Wake Me Up, When September Ends: Football Weekend Preview 9/29

This week features a slate of games that can be charitably described as “uneven.” That’s a nice way of saying that it features games where the better teams in the league play the worse teams in the league. And having learned our lesson last week picking Hamilton over Amherst, we’re not seeing any magic happening here. But there is good news. With these lopsided games happening earlier in the season, the end of the year should feature more games between strong teams. But we can’t get there without going here first.

Tufts (1-1) @ Bates (0-2), Lewiston, ME, 1:00 PM

The Jumbos have been the team to watch if you’re looking for close games this season. This has been mostly due to their strong schedule (an improved Hamilton team in Week One and then Wesleyan last week) but has also been due to their inability to close out games. Their defense allowed Hamilton to continuously tie up the game before the offense won it in OT, and then QB Ryan McDonald turned the ball over twice to help along Wesleyan’s comeback. Indeed, without multi-purpose weapon Jack Dolan ‘19, who had an 85 yard punt return touchdown to keep Tufts in it, the game wouldn’t even have been close. Tufts is in need of a blowout after two hard fought games, but that won’t happen if they don’t execute. This is a golden chance for the Jumbos to get things fully in order for a championship run.

Tufts’ defense is rounding into shape, but to beat Trinity (the ultimate goal for any NESCAC team) they have to get even better.

Bates, on the other hand, isn’t in a position to have a preferred kind of win. They have had a very difficult start to the season, highlighted by a 51-0 drubbing at the hands of Trinity that wasn’t even that close. Obviously not much has gone right for Bates this season, but offense has been the biggest issue. QB Sandy Plashkes ‘18 has been benched for Matt Golden, signifying that Bates is ready to go in a new direction. Left to their own devices, Bates would want to be a run-based offense, and when they’ve gotten to that style it has been successful. Peter Boyer and Kyle Flaherty have run the ball with authority, combining for 73 yards a game. But with no consistent QB play, the offense can’t stay on the field long enough to give them a chance to score. Tufts’ defense is still coming together, so Bates has the potential to improve a bit this game. At this point, that should be their goal.

Projected Score: Tufts 31, Bates 10

Wesleyan (1-1) @ Hamilton (0-2), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM

After an inspired performance in Week One, Hamilton fell back to Earth in a big way last weekend, making several trigger happy “experts” (namely Colby and I) look pretty foolish in the process. Amherst smoked Hamilton 36-6, and while the dynamic Kenny Gray-Joe Schmidt duo ended up with respectable totals (245 yards, one TD for Gray, 54 yards for Schmidt,) most of that was in garbage time. Even so, it was Hamilton’s run defense that looked worst against the Mammoths. Amherst tallied over 250 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Of course, Amherst has arguably the best ground game in the league, but if Hamilton wants to play with the big boys they have to be ready for that.

Mike Breuler
Mike Breuler ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan had a run-heavy identity last season, but haven’t been able to get to it this year. This is partially due to the graduation of Gerald Hawkins and Devin Carillo, but it is also because they have gotten down big early in both of their games. This has called QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 into action, as he has thrown the Cardinals back into both of their games. The Cardinals have a strong and experienced offensive line, as evidenced by Piccirillo’s success in finding Mike Breuler ‘18 deep. They could run behind that line as well, if sophomore Dario Highsmith ‘20 gets more carries. He should in this game, as Hamilton doesn’t have an answer for Breuler (no one does.) Expect the Cardinals to get up early this time, but it may just tighten up at the end if Gray can get going.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 24, Hamilton 14

Colby (0-2) @ Middlebury (2-0), Middlebury, 1:00 PM

The almighty Schedulers have rewarded Middlebury’s difficult Week One matchup with Wesleyan with back to back games against Bowdoin and Colby. The Panthers absolutely smacked Bowdoin in Week Two, with Jared Lebowitz ‘18 putting up one of the most efficient games of his storied career. Lebowitz wen 20-26 for over 300 yards and four touchdowns, with no turnovers. That last stat is the most important one for him, as the only blemish on his sterling resume is a tendency to give up the football when under pressure. But the Panther O-Line, led by junior stud Andrew Rogan ‘19, gets better every week, and Lebowitz has reaped the rewards. He has also seamlessly worked in a large group of new receivers, who have filled in admirably as we wait for Conrado Banky’s explosion. All four of his touchdown throws were to different receivers last week, including new names like Maxim Bochman ‘20 and Jimmy Connell ‘21. Add in the emergence of Matt Cardew ‘20 as a solid running back option, and the Panthers look like the best offense in the league, maybe even including Trinity.

Colby, like Bates, has had a potentially dangerous running game squelched by inconsistency at quarterback. Jake Schwern ‘19 has run very well at times for the Mules, averaging 73 yards per game on 4.6 yards per carry. But he hasn’t gotten into the end zone yet, as Colby simply can’t sustain long drives. Pre-season starting QB Christian Sparacio ‘18 has been replaced by sophomore Jack O’Brian ‘20, who looked okay last week against Williams. Colby scored their first points of the year in that game. Unfortunately, Middlebury’s offense is firing right now, so any improvement on Colby’s end will probably fall flat, as Middlebury should dominate time of possession (as well as every other stat.)

Predicted Score: Middlebury 45, Colby 0

Bowdoin (0-2) @ Amherst (2-0), Amherst, MA, 1:00 PM

Another probable blowout this week features the Polar Bears traveling to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. As you’ve gathered from the earlier games, these two teams enter the game on vastly different trajectories. Amherst comes off a terrific 36-6 drubbing of Hamilton in which their running game and defense looked unbeatable. However, there is a question hanging over the game for the Mammoths; who is the quarterback. They got Reece Foy ‘18 back in Week Two after he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury. And Foy made an impact, rushing for a seven yard score. This is a good sign, as the thing that made him a POY candidate before the injury was his dual threat ability. But his backup Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in admirably in his absence, completing 64% of his passes with four touchdowns. Eberth is the QB of the future, and it makes sense to give him work in mismatches like this, but when Amherst meets the other title contenders, they will lick their chops at facing such an inexperienced QB (particularly one named “Ollie.”) I would think as soon as Foy is ready, he gets the ball back. But we’ll have to wait till Saturday to see.

Bowdoin also has quarterback issues, but their defense and running game aren’t good enough to make up for them. After only completing 42.9% of his passes, Noah Nelson ‘18 was replaced by Griff Stalcup ‘21, who has fared slightly better (54%.) They have also shown a strong offensive line and running attack, averaging 152.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the league. They have also scored all four times they’ve been in the red zone. These are stats that point towards an offense that has potential to control the game through posession if the defense could get a stop. Which so far, they haven’t. The Polar Bears allow 480 yards per game and 35 points, which doesn’t give a rush heavy offense much of a chance. Amherst has QB questions, but they simply beat Bowdoin at their own game.

Predicted Score: Amherst 27, Bowdoin 10

GAME OF THE WEEK: Williams (2-0) @ Trinity (2-0), Hartford, CT, 1:30 PM

At the beginning of the season, Williams versus Trinity did not have the ring of a Game of the Week. And frankly, to me it still somewhat doesn’t. To spoil my prediction, I don’t see a fairy tale ending for this game, but the very fact that we can discuss Williams in the same breath as Trinity like this is a tremendous achievement of which the whole Williams organization should be proud. And furthermore, Williams might not be the shark bait that other teams have been for Trinity so far this year.

