To quote Game of Thrones, ‘winter is here.’ NESCAC women’s basketball is already in full swing with an onslaught of non league games. While these games don’t go into the record books for NESCAC standings, they are nevertheless very important, so that each teams starts the season on the right foot. There have been some surprises thus far, and there are teams that have played like I predicted. Let’s take a look at my three hot takes going into winter break:
Bowdoin is Now a Top Dog
Tufts and Amherst dominated the spotlight in everyone’s preseason power rankings. Their incredible success last year deservingly gave them the top two spots of the standings in predictions for this season. However, something is going on in Brunswick, ME. The Bowdoin Polar Bears are 8-0. One of those wins was an thirty-four point trouncing over the Colby Mules. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I predicted Bowdoin to be very good; I didn’t predict them to be this good. The Polar Bears as a team led the NESCAC in all relevant offensive categories. While questions can be raised as to whether or not Bowdoin can actually beat Tufts and Amherst, there’s no question that the Polar Bears are a force to be reckoned with. They average an incredible eighty-four points per game as a team, with four players who average double figures in points: Taylor Choate ‘19, Kate Kerrigan ‘18, Lauren Petit ‘18, and Abby Kelly ‘19.
These four upperclassmen have set the tone for the team. While the competition they’ve played isn’t as stout as it will be when conference games kick in, boasting a perfect record is obviously a great sign for the squad. These four women have been there and done it before, so when times get inevitably tough down the stretch, look for them to push the team over the hump. The team will kick off league play on January 5th against Bates, and will play the Jumbos the following night. Rest assured, the polar bears will take one game at a time, but they have to be looking forward to Tufts. That’s their opportunity to show the world that Bowdoin has arrived.
Wesleyan Will be Better than Last Year (#RollCards #DirtyBirds)
It’s really tough to say how well a team will do after non-conference games. It’s clear that the NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country. I watched Wes beat a team by sixty-six points last weekend. There’s not much secret to the success of NESCAC teams: the women just play at a quicker, higher, stronger (or Citius, Altius, Fortius just in case my high school Latin teachers are reading this) pace. Wesleyan was 1-9 last year in league play, but I think they’ll be better after watching them a bit this year. The team is always up on the bench–showing how well they support one another, and how badly they want to win. The team is led by Olivia Gorman ‘19, who averages around twelve points per game. The Cards look like they’ve been infused with new energy and talent. Emma Roush ‘21 leads all freshmen in scoring (7.0 PPG), and offers a tough, scrappy play style on both ends of the court. Good teams need players like these: Draymond Green of the Warriors and Marcus Smart for the Celtics contribute far more than the box score reveals. Defense translates to offense with these players, and it starts with their hustle. Roush is no different. Wesleyan got a wake up call, however, after they were smacked by Amherst. It didn’t count in the conference standings, but it shows that Wesleyan still isn’t at peak performance yet.
Nina Davenport is the Devin Booker of the NESCAC. MVP?
Nina Davenport ‘18 of the Bates Bobcats is putting up MVP like numbers. She averages around twenty-two points per game, and adds seven rebounds per contest too. Enter Devin Booker. Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns, puts up unbelievable numbers. He’s a lights out shooter, good slasher, and an all around incredible scorer. Davenport reminds me of Booker because she’s a good shooter, but she gets to the cup too; she scores in a variety of ways. Sounds all positive, right? Except for the fact that the Suns aren’t good. Neither is Bates. Bates is the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record thus far. That statistic would be fine if we were talking about games against Bowdoin, Amherst, and Tufts, but these are non-league opponents. Bates should be crushing them. As a result, it’s tough for me to justify saying that Davenport is the MVP. Yes, she puts up MVP numbers, but an MVP can’t be on a bad team in my opinion. Take a player like Maddie Bledsoe of Wesleyan. She’s a walking double-double averaging eleven rebounds and ten points per game. Granted Wesleyan won’t finish atop the league, but I think they’ll be the biggest turnaround team this year. Bates doesn’t look like they’ll turn it around. I’m not saying that Bledsoe will be the MVP, but that player should come from a team that’s playing well.
