Something Exciting This Way Comes: Week Five Power Rankings

The NESCAC schedule this season seems to share a structure with the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There is a first half that is somewhat formulaic and drags on forever, and then a second half that blows it all out of the water with incredible drama, despite some dull plot holes . The first half of the season featured good teams playing bad teams, and now the good teams play the good teams and the bad teams play the bad teams. This is obviously the time in which the championship will be decided, so let’s see where the teams stand heading into the “Judy” half of the season (watch the movie folks!)

Kim Novak is all the NESCAC teams at once.

1: Trinity

Until Trinity loses, they have earned the top spot in the rankings. They have the best running back in the league in Max Chipouras ‘18, the third best quarterback in the league in Sonny Puzzo ‘18 (dm us on Twitter, I can defend my claims,) and a defense that seems to have a new MVP every week. Recently, it has been the linebacking corps that has stepped up. The secondary has been impenetrable all year, giving up only 126 passing yards per game, a very impressive stat in the pass-heavy NESCAC. But the rush defense is rounding into shape. Linebackers Shane Libby ‘19 and Dago Picon-Roura ‘19 have stuffed rushing attacks to the tune of 98 rushing yards per game. And it’s a good thing they did, because Williams has a tremendously underrated rushing attack. Stopping Connor Harris ‘18 and freshman weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21 was the key to Trinity surviving a strong upset bid. The season is about to get interesting for the Bantams. They haven’t played any of the upper tier yet, which has contributed to their aura of invincibility. But with Tufts this weekend, that will change. That rush defense will again be tested by Ryan McDonald ‘20. And, through no fault of their own, they have a legitimate challenger in Middlebury, and their matchup with the Panthers in two weeks looms.

2: Middlebury

Speaking of the Panthers, they are starting to look as dominant on offense as Trinity does on defense (and pretty formidable on defense as well.) To continue my quest to compliment Jared Lebowitz ‘18 in every article, he has raised his level of play past even where it was last year. We wrote at the beginning of the season that the key to Middlebury’s title hopes would be taking care of the ball, and Lebowitz only has two interceptions this year after having five at this point last season. Additionally, in Wesleyan and Amherst, Middlebury has played two of the best defenses in the league. Lebowitz has not dominated those games. Against Amherst he only had 205 yards, and against Wesleyan he only completed 50% of his passes. But in those two games he has 6 touchdowns and no interceptions, and, lo and behold, Middlebury has won both games.

Lebowitz not turning the ball over has allowed Middlebury to win games in other ways. Jimmy Martinez ‘19 is a combination of Tyreek Hill and a Power Ranger in the return game. He’s so terrifying that teams would rather squib kicks than give him the chance to run them back. This gives Lebowitz the Panthers excellent starting field position. And the defense, after struggling against Wesleyan in the fourth quarter in Week One, has become one of the most explosive units in the league. They scored two touchdowns against Amherst, including one from LB Wesley Becton ‘18, who is quickly becoming a First Team candidate. The unit leads the league in interceptions, and have done it against elite competition, unlike Trinity.

3: Amherst

The Amherst Football redemption tour bus hit a pothole last weekend when they dropped a key home game to Middlebury. A win against the Panthers would have put them in a great position to at least split the league title; now they’ll need some help from the teams remaining. Defense was not the problem for the Mammoths against Middlebury. They held the vaunted Middlebury offense to just 287 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. And the three passing touchdowns that the Panthers produced were heavily aided by 3 Amherst interceptions. One of those came from starter Ollie Eberth ‘21, but two came from Reece Foy ‘18. Herein lies Amherst’s problem. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Foy is not ready to be the player he was before his injury last off-season. Eberth is a great talent, but the prospect of beating Trinity with a first year QB is not a promising one. Amherst has the best rushing attack in the league, with Jack Hickey ‘19 and Hasani Figueroa ‘18 (189 yards combined against Middlebury.)Amherst should up both of their carries to make up for the inconsistencies at QB, but you can’t beat teams like Middlebury or Trinity without a well-rounded offense.

James O’ Regen ’20 is one of the biggest receivers in the league at 6’4″, and has been using that size to put up even bigger numbers.

4: Wesleyan

I really wanted to put the Cardinals ahead of Amherst here, but after the outcry against the Stock Report I thought better of it. The Cardinals offense continued to fly high last weekend against Colby, as did the remarkable season of QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18. He is tied with Lebowitz for the league lead in touchdowns and passing yards per game, and has one of the highest completion percentages in the country  at over 70%. He does have a propensity for interceptions (6 already on the year,) and that hurt them in their opening loss to Middlebury. Their rushing attack is coming together nicely as Dario Highsmith ‘20 continues to flash huge potential, and they might even be able to give him more carries and keep some pressure off of First Team Candidates Piccirillo and WR Mike Breuler ’18.