Trinity ran and threw all over Bates last weekend, and is looking to do the same to Williams.

Most NESCAC fans know where Trinity is heading into this game.They have outscored their opponents (Colby and Bates) 86-0 this season, outgained them 901-374 and also, oh yeah, haven’t allowed a point all season. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 and Max Chipouras ‘19 have been as good as expected, but receiver Koby Schofer ‘20 has been a revelation thus far. He’s averaged 85 yards per game, and has stepped in very well for a team that lost several receiving weapons in the offseason. Defensively, Trinity doesn’t have any standouts statistically, but honestly this is mostly because they haven’t had to play in the fourth quarter yet this season. The whole unit has destroyed offensive lines so far this season, and has given the offense ample scoring chances with great field position. Long story short, Trinity is good.

Connor Harris
Connor Harris ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

But, potentially, so is Williams? Earlier this week we leveled the crticism at the Ephs that they have played two lower caliber teams (Bowdoin and Colby) in the first two weeks, and so therfore their fast start is slightly exaggerated. But as several enterprising readers pointed out, that is unfair for two reasons. Firstly, Williams was supposed to BE one of those teams, so beating them handily is still impressive. And secondly, Trinity has also played weak teams thus far. This is not to say that Trinity isn’t as good as they look, but rather that Williams is as good as they appear. They have legitimate weapons in the passing game, thanks largely to a fantastic first year class. QB Bobby Maimeron ‘21 and WR’s Frank Stola ‘21 and Justin Nelson ‘21 have given the Ephs the all important vertical threat in the run-n’-gun NESCAC. But their offense is multidimensional. Senior back Connor Harris ‘18 has been one of the most underrated players so far this season. Harris has 162 yards in two games on 5.6 yards per carry, as well as two touchdowns. Harris is crucial to the WIlliams offense, as he provides a dynamic threat on the ground and opens up play action routes for Maimeron.

Jameson DeMarco
Jameson DeMarco ’18 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

And furthermore, despite all of these offensive weapons, Williamsgreatest asset this year has been defensive; their dominant pass rush. Williams has the most sacks in the league, 10, thanks largely to Jameson DeMarco ‘19, who leads the league with 3.5. So to recap, Williams has a good offense and dominant defense that has been untested against upper level teams. Just like Trinity. Hmmm….

Of course, I jest. Trinity will win this game handily. But there will be nothing better for all of thse young Ephs than a test against one of the best teams NESCAC has seen this decade. Williams is playing for next year, and it’s serving them very well this year. Watch out for the Ephs, not in this game, but down the line.

Predicted Score: Trinity 31, Williams 20

(Almost)Taking the Head Off the Jumbo: Week 1 Power Rankings:

1: Trinity (1-0)

Trinity now runs its winning streak to 10 games going back to 2015 following a blow out win over Colby. They were expected crush them and played nearly flawlessly, but still could improve. QB Sonny Puzzo’s INT should’ve come as a shock to the Bantams, but other than that, they played great football. Max Chipouras decimated the Colby defense and this team looks primed to blow out Bates in week two. The secondary looked great following the graduation of many All-NESCAC players, and that was the biggest hole. There’s honestly not a whole lot else to say, the Bantams are rolling.

2: Middlebury (1-0)

Jared Lebowitz and the Panthers couldn’t have started off 2017 in better fashion as they knocked off a top tier team, learned about numerous first year weapons, and didn’t totally screw up on special teams. Without RBs Diego Meritus and Will McKissick, Peter Scibilla ’21 took the reins on the ground and was serviceable, but not great. Once the other running weapons return (Meritus should be back this week), the ground game will drastically improve, making Midd even more dangerous. Their receivers are the best in the league and that isn’t open for debate. Not player by player necessarily, but between Maxim Bochman ’20 who went off on Saturday in his first year shot, 2016 breakout Conrad Banky, athletic freak three sport college athlete Frankie Cosolito, and All-American track runner and special teams player of the week Jimmy Martinez, there are so many options for the already established Lebowitz. Opposing secondaries, watch out.

Middlebury’s Ian Blow downs a punt at Wesleyan’s one yard line last Saturday.

3: Amherst (1-0)

There are still some questions for the Mammoths despite their win over the weak looking Bates team last weak. When will Reece Foy come back and how good will he be when he does? If he isn’t healthy, is Ollie Eberth ’21 the real deal? Why am I so bummed that Mike Odenwaelder didn’t have a bigger role? Granted, not all of these questions are bad, and Amherst has an answer to all of them, resulting in their placement barely below Midd on these rankings. Foy was in uniform last weekend and should be back in week two, but even if he doesn’t start, Eberth looked good and had a real connection with Craig Carmelani in the air. Odenwaelder is still raw as a football player and played on special teams, although I still hope he breaks out as a tight end. Jack Hickey was great in his limited action (5 carries, 9.4 yds/carry) and should see more time against Hamilton. I would like to see a better rush defense from the Mammoths as they allowed two TDs to Bates, but Hamilton’s game isn’t running. They should outlast the Continentals and will only get better from here.

4: Wesleyan (0-1)

Some Jumbo fans might be mad that the Cardinals are in this spot, but they simply played a better team in Middlebury and had a solid game. Mark Piccirillo didn’t get off to a fantastic start with two INTs but still threw for four TDs and 432 yards. Dario Highsmith performed poorly in his limited sample size, but the large deficit in the first quarter leading to a passing offense was not a product of him. The Panther receivers simply dominated the Cardinal secondary and while no team is arguably as deep in their receiving core as Midd, Ben Thaw and Elias Camacho will need to pick up the slack against Tufts. We learned last year not to read too much into Wesleyan’s week on result after they lost to Tufts, so I’m going to stick with them as my favorite against the Jumbos, but they are in a must win scenario.

5: Tufts (1-0)

While they were manage to pull out the win in week one, it seemed pretty flukey. Backup QB Ryan Hagfeldt entered the game on the final drive in a tie game in the fourth quarter after an injury to starter Ryan McDonald and landed on his own fumble to score the game winning touchdown. McDonald had a solid game with 26 completions and two TDs and 92 yards rushing, but his status for week two against Wesleyan is up in the air. Their linebackers and DBs didn’t play well and will need to step it up against what is a better QB in Mark Piccirillo. Their ‘bad’ game was as much a product of their own poor play as it was Hamilton’s breakout game, and the Continentals deserve a lot of credit. Tufts will be fine and still found a way to win which is what good programs do. The Jumbos could still be a top tier team this year, but they still lack a Chance Brady. They simply aren’t the same team as last year simply as a product of not having an all world RB, and Dominic Borelli is not even close. Andrew Sanders will be the X-Factor in week two as he has the biggest play potential. Whether it is Hagfeldt or McDonald, the QB won’t be a big issue as the two were in competition to begin the year anyways.

