The Best of the Rest: Week Four Football Weekend Preview

The marquee game of the season thus far is in Amherst, as Middlebury travels to the Mammoths in a game that starts the process of deciding the league champion. Amherst and Middlebury are the two teams with the best chance of supplanting Trinity, but staying undefeated will be crucial in that noble quest. Check out Colby’s breakdown of that game here.  Other than that game this week is pretty pedestrian, with mostly lower tier teams taking on better opponents. It will be interesting to see if Williams can build off their performance against Trinity last weekend, or if they are let down after a tough loss. And Trinity is worth watching as well, to see if their offense can rebound against a Hamilton team that can be sneaky-dangerous (ask Tufts.)

Colby (0-3) @ Wesleyan (2-1), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT

As their Twitter page is very fond of pointing out, Wesleyan has one of the most potent passing offenses in the country thus far. However, they are not built to be a high volume aerial attack like, say, Middlebury is. Mark Piccirillo ‘18 doesn’t have the bevy of receiving weapons that Lebowitz does, nor is he as deadly accurate, as shown by his two picks against Hamilton. This is why it was so encouraging to see the Cardinal rushing attack get going in a big way against the Continentals. Sophomore Dario Highsmith ‘20 had the breakout game we’ve been waiting for, rushing for 95 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Wesleyan is at their best when their offense is multi-faceted, and after a one-dimensional first three weeks, they’re finally figuring it out. Look for them to continue to establish the run in a mismatch against Colby.

Dario Highsmith ’20 might be making a star turn before our very eyes.

Speaking of the Mules, their offense has continued to be anemic, putting too much pressure on an actually fairly good defense. QB Jack O’ Brian ‘21 has not thrown a pick since becoming the starter, but he also has completed just around 50% of his passes and really struggles throwing it downfield. The passing game can’t keep the ball on the field well enough to run it with Jake Schwern ’19, an underrated back who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Colby will try to run the ball on the Cardinals, but they really need to get some sort of threatening passing attack going. Unfortunately, Wesleyan is not a team offenses get “well” against.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 31, Colby 9

Bates (0-3) @ Williams (2-1), 1:00 PM, Williamstown, MA

At the beginning of the season, we would have thought this game would be close, as these two teams would be battling it out for the “Best of the Rest” spot that we’ve written about in the past. But with Williams’ shocking improvement and Bates’ equally shocking struggles, it now looks like it could be a blowout. But, it also might not be. This is a very important game for both teams. Williams has impressed the league with their terrific defensive performance against Trinity. They had two sacks, a category in which they sit a second in the league, and nine tackles for loss in a pressure-filled performance that helped hold Max Chipouras ’19 to his worst performance on the season (just 2.8 yards per carry.) Unfortunately for them, Trinity’s defense was just as good, forcing the young Williams offense into four turnovers. Williams brought a lot of passion in that game, and they can’t afford to take a break against the Bobcats if they want to keep a legit chance at finishing in the top four (which I think they have.) The offense should rebound against a porous Bates defense, but the youth factor might make it harder to come back from a frustrating loss last weekend

Brendan Costa
Brendan Costa ’21 is the latest on the carousel of Bates starting QB’s.

Luckily for the Williams offense, Bates has made pretty much every team they play look like the ‘07 Patriots. To be fair, they have played three of the best offenses in the league (Trinity, Amherst and Tufts.) And also to be fair, their own offense has struggled so much that their defense can’t get a break. The Bobcats are on their their third QB of the year in Brendan Costa ‘21, and he looked impressive on the ground against Tufts (91 yards and a TD.) But he still completed only 42% of his passes. Even if Williams’ offense isn’t as dominant as the others Bates has faced, their defense should be enough to get them the win.

Predicted Score: Williams 24, Bates 10

Hamilton (0-3) @ Trinity (3-0), 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT

Trinity had some weaknesses exposed last weekend against Williams, namely on the offensive line and in the receiving game. Sonny Puzzo ‘18 and Max Chipouras ‘19 might be the best at their positions in the league, but Trinity doesn’t have a stud receiver. Koby Schafer ’20 is a great player, but he’d be better suited as a second option behind a Mike Breuler ’18 or a Conrado Banky ’19. This puts more pressure on Puzzo to make perfect throws, and on Chipouras to set up the offense in good spots. Therefore, if either of them are struggling, Trinity’s offense can sputter. And the way to make them struggle is to pack the box and stop Chipouras. Williams did that very effectively until a fourth quarter turnover gave the Bantams excellent field position. That’s when Puzzo ended the game with a TD strike to Schafer, keeping Trinity from suffering a huge upset. Also, it should be noted that Trinity’s defense still looked impenetrable despite finally giving up points. They dominated the Ephs inexperienced attack, with LB and Player of the Week Carty Campbell ’18 returning an interception 34 yards. They should to the same to Hamilton.

Hamilton has definitely seen the game plan that Williams used to limit Trinity. However, they probably do not have the personnel to repeat it. They have two solid linebackers in Cole Burchill ’19 and Tyler Hudson ’19, but neither of them are intimidating backfield presence, preferring to work in the secondary. And their D-Line has been roasted all season to the tune of 204 rushing yards per game (!!) Add in another inexperienced offense (despite a bevy of weapons that might make Puzzo fairly jealous) and Trinity should get back on their blowout grind this week.

Predicted Score: Trinity 42, Hamilton 6

Bowdoin (0-3) @ Tufts (2-1), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

One of the most versatile offenses in the league takes on the worst defense in the league. Not exactly a recipe for a tight game. Tufts can beat you in a lot of different ways on the offensive end, but they all start with QB Ryan McDonald ‘19. McDonald has had a couple huge passing games (and one very bad one against Wesleyan,) and has six touchdowns and two interceptions on the year. But his greatest weapons is his legs. He has 295 yards and two touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry. He does have an unfortunate fumbling habit (3 on the year) but he is undoubtedly one of the deadliest offensive forces in the league, and has been chiefly responsible for Tufts’s offense thriving even without Chance Brady.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is the key to Tufts’ offense.

Bowdoin’s defense is allowing an incomprehensible 477 yards per game this season. They seem to have found some modicum of consistency at QB in Griff Stalcup ‘21, but they simply cannot stay in games long enough for him to really get into a rhythm. If they could find some way to disrupt McDonald’s throwing, Tufts RB Dom Borelli ‘19 is battling an injury and may not play, limiting their rushing attack. They could play contain on McDonald and force him to make downfield throws. However, I don’t see their secondary being good enough to stop those throws even if they do that.

Predicted Score: Tufts 40, Bowdoin 10

The Beat Goes On: Football Weekend Preview 9/23

Week Two features several games that could go either way, making for an exciting week of football. The schedulers continue their support of the Williams resurgence, giving the Ephs another game against the lower tier of the league. Hamilton gets another chance for a signature win, taking on the Mammoths in the close runner up for GAME OF THE WEEK. And the winner of that race, Tufts @ Wesleyan, promises to be a terrific matchup featuring two rivals who played in hard fought matchups in Week One.