For Wesleyan, the fault is not in their stars, dear Brutus, but in their defense. The stats are solid (between third and fourth in the league in yards and points per game,) but they are not as dangerous as they were last season. The unit has only forced four turnovers on the season, the lowest of the top teams, and that includes none against Middlebury. That may seem like a bit of a nit-picky complaint against a unit that has only given up 15 points per game despite playing Middlebury and Tufts already, but it matters. They simply haven’t been as dangerous on defense as Middlebury and Trinity have, and that is why they’re just outside of the upper echelon.

5: Williams

Rashad Morrison ’21 is another weapon on a Williams offense that is getting scarier by the minute.

I know that Bates’ defense make every team they play look like me in online Madden (that is, unbeatable,) but Williams’ performance last week.was still impressive. They put up 590 yards of total offense, including 289 rushing yards, and 47 points, the second most in the league this year. Bobby Maimeron ‘21 continued his star turn in his freshman year, and Frank Stola ‘21 netted 172 and two touchdowns. The defense tallied four interceptions against the overmatched Bates offense. It was an all around domination that showed just how far Williams has come from being one of the worst teams in the league just last season. Something to watch for out of this game was the emergence of versatile weapon Rashad Morrison ‘21. After not playing in the first three games, the speedy receiver exploded for 85 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. Between him and Connor Harris ‘18, Williams has two explosive backfield options who can break games with their speed. The Ephs are very much here to stay, and have another chance to notch a huge upset this weekend in Middlebury. The Panthers should be very wary.

6: Tufts

Tufts has done nothing to deserve being dropped in the rankings. I’m just getting that out the way now before Rory and Sid text me and call me names. They suffered a tough loss to Wesleyan in Week Two, and since then have beaten up on lower tier teams, just like the teams above them on this list. Ryan McDonald ‘18 is the best dual-threat QB in the league, averaging over 90 rushing yards per game in addition to 220 passing yards. However, he is their entire offense. RB Dom Borelli ‘19 has struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year, and they lack an explosive playmaker outside of swiss army knife WR Jack Dolan ‘18. This is what separates them from the likes of Trinity, Middlebury and Wesleyan. They don’t have enough other weapons to win when they face a team that has the athleticism on defense to stop McDonald. Trinity, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams and Amherst all have that.

7: Hamilton

The Continentals have got to be a little frustrated, both in the schedulers and in themselves. For a couple years they’ve been amassing young talent, and it looked as if they, not Williams, would be the team to rise up out of the bottom tier and take on the big dogs. And after a close loss to Tufts in Week One, the “Hamilton is good now” train (on which I was the conductor) took off a little prematurely. Hamilton still hasn’t won a game yet this season, despite exciting young players such as QB Kenny Gray ’20 and WR Joe Schmidt ’20. However, they have also had to play all of those “big dogs” pretty immediately, and right in a row. Hamilton has played, in this order, Tufts, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity. So their record and anemic defensive and rushing statistics can be partially attributed to a young team playing very good teams early in the season. In the second half, they still have Middlebury, but they also finally play teams like Bates and Colby, whom they should beat. Look for Hamilton to grab some wins in the next couple weeks.

8: Bowdoin

Nate Richam
In his bio on the Bowdoin football website, Nate lists his favorite food as “linebackers,” which is awesome.

Here we are, the bottom tier. Bowdoin gets the “moral victory” trophy for being at the top of this group on the strength of their surprisingly solid rushing attack, led by Nate Richam ’20, who in his sophomore year is averaging 71 yards per game on five yards per carry. He doesn’t get a lot of red zone chances, as Bowdoin’s quarterback play has been less functional than the Trump White House and just as hard to watch. But in Richam, Bowdoin has the semblance of an identity, a power running team that works hard for every possession. They also have played a very difficult schedule thus far, and should use the second half to work on this identity.

9: Colby

These bottom two teams are both here for opposite, and historically bad reasons. For Colby, it is their offense. They don’t seem to have one. Colby has only scored 20 points all season, for an average of five per game. They only have 786 total yards, or to phrase it differently, nearly five hundred fewer than Jared Lebowitz has on his own. These numbers are bad no matter who they’ve played, and doesn’t bode well for even the easier games in the second half.

10: Bates

Three out of the five highest scoring games this season have come against the Bobcats. The Bobcats just gave up 590 yards to Williams, which is the equivalent of giving up 985 yards to Trinity. Bates recently gave up 75 yards on the ground and a touchdown to the dog from Air Bud, who died several years ago (sorry.) Bates’ defense hasn’t gotten much help from the offense, which has ten turnovers. I do like the direction Bates is trending in, as they have entirely given their season over to building up young QBs Matt Golden ’20 and Brendan Costa ’21. This second half should be about auditioning those two for the QB of the future role. Bates has no hope of winning any games this year if their defense doesn’t approach mediocrity real soon.

