Something Exciting This Way Comes: Week Five Power Rankings

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

Kim Novak is all the NESCAC teams at once.

1: Trinity

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

2: Middlebury

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

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

3: Amherst

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

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

4: Wesleyan

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

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

5: Williams

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

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

6: Tufts

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

7: Hamilton

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

8: Bowdoin

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

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

9: Colby

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

10: Bates

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

It’s Finally Getting Interesting: Weekend Preview 10/15

This week features not one, but two sure-fire nail-biter contests between the league’s top teams. Not only this, but some of the less successful teams up to this point (four 0-4 teams) will get the chance to find the win column as they square off against one another. Hamilton or Bowdoin will end their winless streaks and Williams @ Middlebury and Trinity @ Tufts are games that could either put one undefeated over the other on a quest for a ring, or bring all the one loss teams closer together. Regardless of how this week plays out, it’s nice to see that the majority of results won’t be easy to predict, a refreshing sight compared to the majority of the first four weeks.

Hamilton (0-4) @ Bowdoin (0-4), 12:00 PM, Brunswick, ME

It must be nice to look across the field and not see a powerhouse on the other side for these two teams. After brutal starts to the season in terms of strength of schedule, the Continentals and Polar Bears will square off in what is sure to be a competitive matchup. Bowdoin had a dud of an offensive performance last week, scoring just three points, but the previous three weeks saw them in the end zone 2x per contest. QB Griff Stalcup ‘21 should have a good chance to breakout against his first weak defense while RB Nate Richam ’20 looks to continue his ground

Nate RIcham ’20 is the lone bright spot in Bowdoin’s season thus far.

dominance after a 109 yard performance against Tufts. Richam averaged 5.7 yards per carry against a Jumbo defense that held the Bowdoin team to just three points, and Richam has improved in some way every week. Stalcup has been remarkably consistent in terms of completions as he is either 12/21 or 12/22 in each of his three starts this year, the best of which came against Amherst. If both these two players can get it going, they might just have the scoring capability to set them over the edge.

Hamilton, like Bowdoin, hasn’t had much luck so far this season. If they started playing some of the NESCAC’s weaker teams immediately following their near win over Tufts, then their record might look drastically different. However, after failing to improve on that performance, and falling back into the abyss of the losing column the last three weeks without much resistance, they are desperate for a win against Bowdoin. Kenny Gray ’20 has played better than his team’s 0-4 record would indicate and he has the experience that could lead his team to victory. Also, a stellar secondary performance against perennial All-NESCAC Sonny Puzzo ’18 would suggest that Griff Stalcup will have his hands full. I mean, if they can intercept Trinity’s QB twice, why not four against Bowdoin? They look to be the favorite here due to their defense from last week and Gray’s relative consistency thus far, but Richam could control the Bowdoin offense if he plays like he did last week.

Predicted Score: Hamilton 20, Bowdoin 17

Bates (0-4) @ Wesleyan (3-1), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT

While the outcome of this game isn’t necessarily hard to predict in terms of who will win (sorry, Bobcat fans, this won’t be your week), it will still be a good opportunity for Bates do develop their offense in preparation for games that they will compete in. Brendan Costa ’21 looked really bad last weekend against Williams, like really bad. Yes, I recognize that it’s only his second career start, and his second career game, but four INTs is a lot. Sandy Plashkes ’19 showed flashes of greatness with some huge runs last year, and Costa looked good in his opening contest, but until Bates figures out who is going to lead their team, they won’t have a chance to win. Here’s the good news: Matt Golden ’20 looked really good against Williams with a huge 62 yard rush, both Costa and Plashkes can run the ball, and Bates plays with tons of slot receivers and slot backs that are part of a run oriented offense. They should run the ball on offense. Obviously with only 14 pass attempts as a unit last game, they know what their strengths are, but they need to limit the turnovers and let their ground game take control. Jason Lopez should be nearly the only receiver they throw too. They won’t win this game, but hopefully they can get enough offense going to show that they can find the win column eventually.

Again, for Wesleyan this shouldn’t be a difficult win. If nothing else it should be an opportunity to QB Mark Piccirillo ’18 to work on his turnover issue as well. He threw the ball well against Colby, going for four TDs and 324 yards. His play isn’t an issue right now, but he has turned the ball over in 4/4 contests so far and with Amherst and Trinity still left on the Cardinals’ schedule, he will need to be perfect for Wesleyan to win out. The Wesleyan defensive line looked great last weekend too, accumulating three sacks and 10 tackles for losses, and they should get to the Bates QBs all day.

Predicted Score: Wesleyan 35, Bates 10

Amherst (3-1) @ Colby (0-4), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME

I am seriously doubting Amherst’s potential to make a run at the league title after their lacklustre play at QB against Middlebury. As everybody knows, the NESCAC is a QB league, and while Ollie Eberth ’20 is solid, he isn’t the same as Piccirillo, Lebowitz, McDonald, or Puzzo. Even young Bobby Maimaron ’21 looks to have an edge over Eberth. With that said, they shouldn’t have much issue against the Mules. Eberth is going to have to start making strides to be more diverse in his passing game as Bo Berluti has been under utilized up to this point in the season. Amherst’s secondary looked weak against Midd too and will use this game as an opportunity to get some turnovers and work out the kinks before tougher games.

