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

Senior Days: Weekend Preview 11/13

QB Pat Dugan '16 OL Sean Lovett '18 after something good happened. Clearly. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
QB Pat Dugan ’16 and OL Sean Lovett ’18 after something good happened. Clearly. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Well, the best that can be said about this weekend’s match ups is that three of the following four games feature teams within one game of each other in the standings. I know, I’m supposed to be a salesman and get you excited for the rest of the article, but I’ve already got your click, so I really don’t care….

I do care, of course, and even though none of the game’s below will factor into the Championship race (barring the upset of the millenium – and I mean that), there’s still a lot of intrigue around these games, and it definitely means something to all of the senior playing their last game of football on Saturday.

No more clichés need be wrought about the sentimental value of this weekend’s games, so let’s get into the meat of the matter.

Four to Watch: Senior Edition

Bates Defensive Lineman Tucker Oniskey ’16

Oniskey has been possibly the Bobcats’ best lineman three years running. The big man has gone from 23 tackles and nine pass break ups in seven games in 2013 to 26 tackles and five break ups in seven games a year ago to 37 tackles and four break ups in his first seven games this year.

Oniskey’s ability to get in the face of the opposing quarterback will be important against Hamilton, which likes to air the ball out downfield. We saw last week how a good secondary can take advantage of Hamilton QB Cole Freeman ’19, who was picked off four times by Middlebury last Saturday. The Bates secondary has been exploited at times this year, although CB Trevor Lyons ’17 has had a pick-six in two straight games. If Oniskey can get pressure on Freeman, Lyons might just get his third INT TD of the season.

Williams WR Mark Pomella ’16

Pomella had been exclusively a quarterback in his first three years in Williamstown. He had hoped to be the team’s starter last season until BC-transfer Austin Lommen ’16 beat him out for the gig. Head Coach Aaron Kelton hinted in the preseason that Pomella could switch roles because of his athleticism, but it took three games for Pomella to finally make the switch. Between Weeks 3-7, Pomella has 33 catches (6.6/game) for 421 yards (84.2/game) and one TD. Pomella has been the team’s clear top option since Week 3. He’s also served as the team’s punt returner, especially with RB Connor Harris ’18 out. He will need a monster game in Week 8 to help the Ephs upset Amherst.

Colby D-Linemen Ryan Ruiz ’16 and Harry Nicholas ’16

Bowdoin’s top three running backs are out for the year, and the Polar Bears rushed for negative six yards last week. They’ve broken 63 yards rushing just once this year. By default, Bowdoin has to throw the ball. Ruiz and Nicholas have a combined eight sacks this year. Bowdoin QB Tim Drakeley ’17 is back in starting lineup, but he hasn’t really played since Week 3, which will provide Ruiz and Nicholas a chance to capitalize and have one of their best games.

Tufts RT Justin Roberts ’16 and LT Akene Farmer-Michos ’16

Justin Roberts
Justin Roberts
Akene Farmer-Michos
Akene Farmer-Michos

I’m not sure about this, but I think Roberts and Farmer-Michos are the only offensive linemen we’ve ever featured as players to watch or X-factors, and now we’ve done it twice. Apologies to all the other great O-linemen out there around the league.

Roberts and Farmer-Michos are big reasons why RB Chance Brady ’17 is running his way towards history, and the Jumbos need to run well on Saturday to beat Middlebury. The Panthers have been very hit or miss against the run defensively, surrendering 301 yards on 59 carries (5.1 ypc) against Wesleyan, 190 yards on 49 (3.8 ypc) against Amherst and 204 yards on 61 carries (3.3 ypc) at Bates, while also allowing just 33 yards on 31 carries (1.1 ypc) against the vaunted Trinity attack. Inside LB Tim Patricia ’16 will have to make a lot of stops this weekend, and per usual he is leading Middlebury in tackles. If he can’t, Roberts and Farmer-Michos will be opening up some wide lanes for Brady to bounce through.

Elo Ratings

Maybe you’ve never heard of Elo Ratings. I hadn’t until very recently. But recently a little NbN fairy whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and now we have Elo Ratings. If you want the history of what Elo Ratings are, read here. If you want to know about the mainstream sports applications that inspired this fairy to do some great statistical work on NESCAC football, check out FiveThirtyEight.com. If you are averse to clinking on links that may take you to strange places, I’ll give you the rundown here.

Elo Ratings are a system that quantify the gains and losses to each team after each contest. Wins produce gains in ratings, and losses produce reductions in ratings. In our system (again, I can’t take any personal credit for this work), margins of victory compared to expected winning margin also effect the changes in Elo Ratings. At the end of each season, team ratings are regressed towards the mean, which makes sense because in college athletics there is often a lot of turnover between seasons, so teams have to prove it both on the field and in the Elo Ratings.

Our timeline currently stretches back to 2005. In our ratings, all teams begin with an “average” rating of 1500, meaning that at the beginning of our timeline, teams were very closely clustered together. I’ll spare you the math – because I don’t want my brain to start hurting – but trust me when I say that there is a way to convert each team’s Elo Rating into their probability of winning their next game, and by comparing two teams’ win probabilities and putting them into some kind of magical/mathematical cauldron, you can conjure up a spread for every game. It’s also important to note that home teams are allotted a four-point advantage throughout the spreads.

Below is a graph that depicts each team’s Elo Rating from the beginning of the 2005 season through Week 7 of the 2015 season. This should give you some idea of how each team’s stock has risen and fallen over the past decade.

NESCAC Elo Ratings 2005-2015
NESCAC Elo Ratings 2005-2015

What’s the point of showing you this? Well, if you’re a stat nerd, the value is obvious. This is pretty cool. Secondly, though, this week we are sharing the spreads for each game in our predictions and discuss the spread a little bit. In the information you will see which team is giving points this week.

Game Previews

Bates (2-5) (-10) at Hamilton (1-6), Clinton, NY, 12:00 PM

Despite the ugly records, both of these teams are on the upswing. Bates is coming off of two straight wins and a CBB title, the program’s third in the past four years, making the 2016 class the first since 1900 to claim three outright CBB titles in its tenure. A win will also make the 2016 class 16-16, which would tie last year’s class as the winningest since 1983. Finally, Hamilton is the only program which Bates holds the series advantage over, with the Bobcats currently in the lead 19-18.

Hamilton, meanwhile, has returned to relevance this year. Not only did the Conts get their first win in over three years at Williams, but they’ve been very competitive, losing to Tufts by three in double OT, Wesleyan by five, Bowdoin by 10, Colby by five and Middlebury by five. With a lot of young players making impacts, specifically on defense and at QB Cole Freeman, there is a lot of hope for this program next year.

As for this year, though, the focus for both teams is finishing on a high note and giving its seniors a great last memory. When analyzing a Bates game, the first thing to ask for its opponent is whether they can stop the run. In Hamilton’s case, they’ve done a pretty good job of that this season. Tufts, Wesleyan and Trinity put up big rushing totals, but they also ran the ball around 50 times against Hamilton, and on the season the Continentals are allowing 3.28 yards per rush. Not exactly 1980’s Steelers, but passable, and I actually think that practicing against Hamilton’s new Wildcat read option will actually have prepared the Continentals to stop the Bates attack. If Hamilton can force QB Pat Dugan ’16 to the air, it will be a long day for Bates. No one besides Bats WR Mark Riley ’16 scares you in the passing game.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, need to step up their pass defense. Hamilton, as a team, has the highest yards per completion average. They don’t necessarily complete that many passes, though. Freeman and Chase Rosenberg ’17 have combined for a 43.9 percent completion rate. DB Brandon Williams ’17 will be on alert and trying to add to his league-best five interceptions.

The Continentals won a big game two weeks ago, and are still feeling good about themselves after taking Middlebury to the wire. They’ll be good enough to cover the spread, but the final decision goes to Bates.