NbN 2015 End of Year Football Awards

Big plays, big hits, and jaw-dropping performances - We love NESCAC football. (Courtesy of Michael O'Hara/Middlebury Campus)
Big plays, big hits, and jaw-dropping performances – We love NESCAC football. (Courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Middlebury Campus)

We’re very sad to see football season go. Covering all of the drama, success and disappointment this season, it’s felt at times like we were on the field ourselves, living through the ups and downs. On a grand scale, Amherst took a lot of the drama out of the season by so consistently dispatching its opponents, but let’s not downgrade the exceptional performances of so many individuals on every team across the league. Even amongst so many standout showings, a few deserve recognition above all else.

Offensive Player of the Year: Tufts RB Chance Brady ’17

Chance Brady '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Chance Brady ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Brady was on our radar coming into the year, but we had no idea he was this good. Not only did he split carries last season with Zack Trause ’15 practically 50-50, but Tufts has historically been one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NESCAC. That completely changed this season with Brady serving as a workhorse for the Jumbos. Brady had 187 carries (two behind Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17), and led all qualified running backs in yards, yards per game and yards per carry while also tallying 11 rushing scores, two shy of the Tufts single-season record.

Honorable Mention: Middlebury QB Matt Milano ’16, Middlebury WR Matt Minno ’16, Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18, Trinity QB Sonny Puzzo ’18, Colby RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17

Defensive Players of the Year: Wesleyan DE Jordan Stone ’17 and Bates LB Mark Upton ’17

Mark Upton '17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Mark Upton ’17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Adam – Sheer production is the best way to describe Mark Upton’s career at Bates, and he gets my vote for DPOY because of his leadership on a young defense to go along with those gaudy stats. Bates lost a lot from their 2014 defense, including the majority of the linebackers who played besides him. Teams game planned towards Upton unlike before, and while he couldn’t quite match the 84 tackles he had last year, he came close. Upton finished with 71 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He played best down the stretch averaging 9.8 tackles per game in his final five games.

Jordan Stone '17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletics)
Jordan Stone ’17 (Courtesy of Wesleyan University Athletics)

Joe – I went with Jordan Stone because he was a physical monster. Not only that, but Stone played alongside a bunch of freshmen on the D-line, and the Wesleyan defense as a whole was very green, so his numbers stand out that much more – and boy are they impressive. Thirty-five total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Ten! When thinking about these kinds of awards, my biggest question is always, Which player would it hurt the most to lose? I think this season it was Stone.

Honorable Mention: Amherst LB Evan Boynton ’17 , Middlebury DL Gil Araujo ’16, Bowdoin LB Branden Morin ’16, Middlebury CB Nate Leedy ’17, Trinity S Paul McCarthy ’16, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18

Kicker/Punter of the Year: Trinity K/P Kyle Pulek ’16

K/P Kyle Pulek '16 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
K/P Kyle Pulek ’16 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Pulek was consistently great punting the football (15 inside the 20, including six against Middlebury alone, which was a huge difference in the Bantams winning that contest), but it was his proficiency once thrust into the kicking role that gives him the edge over Amherst’s Jackson McGonagle ’16. Last season, Trinity’s kicking faults more or less directly led to a pair of Trinity losses. This season, kicker Eric Sachse ’19 was doing a fine job before he went down with an injury. Pulek came on and looked like a seasoned vet, making 10-10 extra points and 5-8 field goals – two of those misses were blocks, and the other was from 39 yards out.

Honorable Mention: Amherst P Jackson McGonagle, Tufts K/P Willie Holmquist ’17, Hamilton P Pat Donahoe ’16

Return Man of the Year: Trinity KR/PR Darrien Myers ’17

KR/PR Darrien Myers '17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
KR/PR/WR Darrien Myers ’17 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Not a ton of options on this one, and Myers is a more than deserving candidate, mostly because of his work on punt returns. He averaged 13.5 yards per return, a pretty sick number. Two of his returns went for touchdowns, and his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against Middlebury was a huge lift in their eventual win. Myers was not as dynamic on kickoffs as he has been in the past averaging 22.3 yards per return, but he still was a clear choice for us.

Honorable Mention: Tufts KR/PR Mike Rando ’17 and Williams KR/PR Mark Pomella ’16

Rookie of the Year: Hamilton DE Tyler Hudson ’19

DE Tyler Hudson '19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
DE Tyler Hudson ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Hudson exploded out of the gates with as good a debut in the NESCAC as anyone has had in awhile. Against Tufts he had 15 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. Keep in mind that he plays defensive end! He wasn’t that productive the rest of the year, but the final stats of 47 tackles, four sacks, and 12.5 TFL (second in the NESCAC) are pretty nifty. Hudson is so good that he even was on the field for the Continentals goal line package, though he never was able to bring in a reception. Hudson will be fun to watch for the next three years.