6: Hamilton (0-1)

At the end of the day Hamilton is still winless, however, they made a big challenge to move towards the top tier of the conference in week one. An OT finish after a furious fourth quarter comeback, led by an incredible performance from QB Kenny Gray (370 yards passing, 4 TDs, 0 INT) would have resulted in glory if not for Tufts QB Ryan Hagfeldt recovering his own fumble in the end zone for a TD on fourth down. The Continentals were on the Jumbo’s seven yard line in OT before turning the ball over to end the game, but should still be epically proud of their performance. As a win/lose game goes, no team is happy with a loss, but Hamilton prove to be the real deal if they can manage a close game or win this weekend against Amherst.

7: Williams (1-0)

I’m sure some Ephs fans are upset that they are so far down the rankings after an undefeated start, they did play a weak opponent. Nobody is awestruck that Williams pulled out a win, especially Pete, who called it. There were a host of positives for this team though as they found their first win in over a year, found a QB in Bobby Maimaron ’21, a top receiver in Frank Stola ’21, and saw a breakout performance from RB Connor Harris who had the best game of his college career. Maimaron even kicked off once and Stola returned the punts, showing that this two headed monster, if they are the real deal, should roll over the Colby Mules on the road this weekend. A 2-0 start for the Williams Ephs? When was the last time we predicted that?

8: Bates (0-1)

I’ve always liked the way Coach Harriman runs and recruits the Bates offense as they are the only team so run oriented and with so many slot players. They have a lot of play action passes to open things up, but showed that too few play making receivers leads to a lack of big play potential. QB Sandy Plashkes is in his second year as the starter and was able to find just nine yards for his biggest completion and just 44 in the air total. While he was able to make a dent in opposing defenses by breaking off some big runs in 2016, he rushed for a total of zero yards on twelve tries last Saturday. Ouch. Sure, not all of them were designed runs, but he’s got to make a big play in one area of the offense. Matt Golden’s one completion of 33 yards nearly matched Plashkes’ total, and that should scare the junior signal caller as he needs to step it up against Trinity or he could lose his job. RB Tyler Baum was one of the lone positives as he was able to break off a 42 yard rush at the end of the first half, and could see more carries this week. The Bobcats did play a tough opponent in Amherst, but without their starting QB, and got roughed up by a first year who found the end zone four times as new DB starters Coy Candelario and Jack Maritz were not able to fill the big holes left by Sam Francis and Mark Upton from 2016’s secondary

.9: Bowdoin (0-1)

Losing to one of the teams that didn’t win in 2016 isn’t the start the Polar Bears were looking for. While the Ephs did look much improved, Bowdoin still allowed 439 yards on defense and flat out were beaten. Noah Nelson tried to salvage his lackluster passing day with his two rushing scores, but was still only able to tally 111 yards in the air, with Nick Vallas’ 46 receiving yards the tops on the team. They weren’t able to score fast enough with their style of play and allowed two Williams’ first year players to smoke them on defense. Ejaaz Jiu, Nick Vallas, and Bo Millet were my favorite offensive playmakers for this team heading into the season and as a result of Nelson’s paltry passing, none were able to make a big impact. Look for Vermont high school legend Griff Stalcup ’21 to see some more snaps this weekend, especially if they get down early, and hopefully he will find the diamonds in the rough in the receiving core. Chris Markisz looks to have successfully lost the starting RB or 1b rushing role as he managed just 1.8 yds/carry, putting the ball in Nate Richam’s hands more this week. The offense might look different this weekend against and they need to find small victories in what is likely to be a blow out against Middlebury.

Williams’ Frank Stola makes a Bowdoin defender miss and heads towards yards after a catch.

10: Colby (0-1)

While the Mules did face the league’s toughest opponent in week one, since they didn’t score a point I didn’t have much choice in this rank. Obviously they have some work to do as their defense was torched on the ground by Max Chipouras. This is as much a credit to Chipouras as it is a lack of credit to Colby’s run D. The top two Bantam backs averaged almost nine yards per carry on Saturday, and the Mules had just four tackles for losses. They had several bright spots though as they managed to recover two fumbles and Patrick Yale ’20 was able to pick off Puzzo. Their offense was no better though as they were just 1/15 on third down conversions, and threw for 119 yards in the losing effort. Their run game was OK as Jake Schwern’s 4.5 yards per carry weren’t a huge issue, but 73 yards passing from the starting QB is. They need to figure out how to find some completions to move the chains on third down and then they will have a better chance against the weaker teams.

New Field, Same Approach, Different Results? 2017 Bowdoin Football Preview

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)

OL: TBA

C: AJ Mansolillo (‘19)*

OL: TBA

OL: TBA

Projected Defensive Starters:  *Eight returning

LB: Tyler MacNeil (‘18)*

LB: Latif Armiyaw (*18)*

LB: Joe Gowetski (‘20)*

DL: Robert Caputo (‘19)*

DL: TBA

DL: TBA

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)*

Noah Nelson
Noah Nelson ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

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

Joe Gowetski
Joe Gowetski ’20 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

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.

Best Tweet:

So cute!

Summary:

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.

Amherst Goes Back to Back: Stock Report 11/17

Nothing but smiles across the board for Amherst once again. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Nothing but smiles across the board for Amherst once again. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

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.

Stock Up

Home-Field Advantage

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.

Trinity

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.

Upward Mobility

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

Stock Down

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.

The Amherst Dynasty: Power Ranks 11/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marginal Movements: Power Rankings 11/4

The Hamilton Continentals were able to drag down the Ephs in Williamstown for the first time in nearly four decades. (Courtesy of Williams College Athletics)
The Hamilton Continentals were able to drag down the Ephs in Williamstown for the first time in nearly four decades. (Courtesy of Williams College Athletics)

Saturday’s games were fuming with excitement across the NESCAC, from the Hamilton Continentals earning their first win in over three years to Bates getting their first win of the season in triumphant fashion. With just two games left to play the standings are wide open throughout most of the league. Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton are all tied for last place with one win a piece, then there is Williams with two wins trailing Middlebury, Tufts, and Wesleyan, who share third place with four wins each. It will be a Championship atmosphere (and literally, the de facto championship) this weekend for the Lord Jeffs and the Bantams as Amherst hosts Trinity. That’s where they are in the official standings, but where are they in the all important Power Rankings?

1. Amherst Lord Jeffs (6-0; Last Week: 1)

Coming off a strong win against Tufts, the Amherst team looked good as a whole. The defense compiled eight points with a pick six and a safety; Charlie Wall ’17 connected on his only field goal attempt, making him 7-8 on the year and 21-23 on extra points; and they ran for three touchdowns going on to beat the Jumbos 32-7. The one man who seemed to struggle was Reece Foy ’18, who threw for 170 yards while connecting on 18 of 27 passes including an interception. The past two games he has been inconsistent, and don’t expect the Trinity defense to be any easier a task for him. With that being said the Amherst defense was stellar holding Tufts to 161 offensive yards, and just 19 rushing yards. An Amherst win this weekend would crown them NESCAC Champions and they would tie Trinity for the modern era NESCAC Championships record with six.