Middlebury (1-0) @ Bowdoin (0-1)

Bobby Ritter
Bobby Ritter ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panthers looked like the Patriots for the first three quarters of their opener against Wesleyan, and then the Browns for the fourth quarter. They led the Cardinals 30-13 with 7 minutes left, then surrendered two touchdowns in a four minute span before a game saving pick by Bobby Ritter ’20 ended the comeback. For Middlebury, the first three quarters should be the biggest takeaway. They made an elite defense look tired, as Jared Lebowitz ’18 spread the wealth between several receivers before Conrado Banky ’19 got involved at the end. And defensively, they held Wesleyan in check before running out of gas. They were particularly effective in stopping the run, as Defensive Player of the Week Wesley Becton ’18 put up 11 tackles and forced two fumbles. Middlebury has weapons on both sides of the ball, and should get better at playing all four quarters as the season goes along.

Bowdoin fell victim to Williams’ youthful energy, losing 28-14 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The Polar Bears struggled on offense, only gaining 220 yards total for the entire game. They did show signs of life on defense, with LB Latif Armiyaw ’20 spending most of the day in the Williams backfield, but the offense simply couldn’t do enough to keep them off the field. This won’t get better against the Panthers.

Predicted Score: Middlebury 38, Bowdoin 6

Williams (1-0) @ Colby (0-1)

Colby had the misfortune of running into Trinity in Week One, so it’s hard to get a read on how the Mules look this season. However, they scored 0 points against the Bantams, so it’s safe to say that the offense could stand to improve. Luckily, Williams’ defense is certainly not on par with Trinity’s. Look for Colby to try to establish RB Nate Richam ’18 and the running game early and often against the Ephs, who, being a young team, might struggle with a long road trip.

This picture, Frank Stola ’21 running away from a defender, basically sums up Williams’ week one match up with Bowdoin.
(Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Williams put on a terrific offensive display against Bowdoin, thanks almost entirely to a pair of first years. QB Bobby Maimeron ’21 threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns, and 168 of those yards, as well as both touchdowns, were to receiver Frank Stola ’21. Of course, this is a blessing and a curse for the Ephs. They have a bonafide weapon now, but Colby knows exactly who to focus on. They will focus their solid secondary, and particularly DB Don Vivian ’18, on Stola. This will be a test for these two phenoms, and I think they pass it.

Predicted Score: Williams 21, Colby 9

Amherst (1-0) @ Hamilton (0-1)

Both teams looked great in their season openers, with Amherst slaughtering Bates 41-17 while Hamilton narrowly lost to Trinity, 35-28 in overtime. Hamilton receiver Joe Schmidt won offensive player of the week honors after recording eight receptions for 214 yards and four touchdowns. Linebacker Tyler Hudson shared the defensive player of the week honors with Middlebury’s Wesley Becton. Hamilton sported the top three tacklers in week one with Cole Burchill and Colby Jones recording 13 and 11 tackles respectively. The Amherst Mammoths may not have any league leaders, but Ollie Eberth’s 210 passing yards and Andrew Sommer’s 10 tackles are still impressive.

Hamilton lost 34-0 at Amherst last year in the teams’ season opener. Hamilton has a long way to come to beat Amherst, but the Continentals looked much improved at Trinity and will need this home win to break into the top half of the conference. With the offensive performances last week, this game could turn into a shootout and might even come down to the last play.

Predicted Score: Hamilton 35, Amherst 31

Trinity (1-0) @ Bates (0-1)

Max Chipouras
Max Chipouras ’19 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Not a lot to say about this one. Trinity is far and away the best team in the league, having won 12 in a row at this point. They pasted Colby 35-0, and didn’t even play that well. The offense turned the ball over three times, something uncharacteristic of both QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 and RB Max Chipouras ’19. That was to be expected with the shortened preseason; they will probably tighten it up going forward.

Bates has to be a little disappointed in their Week One performance. Senior QB Sandy Plashkes struggled mightily, going 7-19 with an interception against an Amherst defense that, while solid, is not quite on the level of, say, Trinity or Wesleyan. Bates was forced to run the ball a great deal, which they did fairly effectively, but not nearly well enough to give the defense a chance to breath. And that tired defense looked very tired, giving up four touchdowns to unknown first year QB Ollie Eberth ’21. Trinity should do everything Amherst did to the Bobcats, just far worse.

Predicted Score: Trinity 49, Bates 3

GAME OF THE WEEK: Tufts (1-0) @ Wesleyan (0-1)

Ryan McDonald ’18 will try to lead the Jumbos to a 2-0 start.
(Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Overview:

The biggest match-up of the week is basically a must win for Wesleyan if they want any hope of competing for a title. There’s a chance that Trinity or one of the other contenders will lose one game, but they certainly won’t lose two. And Wesleyan already has their loss, falling to Middlebury on the road in Week One. In that game, they discovered that QB Mark Piccirillo ’18 (432 yards) is ready for prime time, but their offense was one dimensional. Middlebury shut down their rushing attack very effectively, forcing them to throw their way back into the game. Of course, the Panthers were surprised to find that they could.

This bodes well for their matchup with Tufts. The Jumbos squeaked out an overtime win in a classic against Hamilton. But over the course of that game their pass defense was certainly exposed. They gave up 365 passing yards to Hamilton QB Kenny Gray ’20, and 214 yards and four touchdowns to receiver Joe Schmidt ’20. Piccirillo and Mike Breuler ’18 are more experienced versions of those two, so Tufts may be susceptible to the same fate as last week.

Key for Tufts: Establishing the Run

Tufts QB Ryan McDonald ’19 was one of the stars of Week One, throwing for 267 yards and rushing for 92 more. He accounted for three touchdowns on his own, including this #SCtop10 candidate. But with all due respect to Hamilton (whom I think it’s clear that we’re high on this season,) Wesleyan’s defense is a bit of a different story. McDonald will not be able to throw all over the Cardinals, and they’re certainly experienced enough to not let him break free for long runs. Tufts should work early on running the ball to set up play actions and bootlegs for McDonald.

Key for Wesleyan: Controlling the Pace

The way that Middlebury was able to attack Wesleyan’s vaunted defense was by tiring them out. The Panthers are one of the best teams in the league at running no huddle, and Wesleyan’s defense looked gassed an confused several times during Week One. This was supported by several very short drives by the offense in the first three quarters, keeping the defense on the field. To prevent Tufts from following Middlebury’s game plan, Wesleyan needs take some time on their offensive drives.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 27, Tufts 24

Please Don’t Take Offense: Week One Stock Report

A lot of experts predicted that the Ninth Games would be defensive affairs, filled with turnovers and sloppiness. Well, a lot of experts were wrong. Week One was more offensive than Steve Bannon’s existence, and there were several tremendous performances, more than can be included in this Stock Report. Here are a few of the things that we noticed from Week One, both positive and negative.

Stock Up:

Hamilton-

A loss doesn’t usually land you on the coveted Stock Up list, but this was Hamilton’s most important performance in years. They hung tough with Tufts, on of the elite teams in the league, and even could have won had they tried to go for two instead of settling for the tie (more on that later.) They had the Offensive Player of the Week in WR Joe Schmidt ‘20, who tore the Jumbos apart to the tune of 214 yards and four touchdowns. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also had the Co-Defensive Player of the Week in LB Tyler Hudson ‘19, who had 19 tackles. Hamilton has weapons galore right now, and don’t be surprised if they break out this year.