Prediction: Bates 24 – Hamilton 21

Amherst (7-0) (-22.5) at Williams (2-5), Williamstown, MA, 12:00 PM

If you take a peek at the Elo Rating chart above, you might notice that Amherst is currently at the highest it’s ever been, and Williams is at the lowest. The spread of (-22.5) is actually lower than last year’s (-24), but it definitely feels like more of a lopsided matchup this year. That’s what I meant when I said it would take the upset of the millennium for the championship hunt to be impacted this weekend. Williams would have to cover a 22.5 point spread and beat Amherst in order to give Trinity a shot at sharing the title.

On paper, this game is clearly a blowout. The Jeffs have played some competitive games, but none have really ended up that close besides the 16-7 win over Trinity a week ago. The next closest margin was a nine-point win over Wesleyan in Week 5 in which Amherst needed a five-plus minute drive late in the fourth to clinch the win. The only question for Amherst is which QB Reece Foy ’18 will show up? The efficient, dual-threat Foy, or the clumsy turnover-prone Foy? He’s had five picks the last three games after having one pick in the first four. All he has to do is get the ball near his awesome receivers, including WR Jackson McGonagle ’16, who is a big play threat when Foy is able to hit him downfield, and rely on the bruising rushing attack lead by Kenny Adinkra ’16. As an entire team, Amherst is averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Enough said.

If Williams has one thing going for them, it’s experience. Five starters on offense and five on defense are all seniors, so they won’t shy away from the daunting task ahead of them. DE James Howe ’16 has had massive expectations heaped on him the past couple of seasons, but teams have been able to neutralize him much of the time by scheming for him, but he’s been productive this season with two sacks, and has opened the door for fellow D-lineman Jack Ryan ’16 to get 3.5 sacks of his own.

Despite Williams’ significant series lead (71-53-5), Amherst is expected to win its fifth straight contest against their rivals and clinch not only the NESCAC title, but also its 32nd Little Three title, which we’ve barely even talked about because it’s seemed like a formality for awhile now. And yes, I think they cover that massive spread.

Prediction: Amherst 35 – Williams 7

Colby (1-6) (-0.5)  at Bowdoin (1-6), Brunswick, ME, 12:30 PM

This game is basically a pick ’em, and that’s all I can do, because I don’t know what to think about either team. For the most part, it’s been a lot of meaningless second halfs for these teams this season. Bowdoin has no running game right now, and Colby is afraid to throw the ball and might have a QB battle in camp next season.

The Mules’ rushing attack has been solid after a slow start though, thanks to RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and the heavy lifting of FB Robert Murray ’16. They just can’t do anything through the air. QB Gabe Harrington ’17 has one touchdown and 11 interceptions, and Christian Sparacio ’18 has gotten time in spurts, but he’s completed less than half of his attempts and is more like a Wildcat QB with the ability to throw right now. Defensively, LB Stephen O’Grady ’16 has been a workhorse, leading the team in tackles.

It’s going to be a challenge for Tim Drakeley to be effective in the passing game for Bowdoin with no rushing threat. He’ll be looking to find WR Dan Barone ’16 early and often, and there will be a lot of pressure on All-NESCAC C Matt Netto ’16 and his squad to keep Drakeley upright. On the defense, it will have to be a big day for LB Branden Morin ’16 and companion LB Phillipe Archambault ’19, who’s stepped right in and tallied 49 tackles in six games.

It’s going to be low-scoring, with neither team able to move the ball quickly. With that being the case, I have to tip the scales in favor of Colby, who will be able to move the ball on the ground and get after the passer on third and longs. It’s going to be a sad Senior Day in Brunswick.

Prediction: Colby 23 – Bowdoin 17

Middlebury (5-2) (-6) at Tufts (5-2), Medford, MA, 12:30 PM

LB Tim Patricia '16 is the heart of the Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Brad Banky)
LB Tim Patricia ’16 is the heart of the Panthers defense. (Courtesy of Brad Banky)

When was the last time this game was relevant? Probably 2008, when the Panthers beat Tufts 38-24 to finish 5-3, ahead of the 4-4 Jumbos. Tufts hasn’t beaten Middlebury since Nov. 10, 2001. That’s 5,116 days. However, for the first time in a long time, Tufts and Middlebury come into the game with the same record, and in all honesty, I’m not sure Middlebury deserves to be favored in this game.

We’ve talked a lot about the injuries to the Panthers, and that is a big reason why they’ve played some close games recently and I’m feeling like Tufts can pull this off. Early in the week, though, Head Coach Bob Ritter was hopeful that some of his offensive linemen would be healthy by Saturday, which was probably directed at C James Wang ’16, though Ritter didn’t say for sure. Wang’s been dealing with a lingering leg injury all season, which is pretty much par for the Panthers’ course.

I still think the Middlebury passing attack will be productive. In the finale of two brilliant careers for QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16, don’t be surprised to see those two connect early and often. Very often. Minno is chasing history, needing two touchdowns to become the all-time TD reception leader in Middlebury history and 40 yards to reach second in receiving yards for a career. Those two milestones are pretty much a lock. Elsewhere, TE-turned-slot receiver Trevor Miletich ’16 should have a big game, too. When he’s been healthy this season he’s been a favorite target for Milano.

I’ve already discussed the need for Tufts to run the football, but will they be able to move the pigskin through the air? If so, they’ll need to attack the corner opposite boundary CB Nate Leedy ’17. PSA to NESCAC teams: Don’t throw at this kid. Leedy picked off two balls a week ago, and if every team challenged him like Hamilton did he’d have two picks per game. He is also probably the hardest hitter on the Panther defense. Sometimes his shoulder-first launches result in missed tackles because he doesn’t wrap up, but it actually happens less than you’d think. When he connects, the ball carrier goes down. Hard. So, if Tufts QB Alex Snyder ’17 is smart, he’ll try the other side of the field, putting pressure on CB Andrew McGrath ’18 if he’s healthy, but more likely CB Matt Daniel ’19. Safety Dan Pierce ’16 will be a huge factor in plugging up the run, as well.

Maybe it’s just too hard to pick against my team in the last game of my classmates’ careers, or maybe I’m jaded because I’ve watched the Panthers trash Tufts for the last three seasons, but in either case, I’m taking Middlebury even though they’re (-6). There are a lot of Midd haters out there right now because they’ve played some close games against teams that they “should” have blown out. But they’ve still won those games. And that kind of resiliency and winning attitude will play the difference in this one-touchdown game.

Prediction Middlebury 28 – Tufts 21

The Picks (Straight Up)

NbN Staff Last Week: 3-2

NbN Staff This Season: 26-9

Still Plenty to Play For: Weekend Preview 11/6

Bates and Bowdoin always delivers a hard-fought affair. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Bates and Bowdoin always delivers a hard-fought affair. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Yes, the game between Trinity and Amherst is very important. Yada, yada, yada. Joe has you covered there if you want to read about that. Spoiler alert, it’s a bold prediction. Elsewhere, it’s rivalry season in the NESCAC with the second leg of the CBB and Little Three taking place this weekend. Bowdoin makes the quick jaunt up to Lewiston to face off against Bates who just won the first leg of the CBB against Colby, and Williams visits Wesleyan in the Little Three. For the Ephs, this is the first of back-to-back games against Wesleyan and Amherst, and the final two weeks might be the last two for Coach Aaron Kelton. Since going to 2-1, Williams has lost three in a row with last week’s loss to Hamilton a particularly stinging loss because it broke the long losing streak for the Continentals. Last year the Ephs managed just 123 yards of offense and no points in a 22-0 loss that would have been even more lopsided if Wesleyan hadn’t had to kick five short field goals. Unless the loss last week galvanized the team, expect this year’s result to be similar.

Meanwhile Bates can complete the salvaging of their year if they beat Bowdoin on Saturday. After going 13-11 over the past three seasons, the Bobcats have lost a good deal of close games and are just 1-5. A win over Bowdoin seals the fifth consecutive year of the CBB for Bates and means the graduating Bobcats will have never lost to the Polar Bears. Bates certainly isn’t happy to have the record they do, but their final two games against Bowdoin and Hamilton are both winnable ones. If they can finish at 3-5 with a three-game winning streak and an uncontested CBB title, things would look drastically different than they did just a week ago. However, that is still a ways away.