2. Trinity Bantams (6-0; Last Week: 2)

Still undefeated, the Bantams have survived two scares against top ranked teams. This Halloween, the Trinity defense was Superman and picked up Sonny Puzzo ’18 and a struggling running game as they took down Middlebury in a late game comeback. Trailing by a point with just over four minutes to go, Trinity’s Paul McCarthy ’16 recovered a fumble forced by Lyle Baker ’16, which led to a Max Chipouras ’19 touchdown with under three minutes to play. Then interceptions in Trinity territory by Spencer Donahue ’17 and a picks-six from Archi Jerome ’17 put the nail in the Panthers’ coffin. Trinity has their biggest test of the season on Saturday, and Puzzo and the running game must be efficient. With the way things looked against Middlebury, the Bantams are in rough shape, but if Trinity can find their mojo, there is no reason they can’t take down the Lord Jeffs.

3. Middlebury Panthers (4-2; Last Week: 3)

Though they earned their second loss of the season, they are not far behind Trinity. They completely outplayed the Bantams, but crumbled at the end of the game when they fumbled the ball and threw two interceptions. The Panthers offense racked up 449 yards, and nearly doubled Trinity in first downs with 27. The Middlebury defense sacked Puzzo five times, with Gil Araujo ’16 getting 2.5 sacks for 20 yards; Araujo also had 3.5 tackles for a loss  of 23 yards. Middlebury lost its chance at a NESCAC Championship, but they are still playing for runner-up as they take on Hamilton this Saturday and then Tufts the following week.

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

Though it was a close win against Bowdoin last Saturday, Wesleyan outplayed the Polar Bears, outweighing their total offense by 429 yards to 223 yards. Lou Stevens ’16 did a good job punching the ball through for two touchdowns on 12 carries. Cornerback Zac Cuzner ’17 had Noah Nelson’s ’19 number all day picking him off three times and breaking up three passes. One thing to keep an eye on is the starting quarterback position. Starter Gernald Hawkins ’18 is less than 100 percent right now, and back-up Mark Piccirillo ’19, who was already too talented to keep off the field completely, was 16-21 when he took over for Hawkins against Wesleyan. The Cardinals look to improve to five wins as they take on Williams this weekend.

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

Tufts suffered a disappointing loss to Amherst where they were outscored 32-7. The Jumbos could only compile 161 offensive yards with little success in their rushing game. QB Alex Snyder ’17 was shut down by the LJ’s as he threw a pick and was sacked three times losing a total of 36 yards. The Tufts lone touchdown came on a one-yard run by Chance Brady ’17. We would have hoped this game was much closer, but Amherst was too dominant. Tufts can end the season on a high note though if they are able to take it to Colby and Middlebury. Beating one of them would secure an above .500 season and show improvement from last season.

6. Bates Bobcats (1-5; Last Week: 7)

Though the Bobcats avoid Trinity in their schedule, they have looked good against the rest of the league, losing some close games. Saturday Bates pulled off a 10-9 win against Colby for the first leg of the CBB. Colby had a chance to tie the game with an extra point, but Collin Richardson ’18 stepped up and blocked the kick to preserve the one-point lead. With Patrick Dugan ’16 passing for just 43 yards on four completions, Bates was able to grind out a win. Bates can win the CBB title with a win vs. Bowdoin this weekend.

7. Bowdoin (1-5; Last Week: 8)

While being outmatched by 206 total yards of offense by Wesleyan, Bowdoin was able to keep it close and lose this game by just six points. Nelson had a tough game where he threw three interceptions and one touchdown on 36 pass attempts. The Polar Bears will wash this loss because they have the CBB to play in their final two games. All three teams seem equal, and it would be no surprise to see a three-way tie for the title.

8. Hamilton (1-5; Last Week: 10)

They finally did it. Hamilton beat the Ephs at Williams for the first time in 19 years and the first time in Williamstown in 29 years, and it was Hamilton’s first win in over three years. They competed well and took advantage of Williams’ penalties and mistakes. Hamilton’s Cole Freeman ’19 tossed two touchdowns while compiling 180 yards completing 13 of 27 attempts. Charles Ensley ’17 was on the receiving end bringing in two touchdowns on four catches for 84 yards. Hamilton takes on Middlebury this weekend in Vermont, which will likely send the Continentals back down to earth.

9. Williams (2-4; Last Week: 6)

Losing at home against Hamilton for the first time in 29 years was a low point for Williams this season. They committed 11 penalties that tallied 104 yards, and five of the penalties granted Hamilton a first down. It is hard to win playing like that. Williams will face Wesleyan and Amherst in the final two games of the season. Darrias Sime ’16 was able to add a pair of touchdowns on seven catches. The Eph win column will likely stay at two the remainder of the season.

10. Colby (1-5; Last Week: 9)

Colby will hold down the No. 10 spot for this week. A disappointing loss to Bates leaves them bitter. They can redeem themselves in the final game when they travel to Bowdoin and have a shot at tying up the CBB. The Mules gained just under 100 more yards than Bates, but Gabe Harrington ’17 was less than spectacular throwing an interception and just 82 yards on 11 passes. The bottom of the table has a lot of opportunity for movement with four of the five teams with just one win.

No Tricks Here: Weekend Preview 10/31

The Trinity O-line hopes to enforce its will against Middlebury on Halloween Saturday. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
The Trinity O-line hopes to enforce its will against Middlebury on Halloween Saturday. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

This is a week full of intrigue for NESCAC teams and loyal ‘CAC fans alike. There’s something for everyone in Week 6. For the championship hopefuls, two games have major implications. The Game of the Week features Amherst traveling to Tufts and trying to extend the 16-game winning streak. Up in Middlebury, the undefeated Bantams will fight to avoid another late-season slide like the one suffered years ago. For other teams not fighting for a title there is still plenty to play for. Bates and Colby open up CBB play this weekend, always a point of pride for these football programs. Elsewhere in Maine, Wesleyan still has a lot to prove. They’ve played to the level of their competition all season long, and the Cards would like to do some damage against what should be a weaker team in Bowdoin. Bowdoin will also be dealing with a question mark at quarterback, as Tim Drakeley ’17 is expected to be healthy, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll take the reins from impressive first-year Noah Nelson ’19. Hamilton heads to Williamstown for the final game of the weekend. Hamilton is, yet again, trying to get off the schneid and get its first win since 2012. The streak has stretched to 25 games now, and is coming up on the Tufts’ record of 31 straight losses. Meanwhile, the home team might be playing to save the boss’ job. There is widespread discontent over a program that has gone from an 8-0 season in 2010 to 5-3 in 2011, 4-4 in 2012 and 2-6 the past two seasons. It’s hard to say which team needs this win more.

Players to Watch

Middlebury RB Diego Meritus ’19

The Panthers are rushing for 2.1 yards per carry. Not good. It’s not all Meritus’ fault, of course. He’s actually a good runner, and has shown his ability to make guys miss in the screen game. He’s a big body and fast, so it’s surprising that Middlebury hasn’t had more success on the ground. Head Coach Bob Ritter seems committed to the first-year, though, and no one else has gotten significant carries since Week 1. Especially with WR Conrado Banky ’19 out now, the rushing game will take on more importance for Middlebury.

Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18

With the first-year Nelson under QB, Porter needs to play a big role to help out the youngster. Two weeks ago, when Nelson had a phenomenal debut, Porter caught five balls and a touchdown, and last week his one catch was a 37-yard TD. Don’t expect there to be a lot of room downfield for the Bowdoin wideouts, meaning that Nelson is going to have to rely on Porter. It’s going to be huge for Bowdoin to convert on third downs in order to keep the ball out of the Cardinals’ hands. If Wesleyan is able to milk the clock with the running game, this will be over early.