Jimmy Martinez
Jimmy Martinez ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury WR Jimmy Martinez ‘19-

Middlebury’s WR situation right now is a disaster on paper. They graduated two of their biggest threats in James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, and junior stud Conrado Banky ‘19 hasn’t looked himself all preseason. But Jared Lebowitz ‘18 had plenty of guys to throw to against Wesleyan, and Martinez was one of the biggest targets. He had 5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, but his biggest impact was on special teams, where he a returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Assuming Banky finds his way, Middlebury is still loaded with weapons thanks to Martinez, as well as sophomores TE Frankie Cosolito ‘20 and WR Maxim Bochman ‘20.

Williams Offense-

Frank Stola ’21 is a budding star for the Ephs.

It’s been a while since the Ephs had legitimate weapons on offense, but they certainly do now. WR Frank Stola ’21 had 7 receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns, but the real revelation was first year quarterback Bobby Maimaron ‘21. Quarterback play has been arguably the biggest reason for Williams’ struggles, as they turned the ball over constantly last season. Maimaron threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and most importantly threw all his passes to Williams players. These two first years have Williams football rapidly back on the up and up.

Pete’s Predictions-

Damn you, Hamilton! If the Continentals had pulled off the upset, I would have been a perfect five for five. In any case, look at the actual scores versus my predictions.

Pete’s Prediction Actual Score
Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28 Middlebury 30, Wesleyan 27
Williams 27, Bowdoin 10 Williams 28, Bowdoin 14
Amherst 28, Bates 17 Amherst 41, Bates 17
Trinity 40, Colby 10 Trinity 35, Colby 0
Hamilton 17, Tufts 14 Tufts 35, Hamilton 28 (we can’t win em’ all)

Not a bad start! This is how you get to be editor, folks.

Stock Down:

Wesleyan Defense-

The group that terrorized NESCAC last year lost two key members in Jordan Stone and Justin Sanchez, but they still return a great deal of talent. However, against Middlebury the Cardinals looked like they were feeling those losses. They gave up 20 points in the first quarter, and although they made a furious fourth quarter comeback to pull within three points, the defense didn’t look nearly as threatening as the 2016 iteration. Although QB Mark Piccirrillo ‘18 had a huge game while he tried to throw them back into the game, Wesleyan is not really equipped to win shootouts. The defense will have to improve fast, as they play Tufts next week and the suddenly-threatening Hamilton offense the week after.

Middlebury’s Fourth Quarters-

With all that said about Wesleyan’s defense, they still had a shot at pulling off a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter. However, it is just as valid to blame Middlebury for letting them back into it as it is to credit Wesleyan for coming back. The Panthers defense, which had been stringent for the rest of the game, allowed two touchdowns in a five minute span, and the offensive line began letting Wesleyan’s linebackers into the backfield, forcing Lebowitz into rushed throws. Given the early start to the season, this can be partially attributed to conditioning, and Middlebury has Bowdoin and Colby over the next two weeks to get in shape for Amherst. And based on this game, it looks like they’ll need to.

Mike Breuler ’18 and Wesleyan almost pulled off a comeback against Middlebury.

Hamilton’s Dillon Panthers Impression-

I’ve already given a great deal of credit to Hamilton in this article, but there’s one thing that is stuck in my mind about their game. They scored their final touchdown with four minutes left, and instead of going for two and taking the lead, they opted to kick the extra point and tie the game. This is, of course, the smart and correct thing to do. As I’m reminded pretty much daily by email or Twitter DM by readers, I don’t know anything about football. But Coach Eric Taylor does, and in a similar situation during season three of Friday Night Lights, he went for two. This was during the state playoffs, no less! Hamilton was closing in on the most important win in the program’s recent history, so all I’m saying is that I, and Coach Taylor, would have thrown caution to the wind.

 

One Step at a Time: 2017 Hamilton Football Preview

2017 Record: 3-5

Projected Record: 4-5

Projected Offensive Starters: (*Four Returning), 11 Personnel Pro Style

QB: Kenny Gray ‘20*

RB: Marcus Gutierrez ‘18*

WR: Joe Schmidt ‘20*

WR: Alec Waugh ‘18*

WR: Eli Saucier ‘18

TE: Trevor Pinkham ’19

LT: Sam Palomaki ’20

LG: A.J. Cantarella ’20

C: Mike Cantarella ’20

RG: Stephen Kelley ’19

RT: Micah Balogh ’19

Projected Defensive Starters: (*Four Returning), 4-3

DE: Alec Boyles ’20

DL: Michael Friedman ’19

DL: Will Rothschild ‘19

DE: John Martisch ’20

OLB: Sean Tolton ’19

MLB: Tyler Hudson ’19*

OLB: Cole Burchill ’19*

CB: Preston DeLaurentis ‘18

FS: Colby Jones ‘19*

SS: Rory Merklinger ’18

CB: Justin Leigh ’20

Projected Specialists: (*Two Returning)

K: Zach Altneu ’18

P: Billy Wagner ‘20*

KR: Joe Schmidt ’20 and Colby Jones ’19

PR: Sam Robinson ’20

Summary:

Image result for hamilton college football 2016 marcus gutierrez
Senior Tailback Marcus Gutierrez ’18 could be due for a breakout season.

Since hiring coach Dave Murray who is now in his fourth season at Hamilton, the Continentals have steadily improved, going from 0-8 in 2014 to 2-6 in 2015 and 3-5 in 2016. The goal this year will be to get at least one more win in the nine game schedule. Hamilton returns eight starters from last year including a trio of star skill players on offense. After a strong freshman season in which he passed for 903 yards, sophomore quarterback Kenny Gray ’20 will attempt to link up with last year’s second place receiver and fellow sophomore Joe Schmidt ’20, who caught 28 passes for 301 yards. They will miss graduating senior Charles Ensley at the wideout position, but Alec Waugh ’18 is ready to fill that role. Hamilton’s offensive line is young and untested, with all of last year’s starters graduating. They will be thrown into the fire against Tufts’ defense on Saturday. Despite his small 5’5” stature, senior tailback Marcus Gutierrez ’18 racked up 419 yards on the ground last year, averaging 3.5 yards per attempt. If he can up that total to 4 yards or more per carry, Hamilton will easily be able to move the ball down the field and into the end zone. On a team that only scored 95 points last season, offensive improvement is by far the most important thing. The Continentals totaled 66 points in their three wins, but only 29 points in their five losses.

The defense returns four starters including second lead tackle Cole Burchill ’19 at linebacker. However only four returning starters means seven former backups will move into starting roles this season. This means a defense that already ranked third to last in the NESCAC could certainly face some early growing pains. It doesn’t help that they face last year’s runner up Tufts in the first game of the season. Tyler Hudson ’19 is the biggest blitzing threat with four sacks last season and was not far behind Burchill with 47 tackles. Despite the strength upfront in the base 4-3, Hamilton’s secondary is lacking, only returning one starter from a defense that ranked second to last in passing yards last season. The goal of course will be to limit the big passing plays and get the opposing points’ total under 20 to keep the offense in each game. The Continentals allowed a total of 177 points or 35.4 in losses last season compared to just 38 or 12.7 per game in wins. Of course, the two units must work together over the course of the season. If the offense continues to go 3 and out, it will be tough for the defense to keep their stamina and limit the points against.