Four to Watch

  1. Running Back Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 (Colby): Despite a disappointing season for the Mules overall, Hurdle-Price has been fabulous. A slow start to this season is long in the past as he has had four straight games of over 100 yards rushing, including 202 yard, two TD performance against Wesleyan in Week 3 that served as the tone setter. What has really made him so valuable though is his receiving as he has 19 receptions for 146 yards. Then you add in his kickoff returns and in total you get the NESCAC leader for all-purpose yards at 171.7 per game, well above the next highest total of 144.7 from Darrien Myers ’17. The Mules are a heavy underdog at home against Tufts, but regardless of what happens, Hurdle-Price is going to get his yards.
  2.  Linebacker Branden Morin ’16 (Bowdoin): After having just two tackles in the season opener, Morin has been a tackling machine averaging 10.8 per game, and he now leads the league. Last week he had a sack to go along with his 11 tackles. The Bowdoin defense has been bad overall against the run, allowing 209.5 yards per game, 54.2 more yards per game than anybody else. That stat is probably the biggest reason why Bates is feeling confident entering tomorrow. Morin has to be able to make another dozen or so tackles in order to keep Bates from marching up and down the field all day long. Some of the other linebackers for Bowdoin are very inexperienced and have not played against Bates, and the coaching staff is relying on him to be a steadying force up front.
  3. Defensive End Jordan Stone ’17 (Wesleyan): It’s a given that Williams is going to throw all the time, and that is exactly what Stone wants to hear. He leads the Cardinals with 5.5 sacks, and he has three in the past two weeks. Williams has been decent at keeping QB Austin Lommen ’16 upright, but Stone will be one of their hardest challenges yet. The Ephs are unlikely to get much going on the ground which will allow Stone to pin his ears back and rush the passer. Stone isn’t quite a sack specialist as he is important for Wesleyan’s run defense also, but he is definitely one of the best pass rushers in the league.
  4. Wide Receiver Charles Ensley ’17 (Hamilton): My goodness, Ensley has turned on the jets recently. His statistics from the past three games: 19 receptions for 376 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers coincide with Cole Freeman ’18 becoming the starting QB midway through the game against Bowdoin. Ensley was in this spot two weeks ago, but I don’t feel bad putting him here again because of how well he has done. Freeman also deserves credit for his job coming in after starting the season as the third string QB. Freeman only has one pick in 124 pass attempts. If Hamilton wants to get their second straight win, Ensley must have a big day against the Middlebury secondary.
Patrick Williams (#7) wants to give Tufts their fifth win this weekend. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
Patrick Williams (#7) wants to give Tufts their fifth win this weekend. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Game Previews

Hamilton (1-5) at Middlebury (4-2): 12:30 PM

The Continentals got on the right side of the win-loss column last week in part by taking advantage of mistakes by Williams. They also were able to run the ball more effectively than usual as they broke 100 yards rushing for the first time all year. They still averaged just 2.9 yards per carry (amazingly, Hamilton has not had a game this year where they average at least 3.0 yards per carry). They will have a harder time on the ground against the Middlebury run defense led by Tim Patricia ’16 and, if he’s active, Addison Pierce ’17. Even if Pierce is out, Aaron Slodowitz ’18 is more than capable fill-in.

One advantage for the Continentals is how banged up Middlebury is at receiver. Of course, Matt Minno ’16 is still relatively healthy which should cause problems. Every team has injuries, especially at this point of the season, and they really hurt when grouped together in a particular position group.  This will be closer than the 37-9 blowout last season, but it won’t be that close. The only worry I have for Middlebury is that they come out flat after last week’s physical loss.

Prediction: Middlebury over Hamilton 26-13

Bowdoin (1-5) at Bates (1-5): 12:30 PM

I already talked about the stakes for Bates. The win against Colby was a huge confidence booster, but they can’t be that confident as the offense took a huge step backwards after the big day they had two weeks ago against Middlebury. Passing for only 43 yards against Colby is not going to cut it versus a Bowdoin team that is weak against the pass. The matchup of corner Jibrail Coy ’16 vs. wide receiver Mark Riley ’16 will be a fun one to keep an eye on. The Bobcats are dealing with injuries to some of their skill players which has hurt them.

Speaking of injuries, Bowdoin will not have its top two running backs, Tyler Grant ’17 or Andrew Tichy ’19 tomorrow. Given how much they have been throwing the ball, one wouldn’t expect that to be too big of an issue. The team that scores first will put a lot of pressure on their opponent as this could be another low-scoring CBB affair.

Prediction: Bowdoin over Bates 17-13

Tufts (4-2) at Colby (1-5): 1:00 PM

So the Jumbos didn’t managed to put much of a scare into Amherst last weekend. It happens. Running against Amherst was never going to be easy, and allowing a defensive touchdown to the Jeffs made things pretty much impossible. The Jumbos will have to go to the air in order to beat Colby because the Mules strength of defense is the defensive line. This is the game that Tufts really wants in order to get to five wins.

The Mules are in a little bit of disarray on offense as Christian Sparacio ’18 got significant playing time at quarterback against Bates and scored the Mules’ one touchdown. Gabe Harrington ’17 had looked better in the previous two weeks, but he regressed back to his early season form vs. the Bobcats. The offense has really been the downfall of Colby this year, and there is no magic formula in Week 7.

Prediction: Tufts over Colby 24-17

Williams (2-4) at Wesleyan (4-2): 1:00 PM

As mentioned above, Hamilton was able to run against the Ephs, and that does not bode well at all for this weekend. Watching Wesleyan last week, I thought that the Cardinals were trying to get too fancy on offense instead of relying on that bulldozing offensive line to get easy yards on the ground. Against Williams, Wesleyan is probably going to keep things pretty simple for whomever ends up starting at QB, Gernald Hawkins ’18 or Mark Piccirillo ’19. The Cardinals still feel like they have plenty to play for in the last two weeks even if they are out of the conference race.

I don’t know what to expect from Williams. They have in the past shown up in rivalry games more so than other games. The Ephs have almost completely given up on running the ball, and the defense is soft against the run. On paper Wesleyan should win this game relatively easily.

Prediction: Wesleyan over Williams 27-10

NbN Staff Last Week: 2-3

NbN Staff This Season: 23-7

Week 1 Game of the Week: Middlebury at Wesleyan

The Panthers are prepared for a title run. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
The Panthers are prepared for a title run. But nothing comes easy in the NESCAC. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Info: Saturday, Sept. 26, 12:30 PM at historic Andrus Field in Corwin Stadium

Both teams probably feel like title contenders right now, but around this time tomorrow one team will be in the driver’s seat and the other will be facing a steep uphill climb. If we consider the NESCAC crown a four-team race – which, barring a major surprise, it is right now – between Middlebury, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity, this matchup will push one team to the front of the pack.

The Wesleyan team presents a great unknown. As we’ve said time and time again, the roster turnover has been great, but we still expect there to be a lot of talent on the field for the Cards. Things have changed since current Athletic Director Mike Whalen came over from Williams, and one has to believe that he was able to accrue some talent in the classes that followed the incredible 2015 group.

As always, the Cards’ strength will be the running game, but the Panthers were very good against the run last season, allowing just under 104 YPG, and most of the talent in the front seven is back and should be better than ever. Granted, a lot of teams were forced to throw in the second half because they faced big deficits against the Panthers, but nonetheless running the ball won’t be easy for the Cards.

For Middlebury, the passing game is as potent as ever. Can Matt Milano ’16 have improved from his Co-Offensive Player of the Year form a year ago? We’ll find out soon enough, but with all of the weapons around him, I’m betting yes. And with two of the league’s best defensive backs having graduated from Wesleyan in Jake Bussani ’14 and Donnie Cimino ’15, Milano might just be able to find some openings deep down the field.