Colby DE Ryan Ruiz ’16

When playing the triple-option, it’s imperative for the defense to keep to its assignments and not fly up field. Therefore, the impetus is on Ruiz, the Mules’ best defensive lineman, to lead the charge. He needs to keep the Bates slot backs from breaking out wide by getting outside leverage on the guy blocking him and allowing his teammates to make plays. If Colby can get a sizeable lead, though, then Ruiz will have a chance to pressure Pat Dugan ’16 and improve on his team-leading 2.5 sacks.

Hamilton RB LaShawn Ware ’18

I could essentially copy and paste the summary for Meritus from above, except that Hamilton Head Coach Dave Murray has shown a willingness to give some carries to Jason Nastovski ’18. Any time a team is having as much trouble running the ball as Middlebury and Hamilton are, a lot of that comes down to offensive line play. Running backs need holes to run through. The problem is exaggerated for Hamilton, though, because they aren’t having much success in the passing game, either. Ware averaged 3.9 yards per carry a year ago with 3/5 of the same offensive line. Things won’t change around for the Conts until Hamilton can get the ground game going.

Game Previews

Wesleyan at Bowdoin, 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME

Live Stats  Video

Five weeks ago, we had no idea what to think about the Wesleyan Cardinals. A year removed from a senior class that brought the program back to relevance and competed for a championship three years in a row – earning a shared title in 2013 – Wesleyan had a plethora of questions coming into 2015. They’ve performed admirably, scaring Middlebury at home in Week 1 and putting up a good fight and outplaying the Lord Jeffs in every aspect but points scored a week ago in Amherst. Now the Cardinals are 3-2 and if they want to even have a minuscule shot at sharing a NESCAC title this year – and they’ll need a lot of help – they can’t lose again. I think this is a case of an inexperienced team coming into its own, and things are just looking up for them.

As for Bowdoin, the 30-20 win two weeks ago over Hamilton and the debut of Nelson gave hope to Polar Bear fans, but it now appears that it was false hope. No first-year should be expected to put up the kind of eye-popping numbers every week that Nelson posted against Hamilton, but without that kind of play Bowdoin doesn’t have enough fire power to topple the Cardinals. Losing their top two running backs has really hurt Bowdoin, which has only 58.4 rushing yards per game this season.

With that in mind, Bowdoin is forced to drop back and throw the football more often than not, which has to have Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 salivating as he wakes up this morning. Stone is one of the most physically-talented defensive players in this league and doesn’t get talked about too much on this blog, but that’s not because of his play, and more so because we just don’t talk about line play a ton. But Stone has 4.5 sacks, which is tied for second in the NESCAC with Micah Adickes ’18 of Tufts. Tufts teammate Zach Thomas ’18 leads the NESCAC with 5.5 sacks. Here’s the kicker, though. The Wesleyan defense has faced 150 pass plays. Tufts? 188 pass plays.

With the Cardinals starting to figure things out as a team and still a bevy of concerns for the Polar Bears, it’s going to be a frightful Halloween for Bowdoin.

Prediction: Wesleyan 35 – Bowdoin 14

Trinity at Middlebury, 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT

Live Stats  Video

A year ago this week the championship-hopeful Bantams were stunned in the Coop by Middlebury, breaking a more than decade-old home winning streak of 53 games. That loss sent the Bantams spiraling to three losses to end the year. Once again, these teams meet with Trinity undefeated and Middlebury with an outside shot at a shared title. The ramifications will be large no matter which way the result ends up.

This matchup bodes well for the Bantams. The Middlebury run defense, expected to be stout this season, has bent pretty considerably against some top rushing attacks. The Panthers allowed 5.1 yards per carry to Wesleyan in Week 1 and 3.9 per carry to Amherst in Week 3. They’ve effectively shut down the rushing games of Colby, Williams and Bates, but Trinity’s freshman tailback Max Chipouras ’19 will provide a stiff challenge. What’s more, the Panthers have to be prepared for the dual-threat at QB that Sonny Puzzo ’18 provides.

The key for Middlebury, as always, is to score early and force teams to throw the football – something that they haven’t done particularly well this year. Their halftime scores so far this season: 7-13 at Wesleyan, 21-2 vs. Colby, 7-10 at Amherst, 9-7 vs. Williams and 14-10 at Bates. In all but one game, Middlebury was within four points at halftime. When they’ve started to get the offense rolling in the second half and forced teams to throw, the Panthers defense has responded with some big takeaways and shut down the opposition. That strategy could be particularly effective this week given Puzzo’s recent struggles – he had two picks at Tufts and only completed 10 of 20 passes last week vs. Bowdoin.

Offensively for Middlebury, the rushing attack has been bad, plain and simple. Only once, in the Panthers’ blowout victory over Williams, has the running game been effective. But, frankly, Middlebury has proven that they don’t need to run the ball in order to be successful. It would be nice, but Middlebury makes up for its rushing deficiency with short passes and running back screens. With Banky apparently out for the season with an ankle injury, the impetus now falls on slot-turned wideout Ryan Rizzo ’17, slot receiver Tanner Contois ’18 and All-League player Matt Minno ’16 on the other side to make some big plays in the receiving game for Matt Milano ’16. I think they do just enough to squeak by the Bants.

Prediction: Middlebury 28 – Trinity 21

Bates at Colby, 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

Video

The CBB is under way, and with both of these teams populating the bottom of the standings, the Maine championship becomes the primary focus. This game turned into a high-scoring OT affair a season ago at Bates, but I don’t see the same thing happening this time around. Though RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has really turned it on for Colby as of late, the offense still ranks last in the ‘CAC with 13.4 points per game. Gabe Harrington ’17 has really struggled with eight interceptions in five games, but he’s also been sacked 10 times and his receivers aren’t exactly running free all over the field. It’s hard to tell who’s to blame on the Colby offense because nothing is going right at the moment, but if they are going to break out – particularly throwing the ball – this could be their chance.

The Bates defense has been only slightly better than Colby, allowing 27.0 points per game, and is last in the league with 305.6 passing yards per game allowed. Wideouts Mark Snyder ’17 and Mbasa Mayikana ’18 are big targets on the Colby offense even if they haven’t been that productive so far, and could be found on a couple of deep balls for big plays.

The Bates offense, as we know, relies on misdirection and the running game. The loss of slotback Shaun Carroll ’16, who had been averaging 5.3 yards per carry, really hurts, but the Bobcats hope to offset that loss with the return of Sean Peterson ’18 to the lineup. His debut a week ago against Middlebury was not very impressive in the running game, but he caught a few passes and was able to show off his athleticism in open space. That he garnered 14 carries despite averaging just a yard per rush shows that he is expected to be a big part of the offense down the stretch. Peterson and crew will need to have a big-time day on the ground in order to get their second win. I think Colby will land the first punch in the CBB battle but hitting on a couple of deep throws and burning clock with Hurdle-Price, and as long as that defensive line stays disciplined the back seven can make enough plays to continue Bates on offense.