Hamilton’s 2017 schedule starts off tough with a trip to last season’s runner up Tufts, but they could get their first win as early as week 2 when middle of the pack Amherst travel to Steuben Field. Home games against Colby and Bates are also winnable games and you have to give the Continentals a chance in their road trips to last year’s winless teams Williams and Bowdoin. The team has not won the Rocking Chair Classic against their closest geographic rival, Middlebury, in 21 years and can’t really expect a win in Vermont this year either. The home game against Wesleyan and the trip to Trinity also do not seem possible. Given the above constraints, a 4-5 or 5-4 record is a reasonable prediction for this year’s Continentals and would be a continuation of steady improvement under Coach Murray.

Offensive MVP: QB Kenny Gray ’20

Kenny Gray
Kenny Gray ’20 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

It is cliche to pick the quarterback as the offense’s most important player, but Hamilton’s strength is its passing game. That will depend on improvement from the sophomore who threw more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (3) last season. He has experienced wide receivers around him to make plays; he just has to get the ball to the right place. If Gray can play like he did in the end of season against Bates, completing 15 of 25 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, Hamilton will score points and could even be hard to stop on offense. Joe Schmidt, Alec Waugh, and Eli Saucier should continue to support him in the passing game while Marcus Gutierrez gets it done on the ground. Despite his small stature, Gutierrez will be an important every down back because of his speed.

Defensive MVP: OLB Cole Burchill ’19

Cole Burchill
Cole Burchill ’19 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

As the leading tackler among returners, Burchill will anchor the defense along with converted defensive end Tyler Hudson at middle linebacker. Many NESCAC teams focus on the ground game so linebacker play is crucial to minimizing the other teams’ yards and points. This becomes even more important with a young defensive front and an unpredictable secondary. Look for Burchill to make the bulk of the tackles and be in on a lot of defensive plays this season. After finishing 16th last season, he could certainly challenge for the top five tacklers in the NESCAC.

Biggest Game: September 23 vs. Amherst

As Coach Dave Murray mentioned, Hamilton must play perfect football to steal an away win at Tufts this Saturday. The same is true of their games home against Wesleyan and at Trinity on September 30th and October 7th. Therefore an early home win against middle of the road team Amherst is crucial for a strong start to the season. Hamilton lost 34-0 at Amherst last season, but the Mammoths’ 4-4 record last team means they are a team the Continentals ought to beat if they want a winning season.

Best Tweet:

 

Down to the Wire: Week 7 Weekend Preview, 11/5

Alex Waugh '18 and Hamilton hope to pull off the upset as they host Middlebury this weekend in Clinton (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Alex Waugh ’18 and Hamilton hope to pull off the upset as they host Middlebury this weekend in Clinton (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Honestly speaking, this has been the most exciting NESCAC season that I have witnessed in my college career. Looking over the schedule for the final two weeks of season, I am drawn to game after game after game. There are games with championship hopes on the line (both NESCAC and CBB championship hopes); there are games with endless pride at stake; there are in-state rivalry games, conference rivalry games, grudge matches…there’s even some little school in Connecticut that’s trying to finish out an undefeated season. 2016 has given us the rise of a historically less relevant team in terms of championship contention (Tufts), and it has also presented us with an epic fall from grace (Amherst). All in all, it’s hard to objectively look at the 2016 NESCAC Football season and be upset — the competition has been good, great, phenomenal…I can’t wait to see what type of upsets are in store for us over these next two weeks.

Hold your horses though, folks. Before we can get to the decisive Week 8 games, we need to get through this weekend. Good news! There are a number of very important games tomorrow, games that will set the stage for a thrilling final week. The most obvious is Amherst-Trinity, a matchup that features an undefeated group of Bantams looking to win the sole title of 2016 NESCAC champion. Amherst has been on quite the slide as of late, but if they can put together a little Western Mass magic like we remember from the good old days, then Week 8 will be VERY interesting. Elsewhere, Middlebury, Tufts, and Wesleyan all have one loss, and all need to win-out in order to have a shot at taking home at least a share of the title (I’d be unbelievably surprised if there was a sole champion that didn’t hail from Hartford, CT, but I suppose it is possible). The good news for all three of the 5-1 squads is that they play Hamilton, Colby, and Williams respectively. The bad news? Hamilton, Colby, and Williams are ALL looking to spoil some championship dreams. So check out Saturday’s action below – this should be an awesome weekend.

(Per usual, Pete and I split up this weekend’s preview. I wrote about the Colby-Tufts and Wesleyan-Williams games, while Pete wrote the Middlebury-Hamilton, Amherst-Trinity, and Bates-Bowdoin games)

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

Sebastian Farrell '19 debatably leapfrogged this defender (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)
Sebastian Ferrell ’19 debatably leapfrogged this defender (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Well, Pete moved Tufts into the #2 slot in this week’s power rankings, so it’s time for the Jumbos to show everyone that they deserve that nod. While the Trinitys, Middleburys, and Wesleyans of the world have been able to blow out some inferior opponents by ~30 points somewhat often, Tufts has not done so, but that doesn’t mean they’re any worse of a team for it. Scoring 40 or 50 points is not their M.O. – playing solid defense and wearing down opposing defenses is. That’s why Tufts has the lowest point differential per game, an average of just +9.33 per game compared to Trinity (27.00), Middlebury (11.33), and Wesleyan (21.00). It’s also why I think that this weekend’s game could be closer than many people are anticipating. Colby is fresh off a devastating loss to Bates, but the fight they showed in the second half of that game is a testament to their willpower. The Mules are clearly not going to roll over, and whether or not Jabari Hurdle-Price ‘17 is back from injury this week, Colby is going to be ready to play. Expect Coach Michaeles to stick with what’s working – lots of plays drawn up  for Christian Sparacio ‘18 to feed Sebastian Ferrell ‘19. Lockdown Jumbo cornerback Tim Preston ‘19 is back to his old ways – once again he leads the NESCAC in interceptions (4), so expect him to line up against Ferrell. The main question, as always, will be whether the opposing D can shut down Chance Brady ‘17… I somehow doubt it.

Rory Ziomek: Colby 17, Tufts 24

Pete Lindholm: Colby 10, Tufts 13

Liam O’Neil: Colby 10, Tufts 40

Colin Tiernan: Colby 13, Tufts 31

Colby Morris: Colby 7, Tufts 35

Sid Warrenbrand: Colby 7, Tufts 41

Nick DiBenedetto: Colby 7, Tufts 21

 

Wesleyan (5-1) at Williams (0-6), Williamstown, MA, 1:00 PM

I have tried to be pretty optimistic about Williams all season long, and they have shown some instances of competitive football in 2016, but overall, I think that Williams’ defense has been their downfall. The Ephs are allowing 29.3 OPPG, largely in part because of the nearly 400 YPG that they allow (381.5). Conceding a league-worst 199.2 YPG on the ground is not a recipe for success against Wesleyan, the third-best rushing attack in the NESCAC (180.5 YPG). And it’s not that the Cardinals can’t pass either! Quarterback Mark Piccirillo ‘19 can pass, he can run, and above all else, he can facilitate offensive flow. If Williams wants to win this game, they are going to need to score the football…unfortunately, I think that could be an issue for them. Though Williams ranks 6th in scoring in the NESCAC, they are a hop, skip and a jump below Amherst’s scoring average, once again highlighting the “league of two tiers” that we have often alluded to this fall. Wesleyan still boasts the best defense in the league, allowing just 7.7 OPPG, one that has only gotten better as the season has gone on. If the rest of the 2016 season is an accurate barometer, Wesleyan should head to Trinity at 6-1.