For those of us that made it out of the library, we saw a pretty exciting week as far as preseason NESCAC basketball goes. The week featured two non-conference, conference games: Colby topped Bowdoin, 89-84 in a high scoring affair, while Wesleyan needed more than just 40 minutes to edge Williams, 72-67, on the road in Williamstown. This week there were fewer extraordinary individual performances, so much of the focus is on the teams as a whole, with much focus on the two aforementioned games. As we eagerly await the start of true conference play, let’s take a long about who is trending up and who is trending down after this exciting week:
Going into the year, we weren’t sure what to expect of this Cardinal team who lost three underclassmen, to go along with two graduating seniors. Even when they started 5-0, none of those five wins stood out as particularly impressive. This all changed on Saturday after they took down the no. 3 nationally-ranked Ephs in overtime. Although it won’t count towards the NESCAC standings, this is a very impressive win for Wesleyan. Winning a game against a team of this caliber on the road is not only a resume-booster, but it should give this unproven lineup a huge dose of confidence. The Cardinals are aided by reigning NESCAC player of the week, Jordan Bonner ’19 who dominated against Williams, and has emerged as the top scoring threat in Middletown. They also boast one of the league’s most efficient players in Kevin O’Brien ’19, who averages 10.8PPG, 7REB/G, and 5.8 AST/G, while shooting 62.5% from the field. This type of efficiency will be key for Wesleyan if they would like to stand atop the conference, or even the Little Three, by the end of the season.
Last week we mentioned Bates and Bowdoin as Maine schools that were on a bit of a tear, and now we can add Colby to the list. They welcomed the Polar Bears to Waterville and put on quite a performance. I’m not a betting man (in compliance with NCAA rules of course), but if I were, I would say that Bowdoin was probably the favorite in this one, entering the game undefeated and ranked #22 nationally. It was a very tight game the entire way, but the Mules simply shot too well to lose this one. They shot 48.4% from the field, they were 13-32 (40.6%) from beyond the arc en route to a 5-point victory. Their style of play is very offense-oriented and they like to shoot A LOT. However, their pass-first mentality places them first in the league with 20.3 assists per game. They also love to crash the boards, specifically on offense. They are in the middle of the pack (5th) in the conference in total rebounds, but second in offensive rebounds. Colby very much subscribes to living and dying via the three-point shot, but it has worked thus far, as they are second in threes per game. The Mules are very fun to watch, so stay tuned to see how they fare over the next few weeks.
This is a much more scrutinized topic in NESCAC football, especially with the conference’s basketball being much deeper, but it does seem that year-in and year-out we see more or less the same teams at the top. It was exciting to see both Wesleyan and Colby (underdogs per se) take down higher ranked teams and show that anything can happen on any given night in the ‘CAC. I am about as big a NESCAC fan as they come, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have any evidence to back up my claim that the NESCAC is the best conference in the NCAA. 11 of the last 14 Division III Final Fours® have featured at least one team from the NESCAC, and there are no other conferences at any other division that can say the same. Hopefully the new NESCAC-ESPN deal gets off the ground, so we can start airing games that are played at this high of a level. Until then.
Williams’ little three chances
The mighty Ephs have shown us that they are vulnerable, and Wesleyan showed what it takes to defeat them. The Cardinals stymied the Ephs on defense, holding them to 23-62 (37.1%) from the field and 9-33 (27.3%) from 3-point land. It didn’t get any better from the charity stripe, where Williams went 12-23, good for 52.2%. They were not turning the ball over at a particularly high rate, but their poor showing from the field resulted in a season-low 11 assists. Wesleyan’s defensive effort was superb, and I’m confident the Ephs will bounce back, but this result was pretty shocking considering they came in at #3 in the nation. That said, this was officially a non-conference game, and teams aren’t expected to be in top shape on December 1st. Williams simply has much more to prove with after the first blemish of their season, especially with another non-conference matchup with Amherst looming. With Wesleyan showing that they aren’t messing around and Amherst playing well out of the gates, the Little Three crown will be a lot tougher to grab than we may have thought at the beginning of the year.