Prediction: Colby 21 – Bates 17

Hamilton at Williams, 1:30 PM, Williamstown, MA

Live Stats  Video

Things are not good in Clinton and Williamstown these days. For the Continentals part, there has been a lot of moral victories, including an OT loss against Tufts and two close games with Wesleyan and Colby. The defense has really stood on its head at times despite playing some younguns, and Cole Freeman ’19 stepped into the limelight two weeks ago at QB and would have lead Hamilton to a victory if not for Nelson’s Godly performance for Bowdoin. At the end of the day though, you can’t argue with the scoreboard, and Hamilton is still 0-5. The Ephs, meanwhile, amidst some rumblings of discontent from people around the program (nothing concrete), started off well with two wins sandwiched around a handy and expected beatdown against Trinity. However, the last two weeks have been disastrous for Williams, and with a roadtrip to Wesleyan in Week 7 and a rivalry game with Amherst in Week 8 looming, this might be the Ephs’ last shot at a victory to move to 3-5 and avoid a third straight 2-6 record, something that seems impossible for such a storied program.

Williams has allowed just 198.0 yards per game through the air, but they’ve also been behind for considerable amounts of a few games and have faced Bates, so coincidentally they rank eighth in rushing yards allowed per game. Nevertheless, I think that Williams is better against the pass than the run, which is good when matching up with Hamilton, who hasn’t been able to get a sputtering running attack going whatsoever. LaShawn Ware ’18, a talented runner who showed some potential a season ago, is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, and subsequently Jason “Bane” Nastovski, previously cast as a fullback, led the squad with 12 carries last week to Ware’s nine. Combined, the pair had just 62 yards rushing on 21 carries. Clearly, a lot of pressure will be placed on Freeman and his receivers, particularly Charles Ensley ’17, a dynamic playmaker who just needs to get the ball in his hands, and the reliable Pat Donahoe ’16.

So do the Conts finally get the monkey off their back this week, or do the Ephs get mad and pull out a victory? I’m expecting an ugly game, with, as usual, a turnover being the difference. That Williams is at home I think benefits them, and Hamilton has been much worse on the road, losing 29-4 at Trinity and 30-20 at Bowdoin. Williams gets its third win of the season.

Prediction: Williams 21 – Hamilton 14

When the Boss Takes over the Ranks: Power Rankings 10/23

Williams is the "Best of the Rest" right now - can they get over that hump? (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
Williams is the “Best of the Rest” right now – can they get over that hump? (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Usual rank-man Nick DiBenedetto is on vacation this week (probably sipping mai tais in Cabo San Lucas … just kidding, he just had mid-terms), so I, Joe MacDonald, am taking over. So after today you can stop heckling me for ranks that aren’t even mine, and can start telling me how stupid I am while actually knowing what you’re talking about.

1. Amherst Lord Jeffs (4-0; Last Week: 2)

The LJ’s are the defending champs, 4-0, looking for their 16th straight win, and are better than the 2014 title team. That’s because besides having a great defense and a great rushing attack, Amherst actually has a passing threat this season. The Lord Jeffs have averaged 7.3 yards per pass attempt, third in the NESCAC, all thanks to Reece Foy ’18 (and some talented receivers and great blocking). They’re still a rush first team (953 yards on the ground, 5.3 YPC and 10 TDs, all 1st in the NESCAC), but the aerial threat is a scary new dimension.

2. Trinity Bantams (4-0; Last Week: 1)

Tufts be damned. No team gets through a season without a scare or two. The Bantams defense still looks great, and by the way, the Bants have the No. 2 scoring offense in the league. If anything, I’m a little concerned about the run game. Maybe that’s silly for a team averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but I think there will be a lot of pressure put on Max Chipouras ’19 as he develops into a feature back, and I worry about him wearing down and about how a first-year hangs in there when Trinity meets the big boys in Middlebury, Amherst and Wesleyan.

3. Middlebury Panthers (3-1; Last Week: 3)

Is that a running game I see? Yeah, it was only one game, but we all knew that Diego Meritus ’19 had the physical ability to do what he did to Williams. He’s really good with a head of steam. It’s just hard to get going when you’re taking handoffs standing still in the shotgun next to the QB. He’s also been effective in the screen game, so more of that is in order. But defensively, what’s going on with the rush defense? The Panthers have allowed 301, 100, 190 and 95 yards rushing so far, and that’s not with teams running out the clock against them. This was the 4th-best rush defense in the ‘CAC a year ago. Time to get it together.

4. Wesleyan Cardinals (3-1; Last Week: 4)

Now it gets interesting, but I’m giving Wesleyan the slightest of edges over Tufts. Wesleyan has just been there before. And, even without LaDarius Drew ’15, the run game is scary and multi-faceted. I know they’re young, but it’s a winning culture, and that appears to have carried over. At least, that’s how I choose to look at it, rather than a team that plays down or up to the level of its competition. Can they match Amherst’s level, though? We’ll find out tomorrow.

5. Tufts Jumbos (3-1; Last Week: 6)

Another team with a few questionable close calls, but an equally eye-opening close loss. Formerly a high-flying, pass-happy team with no defense, the Jumbos are actually relying on their D to carry the load. They’ve given up a lot of yards, but only 116.8 per game on the ground (4th-best) and have 12 takeaways (1st) and 14 sacks (T-1st). The defense stalled the Continentals’ offense in the OT period in Week 1 and then forced interception, fumble recover, 4th-and-out on Bates’ final three possessions in Week 2. This week the Jumbos try to prove they are in the top half to stay.

6. Williams Ephs (2-2; Last Week: 5)

Watch out for that cliff … sorry, guys, I couldn’t resist. I know what it feels like to be looking up at something that seems to be further than the moon, but for everyone between 6-10, competing for a NESCAC title is a fantasy right now. So it goes in the NESCAC where “parity” has not been the name of the game. However, the Ephs earn this spot by virtue of their Week 1 trouncing of the Polar Bears. Aside from that, they have a close win over Bates and two uninspiring performances against Trinity and Middlebury. What do they do well? Pass defense, having only allowed 201.3 YPG. Then again, Trinity and Middlebury had big leads and they’ve also played the triple-option Bobcats. Still, they’ve got some playmakers there, and they’ll be needed this week against Tufts.

7. Bates Bobcats (0-4; Last Week: 7)

Playing close games earns the ‘Cats some respect, but they’d really prefer a W. Some head-scratching calls have directly led to a couple L’s – plays that make one look like a genius when they go right. In any case, the’ve got to move the ball better. Thirty pass attempts from Pat Dugan ’16 a week ago seems confusing, until you realize that 20 of those came in the fourth quarter with the Bobcats down big. The fact is that they aren’t tricking teams with the triple-option anymore, and opponents have started to bottle up Mark Riley ’16, the league’s leading receiver a year ago. This could quickly get ugly if the offense doesn’t start rolling.

8. Bowdoin Polar Bears (1-3; Last Week: 10)

The Polar Bears dispatched the Continentals in Week 4 thanks to the emergence of a fresh-faced frosh. (CI Photography)
The Polar Bears dispatched the Continentals in Week 4 thanks to the emergence of a fresh-faced frosh. (CI Photography)

They have a W, which is better than can be said for the teams below them in the ranks, but I so nearly put them ninth, because I just don’t buy the supernova debut from Noah Nelson ’19. I’m happy for him, but nothing about his game or practice play in the preseason or first three weeks screamed ‘immediate star.’ With a really tough second start against Trinity this week, I expect to see Bowdoin drop a spot next week. But for now, they’re on a winning streak, and so we have them eighth.