Last Meeting:

Wesleyan rolled into the Panthers’ home pad and stole a 22-14 victory in the 2014 season opener. The difference was a third quarter 41-yard INT return for a TD by Wesleyan’s dynamic safety Justin Sanchez ’17. Milano threw two interceptions in this one, and questions were swirling about whether the days of the great Middlebury QBs were over. After this game, Milano went 22-1 TD-INT over the rest of the season, so expect a more confident passing attack from Middlebury in this one.

On the flip side, Wesleyan struggled to run the ball, something that they rarely do. Kyle Gibson ’15 racked up 60 yards but on 25 carries (2.4 YPC). Lou Stevens ’17 wasn’t much better (2.8 YPC). However, the frightening LaDarius Drew ’15 is back this time around, and I think the entire league is excited to see what this powerhouse back can do. With Drew, Stevens and Jaylen Berry ’18 coming at the Panthers, stopping the run has to be priority No. 1. Middlebury’s Tim Patricia ’16 spoke to that effect, saying:

“We know that the run game is the staple of the Wesleyan offense. … With that in mind, this [week] we’ve been really focused on gap responsibility and swarming to the ball in the run game. It’s important that we stay conscious of our individual assignments so we can eliminate any threat of giving up a big play. Their backs do have big play ability, but we feel we can mitigate that ability.”

Middlebury X-factors: D-linemen Gil Araujo ’16 and Kyle Ashley ’16

We know about Jake Clapp ’16, Middlebury’s strong, furious pass-rusher, but Ashley and Araujo, who made the 2014 All-NESCAC Second Team, haven’t gotten much press this season (our bad). While the Panthers will cycle d-linemen in and out all game, these two are expected to get the lion’s share of snaps, and it will be on them to eat up blockers and create opportunities for the linebackers and safeties to make tackles. It’s an inglorious job, the d-line. But this pair is up to the task.

Wesleyan X-factor: QB Gernald Hawkins ’18

Gernald Hawkins '18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Gernald Hawkins ’18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

I’d like to go a little under-the-radar with my x-factor pick, but the potential of Hawkins is just so intriguing. We don’t know for sure that Hawkins will see every snap in this one under center, but for now he is the team’s QB1 and has the chance to solidify that position this weekend.

Hawkins presents the rare (in the NESCAC) dual-threat option. The moves he shows off on film are nifty, and having a cadre of backs to hand the ball off to takes much of the pressure off of his shoulders.

Patricia wouldn’t give away any secrets in reference to Hawkins, saying only, “We’re aware of Hawkins’s ability to run the ball, and we’re well prepared for it.”

Prediction: Middlebury 35 – Wesleyan 17

Wesleyan fans and players are going to be offended by this prediction, but let me make my case. The Cardinals are, to some extent, are where Middlebury was last year in Week 1 – breaking in a lot of new players, particularly at the QB position, and while there is talent there, it will take time.

I still think Wesleyan will run the ball effectively, but as Milano and the Panthers roll up and down the field in the second and third quarters, the Cards will have to start abandoning the run game, which will spell disaster for Coach DiCenzo’s squad. No team can be successful when it becomes one-dimensional.

Is 35 points too high of a projection against the Wesleyan D, even with all the new faces? Maybe. And if I were a gambling man, I’d take the under if the line were set at 35 for Middlebury, but let’s face it, I’m a Panther myself, I’m excited for tomorrow, and sure, maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid a little bit. I’m seeing three TDs through the air for Milano, a goal line plunge from rookie RB Diego Meritus ’19, and a late-game scamper off a rollout from QB Jared Lebowitz ’18, just like I watched him do last week in Middlebury’s Blue-White scrimmage.

Patricia didn’t necessarily predict that the Panthers will go 8-0. But he came pretty close (0:57):

Bring on some football!

Milano, Minno and a Couple of Pierces: Middlebury Season Preview

The Panthers have benefited from practicing against themselves, but will be eager to take on a different opponent. They get their first chance to do so on Sunday against Dartmouth. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
The Panthers have benefited from practicing against themselves, but will be eager to take on a different opponent. They get their first chance to do so on Sunday against Dartmouth. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Editors’ Note: While 99 percent of the work done in these previews is credited directly to the author, the projected records are a decision made together by the editors, Adam and Joe. So if you don’t like it, blame us.

Projected Record: 8-0

Projected Offensive Starters (*Six Returning)

QB: Matt Milano ’16*
RB: Jonathan Hurvitz ’17
WR: Matt Minno ’16*
WR: Ryan Rizzo ’17*
WR: James Burke ’17
TE: Trevor Miletich ’16*
LT: Win Homer ’17*
LG: Ryan Rudolph ’18
C: James Wang ’16
RG: Will Fleming ’17
RT: Andy Klarman ’17*

Projected Defensive Starters (*Six Returning)

DE: Jake Clapp ’16*
DT: Kyle Ashley ’16
DT: Gil Araujo ’16*
DE: Matt MacKay ’18
ILB: Tim Patricia ’16*
ILB: Addison Pierce ’17*
OLB: Wesley Becton ’18
Boundary CB: Nate Leedy ’17*
S: Dan Pierce ’16*
S: Kevin Hopsicker ’18
Field CB: Andrew McGrath ’17

Projected Specialists: (*One Returning)

K: Charlie Gordon ’19
P: Jim Simmons ’16
KR/PR: Ryan Rizzo ’17* / Conrad Banky ’19 / Kevin Hopsicker ’18

Offensive MVP: QB Matt Milano ’16

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ I think that will ultimately be the driving force behind the decision to start Milano in Week 1. Jared Lebowitz ’18 would have had to blow everyone out of the water in camp, I believe, in order to usurp Milano as the starter. Both have been very good, but I think Milano takes the majority of the snaps – and the entire league already knows what he can do on the football field. I do think that Lebowitz will see time in some capacity, though what that means I cannot be certain.

Defensive MVP: ILB Tim Patricia ’16

I thought about giving this prediction to DE Jake Clapp ’16 because of his ability to rush and pressure the passer in one-on-one situations, which makes everyone else’s job on the defense much easier. Then I remembered that this is the NESCAC, not the NFL, and every team but Middlebury and Tufts seems to be allergic to throwing the football. Patricia takes on the bulk of the run-stopping responsibility, but of course Addison Pierce ’17 and Dan Pierce ’16 are important in that regard, too. I think the three-time All-NESCAC Second Teamer, Patricia, carries this defense and makes the leap to the First Team.

Biggest Surprise in Camp: Head Coach Bob Ritter elected to point out a player on each side of the ball that has made a big leap from 2014. WR James Burke ’17 came into camp in great shape and has shown improvements in his route-running and pass-catching abilities, giving the coaching staff confidence that he’s ready to be a playmaker in the NESCAC. On the defense, Steve Bissainthe ’18 made the switch in the offseason from O-line to D-line, and has adapted well to his new role. There are a lot of names fighting for reps along the D-line, but with Middlebury’s tendency to rotate plenty on the D-line, Bissainthe has a shot to make an impact in his first season on defense.

Steve Bissainthe '18 has impressed in his first stint on the defensive line. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
Steve Bissainthe ’18 (51) has impressed in his first stint on the defensive line. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Biggest Game: October 10 at Amherst

The Amherst D embarrassed Middlebury last year at Alumni Stadium, shutting out the Panthers. However, that was early in the year before Milano really got rolling and the weather was not conducive to throwing the ball with wind and rain. Conditions ought to be better this time around, and the winner of this game will have the inside track on a title.

Best Tweet:

Really Mr. Castillo’s entire Twitter feed is worthy of a peruse, but we went with this one because it shows off that charming grin.