Ollie Eberth ’20 has had moments of greatness, but hasn’t been consistent enough to compete with the elite QB class above him.

This probably isn’t a game that the Mules circled on their schedule in the preseason. Amherst has looked nearly unstoppable against the other 0-4 teams this year, and while they lost to Midd, Colby is not even close to on that level. They really didn’t get anything going against Wesleyan, and their only highlight was having a lead through the first quarter. They proceeded to let up 41 unanswered points to finish off the contest. They don’t have much of an offensive game as Jack O’Brien, Jake Schwern, and the receivers haven’t made many big plays this year. They were able to force two turnovers against the Cardinals though and defense should be their goal against the Mammoths who turned the ball over three times against the Panthers. Their defensive line hasn’t done much recently, but they could limit Eberth significantly in his passing game. The bad news for the Mules is that Jack Hickey is the star of the Amherst offense and stopping the ground game isn’t the Colby specialty.

Predicted Score: Amherst 38, Colby 7

GAME OF THE WEEK: Trinity (4-0) @ Tufts (3-1), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

Another marquee matchup brings excitement to my heart. Tufts has already lost, but have displayed enough offensive talent worth of a challenge for the mighty Bantams, who’s only notable win thus far was a nail-biter against Williams. The key to this game for Tufts will be stopping RB Max Chipouras ’18 who had a dud of a performance against the Ephs but rebounded nicely against Hamilton. Ryan McDonald ’19 has been running the ball convincingly lately and could be the spark that puts the Jumbos over the edge on Saturday. His dual threat ability is just what an opponent needs against Trinity, who’s defense has been nearly unstoppable up to this point. Unfortunately for Tufts, Bowdoin RB Nate Richam ran all over them last week, and if they are vulnerable like that again, Chipouras could control the game. Rush defense is the only hope for the Jumbos.

Ryan McDonald’s speed makes him a dangerous weapon, and is the key to Tufts’ upset chances.

I mentioned above how Chipouras had a tough day against Williams, averaging under three yards per carry for the first time in his career, but his silenced his doubters (were there any?) with two TDs and 97 yards against Hamilton. Puzzo showed he was vulnerable to the interception too, and he will need to take better care of the ball as to not give Tufts additional scoring opportunities. With the way Trinity’s defense has played so far this year, they shouldn’t need more than 21 points to win this game, but the question is, how many opportunities will they give Tufts to find the end zone.

Predicted Score: Trinity 24, Tufts 14

Williams (3-1) @ Middlebury (4-0), 2:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

 334 yards of offense and four TDs from Bobby Maimeron led him to his first Player of the Week honors after a clobbering of Bates (check out Matt’s excellent profile of Bobby here). Good special teams play, a balanced offensive attack, and a breakout day from their secondary lead to a decent amount of hope heading into this game. Rashad Morrison ’21 and Connor Harris ’18 combined for over 160 yards against Bates and looked nearly unstoppable. TJ Rothman (21)’s two picks, along with another from Jameson DeMarco ’19 and Jack Kastenhuber ’21 should worry Lebowitz, who has had issues with turnovers in the past. DeMarco has been great to start the season, adding the INT in his only game without a sack this year. Williams should put up a fight, Maimeron is about to face the music with Midd’s secondary showing up in a big way against Amherst.

 Zoning in on Maimeron all day though will be Midd’s Kevin Hopsicker who had a career game against Amherst with eight tackles and a pick-6 against Amherst. Wesley Becton also added a pick-6 and Maimeron should have his hands full with this secondary. Lebowitz won’t be slowed down by Williams’ defense despite their solid play against Bates. The Middlebury receiving core should be able to overcome much of the challenge from the Ephs, and while Williams could intercept one or two passes, Lebowitz should still find the end zone upwards of three times. The rush defense looks to be the only question heading into this one as they allowed almost 200 yards on the ground to the Mammoths.

 Predicted Score: Middlebury 28, Williams 21

Title Hopes Gone: Stock Report 10/10

Finally a solid game in week 4 between Amherst and Middlebury. As I predicted, Midd came out on top, but not for the reasons that I had thought. In the rest of the league, things went as expected, and Williams continued their rise into the top tier of the NESCAC, seeing their young players continue to make plays leaps and bounds ahead of the Ephs timetable for rebuilding. The future is now, and they are the real deal. The rest of the league performed pretty ordinarily, but some individual performances, both good and bad, are noteworthy.