9. Colby Mules (0-4; Last Week: 9)

Not much good going on in Maine right now. The defense is playing okay for Colby, and the D-line specifically has shown me some flashes of penetration. But seven interceptions from starting QB Gabe Harrington ’17 just isn’t getting it done. He’s not getting much help, though. Top target Mark Snyder ’18 provides a lot of size and good hands, but he’s not blowing away any DBs. They don’t even have a passing TD yet … hopefully the resurgence of Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 starts opening up some throwing lanes.

10. Hamilton Continentals (0-10; Last Week: 10)

The Continentals have been competitive, so good times seem to be ahead. However, they’re not right around the corner. There’s far too much confusion at quarterback, and no rushing attack to speak of. After looking very respectable in the first two games, allowing 17 points to Tufts in regulation before surrendering a TD on the overtime drive and just 15 to points to Wesleyan, Trinity and Bowdoin have torn up the Continentals’ defense. There are some youngsters on the Hamilton defense making plays, which is encouraging, but there are still more questions than answers.

The Treaty of Westphalia (and NESCAC Football): Weekend Preview 10/24

DB Cameron Rondeau '19 and the Polar Bears are flying high after a 30-20 win a week ago. (CIPhotography.com/Bowdoin Athletics)
DB Cameron Rondeau ’19 and the Polar Bears are flying high after a 30-20 win a week ago. (CIPhotography.com/Bowdoin Athletics)

On October 24 in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, ending the 30 Years’ War. More importantly, the treaty established the principle known as Westphalian Sovereignty, which means that all countries are equal in international law and all countries have sovereignty over all affairs within their own borders. It is widely regarded as crucial in developing the system of nation-states in Europe for the rest of the millennium.

That has nothing to do with NESCAC football, but I include it in the article to remind you that nothing done on Saturday during a NESCAC football game will be remembered in 377 years like the Treaty of Westphalia. In 377 years people will look at football the same way we look at Renaissance Fairs. Not that the games don’t matter – of course they do. Enjoy them, imbibe in them, and tell all your friends at the game to read Nothing but NESCAC. Enough with the rambling, onto the actual analysis.

Four to Watch

  1. Wide Receiver Charles Ensley ’17 (Hamilton): I was able to see Ensley close up last Saturday against Bowdoin. Obviously, I came away impressed as he had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. Honestly he could have had even more yards than that, but the Hamilton QBs missed him on a couple of throws down the field. Ensley regularly got behind Bowdoin’s defensive secondary. Ensley seems to be a favorite of Cole Freeman ’18,  who came on to replace Chase Rosenberg ’17, at the end of the second quarter: all of his catches came after Freeman entered the game.
  2. Cornerback Tim Preston ’19 (Tufts): Despite not playing in the opening game, Preston (whom I incorrectly called a linebacker last week) is tied for the league lead in interceptions with four. Every week his statistics and play-making has become better and better. Last week was his official coming out party with two interceptions which he returned for 55 total yards. An even 6’0″, he is taller than most NESCAC cornerbacks, and this picture shows perfectly how he uses that height to his advantage. Preston will get plenty of action against the pass-happy Ephs.
  3. Linebacker Philippe Archambault ’19 (Bowdoin): Another freshman defensive player making a big impact after a slow start is Archambault. He entered the starting lineup against Tufts in Week 3, and in the two games since he has 19 tackles. More impressive is that he has three sacks in two games. Archambault plays middle linebacker, and both of his sacks against Hamilton came on delayed stunts where he came free. Trinity’s offensive line gives the French-Canadian another new challenge to take on.
  4. Quarterback Patrick Dugan ’16 (Bates): Dugan had a game to forget against Williams two weeks ago going 1-14, but he bounced back against Wesleyan throwing for 204 yards on 14-30 passing. I would still like Bates to be more unpredictable in throwing the ball on early downs, but allowing Dugan to throw the ball 30 times is still encouraging. He is never going to be a high completion percentage type, and the offense is never going to revolve around him throwing the ball. Still, getting the ball downfield in order to gain big chunks is a must.

Game Previews

Colby (0-4) at Hamilton (0-4): 12:00 PM, Clinton, NY

Live Stats  Video

A winless team will get on the board. Assuming Freeman starts at QB, the Continentals will have their third different starting QB this season, and the running game for Hamilton has not gotten going. Against the experienced defensive line led by Ryan Ruiz ’16, that won’t change very much. I was expecting more from the Continentals last week frankly, but they were dominated for three of the four quarters by the Polar Bears.

The statistics for Colby last week against Amherst are truly shocking. The Mules outgained the Jeffs 400-307 and also had the advantage in first downs 23-15. Most unbelievable, Colby held the ball for 36:48. Even though they never seriously threatened Amherst, for the second straight week they showed that they are capable of playing quality football. Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has cemented himself as one of the best running backs in the league. The long drive to Hamilton scares me, but I’m going with the Mules

Prediction: Colby over Hamilton 13-10

Bowdoin (1-3) at Trinity (4-0): 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT

Live Stats  Video

The Bantams looked oh so mortal last week, in large part because of their own mistakes. They had five turnovers and a crazy 13 penalties for 144 yards. They also somehow went 2-12 on third down even though they had 523 yards of total offense. Those are all fixable things, and the Bantams didn’t come into the game doing any of those things particularly poorly. Linebacker Liam Kenneally ’18 is quickly taking up the mantle of Bantam linebackers, finishing with 11 tackles last week. Even though the defense gave up 323 yards, they still held Alex Snyder ’17 to 11-30 throwing the ball. Through four games, opposing QBs have a completion percentage of 41.7 percent (53-127) and are averaging 138.5 YPG through the air.

Quarterback Noah Nelson ’19 had as fine a debut as one could have hoped for, but the sequel will have trouble matching that success. Nelson did a great job finding the open receiver and trusting his guys to make plays in one-on-one match-ups. The windows in the defense will be smaller and the jump balls might not be completed, and he won’t have as much time in the pocket as he did last week. Of course, Nelson can play loose as a daisy: nobody is expecting him to beat Trinity in the Coop in his second college start. Tim Drakeley ’17 will be back healthy next week, and the Polar Bears will reevaluate their QB situation then. Nelson could win the job permanently if he plays well, but he won’t necessarily lose it if he has a sub-par performance.

As for the game Saturday, Trinity plays better at home than they do on the road, the Bantams need to get everything working right before they begin their tough three-game final stretch. Still, remember that Bowdoin led Trinity 10-3 entering the 4th quarter last year…

Prediction: Trinity over Bowdoin 28-14

 

Middlebury (3-1) at Bates (0-4): 1:00 PM

Can Matt Minno '16 (88) keep up his current hot streak? (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
Can Matt Minno ’16 (88) keep up his current hot streak? (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Live Stats  Video

Bates has now lost three games in a row by single digits. That sucks, plain and simple. The defense has been decent at not giving up points, but they still allowed 447 yards last week and are giving up an average of 424.5 per game. Even though some players like Brandon Williams ’17 and Sam Francis ’17 have quickly become important pieces of the puzzle, there is still enough inexperience that the defense has difficulty getting stops.