Rory: Wesleyan 42, Williams 7

Pete: Wesleyan 35, Williams 7

Liam: Wesleyan 27, Williams 10

Colin: Wesleyan 27, Williams 10

Colby: Wesleyan 28, Williams 13

Sid: Wesleyan 38, Williams 6

Nick: Wesleyan 38, Williams 14

 

Middlebury (5-1) at Hamilton (2-4), Clinton, NY, 1:00 PM

Contrary to the apparent mismatch, this is a crucial game for the Panthers.  Last weekend, Trinity Sonny Corleone-d the Panthers to the tune of a 49-13 drubbing that may not even have been that close.  The Panthers now must win out (and get a little help from Amherst this weekend) in order to have a shot at sharing the league title.  Their biggest obstacle on paper is a home game against Tufts to close the year, but Middlebury would be wise to not discount the Continentals this weekend.  Hamilton is a long drive from Middlebury, and the Panthers have had a tendency to start slowly, particularly on the road.  Also, Hamilton is truly not that bad.  Quarterback Kenny Gray ‘20 has had some impressive connections with receiver Charles Ensley ‘18, and the defense features certified studs Mickey Keating ‘18 and Tyler Hudson ‘19, who are excellent at pressuring the quarterback.  The struggling Middlebury offensive line will have to step up their game in order to give Jared Lebowitz time to get back into POY form after a very tough week against Trinity.  This should be a tune-up game for Middlebury in preparation for Tufts, but it would be very dangerous for the Panthers to think like that.

Rory: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 23

Pete: Middlebury 23, Hamilton 14

Liam: Middlebury 34, Hamilton 10

Colin: Middlebury 27, Hamilton 10

Colby: Middlebury 38, Hamilton 14

Sid: Middlebury 24, Hamilton 6

Nick: Middlebury 42, Hamilton 0

 

Amherst (3-3) at Trinity (6-0), Hartford, CT, 12:30 PM

Look, did I expect Amherst to be 3-3 heading into Week Seven?  No.  Am I happy about it?  No, (holding back gleeful laughter) okay maybe a bit, but just because it makes for more interesting #content for us to write about here at NBN.  Amherst has lost three of their last four games, with turnovers out of quarterbacks Alex Berluti and Nick Morales being the main culprit.  Additionally, running back Jack Hickey ‘19, who was looking like a darkhorse All-League team candidate early in the season, has pretty much disappeared from the offense, posting only 97 yards and one TD over the last three games after 6 touchdowns in the first three games.  Amherst simply has no offensive firepower right now, and that doesn’t bode well for a matchup with Trinity’s vaunted defense.  However, Amherst still has one weapon left in their arsenal: pride.  This is a team that won 21 in a row just a short time ago, and the attitude that makes the rest of the league hate them is still there.  If they can summon that attitude, take care of the ball and let their still-excellent defense match up with Trinity’s dominant offense, this could be a classic.

Rory: Amherst 13, Trinity 31

Pete: Amherst 10, Trinity 28

Liam: Amherst 13, Trinity 28

Colin: Amherst 24, Trinity 33

Colby: Amherst 13, Trinity 27

Sid: Amherst 14, Trinity 21

Nick: Amherst 17, Trinity 38

 

Bates (2-4) at Bowdoin (0-6), Lewiston, ME, 12:30 PM

There’s a battle for Maine brewing in Lewiston this weekend, as well as a battle for Bates to have one of their best seasons in the last ten years.  The second game of the CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) series features Bates coming off a hard fought 21-19 win over Colby, and Bowdoin coming off a shellacking at the hands of Wesleyan. Bates has a great opportunity in the next few weeks to finish at .500, as they play Hamilton in Week Eight.  Bowdoin, on the other hand, has an opportunity against Bates or Colby to leave 2016 with a win, potentially two, which would be a tremendous moral victory in a season that was doomed from the start.  The key for the Polar Bears will be keeping Bates QB Sandy Plaschkes from breaking away for big plays.  Plaschkes 42% completion percentage looks bad on paper (and honestly is pretty bad,) but he has eight touchdowns and only four interceptions on the year, and has a knack for coming up with big throws when the team needs it.  The stakes in this game are not high rankings-wise, but they are for the teams involved, making for a hard fought game.

Rory: Bates 27, Bowdoin 21

Pete: Bates 24, Bowdoin 7

Liam: Bates 26, Bowdoin 8

Colin: Bates 17, Bowdoin 20

Colby: Bates 17, Bowdoin 13

Sid: Bates 16, Bowdoin 9

Nick: Bates 28, Bowdoin 14

Will Clinton, New York Become a Destination Opponents Fear?: Hamilton Football 2016 Season Preview

Who is going to be throwing the ball to Charles Ensley '17 this year for the Continentals? (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)
Who is going to be throwing the ball to Charles Ensley ’17 this year for the Continentals? (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Projected Record: 3-5

Projected Offensive Starters (*Five Returning)

QB: Cole Freeman ‘18

HB: Marcus Gutierrez ‘18

FB: Jason Nastovski ‘18*

WR: Charles Ensley ‘17*

WR: Chase Rosenberg ‘17

TE: Jordan Jenkins ‘17*

LT: Rob McClure ‘17*

LG: Stephen Kelley ‘19

C: (to be determined)

RG: Richie Nelli ‘19

RT: Matt Snider ‘17*

Projected Defensive Starters (*Nine Returning)

DE: Tyler Hudson ‘17*

DT: Nick Sobczyk ‘17*

DT: Poppy Green ‘17*

DE: Brent Lobien ‘17*

LB: Matt Glebus ‘17*

LB: Mickey Keating ‘17*

LB: Sean Tolton ‘19

CB: James Giattino ‘17*

SS: James Taylor ‘17

FS: Colby Jones ‘19*

CB: Conor Powers ‘17*

Projected Specialists (*Two Returning)

PK: Zach Altneu ‘18*

P: Billy Wagner ‘20

KR/PR: Alex Waugh ‘18*/Charles Ensley ‘17

Offensive MVP: WR Charles Ensley ‘17

Losing LaShawn Ware for the year is pretty brutal, but luckily 2015 All-NESCAC selection Charles Ensley is back for the Continentals. Ensley had 665 receiving yards last year, coming to an average of 83.1 Y/G, both of which were good enough to rank him at second in the league. The kid has wheels, which makes him a huge deep threat, so whoever ends up winning the quarterback competition (Cole Freeman ‘18 vs. Brandon Tobin ‘18) will be testing opposing secondaries to Ensley’s side of the field.