Summary: We’ve projected the Panthers to go 8-0 so take any criticisms that follow with a grain of salt. The offense should be dynamic as ever. Despite some inexperience on the O-line, the guys that end up stepping into starting roles are every bit as talented as the guys they replace. Most likely, more than three guys will rotate through those interior spots, and the projected starters above might find themselves as part of a rotation – or out of the rotation all together. Alec Auwaerter ’17 and Michael Brady ’16 are also in the mix. The WR position runs deep for Middlebury. Matt Minno ’16 is a stud, the type that can bail out a quarterback on a bad throw by making an incredible play. Burke will takeover as the starting wideout on the other side, and Ryan Rizzo ’17 will take the majority of the snaps early on from the slot. Rizzo is the team’s top returning receiver, and yet will be pushed for reps by newcomer Conrad Banky ’19. Banky will probably see reps at every wide receiver spot to spell the starters, and Rizzo might need extra rest early on as he recovers from a leg injury that kept him from conditioning much in the offseason – especially if Rizzo ends up returning kicks once again. Tanner Contois ’18 is a dark horse to make some catches, as well. Trevor Miletich ’16 is the team’s starter at TE, but Dan Fulham ’18 will get work and be a threat in the red zone. In the backfield, Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 did a nice job last season and is back, but he’ll share time with Matt Cardew ’18 and Diego Meritus ’19.

On the other side of the ball, Middlebury uses a hybrid-style defense that can loosely be described as a 4-2-5 (or a 3-4, or a 4-3, or, dare I say, a 3-2-6 … but I digress). It all centers around Patricia and Addison Pierce who are true middle linebackers. Aaron Slodowitz ’18 will spell both players. There are three D-line spots in which multiple people will be used. Gil Araujo ’16 is the most experienced returner in that group, and lost a lot of weight during this past offseason. Henry Muter ’18 backs him up. Kyle Ashley ’16 figures to get plenty of reps, while the third defensive line job is still up in the air, but Matt MacKay ’18 looks like the frontrunner right now. All of these guys, along with Robert Wood ’18 and Joe LaLiberte ’18, will play and move around on the D-line. Clapp often looks like a D-end, lined up with the strength of the offensive formation, but will sometimes drop into coverage as well. In that regard he plays much like a pass rushing OLB, but will usually have his hand down. He’s backed up by Henry Castillo ’17. The “fifth DB” is a strong safety/OLB hybrid. Wesley Becton ’18 and Carsen Winn ’17 should both see time there. The defensive backfield looks strong with the dominant Nate Leedy ’17 at boundary corner, Andrew McGrath ’18 on the other side and Kevin Hopsicker ’18 joining Dan Pierce ’16 at safety. S Justin Fahey ’19 will be one of the few rookies who can make an immediate impact for Middlebury this season.

Though a few of the graduated players from last year’s team were elite talents in the NESCAC, Middlebury actually has a chance to be better this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell short against Amherst or Trinity, but I don’t think that happens and I think those teams’ question marks are bigger than those of the Panthers. Time will tell, but the odds in favor of Middlebury winning just its second outright NESCAC title.

Takeaways from Middlebury’s Blue-White Scrimmage

Ryan Rizzo '17 brings in a pass from Matt Milano '16 for a score in Tuesday's Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
Ryan Rizzo ’17 brings in a pass from Matt Milano ’16 for a score in Tuesday’s Blue-White scrimmage. (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

I had the pleasure of watching some early morning football yesterday at Alumni Stadium. First and foremost I have to thank Head Coach Bob Ritter for being so accommodating and allowing me to watch from the field as well as the stands.

Yesterday’s scrimmage primarily confirmed my thoughts going into the day. I had my eyes open for any surprises – potential breakouts, problem areas, etc. And while it was just a scrimmage, against one’s own team no less, there was some information gleaned from being in attendance.

The Starting Defense Barely Played – but They Look Good

With LB Addison Pierce ’17 already sidelined yesterday with a minor injury, I think that the coaching staff saw no need to risk hurting any of the defense’s biggest contributors. Tim Patricia ’16, Dan Pierce ’16, Jake Clapp ’16, Nate Leedy ’17 and others all played roughly two series and look as good as ever. The offense, regardless of who was at the helm, sputtered for the first couple of series, probably due in large part to the strength of the Middlebury starting 11 on defense. The Panthers changed up their looks pretty frequently, sometimes having the end move around and often bringing a linebacker up to the line.

What I Know about the Quarterback Situation Is That I Know Nothing

That’s not entirely true, but suffice to say that no great secrets were revealed in this regard by watching practice yesterday. Matt Milano ’16, Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Jake Stalcup ’17 all played and looked sharp. As noted above, there was some rust to shake off early, and neither of the first two listed had much success against the starters on defense, but both got going eventually. All three found the end zone with one pass, Milano and Lebowitz on rollouts to the right side (check out the video below) and Stalcup with an 80-yard bomb that was really a misplay by the deep safety. Lebowitz also scampered for a short TD run.

No team in the NESCAC can boast the kind of depth at QB that Middlebury can. Pictured: (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)
No team in the NESCAC can boast the kind of depth at QB that Middlebury can. Pictured: QBs Colin Waters ’19 (15), Matt Milano ’16 (yellow cap), Jared Lebowitz ’18 (7) and Jake Stalcup ’17 (14). (Photo taken by Joe MacDonald)

Lebowitz is the unknown here so I was very interested to watch him play. He comes as advertised – good feet in the pocket, the ability to run if need be, and a strong arm. That being said, Milano also possesses all of those tools, and at this point I think the safe money is on Milano starting, playing almost every snap and once again being in the running for Offensive Player of the Year.

Safety Justin Fahey ’19 Stood Out

With so many experienced players on both sides of the ball for Middlebury, it was hard to pinpoint any underclassmen with a chance to get significant reps, but Fahey looks physically ready to play at this level. Right now, he appears to be the backup to Dan Pierce at one safety spot, with Cam Komisar ’16 – who reeled in the only interception yesterday – backing up Kevin Hopsicker ’18 as the other safety, but I wonder if Fahey could see reps at both spots in games to give the starters a breather. He made some nice plays in the run game early on and hits with authority, but also reacted slowly in some instances which is to be expected for a freshman in his first live action in college. Furthermore the coaches seem to have a vested interest in his development. Overall, I was impressed.

The O-Line Won’t Miss a Beat

My only real concern with the team coming into the day was that the offensive line might struggle after graduating a few seasoned vets, but I was wrong. James Wang ’16 at center will lead a strong unit that should give its quarterback all the time he needs.

My One Concern Going Forward: The Run Game

Somehow, year after year, Middlebury seems to find someone seemingly out of nowhere that excels in the backfield. In 2013 Matt Rea ’14 took over as the starter and bumped up his YPC average from 3.1 the year before to 3.9. Last season Drew Jacobs ’18 stepped on the scene and immediately became a factor, going for 81 yards on 20 carries in his first start and continued that success before being slowed by injury. Jacobs is out for the year with a Lisfranc fracture, so once again someone will have to rise to the top. Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 is a talented back and averaged over 3.0 yards per carry last season. Backing him up are the small but speedy Matt Cardew ’18 – who broke free for a 50-yard scamper yesterday showing off his ability to make defenders miss in open space – and the bulky Diego Meritus ’19. I did not get to see the last member of this group, Emilio Ovalles-Misterman ’19, who was inactive, but perhaps he could get some reps as well.

Running back play is crucial for Middlebury. Often there is one back alone with the QB in the shotgun, which means he must be able to protect his QB with chip blocks, know when to release and became an option in the passing game, and be able to be effective running from the shotgun which is difficult to do. I don’t doubt that this group can do all of that, but it is the area that concerns me most.

Overall, I came away from Tuesday’s scrimmage thoroughly impressed. The Panthers had some rust offensively early on, but that is to be expected. There is enough of a history here to trust that the offense will be running smoothly by Week 1. On defense there is enough returning talent to believe that last year’s No. 2 unit should be as good once again. As expected, Middlebury should be in the championship hunt again in 2015.

Previewing the Player of the Year Races

If you have a better picture from the paper, by all means use that Joe
Matt Milano ’16 looks to defend his POY title (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Yesterday we tackled all the players who have a chance to rise from relative obscurity into stardom. Now it’s time to talk about the ones who already are big names and might take home the shiniest hardward at the end of the season.