Matt Milano ’16 is going to put up big numbers this week, I can bet that, but how efficient will he be doing it? He was 20-41 against Williams, but he also was below 50 percent against Williams last year. He then used the Bates game as a springboard to his eye-popping second half. The Panthers can still grab a share of the NESCAC title. As long as their run defense, the second-worst in the league giving up an average of 171.5 YPG, isn’t completely exposed, they will pull this one out.

Prediction: Middlebury over Bates 24-13

 

Tufts (3-1) at Williams (2-2): 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

Live Stats  Video

These two have had three common opponents: both beat Bowdoin handily, squeaked by Bates, and lost to Trinity. Tufts obviously played the Bantams closer (Williams lost 24-0 compared to the 34-27 overtime loss for Tufts). Playing the comparative opponent’s game can be tricky, so I’m going to mostly disregard it. The Ephs defense completely ran out of a gas in the second half against Middlebury, allowing 27 straight points to finish the game after Williams went up 14-9 in the third quarter. Things get a little easier against Tufts. Not that much, though, with Chance Brady ’17, the leading rusher in the NESCAC, transforming the Jumbos into a more ground-heavy attack.

The Jumbos defense’s greatest weakness is against the pass; Williams loves to throw the ball, so advantage Ephs there. Austin Lommen ’16 just has to stop throwing bad interceptions; he has six, the second the most in the league. The Ephs defense doesn’t scare you with any player in particular, as impact players have missed time with injury. They are still a good defense though, so long as you don’t put them on the same scale as a Amherst or Trinity. This is the hardest game to predict this week. One potential difference-maker for Tufts is if they can break a long return since the Ephs have allowed two crucial returns for touchdowns. When in doubt, go with the home team.

Prediction: Williams over Tufts 22-19

NbN Last Week: 4-1
NbN on the Season: 17-3

Mid-Year Report: 5 Biggest Surprises So Far

Quarterback Noah Nelson '19 came out of nowhere to win NESCAC POTW Honors. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Quarterback Noah Nelson ’19 came out of nowhere to win NESCAC POTW Honors. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

The NESCAC football season has brought us all of the drama and excitement that we could have asked. And while the standings are largely where we thought they’d be at season’s beginning, and many of last year’s standouts have built upon their impressive resumes, nevertheless there have been a myriad of surprises, as well.

Like the ending of the Departed – wait, maybe that’s a bad example. Like the big reveal of Darth Vader’s true identity in The Empire Strikes Back – do anyone of the younguns playing in the NESCAC today even know what I’m talking about – some things we just never see coming. And with that in mind, below are the five biggest surprises of the 2015 NESCAC football season, in order from “Oh no, someone ate the last Oreo” to “My car is gone, my girlfriend broke up with me and my house burnt down – I just saw it on Facebook”.

5. There Are Freshmen All over the Leaderboards

And that doesn’t even count last week’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week, Bowdoin QB Noah Nelson ’19, who isn’t eligible for the leaderboards despite a 328-yard, four-touchdown performance in Week 4. Amherst (Jack Hickey ’19) and Middlebury (Diego Meritus ’19) both have ball carriers in the top-10 in rushing yards per game, and Tufts’ Dom Borelli ’19 has shown some flashes of talent. On the receiving end, Middlebury’s Conrado Banky ’19 has turned a couple big plays into 64.8 YPG receiving, good for ninth in the NESCAC. On the defensive end, LB Phillippe Archambault ’19 (Bowdoin), LBs Ryan Neville ’19 (Colby) and Sam Friedman ’19 (Colby), DL Tyler Hudson ’19 (Hamilton) and DB Colby Jones ’19 (Hamilton), LBs Dagon Picon-Roura ’19 (Trinity) and Shane Libby ’19 (Trinity), and DB Alexander LaPiana ’19 (Tufts) are all making immediate impacts for their new squads. Every year some first-years make their mark right away, but it’s always impressive to see, and the number of contributors this year has been particularly large

4. The Tufts Jumbos Are 3-1, with a 34-27 OT Loss vs. Trinity

Sure, we predicted a 4-4 season for Tufts and they’ve won the games we expected them to. They also scraped by Hamilton and Bates by a total of four points. So we shouldn’t really be surprised by where Tufts stands right now. But then again, they did almost beat a 3-0 Trinity team that had yet to allow a point on defense. Maybe, just maybe, this team is getting better. And better yet, they’re starting to believe that they belong. For a team that hadn’t won a football game since Sept. 15, 2010 before last season, they seem to have arrived and become relevant at last.

3. The Wesleyan Rushing Attack

The Cardinals’ returned All-NESCAC running back Lou Stevens ’17 and brought back the formerly-injured LaDarius Drew ’15 to the backfield for this season. I would have bet my entire bank account (that probably sounds more impressive than it is) that at least one of those two would be running roughshod over the NESCAC already.

And yet, in Week 1 Jaylen Berry ’18 led the Cards’ attack with 122 rushing yards on 21 carries (5.8 YPC) and Drew and Stevens combined for just eight carries. On the season, Berry, quarterback Gernald Hawkins ’18 and slot receiver/Wildcat QB Devon Carrillo ’16 have all rushed for more yards than Stevens and Drew, and Drew has only played in two games this season, meaning that he is not recovered from his injury in 2014. Stevens finally got it going a week ago, running for 117 yards on just 12 carries including a 40-yard rumble, but it’s fairly obvious that we’re not going to see a workhorse emerge in the Cardinals’ backfield this season, with Head Coach Dan DiCenzo electing to spread out the carries.

2. The Maine Schools are a Combined 1-11

We had all three projected for either two or three wins, so the CBB was expected to be weak this season – but not this weak. If not for an offensive explosion from a newcomer at QB, Bowdoin could easily be 0-4 and the CBB would be 0-12. Something needs to change, because this kind of disparity is not good for the Maine schools or the league as a whole. Of those 11 losses, only three have really been close. Hopefully things turn around down the stretch, but that remains to be seen.

1. Passing Is up in the ‘CAC – and by a lot.

Last year, only two teams finished the season with over 200 YPG through the air – Middlebury (265.0) and Tufts (234.5). This season, through four games, EIGHT teams have at least 200 YPG passing, led by the Panthers (314.0) and capped with the Wesleyan Cardinals (200.8). From where is this difference coming? We thought, with the graduation of some top passers in Jesse Warren ’15 and Jack Doll ’15, that passing might be down this season. But on the contrary, passing is way up. The top-five passing defenses from a year ago are the same, and Trinity, Middlebury, Amherst, Williams and Wesleyan are performing similarly to a year ago. But Hamilton, Bates and Tufts, in particular, are relinquishing too many yards through the air. Even though Bates only threw for 110 yards against Tufts in Week 2, the Jumbos are allowing 290.0 YPG through the air. But it’s not just the lackluster performance of the Jumbos defense against the pass, but the arrival of some impressive QBs. Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Reece Foy ’18 are the league’s No. 2 and No. 3 passes to-date.

For awhile now the theme has been three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust in the NESCAC, but that appears to be changing.