Defensive MVP: DE Brent Lobien ‘17

Brent Lobien wreaked havoc in the backfield last year, evidenced by his nine and a half TFL and five sacks. He had the third-most tackles on the Hamilton defense, and he forced a fumble and recovered two. Simply put, Lobien is a ball hawk, and he will help lead Coach Murray’s defense along with the other three seniors on the Hamilton defensive line.

Biggest Surprise in Camp:

Chase Rosenberg ‘17 is no longer going to be taking snaps under center. Instead, the senior has moved to wide receiver where he looks to become a secondary target behind Ensley. Rosenberg is an athletic 6’1”, so it makes sense that he has made the move since the primary quarterback battle features Cole Freeman ‘18 and Brandon Tobin ‘18. It seems like this switch is happening more and more since the emergence of Julian Edelman as one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets. Let’s just hope Rosenberg’s quarterback, whether it turns out to be Freeman or Tobin, doesn’t get unfairly punished by league officials like Edelman’s has been…

Biggest Game: vs. Bowdoin, October 15th, 12:00pm

Hamilton ended the year on a high note by winning two of their last three games, but they are faced with a tough schedule to start the year as they face Amherst, Wesleyan and then Trinity. That’s why their matchup with Bowdoin in week four is the most important game on their schedule. It’s unlikely that they get through the first three unscathed, so getting back on track with a win at home against Bowdoin will be monumental for the Continentals.

Best Tweet:

 

Summary:

What killed Hamilton last year was their 0-5 start. Though the Continentals have won 2 of their last 3 games, they travel to Amherst and Wesleyan before finally playing at home, where they will host Trinity. I wouldn’t say that’s the easiest first three games of the season. Luckily, the Bantams have a significantly easier final 5 games: vs. Bowdoin, at Colby, vs. Williams, vs. Middlebury, at Bates. Bowdoin and Colby will likely be two of the worse teams in the league this year, and it is especially important that Hamilton has a home game following their tough opening stretch. Williams’ new coach, Mark Raymond, is a very highly touted head coach who had a great deal of success at St. Lawrence over the last 6 years. However, Raymond was only hired in February, so he has had limited time to work with his players, something the Continentals are hoping to take advantage of. Middlebury should be down this year compared to recent years after suffering the losses of Matt Minno ‘16 and Matt Milano ‘16, and writer Liam O’Neil is actually putting Middlebury on upset alert in this Week 7 matchup as shown in his Top 10 games of 2016 article last week. Playing at Bates is never easy, but Coach Murray’s squad could be in the midst of a hot streak at this point, so anything could happen.

It’s important to remember, however, that if Hamilton wants to win these games, they are going to need to make some huge strides on offense. They ranked dead last in YPG last year, in large part due to their abysmal rushing attack, which gained just 2.3 yards per carry last year! Simply put, Hamilton could not string together drives last year, evidenced by their league worst 15.1 first downs per game. And even when the Hamilton offense did manage to get into scoring positions, they struggled to convert those chances into points. Though the sample size is small (6 attempts), Hamilton only hit 16.7% of their field goals – in other words, they hit ONE FIELD GOAL last year. For a team with a pretty respectable defense, getting 3 points where you can is crucial. For example, in their opener against Tufts, the Continentals lost by 3 points in overtime. They also missed two field goals.

On the defensive side of the ball, however, Hamilton is in very good shape once again. They do lose their top two tacklers, but defensive end Brent Lobien ‘17 and linebacker Matt Glebus ‘17 are back to anchor the Hamilton defense along with seven other returning starters. Coach Murray is confident that their defense can keep them in games (they were 5th in the conference in points allowed) and I understand why. This is an experienced group (9 of the 11 starters are seniors), and they play a physical style of football that starts up front. Lobien and defensive tackle Nick Sobczyk ‘17 tied for fourth in the league with 5 sacks last year, and the other end Tyler Hudson ’17 was right behind them with 4 sacks. This group can get pressure on the quarterback, so the question becomes whether or not the offense can convert defensive stops into points. As of now, it’s hard to say yes, but maybe Hamilton can prove people wrong this year.

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

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.

 

 

More than the Main Course: Weekend Preview 10/9

 

The Bantams hope to keep their sparkling record and scoreless streak alive. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
The Bantams hope to keep their sparkling record and scoreless streak alive. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

Amherst and Middlebury is the main attraction this weekend, and Joe broke that down in detail yesterday, but the other four games still offer plenty to chew on. Trinity and Wesleyan are heavy home favorites against Hamilton and Colby respectively, but those games are still important measuring sticks. Bowdoin has beaten Tufts five straight times, and it would certainly behoove the Polar Bears to extend that streak to six in order to get their first win of the year. Bates and Williams meet in Western Massachusetts as both teams are in need of a win.

Four to Watch

1. Defensive End Zach Thomas ’18 (Tufts):

Zach Thomas
Tufts Athletics

Last year Thomas saw the field mostly as a kicker filling in for the injured Willie Holmquist ’16, and he has played great through two games at DE after playing there sparingly in 2014. He had 2.5 sacks against Bates, two of which came on third down to end Bates’ drives. Bowdoin allowed six sacks last week (admittedly Amherst is a different animal than most), and Thomas will get plenty of chances to rush the QB if Tufts gets up early. Along with Shane Thomas ’17 (no relation), the sophomore is part of a young group who are emerging for Tufts as difference makers, something that the Jumbos have lacked for a long time.

Shane Thomas '17 (56) is emerging as a force, leading the Jumbos in tackles. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
LB Shane Thomas ’17 (56) is emerging as a force and nice complement to DE Zach, leading the Jumbos in tackles. (Courtesy of Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

2. Wide Receiver Colin Brown ’16 (Williams):

Colin Brown
Williams Athletics

Brown and fellow wide out Darrias Sime ’16 probably spent much of the week drooling at the tape of Jack Cooleen ’16 ripping up the Bates secondary. Brown is 6’5″, but he was shut down last week against Trinity. A year ago he had by far his best game of the season against Bates hauling in eight catches for 96 yards. The young Bates secondary has to figure some way of forcing Brown and Sime to be physical, not just when the ball is in the air but also at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, that lies outside of how Bates usually plays, meaning that Brown should get a lot of clean breaks off of the line. Once he gets moving, he is much more difficult to stop.

3. Running Back Nick Gaynor ’17 (Trinity):

Nick Gaynor
Trinity Athletics

Hats off to Gaynor who has transitioned to running back almost as smoothly as one could hope. Given the long history of Trinity backs, nobody expected the Bantams to have to turn to a wide receiver. He has answered the call averaging 4.5 yards per carry so far. He still retains some of his receiver instincts to cut outside and only try to run through arm tackles, but that is also playing to his strengths as a shifty runner. The one concern for Gaynor is his three fumbles so far. Those are the only turnovers that Trinity has had all year. Freshman Max Chipouras ’19 could take carries away from Gaynor as the year goes along, but for now Gaynor is the signature back for the Bantams.

4. Defensive Lineman Tyler Hudson ’19 (Hamilton):

4383.jpg
Hamilton Athletics

The Continental defense has looked much better in 2015, and Hudson has been a stud for them already as a freshman. He was everywhere against Tufts with 4.5 TFLs, and he proved that it wasn’t a fluke against Wesleyan with a sack and pass batted down. His 5.5 TFL are the most in the league. Hudson is from Whitesboro, New York which is a 15-minute drive away from Hamilton. Coach Dave Murray is a longtime coach and recruiter in Central New York, and Hudson is exactly the type of football player that Murray is trying to convince to stay close to home. Already……….