Offensive Player of the Year Race

The question is whether a non-QB will be able to win this award. Eight of the last nine Offensive Player of the Year Awards have gone to a QB with Amherst’s Evan Bunker the only running back to win in 2011. In the six years from 2000-2005, non-QBs won the award in four of the six years.  As you will see below, among our five favorites, only one is a QB, Matt Milano ’16. Of course, Milano is the odds-on favorite to win the award provided he stays healthy, but if for some unforeseen reason he does not put up amazing statistics, there does not appear to be another QB ready to win the award. While it is possible someone like Austin Lommen ’16 (Williams) makes a big jump, it is probably Milano or bust in terms of QBs, so that is something to keep in mind.

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Running Backs LaDarius Drew ’15/Lou Stevens ’17 (Wesleyan): Stevens enjoyed a strong end to the 2014 season to earn First Team All-NESCAC honors in 2014, and Drew was First Team All-NESCAC in 2013 before missing all of last year because of a foot injury so both of these guys are very talented. In the end, these two might be each other’s worst enemies. There are only so many carries to go around. However, in 2013 with Drew and Kyle Gibson ’15 splitting carries, Drew still finished second in the NESCAC in YPG. If these two were one player, LouDarius Drevens would be the favorite to win the award.

Tyler Grant '17 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Running Back Tyler Grant ’17 (Bowdoin): The league’s leading rusher from 2014, and the only player who averaged more than 100 YPG, Grant racked up an incredible amount of carries over eight games. He finished the year with 226 rushing attempts, 76 more than the next highest total by Trinity’s Chudi Iregbulem ’15! Grant surely will not run that much this year, but he could benefit from a more open scheme that will put him in space more often where he is best. Health is a definite concern after all of the carries a year ago. He was banged up for much of the offseason and is out of practice now, though he is expected to be fully healthy by the time Week 1 rolls around.

Matt Milano '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Quarterback Matt Milano ’16 (Middlebury): Milano is the reigning co-Offensive Player of the Year (he split the award with Wesleyan QB Jesse Warren ’15 a year ago) so he is an obvious choice for this list. We are pretty sure that he will be starting Week 1 over transfer Jared Lebowitz ’17 because Milano has more experience with the offense. Make no mistake, Milano was amazing last year. After an uneven first start against Wesleyan, he threw 22 TDs against one INT over the final seven games of the season. He does have to play more consistently against the top defenses in the league, as he had average or subpar games against Wesleyan, Amherst and Williams. Middlebury will rely on him even more than they did last year with the team’s leading rusher from a year ago, Drew Jacobs ’18, out with a Lisfranc fracture.

Nick Kelly '17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Running Back Nick Kelly ’17 (Amherst): Kelly entered 2014 splitting carries with Kenny Adinkra ’16, but with Adinkra injured for the final five games of the season, Kelly became the feature back. A tall back, Kelly is somewhat in the mold of a Derrick Henry from Alabama who possesses breakaway speed once he gets moving downhill. His 59-yard touchdown against Middlebury last year was the difference in that game, and he had a run of at least 20 yards in each of the first five games of the season. Kelly did struggle mightily down the stretch averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry in his final three games. He will also have to fight off a lot of talented backups including a healthy Adinkra.

Mark Riley '16 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Wide Receiver Mark Riley ’16 (Bates): Having a wide receiver from Bates, a school known for their triple option running attack on offense, as a preseason favorite for this award is unusual. Then you have to realize that Riley has the statistics to more than back up his inclusion. He led the league in receiving YPG and was second in catches. He has the speed to run past defenders and also runs good routes underneath. With no other clear passing option, he will have to overcome a lot of double teams. New QB Patrick Dugan ’16 is known as a good passer so I’m not worried about a big drop in targets for Riley. Winning this award as a wide receiver is hard, but Riley has a lot of the ingredients to make it happen.

Others to Watch: Wide Receiver Matt Minno ’16 (Middlebury), Quarterback Austin Lommen ’16 (Williams), Quarterback Sonny Puzzo ’17 (Trinity), Running Back Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 (Colby)

Defensive Player of the Year

The past winners of this award exhibit a lot more variety than the QB-heavy Offensive award, but the most common position to win it is linebacker because of the big tackle totals. This season there are more than a fair share of worthy competitors for DPOY, and we left off a lot of players who will make a run at it.

Jaymie Spears '16 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Cornerback Jaymie Spears ’16 (Amherst): The best corner in the NESCAC, no questions asked. A year ago Spears was second in the league with six interceptions, tied for first with eight pass breakups, and blocked two kicks, just because he can. One worry for Spears’ candidacy? That teams simply ignore his side of the field and target other receivers. You see that in the NFL for corners like Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. NESCAC teams haven’t done that yet, but if Spears’ numbers drop precipitously it might be because he simply isn’t getting opportunities.

Mark Upton '17 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Linebacker Mark Upton ’17 Bates): The presence of multiple senior linebackers on Bates couldn’t keep Upton from racking up 84 tackles a year ago. Now, as the centerpiece of the Bates defense, he could have eye-popping numbers from the middle linebacker spot. He is more than just a steady player in the middle too. He led the league with four forced fumbles and had the most sacks on Bates with 3.5. A severe drop in the overall talent of the Bates defense could spell trouble for Upton, but he has a very good shot if he plays at a similar level to what he did last season.

Tim Patricia '16 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Linebacker Tim Patricia ’16 (Middlebury). Patricia is just one of several Middlebury defenders who could make a run at this award. He gets the nod because of his job as the middle linebacker. He is nothing if not consistent with three NESCAC Second Team honors back-to-back-to-back years. Some might worry that Patricia has hit his ceiling as a player already, but he improved his play-making ability by doubling his TFL total from 2013 to 2014. Patricia’s greatest skill is a nose for the ball. He just knows how to make tackles. And even if he doesn’t win the award, one of his teammates, the Pierce bros (they’re not actually brothers), S Dan and LB Addison, just might.

Mike Stearns '17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Safety Mike Stearns ’17 (Tufts): Nobody had more solo tackles than Stearns’ 60 in 2014, and the fact that they came from the corner position makes it all the more impressive. Now at safety Stearns should have even more opportunities to make tackles. A great instinctive player, Stearns will be all over the field as a safety. Of worry is a significant tapering off of production as the year went along. He had only 18 tackles in his last four games. At safety, Stearns will have to show that he can make plays in the air and not just on the ground.

James Howe '16 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Defensive End James Howe ’16 (Williams): Joe and I talked about this in our video on Monday (Williams part begins at 3:40), but there is no bigger enigma than Howe entering this season. After totaling 10 sacks as a sophomore, he had zero all of 2014. He still had 38 tackles, a good amount for a defensive end, but a year ago I was ready to call Howe the JJ Watt of the NESCAC. I put him on this list because he obviously has the talent to make a ton of plays. He might not be quite as much of a focus for opposing offenses this season, which could give him more opportunities to get into the backfield.

Others to Watch: Linebacker Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 (Wesleyan), Safety Dan Pierce ’16 (Middlebury), Linebacker Addison Pierce ’17 (Middlebury), Linebacker Frank Leyva ’16 (Trinity), Linebacker Thomas Kleyn ’16 (Amherst)

WATCH: 2015 Football Storylines

Today we grace you with our beautiful mugs and some grade A insight on what to watch for this season. These are our top eight storylines of 2015, but there are an infinite number of intriguing nuggets to follow all season long, so surely there will be some big things that we don’t talk about here. Maybe if you’re lucky we’ll do another video. And sorry for the lack of production value. That was supposed to be Adam’s job but he was too busy sipping Bud Lights alone in the library.

Football End-of-Year Awards: The Definitive Edition

The committee of two has met and after much deliberation has made their decisions. All decisions on awards are final and complaints should be addressed to 472 Smith Union, Bowdoin College. Or the comments section works, too. If you want, take a look at our Mid-Season Awards to see what’s changed. Lastly, these are our own personal opinions of who should win each award. They are not predictions on what we think the NESCAC coaches will decide.

Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics
Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics

Offensive Player of the Year: Quarterback Matt Milano ’16 (Middlebury)

“Another Middlebury quarterback? Really original pick there guys.” Well, Milano didn’t really leave us with much of a choice given how he performed in the month of the year. In fact here are Mac Foote’s stats from last year and Milano’s from 2014.

Player A: 179-289 (61.9 percent), 2004 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, 3 interceptions.

Player B: 259-421 (61.5 percent), 2766 yards, 6.6 yards per attempt, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

Player B has a huge lead in yards overall and a slight lead in touchdowns, but Player A was better in yards per attempt and threw a quarter of the interceptions. You could probably tell, but Player A is Foote and Player B is Milano. We don’t put the comparison there to argue that Milano had a better year than Foote did last year, but we just want to put the numbers there so people don’t say Milano was merely a product of the Middlebury system.

The junior took a little time to get settled, but once he did, Middlebury morphed into the hottest team in the NESCAC. Milano put up 18 touchdowns over the last four weeks to go with just one interception, and his yards per attempt rose every week from Week 3 until the end of the season. His play is made even more impressive by the fact that the Panthers averaged only 2.6 yards per rush, worst in the NESCAC, putting even more pressure on the gunslinger. Milano should be even better next year when he and most of his receivers return.

Also considered: Tyler Grant ’17 (Bowdoin), Chudi Iregbulem ’15 (Trinity), Jesse Warren ’15 (Wesleyan) and Mark Riley ’16 (Bates)

Jake Bussani '14 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Jake Bussani ’14 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Defensive Player of the Year: Safety Jake Bussani ’14 (Wesleyan)

The NESCAC website only lists the top 50 tacklers, and Bussani falls well short of making that with only 30 tackles on the year. So how does a player who was only sixth on his own team in tackles win DPOY?

Well, first of all, Bussani won by the narrowest of margins over a host of other worthy players. Then it is important to understand Bussani’s role in the Wesleyan defense; a role that requires him to patrol the deep part of the field. He did that to near perfection with seven interceptions and five pass breakups. Bussani also returned two of his interceptions all the way back for touchdowns. Also, he was part of a secondary that was a good rung or two above everyone else and allowed a minuscule 124.0 yards per game through the air.

Bussani and teammate Justin Sanchez '17 smother Alex Way '16 in the Cardinals' Week 8 shutout. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)
Bussani and teammate Justin Sanchez ’17 smother Alex Way ’16 in the Cardinals’ Week 8 shutout. (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Conference coaches know how good of a player he is considering he has made the All-NESCAC team three times already. Last year his stats were even less impressive with 27 tackles and four interceptions. Given how he has been even better this year, the coaches should recognize him once again.

Also considered: Chris Tamasi ’15 (Amherst), Jaymie Spears ’16 (Amherst), Dan Pierce ’16 (Middlebury) Mark Upton ’17 (Bates)

Coach of the Year: EJ Mills (Amherst)

Head Coach EJ Mills (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Head Coach EJ Mills (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Below is the conversation that we had when talking about Coach of the Year. We weren’t planning on publishing it at the time, but it’s just so juicy that we could not resist.

Adam: Alright, Coach of the Year is another interesting one. Ritter has a strong argument because of how well Middlebury did, but I think Mills deserves it.

Joe: Amherst was expected to be near the top again and Middlebury was supposed to be much worse this year.

Adam: Maybe so, but Amherst went through a lot to be undefeated. They played three QBs and switched their lead running back as the season went along. In close games they went 5-0 which is a testament, too, to Mills’ coaching. When I look at Amherst’s season it seemed like they always played a little better than I was expecting or somehow managed to win games when they got outplayed. The coach deserves credit for that.

Joe: I guess. I just feel like the Coach of the Year award is almost equivalent to a team overall achievement award, because we can’t quantify from the outside how much of a team’s success is due to the coach. I expected Amherst to beat everyone but Trinity and Wesleyan at the beginning of the year. As the year went on I got to realizing that Amherst was the best team, but I was always skeptical of Middlebury. I had them middle of the pack but they clearly overachieved. I don’t want Mills to win just because he coached the best team.

Adam: My argument would be that it wasn’t necessarily clear that Amherst really was the best team. Middlebury got better as the year went along and I think mostly because Milano got more comfortable. I didn’t expect he would get so good so fast and that is why I think Middlebury finished with six straight wins. Obviously coaching matters there, but just seems like the player still has a lot of agency, also.

Joe: True….splitting hairs here at this point. I think both are great coaches and just like talking about it.

Drew Jacobs (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Drew Jacobs (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Rookie of the Year: Running Back Drew Jacobs ’18 (Middlebury)

There wasn’t an absolute standout first year this season that burst onto the scene like QB Sonny Puzzo last year or LB Tim Patricia ’16 the year before, but Jacobs was productive for the pass-heavy Panthers, and among first-year players he was first in rushing yards and third in receiving yards. His production was all over the map, as his total yards went 113, 55, 43, 154, 62, 82 and 8, as he left the game early in Week 7 and sat out all of Week 8. With another year under his belt, though, Jacobs could turn into one of the league’s best backs, but he will still have to fight off the presence of teammate Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 and classmate John Jackson ’18 for playing time.

Also considered: Slotback Frank Williams ’18 (Bates), K Zach Altneu ’18 (Hamilton), RB/KR Amman Weaver ’18 (Hamilton), WR  Mbasa Mayikana ’18 (Colby)

Zach Trause (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Zach Trause (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Special Teams Player of the Year: KR/PR/RB Zack Trause ’15

Ike Fuchs ’17 made a push for this award in Week 7 when he broke a Wesleyan record with five field goals in one game (and by going 7-7 FG and 8-8 XP in the last three weeks), but Trause’s body of work is enough for him to get the nod. Though most of the fireworks came in Week 2 when Trause followed up his third quarter kick return TD with a punt return TD early in the fourth quarter to seal the Jumbos’ victory, he was an explosive returner all year. His 32.1 yards per kickoff return were tops in the NESCAC and seventh in all of Division-III. Players need 1.2 attempts per game to qualify for leaderboards, so Trause failed to qualify with only eight punt returns, but if he had qualified, his 19.6 yards per punt return would have placed him fifth in the nation.

Trause taking back a punt 49 yards to the house against Bates in Week 2. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Trause taking back a punt 49 yards to the house against Bates in Week 2. (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Also considered: Ike Fuchs ’17 (Wesleyan), WR/KR/PR Ryan Rizzo ’17 (Middlebury) and K Phillip Nwosu’ 15 (Amherst)

Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments section.

Panthers Make Rude Guests in Hartford: Stock Report 10/26

Every streak will end at some point, and Trinity’s vaunted home winning streak of 53 games finally came to a stunning finish on Saturday. Like any streak of such length, the Bantams endured many close calls before Saturday, but the Panthers sucked out any potential drama long before the final whistle. Middlebury scored the first 20 points of the game, and a Brendan Rankowitz ’15 touchdown catch with 6:07 left made it 27-7, essentially ending the game.

So just how did Middlebury manage to take down the unbeatable Bantams? Well, considering the margin of victory, the simple answer is that Middlebury just outplayed Trinity. From a more philosophical point of view, this was speed beating size. The Trinity starting offensive line averages 280 pounds while the three down lineman for Middlebury average 247 pounds. That didn’t matter as Middlebury was still able to get to the ball.

Trinity finished the game with 85 yards rushing on 38 attempts, a 2.2 yards per carry average. The last time Trinity was held to under 100 yards rushing was October 2, 2010 when Williams held the Bantams to 87 yards rushing. Not coincidentally that was also a loss for Trinity. The 85 yards was the lowest total in a game since October 11, 2008 when Tufts (yes, Tufts) held the Bantams to 50 yards rushing. (Of course in that game Trinity threw for 470 as well to win a wild overtime game 28-27.)

