of those four games. They held Tufts, Trinity and Middlebury completely scoreless in the second half, and Wesleyan was the only team able to score at all.
Still, what for me enabled Amherst to so comfortably go 8-0 was the big play ability in all areas. On offense big plays were predicated on QB Reece Foy ’18 and the receivers on the outside like Jackson McGonagle ’16 and Devin Boehm ’17. Three long touchdowns against Wesleyan were the difference in that one. The defense and special teams came up with massive turnovers that gave the Jeffs’ offense a short field to score critical touchdowns against Trinity and Middlebury. They weren’t the sexiest or most exciting team, but you can’t help but respect the performance of the 2015 Amherst squad.
For all those words I just wrote about how Amherst is better this year than last year, an argument can be made that what helped Amherst the most was that they played Middlebury, Wesleyan and Trinity all at home. This weekend four home teams won, and two of the results are because of the victor being at home. Hamilton beat Bates 14-0 in what looks like a case of the Bobcats never getting off the bus from that long ride to central New York. The Bobcats barely had more than 100 yards of offense in a lackluster effort. Even more impressive was Tufts outlasting Middlebury 31-28 to get Tufts to 6-2. Home-field advantage in the NESCAC is less about the impact that the crowd can have on the field than the comfort level of players at home. Any athlete prefers to have a set rhythm before a game, and the ability to have that at home has a real effect, even if it is a difficult one to quantify.
QB Tim Drakeley ’17 (Bowdoin)
The starter at the beginning of the year, Drakeley got injured and then saw his job get stolen from him by Noah Nelson ’19. Nelson was hurt this weekend so Drakeley got the start. Things began terribly with Drakeley going 0-5 with an interception in the first quarter. Then the junior shook off the rust and played great the final three quarters, finishing with over 300 yards passing and three touchdowns as Bowdoin rolled over Colby 35-13 in the consolation game of the CBB. The game was a good finish for the Polar Bears, especially after the disastrous 31-0 shutout loss to Bates. Both Drakeley and Nelson will be back next season, and whoever wins the job already has one game on their resume that gives Bowdoin supporters hope.
Just putting the whole Bantam team here because it was a complete team win (the defense in particular played well). The win over Wesleyan 17-13 makes Trinity the NESCAC runner-up at 7-1 in what constitutes a rebound season. The Bantams did things the old-fashioned way running the ball 57 times for 216 yards with both Nick Gaynor ’17 and Max Chipouras ’19 carrying the ball a lot. Defensive end Preston Kelly ’16 led the way on defense with nine tackles, three for loss. The Bantams lose Kelly and several other key cogs along the offensive and defensive lines, but they are bringing back a whole raft of talent next year. They continue to be the biggest threat to Amherst in terms of top dog status.
Long a pretty staid league, the hierarchy of NESCAC football has changed in recent years, and there is the possibility that even more upheaval is afoot in the future. Wesleyan, long the littlest of the Little Three, has proven this year that their move into the upper reaches of the NESCAC is sustainable and likely to last. Tufts, as noted, has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of their long losing streak. The Jumbos could potentially stay close to the top of the heap because of advantages like the large size of the Tufts undergrad population and the more urban setting of Medford and Boston.
The tendency for schools when they see the ability of some schools to climb up the standings is to say “why not us?” The difference between the top and bottom of the league is not a huge one: a few real impact players are capable of making a difference. However, in many ways NESCAC football is a zero sum game. If someone is up, then someone else is down (Williams is the primary culprit here). Of course, one has to remember the express purpose of the NESCAC.
“The primary mission of the Conference is to organize, facilitate, support, and regulate intercollegiate athletic competition among member institutions in a manner consistent with our commitment to academic excellence and our core values.” (From the NESCAC website)
At a certain point, a metaphorical arms race in pursuit of wins will lead almost inevitably to a violation of academic excellence and core values. For all of the positives that a football program has, those can become negatives when priorities become rearranged and compromises are made. Part of the reason for our affection with the NESCAC is our belief and hope that on balance, though not always, the league does things, for lack of a better terms, the right way.
These worries of compromised values are obviously not at all new ones, and we recognize that. We just wanted to take a moment to sort of step back and recognize that in part because I have spent much of the fall dissecting
We’ve made it a tradition to not put Stock Down for any team or player the final week of a season, mostly because it doesn’t seem completely necessary to point out areas where teams can improve when there are no games to show improvement upon for nine-plus months. We’ve still got a few loose ends in our football coverage to finish up like postseason awards before we move onto basketball. Thanks again to all of our readers and especially to our other writers who have made this an awesome fall for us.