Stock Up

Middlebury’s Well-Roundedness

Kevin Hopsicker
With defensive weapons like Kevin Hopsicker ’18, Middlebury looks to be in same tier as Trinity

Middlebury needed to get a shout out here after beating their second top NESCAC team of the season, improving to 4-0. With wins against Wesleyan and Amherst, they now only have Tufts and Trinity (Williams is still TBD) as daunting opponents. While their receiving depth has been my favorite part of the team this season, offering Jared Lebowitz ’18 all the targets he could ask for, the running game is showing development, and the secondary is turning it on. With Diego Meritus ’19 still out (I keep hearing week in and week out he is coming back the next game—I no longer trust my sources) they still managed to make an impact on the ground with several different backs these last few weeks. Their secondary picked off Reece Foy twice and turned them into pick-sixes, putting the Panthers over the edge. Wesley Becton and Kevin Hopsicker joined the long list of Midd players that are now big time playmakers and with such depth, Trinity should watch out.

Williams Rushing Attack

While Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his fellow young Eph receivers have been the subject of high praise early on this year, for good reason, the run game showed against Bates last weekend that it deserves press recognition too. Rashad Morrison made the most out of his five carries on Saturday as he rushed for 85 yards (17 per carry!), while fellow teammates Connor Harris, Maimaron, and Steve Bohling accumulated a combined 174 additional yards. Each of Williams’ top four rushers averaged over five yards per carry, and while it was against a weak Bobcat defense, these numbers are still significant as they will need a balanced offensive attack to compete against Midd and Tufts in their upcoming games. 

Stock Down

1. Amherst’s Title Hopes

And another undefeated team has fallen. This turned out to be a 35-31 one possession result, but in reality it wasn’t as close as the box score indicates. This game, played on the Mammoths’ home turf, was 35-17 with just over 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and if it wasn’t for two unanswered Amherst TDs then it would’ve looked like an easy win for Midd. This was Ollie Eberth’s first test against a solid opponent and he did fine–not great, not bad. He has limited running capabilities but really throws well to James O’Reagan. And with solid games from both Jack Hickey and Hasani Figueroa, their ground game was awesome. Here is the problem: They won’t be able to outscore Trinity, and Lebowitz was still able to have a solid day under center despite only 14 offensive points scored. Their defense is good, but not Trinity-esque, and with one loss already on their record, they need to go through the Bantams to have a shot at the title. What they needed was vintage Reece Foy. Up until last weekend, I believed that after working back in to live action slowly, they could again see the former POY candidate as his old self. However, after a brief two INT performance lacking any spark (-2.2 yards per rush), he doesn’t look to be the guy to take them to the top. Amherst is still a solid team in this conference, but won’t win any rings this year and now lack the potential to knock off the top teams that glimmered whenever Foy’s name was mentioned. They showed some hope in their rush defense against Midd, and they will need to bring that again and then some to stop Dario Highsmith this weekend.

Amherst simply doesn’t have a consistent enough passing game to compete with Trinity and Middlebury this year.

2a. Underdogs

This is similar to the stock down report on the unsurprising results from a week ago, but it really is something that disappoints me as a fan of the underdog. There has not been a single real upset in NESCAC football this year. Sure, Williams is now a contender and wasn’t last year (far from it as they were winless) but it didn’t shock anybody when they beat fellow second tier teams from a year ago in Bates, Colby, and Bowdoin. Their good performance against Trinity and Hamilton’s near win against Tufts were almost upsets, but they didn’t happen. So I’m sticking to my guns and saying that not a single upset has happened in 2017. Not one bottom tier team has beaten a top tier team. Even Amherst, a team caught in the middle of the NESCAC last year, couldn’t beat Middlebury. Maybe the NESCAC should adopt a first and second division soccer style where the lower teams of Colby, Bowdoin, Bates, Hamilton, and Williams are in the second division, and at the end of the year the top team gets to move up to the first division. Then the loser of the first division between Trinity, Midd, Amherst, Wesleyan, and Tufts would drop down for the following year. Williams would be on pace to win the lower division. Obviously it is a ridiculous proposal that wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen, but it would be nice to see some unexpected results and not all of these assured wins for the top teams. It allows them to play with a blindfold on and not worry about whether they will win for weeks at a time. Again, this problem could be solved with playoffs. A fan can hope.

2b. Validity of Statistics

Because this weekend went nearly exactly how I expected it to, there’s not a whole lot to say about stocks that went down because for so many teams, it can’t really get much worse. Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton all had hard schedules to start the season, resulting in each of their 0-4 records, so I guess their morale is pretty low. But for the teams who they have played, especially this last weekend, the scores were run up so high, it’s almost as if the entire games were played in garbage time. Wesleyan, Tufts, Trinity, and Williams all scored north of 30 points, each winning by a margin of over three possessions. Four TDs for Mark Piccirillo, four total TDs for Bobby Maimaron, three TDs for Sonny Puzzo, two TDs for Max Chipouras, two total TDs for Ryan McDonald. These stats get so inflated at the consequence of bad defense just as much as offensive prowess. It’s hard to distinguish who the best players are sometimes because aggregate season stats aren’t particular on which team they were collected against. The value of each touchdown should be measured against its importance in a game as some of these are accumulated without significant challenge.

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

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.