The fact that the two top tacklers for Middlebury were defensive backs tells us that while the Panthers won the line of scrimmage, they didn’t do it conventionally. Waves of defenders threw themselves at the point of attack on running plays without exposing any lanes for cutbacks. Trinity’s longest run in the game was 19 yards.

Matt Minno '16 hauls down one of his three touchdowns in the Panthers' victory. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (http://www.sevenstrong.net/TrinityFootball)
Matt Minno ’16 hauls down one of his three touchdowns in the Panthers’ victory. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (http://www.sevenstrong.net/TrinityFootball)

Not having Sonny Puzzo on the roster for Trinity hurt the Bantams because Foye is not a runner. Puzzo gave the Trinity offense a little more diversity and defenses had more difficulty keying on one player. Spencer Aukamp ’18 has the running capabilities to replicate Puzzo, but Aukamp is not as polished of a passer. Henry Foye ’15 was able to come back from a touchdown deficit last week against Bowdoin, but he is not a quarterback capable of leading a team back from the hole Trinity found themselves in early in the second half.

Meanwhile, Matt Milano ’16 played a nearly perfect game. He went 25-36 for 286 yards. Though he threw one interception, he made up for it with four touchdowns. Matt Minno ’16 reemerged from the shadows last week against Bates, and he confirmed that he is back with his best game of the season: a three touchdown, 90 yard day. Milano actually played better than Mac Foote ’14 did last year when Middlebury beat Trinity in Vermont. Throw out the debacle against Amherst, and Milano has been stellar.

The running game led by Drew Jacobs ’18 was nothing special, but it did enough to keep Trinity honest. The Bantams could not load up on 3rd and long and come after Milano, especially because the Middlebury offense is designed to get the ball out quickly.

Finally, credit should be given to the Middlebury special teams which had two big plays early in the second half. The first was a gutsy on-side kick call coming out of the half. Rather than giving Trinity the ball back with the score 13-0 Middlebury, the Panthers dialed up an onside kick that they recovered. Two plays later, Milano hit hit Minno for his third touchdown of the game. The next drive Trinity tried a fake punt on 4th and 2 from their own 43-yard line, but Middlebury was not fooled at all. Michael Budness ’15 gained only one yard and the Trinity gambled failed.

The last time Trinity lost at home was to Williams in September of 2001. Every Trinity football player starting with the class of 2006 until the class of 2014 was undefeated at home. The thing for Trinity is that their path to a NESCAC championship remains unchanged. If they can rally and beat Amherst and then Wesleyan, they will at least earn a share of the NESCAC title. With only two weeks to still go, both Connecticut schools have now lost when before the season it looked possible that both would go undefeated until they faced each other.

Stock Up

Safety Dan Pierce ’16 (Middlebury): Seems like every week we highlight another Panther defensive player that has emerged as a cog in a defense that has become the strength of Middlebury. Pierce had a great all around game totaling 12 tackles and two interceptions. He had the play of the game midway through the second quarter. With Middlebury up 7-0, the Bantams drove the ball down to the five yard line. Then Pierce picked off Henry Foye ’15 in the end zone and returned it 71 yards to the Trinity 29-yard line. Four plays later, Middlebury punched it in to go up by two touchdowns forcing Trinity out of their comfort zone. Pierce now leads the Panthers in tackles on the season and is fourth overall in the NESCAC. We know it is early, but given that players like Pierce, Tim Patricia ’16,  and Nate Leedy ’17 will all be back on defense along with Milano leading an offense that will return all of its playmakers with the exception of Rankowitz, Middlebury should be the favorite entering next year.

Wide Receiver Steven Kiesel ’15 (Williams): Saturday was just another ho-hum day for the senior receiver as he finished with five catches, 62 yards, and a touchdown that ended up being the difference in Williams’ 21-14 victory. Kiesel’s performance was notable because of how normal it has become. He has had at least five receptions in all but one of Williams’ games and now leads the NESCAC in receptions for the year. With the Ephs backed up on their own one, Austin Lommen ’16 went to his favorite target and hit Kiesel for a 32-yard gain that ended with Kiesel’s touchdown catch. The Williams running game has struggled for long stretches of this season, and Kiesel has been the most reliable source of offense for the Ephs. It might be a longshot given they are only 2-4, but Williams can salvage their season starting Saturday with a big upset over Wesleyan.

Quarterback Matt Cannone ’15 (Bates): The CBB picked up right where it left off last year in terms of excitement. The Bobcats QB returned just in time to get the Bates offense moving. He was still bothered by his ankle so that he was not much of a threat out of the pocket, but Cannone still played admirably. He went 18-32 for 203 yards and four touchdowns. His main target was Mark Riley ’16, but with the game on the line he used Riley as a diversion and went to Frank Williams ’18. On 4th and goal, Cannone found Williams for the game tying touchdown with under a minute left. Then in overtime the same connection worked again for a 25 yard touchdown and the victory. The win gives Bates the early lead in the CBB with the Bobcats visiting Bowdoin this week. Now Cannone will look to seal the CBB.

Running back LaShawn Ware ’17 (Hamilton): Sometimes, you have to admit that you’ve made a mistake. At the beginning of the season, in our Breakout Players of 2014 article, we highlighted Hamilton backs Rico Gonzalez ’16 and converted safety Jeff Hopsicker ’15. Gonzalez hasn’t been much of a factor all year, and had two carries against Williams. Hopsicker started out as the team’s primary back, but has seen his carries total dwindle ever since Week 2. When we spoke with head coach Dave Murray at the beginning of the year, he highlighted the speedy Ware as someone who could make an impact, but we just saw too much competition in the backfield. Well, Ware now leads the team in rushing yards and yards per carry, and racked up a career-high 115 yards against Williams. It looks like Murray has settled into a two-headed attack, with Ware moving the ball down the field and Amman Weaver ’18 getting the chances to punch it in near the goal line. It’s another lost season for the Continentals, but there will be weapons back in 2015.

Stock Down

Tufts Offensive Execution: A few stats from the Tufts-Amherst game: Tufts first downs – 11, Amherst first downs – 12. Tufts total yards – 249, Amherst total yards – 244. Tufts return yards – 78, Amherst return yards – 93. So how was this game 30-3 in favor of the Jeffs? As the Tufts website notes, every single Amherst scoring drive started in Tufts territory. Seventy-nine of those return yards came on interceptions for Amherst, with Chris Gow ’16 returning one Alex Snyder ’17 pass to the house. The Lord Jeff defense is very good and known for their takeaways, but this was another level. A big reason for that was because Jack Doll ’15 did not start and only threw the ball six times. It would have been extremely difficult for the Jumbos to upset Amherst at home with the Jeffs smelling a conference championship, but the offense let down a defense that played much better than the score indicated.

Bowdoin Secondary: One week after allowing Henry Foye to enjoy his best game of the season, Jesse Warren ’15 threw for five touchdowns against the Bowdoin secondary. Early in the game Bowdoin was getting pressure, but Warren converted two third downs of more than 12 yards on the first touchdown drive. For the game Wesleyan was 10-17 on third down. The Polar Bears have had problems slowing down the opposition’s passing attack all year with teams finding ways of making big plays consistently. Though Jay Fabien ’15 was slowed, Josh Hurwitz ’15 stepped up and had three touchdown catches. The Bowdoin secondary will have to rise to the occasion and stop Bates’ Riley on Saturday.

Colby’s Depth: The brutal opening schedule robbed Colby of a good deal of their players, and in an effort to get their best talent on the field, wide receivers Luke Duncklee ’15 and Nick Joseph ’15 have started playing on defense as well. Many NESCAC players went both ways in high school so they are somewhat used to it, but doing it in college is especially hard because it is much harder to take any plays off. The duo played well Saturday totaling 14 tackles between them, but it was not enough for Colby to hold off Bates. Advocates for expanding the current roster to more than 75 players might point to Colby’s issues as evidence. It is possible that the issue comes up again in conversations between coaches and administrators, but schools are unlikely to look at this one instance and consider it enough reason to change a longstanding rule.