Game Previews

Bowdoin (0-2) at Tufts (2-0): Medford, Massachusetts, 1:00 PM

These two met last year with the same records, and the result was Bowdoin’s first win of the year. The Jumbos have found a way to take that magic oil that helped them win all four home games on the road the first two weeks, eeking out an overtime win and a one-point win. They are still not a great football team, but they are coming close to good and that’s enough to beat the lower half of the league. Chance Brady ’17 might not play because of a concussion, but Dom Borelli ’19 has looked good as the backup running back so far.

Bowdoin has looked pretty listless in their first two games. QB Tim Drakeley ’17 has thrown the ball well, but the Polar Bears have been forced to get away from running the ball with Tyler Grant ’17 because they have fallen behind so quickly. The defense, especially that secondary, has to play better as a unit. Until Bowdoin wins a game, you have to pick against them.

Prediction: Tufts over Bowdoin 19-13

Hamilton (0-2) at Trinity (2-0): Hartford, Connecticut. 1:00 PM

The easy opening schedule for Trinity continues, though the Bantams beat Hamilton by just 12 points last year. That game was at Hamilton, and the Bantams don’t have to worry about a long bus ride this year. Sonny Puzzo ’18 is playing great, attacking the defense downfield and not making any mistakes.

Hamilton is going to struggle unless Trinity suddenly catches the turnover bug. They don’t have the athletes to match up with Trinity in the open field, and they can’t sell out against the run like they did against Wesleyan. Charles Ensley ’17 and Pat Donahoe ’16 are underrated receivers, but even they will have trouble against the Trinity secondary. The scoreless streak ends, but the Bantams still cruise.

Prediction: Trinity over Hamilton 28-6

Bates (0-2) at Williams (1-1): Williamstown, Massachusetts. 1:00 PM

QB Austin Lommen '16 and the Ephs could find no room to operate against the Bantams last weekend. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)
QB Austin Lommen ’16 and the Ephs could find no room to operate against the Bantams last weekend. (Courtesy of Robert LeBel)

On the surface this is the same Williams team we saw last year: an easy win over Bowdoin before a shutout loss to Trinity. However, I think the Ephs have more going for them this year. Much of that rests on the shoulders of Austin Lommen ’16, and despite subpar statistics from him last week, I think he bounces back against Bates. Mark Pomella ’16 is there as a change of pace quarterback, but the Ephs will win or lose because of Lommen. The running game has not improved much, and the Ephs can be made one-dimensional. That might not be a terrible thing against Bates.

Williams’ biggest worry is that their young defense wilts against the triple option, though the Bobcats haven’t been very successful moving the ball so far this year. Shaun Carroll’s ’16 statistics are inflated by one 80-yard run, and the Bobcats have not sustained enough drives. After their tough loss last week, this game is a test of the Bobcats leadership and resilience. Bottom line for me is I see the Williams offense capitalizing at points a week after Trinity gave them chances to make plays and the Ephs failed every time.

Prediction: Williams 27 – Bates 20

Colby (0-2) at Wesleyan (1-1): Middletown, Connecticut. 1:00 PM

Colby has struggled to run the ball and is going up against a Wesleyan team that suffocates teams when they run. Gabe Harrington ’17 might throw the ball 30 times in this game, and he needs receivers like Ryder Arsenault ’17 to get open much more consistently than they have. Last week against Middlebury the only success that Colby had in the passing game was a few go-up-and-get-’ems from young wideout Mark Snyder ’18.

If Wesleyan’s talent is going to coalesce into a very good football team, this is the week for them to do it. A big victory would give the team a huge boost in confidence. Justin Sanchez ’17 has been relatively quiet, and tomorrow would be a great time for him to intercept Harrington once or twice. The front seven has already proven that it is up to snuff with Shayne Kaminski ’18 and Jordan Stone ’17 helping to lead the way. The Mules don’t have the horses (bad pun intended) to hang for four quarters.

Prediction: Wesleyan 30 – Colby 10

Road Teams Rule Week One: Football Stock Report 9/28

After what seemed like an eternity, NESCAC football returned in triumphant glory on Saturday, and a lot of what we anticipated came to fruition, but there were many surprises, as well.

Today we give you the risers and fallers in our estimation, as well as a few game notes from each contest.

Stock Up:

Hamilton Offense

Tufts isn’t the most stout defense in the NESCAC, but you still have to be impressed with how the Continentals moved the ball and the play of QB Chase Rosenberg ’17 and WR Charles Ensley ’17. After starter Brandon Tobin ’18 succumbed to an injury early in the first half, Rosenberg (the starter for the past two seasons) came on and proceeded to go 14-23 (69.9%) for 301 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Ensley was on the opposite end of 107 of those yards, and displayed some top-notch athleticism with some of his grabs. His teammate, Pat Donahoe ’16, actually tallied even more yards – 174, to lead the NESCAC – so there may yet be some life in this Continental offense. We’ll wait and see whether or not Tobin returns, and how that might shake up the QB situation.

Connecticut Schools

Despite the loss, the Cardinals proved on Saturday that they still belong to the league’s upper echelon. The Cards ran all over Middlebury, and newly-minted QB Gernald Hawkins ’18 flashed potential throwing the ball, though the results were subpar on Saturday. The defense looks like it barely dropped off, and when you can control the clock and move the ball on the ground as effectively as Wesleyan, you always have a chance to win. Panthers players returned from this one bearing rave reviews of the Wesleyan team as a whole.

Meanwhile, the Bantams looked like they were playing a Pop Warner team on Saturday. A 34-0 win on the road, 439 yards of total offense and only 159 yards allowed. Enough said.

Williams QB Austin Lommen ’16

Expectations are great for former D-I players that transfer down to D-III, and that was true for Lommen last year. The BC transfer was about average last year, completing 60.1 percent of his passes and racking up seven touchdowns against nine picks, but it might be time to buy in on the righty. Lommen went 20-30 (66.7%) for 288 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Lommen managed the offense well, and the Ephs went 6-8 on third downs in the first half, most of them courtesy of throws by Lommen.

Stock Down:

Bates O-line

Yes, the Bobcats were matched up against an elite D-line from Amherst, but still, their performance in the trenches does not bode well for the rest of the season. Bates needs to churn up yards on the ground in order to win (with the occasional shot downfield to Mark Riley ’16). The Bobcats’ backs gathered 199 yards on the ground on Saturday, but 80 of those came on one Shaun Carroll ’16 scamper. Take that out, and the Bobcats rushed for 119 yards on 45 attempts – a 2.6 YPC average.

Colby Backs

Along the same lines as the above, the Mules were unable to consistently move the ball on the ground. QB Christian Sparacio ’18 had the most success of any ball carrier, racking up 30 yards on seven carries. We are still expecting big things from classmates Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and Carl Lipani ’17, but it looked like Colby just ran headfirst into a brick wall against Trinity.