Honorable Mention: Tufts DB Tim Preston ’19, Trinity LB Shane Libby ’19, Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19, Bowdoin DB Cam Rondeau ’19

Coach of the Year: Tufts’ Jay Civetti

Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

With apologies to EJ Mills who cranks out 8-0 seasons like they can be made on an assembly line, Coach Jay Civetti deserves this one. The Jumbos went 6-2 and took another big step forward as a program. This season Tufts turned into a team that ran the ball first and forced big plays on defense. That is the EXACT opposite of what this team was just two years ago. It took Civetti a little time to have the results show up on the field, but what he is building at Tufts both on and off the field is impressive, and we were impressed with how he fit his game plan to his players’ talents.

Honorable Mention: Amherst’s EJ Mills, Wesleyan’s Dan DiCenzo

Breakout Player of the Year: Amherst QB Reece Foy ’18

QB Reece Foy '18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
QB Reece Foy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Our biggest worry for Amherst coming into the year was that they would be plagued by subpar QB play. Foy was not perfect this year, but he was the catalyst for the Amherst offense. He played his best football in the first half putting up more than 250 yards of total offense between running and passing in each of his first three games. He didn’t surpass that mark again the rest of the way, but he still made enough plays down the stretch of games. He ranked in the top five amongst starters for passing yards, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdowns, so calling him above average is a pretty easy call.

Honorable Mention: Hamilton WR Charles Ensley ’17, Tufts LB Zach Thomas ’18, Bowdoin WR Nick Vailas ’18, Trinity LB Liam Kenneally ’18, Bates CB Trevor Lyons ’17

Most Surprising Team: Tufts

Tufts took the lead by storm this season. They are for real. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Tufts took the lead by storm this season. They are for real. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Well this couldn’t have been easier. Tufts was the most surprising team a year ago, and they still managed to up their play this season. By beating one of the big dogs in Week 8, Tufts really made a statement about their ability to compete in the future. Two years removed from a 31-game losing streak, Tufts might be a title contender in 2016.

Honorable Mention: Hamilton

Best Single Unit: Amherst LBs

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Thomas Kleyn ’16 (#52) and Evan Boynton ’17 (#40) led Amherst’s dominant linebacking corps. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Given that Amherst graduated two VERY good linebackers from the 2014 team, not many would have thought this unit would end up here. But Evan Boynton ’17, Tom Kleyn ’16, Parker Chapman ’17 and Jack Drew ’16 were phenomenal. Their individual statistics are all great of course, and you can look at them here. As a group they were great tacklers, never allowing for big plays. Unlike many linebackers in the NESCAC, this group was equally good against the run and pass, making the Amherst defense able to adjust to anything.

Honorable Mention: Trinity OL, Middlebury DBs, Wesleyan RBs, Amherst K/P

Consistency Award: Middlebury LB Tim Patricia ’16

LB Tim Patricia '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
LB Tim Patricia ’16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Patricia gets this award not just for his performance in 2015, but for the entire body of work that is his stellar career. The California native came all the way to Vermont to play ball and made an impact right away. Patricia started 32 games in his career and amassed 289 tackles – the third-most in Middlebury history since 1994 when they started recording individual defensive statistics. It’s rare to see a player lead an entire defense from Day One and never miss a beat.

Honorable Mention: Amhest WR Devin Boehm ’17, Amherst DB Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16, Bowdoin TE Bryan Porter ’18, Chance Brady, Jabari Hurdle-Price

Amherst, MA, Title Town: Week 7 Game of the Week

Amherst has done nothing but celebrate this season. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
Amherst has done nothing but celebrate this season. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

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.

The Trinity special teams will try its best to interrupt K Charlie Wall '18 and Co. (Courtesy of Michael O'Hara/Middlebury Campus)
The Trinity special teams will try its best to interrupt K Charlie Wall ’18 and Co. (Courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Middlebury Campus)

 

Everything Else

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:

Quarterback Attempts Interceptions Attempts/Interception
Gabe Harrington 167 9 18.55555556
Pat Dugan 119 5 23.8
Noah Nelson 132 5 26.4
Tim Drakeley 107 4 26.75
Chase Rosenberg 82 3 27.33333333
Matt Milano 258 9 28.66666667
Gernald Hawkins 149 5 29.8
Austin Lommen 237 7 33.85714286
Sonny Puzzo 171 5 34.2
Reece Foy 171 5 34.2
Alex Snyder 173 5 34.6
Cole Freeman 124 1 124

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.

Prediction:

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

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.