Game Info: Trinity (6-0) at Amherst (6-0): 1:00 PM, Amherst, MA
There’s no doubt about it. The NESCAC Championship will be determined this Saturday when two undefeated powerhouses clash in Amherst. Technically, we could get a shared title if the winner this weekend loses in Week 8 and vice versa, the loser this weekend wins in Week 8 … but we think that’s a silly rule and so we’re going to go ahead and say that this weekend’s winner will be the NESCAC champion.
This matchup dates back to 1886 (a game which Amherst won 20-4), and the LJ’s hold the all-time advantage 58-43-9 over Trinity. But that’s all ancient history. Sports is a “What have you done for me lately” kind of business, and lately Amherst has edged out a couple of victories by the slimmest of margins. In 2013, Amherst Head Coach EJ Mills got his 100th victory as the LJ’s slipped by Trinity, 17-16. The difference in that one was a mixed extra point by former Trinity kicker Ben Rosenblatt ’17 late in the fourth quarter. Tragically for the former kicker, a missed extra point was the only difference in the 2014 matchup, as well. The Bantams offense had been suffering greatly by that point in the season. Phenomenal RB Chudi Iregbulem ’15 was banged up for most of the second half of the year. Current QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 was out for the year, and starter Henry Foye ’16 down with an injury, so fill-in Hayden Jardine ’16 was only able to manufacture one scoring drive in the first quarter. Despite multiple takeaways, Amherst was still scoreless into the fourth quarter. Finally, LB Chris Tamasi ’15 recovered a game-changing fumble that led to a 39-yard TD drive and an Amherst victory.
What does all of this mean for this year’s game? Not much more than we know it won’t come easy to either team. The Trinity offense is much improved from the one that battled with the LJ’s last year, but otherwise a lot of the same characters are back. Trinity has a brand new linebacking corps, but this year’s rendition is as good as ever. The same is true for a couple of the Amherst linebackers, but the biggest change for the Lord Jeffs is Reece Foy ’18 at quarterback.
Things have been a little off recently for Foy, who has four interceptions in his last two games and had his lowest yardage total and yards per attempt a week ago against Tufts. Foy hasn’t been able to use his legs effectively much, either, even though he has the athleticism to do so. He’s become a pass-first QB, which is commendable, especially in a day and age where we glorify “dual-threats” and love to watch QBs scramble and make plays, but maybe what he needs now is a chance to use his legs a little bit. A QB draw here, a roll out scramble there, and suddenly the linebackers start drawing in, allowing Foy to hit some of his talented wideouts over the top.
Trinity X-factor: OLB Shane Libby ’19
It didn’t really strike me that Libby was a freshman until I sat down to write this article. Yeah I knew the kid was good, but holy crap I didn’t know he was this good and this young. The Bantams run a 3-4 with three down lineman and the fourth linebacker on the line of scrimmage. As the stand-up D-end in Trinity’s base defense, his job is to get after the passer. In any game, the two keys for defenses are 1) turnovers and 2), and this is the one I’m concerned about, shutting down one phase of the opponent’s game. Pundits always focus on shutting down the run, but it can be just as effective to shut down a team’s passing game which subsequently allows a defense to bottle up the run. That’s a long way of saying that if Libby can put pressure on Foy – and improve on his team-leading 3.5 sacks – then everything else will fall into place for the Trinity defense.
Amherst X-factor: K Charlie Wall ’18
Hey! A kicker shout out!
It’s been a one-point game the last two years, and the difference has been the kicking game. Phillip Nwosu ’15 was a great kicker, but Wall has stepped in superbly. The man is 7-8 on field goals for the best percentage in the league and 21-23 on extra points – most of anyone in the NESCAC. He doesn’t have as big of a leg as Nwosu, but he’s very consistent. Whether it’s a field goal or an extra point, I’m feeling that there will be an influential kick at some point on Saturday.
So who has the advantage? Let’s break it down.
Let’s start with the Amherst offense and the Trinity defense. Furthermore, let’s start with the passing game. Foy has been a little inconsistent, but if you look at the season as a whole, he’s actually taken remarkably good care of the ball. Here’s a fun little chart that may or may not be useful:
Foy is among the league’s best in attempts/interception. However, Trinity is great at making opposing QBs pay with 11 interceptions on the season, most in the league. The Bantams are going to be focused on stopping the Amherst rushing attack, though, so I don’t see Foy making many mistakes.
In terms of the ground game, Amherst’s biggest strength is the ability to cycle backs through. Kenny Adinkra ’16 is as tough as they come, Nick Kelly ’17 was the team’s best back a year ago but has dealt with injuries this season, and Jack Hickey ’19 might be the most talented of all, combining size and speed to average 6.8 yards per carry. The Amherst O-line is elite, and while the Trinity D-line is definitely good, I give the edge to Amherst.
On the flip side, I was shocked by the sheer size of the Trinity offensive line when I saw them in person. Of course, size isn’t necessarily the only thing that matters when it comes to O-line play, but it definitely helps. RT Chris Simmons ’18 is a tank, and all Max Chipouras ’19 needs to do is follow Simmons and Co. to the promised land. But – and there’s always a “but” – Amherst’s ability to rotate six defensive linemen keeps the LJs fresh. After watching the Middlebury defensive line handle the Trinity rushing attack a week ago, I have faith that Amherst can do the same.
It’s going to be imperative for Puzzo to find some targets downfield if Trinity is going to move the football. Too often the offense relies on a big play from the defense or special teams to spark a drive. While I never count out Darrien Myers ’17 in the return game, I’ve already talked about my faith in Amherst to hold onto the football and not turn it over. Much like Foy, Puzzo hasn’t been using his legs much recently. I don’t think he’s necessarily as inclined as Foy to run anyway. But maybe this would be a good time for Puzzo to run a little bit, too. After all, Wesleyan QB Gernald Hawkins ’18 gashed the Amherst D for 85 yards on 21 attempts earlier this season.
If it were a simple numbers game, the analysis above would suggest that Amherst will come out on top. The Jeffs seem to have the advantage in almost every phase discussed above. I give them the edge both rushing and passing against the Trinity defense, and in their ability to stop the Trinity running attack. Where Trinity closes the gap, I believe, is in the passing game – something that might be surprising for a team that is pretty run-first – but that’s where I think they can exploit the Jeffs.
It’s going to be a low-scoring game, much like the last two seasons. And special teams could be the difference, which of course favors the Bantams. Amherst is looking for its 18th straight win, and Trinity is looking to return to the pinnacle, a place they long remained. This is one for the history books, boys and girls. One that will see Trinity end up victorious.
Trinity 17 – Amherst 14