Bowdoin

Just to complete the Maine college trifecta, Bowdoin has to go in this spot. The offense was stagnant, and Tyler Grant ’16 didn’t get many opportunities with the Polar Bears trailing for much of their game against Williams. The loss of RB Trey Brown ’16 to injury will prove to be costly, as the Bowdoin coaches were hoping to be able to spell Grant far more this year than last – but alas, it was not to be. It was not a good opener for anyone in the black and white.

Game Notes:

Middlebury 28 at Wesleyan 25

Well, it wasn’t easy, but the Panthers hung on to go 1-0. Matt Milano ’16 wasn’t at his best early on, but was still very, very good. It was interesting that Jared Lebowitz ’18 got just one series. His entry into the game was pre-determined, but we don’t know what went into the decision to not use him for the rest of the game. Regardless, the passing game wasn’t the issue for Middlebury. The running game, however, was not effective. Somehow, the Panthers need to figure out a way to become a multi-dimensional team. They like to use screens to substitute for old-fashioned hand offs, but you still have to be able to give it to your back and let him work once in awhile.

On the other side of the field, Wesleyan competed until the very last. Hawkins has loads of potential at QB, despite his struggles throwing. He’s a fantastic athlete, and when he took off for one 17-yard dash up the gut my jaw physically dropped. Obviously, he’ll need to work on throwing the ball – sort of important for a quarterback. As for the running game, I was really shocked that Jaylen Berry ’18 was used as the feature back, carrying the ball 21 times to LaDarius Drew’s ’15 six carries and Lou Stevens’ ’17 two – not because I doubt the youngster’s ability, but because he supplanted two former All-NESCAC First Teamers as the go-to guy on Saturday. That being said, I would not be surprised if next week Drew ran the ball 25 times for 150 yards, and the same can be said about Stevens. Furthermore, Devon Carrillo ’16 continues to be a threat with his legs in many ways – out of the Wildcat, multiple back sets and on sweeps. Defensively, I have to give a shout out to DE Jordan Stone ’16. He’s a physical beast and had a great game and it showed on the stat sheet as Stone gathered 2.5 sacks.

Amherst 37 at Bates 14

Amherst WR Nick Widen '17 and the LJs took care of Bates with ease. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen)
Amherst WR Nick Widen ’17 and the LJs took care of Bates with ease. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics/Phyllis Graber Jensen)

I didn’t watch any game as closely as I did Middlebury-Wesleyan, but nonetheless there was much to be learned from every contest. Reece Foy ’18 got the start for Amherst, and – this is the surprising part – played every snap at QB. Last season Foy and Alex Berluti ’17 opened the season in a time-share until Max Lippe ’15 came back from an injury. That Foy was able to do enough in camp to completely takeover the gig says something in and of itself. Also of note, Kenny Adinkra ’16 got the lion’s share of the carries and was more productive than Nick Kelly ’17. Will that last, or will Kelly return to 2014 form and takeover the feature role as he was expected to do. OR, will the super-talented Jack Hickey ’19 start stealing away more carries?

For Bates, I know that the triple-option is the staple of their offense, but Mark Riley is just incredible. The Bobcats completed 11 passes for 117 yards, and seven of those catches went to Riley for 87 yards. I don’t think that if you put a prime-age Randy Moss on any team in the NESCAC he would take as large of a proportion of the catches as Riley does.

Williams 27 at Bowdoin 7

For the second straight year the Ephs stomped on the Polar Bears. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics/CIPhotography.com)
For the second straight year the Ephs stomped on the Polar Bears. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics/CIPhotography.com)

Not much went right for the Polar Bears in Week 1. I don’t know whether to credit Lommen or crucify the Bowdoin secondary for the Ephs’ success through the air. Overall, I’m reserving judgement on the Polar Bears.

For Williams, though, you have to feel good about this start. Maybe they’ve put something together in Williamstown right under our noses. Although, I vaguely remember writing something to the same effect one year ago after Williams’ 36-0 beatdown of Bowdoin in Week 1. Maybe Coach Aaron Kelton just has the Polar Bears’ numbers. Maybe he’s taping opposing coaches’ signals with a cell phone camera, and 15 years from now, when Coach is getting fitted for his fourth NESCAC Championship ring, and the twilight is setting on a decorated career, NESCAC officials will bust down the door and point a finger at him and call him a cheater for doing exactly what every other team in the league was doing…

I’m sorry, I wasn’t planning that. (And there’s definitely no illegal filming going on anywhere in the NESCAC.)

Trinity 34 at Colby 0

With Joe Moreno ’19, sadly, out yet again with a torn ACL, Nick Gaynor ’17 has become the team’s top back. From a fantasy perspective though, this is a tricky situation, as Gaynor, Ethan Suraci ’18 or QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 could be the team’s leading rusher any given week. I particularly don’t think Gaynor will see many goal line touches. Gaynor is a converted wideout, and Suraci is a much bigger body. Max Chipouras ’19 – who had just two touches – got a goal line TD on Saturday instead of Gaynor. No matter who’s behind him, the return of Puzzo under center is going to be huge for Trinity. Henry Foye ’16 did a great job when healthy last year, but I think that Puzzo brings elite talent to the QB position.

Tufts 24 at Hamilton 21

The best game of the day came between two perennial doormats that look to be rising from the ashes. Tufts already took the first step a year ago by going 4-4, but with the Jumbos still 0-infinity in their last infinity chances on the road, the Continentals were feeling really good about their chances. And with newly-transferred QB Tobin at the helm, it appeared that Chapter 1 of the fairytale was under way.

Then Tobin left the game with an ankle injury, and everything fell into the hands of Rosenberg, the beleaguered vet. And boy, did he respond.

Rosenberg matched a career-high with his 301 passing yards, the program’s fifth-highest single-game mark. His 21.5 yards per completion and 13.1 yards per attempt were Hamilton records. He threw three TD passes, all in the span of 12 plays in the second half. His receivers, namely Donahoe and Ensley, made some spectacular plays, but let’s give all the credit in the world to Rosenberg for his stellar performance.

Alas, the Hamilton offense could not punch it in with the first possession of overtime. K Zach Altneu ’18 boomed his field goal attempt through the uprights, but Tufts Head Coach Jay Civetti was able to call a timeout just in time, forcing Altneu to kick again, and this time he pushed it wide left.

The Jumbos were conservative on their possession, moving the ball to the six-yard line before Snyder took a five-yard loss to position the football right in the middle of the field. K Willie Holmquist ’17 came up clutch for the Jumbos, who celebrated their first road victory since Oct. 3, 2009.

Aside from Rosenberg, CB Jimmy Giattino ’17 was a beast defensively for Hamilton and DL Tyler Hudson ’19 had an impressive debut. Last year’s tackle-leader John Phelan ’16 saw limited action, rotating with Mickey Keating ’17 at linebacker. We believe Head Coach Dave Murray is trying to protect Phelan who was banged up considerably during camp, but only time will tell if this timeshare continues. And lastly, Tobin’s ankle injury appears to be minor, which keeps the QB conversation in Clinton very intriguing. However, after a performance like that, how Rosenberg could not get the keys to the car for at least one more week is a mystery to me.

And in case you missed it, every road team won! Can you believe it? I don’t know how long it’s been since that happened in the NESCAC. Maybe between the 47 assignments I have this week and the job search I’ll try to procure that information.

It’s good to be back.