Johnny McCarthy as a POY candidate
As a writer, I take pride in my work, and I’m also willing to admit when I was wrong. In the case of McCarthy, it does appear that I was wrong when I discussed him as a possible POY candidate. Nothing against McCarthy or Amherst, because they are off to a great start, appearing at no. 21 in the nation this week. Simply put, Amherst is too balanced for McCarthy to stand out as a candidate for this prestigious award. He is putting up 8.5PPG, 6.0Reb/G, and 2.3AST/G, which are all solid numbers, but not enough to place him under POY consideration. The Mammoths have such a large rotation of players that play at a high level, so no individual is truly standing out. Again, this is not meant to take any jabs at the Mammoths who have being playing really good basketball, but it is interesting to see who will take a step forward once they get to the more difficult portion of their schedule.
The Cardinals started their season with 11 straight wins before being slowed down by the grind of the NESCAC conference schedule. They lost to Trinity in the NESCAC quarters, before ending their season against Union (NY) in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
Projected 2017-2018 Record: 18-6 (7-6 conference)
Amherst gets some redemption this season against a Wesleyan squad that beat them twice last winter.
Harry Rafferty (13 PPG, 2.2 AST/G, 38% 3FG) –
A veteran guard who started every game his senior season, and 77 of his 103 collegiate appearances, the Cardinals will most definitely miss his floor presence and lifetime 40% shooting.
Joseph Kuo (11.8 PPG, 7.2 REB/G, 49% FG) –
Wesleyan will be missing their paint beast in Kuo. Though his numbers aren’t astounding – Kuo averaged just over 7 rebounds and 12 points a game – he started essentially every game for the past 3 seasons, and any team can’t but miss such a reliable presence, especially in a paint protector like Kuo. The Cardinals do, however, have another veteran down low, in senior Nathan Krill, and, as the 6-7 vet JR Bascom has stepped in to fill Kuo’s shoes, Wesleyan looks to continue their streak of solid defense from last year.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Thanks to an endless streak of midterms and papers in the green mountains, this writer has the benefit of Wesleyan’s having already played in, and won, the Herb Kenny Tip-Off tournament. So my starting lineup predictions have some, albeit limited, historical basis.
F JR Bascom ’18 (4.7 PPG, 3.4 REB/G, 53.8% FG)
Though he played just 9 minutes against Mitchell, Bascom has the benefit of a rather guard-heavy Wesleyan roster. He’s had the career trajectory of a player who’s had to earn his minutes, and this season the waiting looks to pay off. Bascom played in 26 games last season, but started only one. This year he’s charged taking over for the graduated Joseph Kuo, so look for Bascom in the introductions this year. He’s 7-8 shooting so far this young season, and looks to be playing with the poise and confidence afforded to a man of his experience.
F Nathan Krill ’18 (9.6 PPG, 6.2 REB/G, 0.9 BLK/G)
The 6-7 senior and chief contender for the annual “Feels Like He’s Been Here for 35 Years” award is off to hot start to the year. After an 11-point, 8 rebound performance to start the year against Anna Maria, Krill dropped 22 on 9-14 shooting against Mitchell on Saturday. He capped his 20-minute double-double with 16 boards, earning Krill the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament MVP. Krill was in and out of the starting lineup last season, but any forward who takes 9 threes in 27 minutes is feeling mighty confident. If Krill keeps playing with the confidence he absolutely deserves to be playing with, look for him to step into the role of a real impact player this season.
G Austin Hutcherson ’21 (N/A)
The freshman played his way into a starting spot after the season opener against Anna Maria, where he scored 9 points on 11 attempts from the field. Look for the Jersey Boy Hutcherson and senior Jordan Sears to both be in and out of the starting 5, but I put my money on Hutcherson, who’s a lanky 6-6, winning the position battle. In Wesleyan’s 107-64 romping of Mitchell, Hutcherson had 13 points on 6-13 shooting. The biggest struggle for any freshman is adjusting to the speed and increased physicality of the college game. It often means a hit to the confidence early on, but clearly Hutcherson’s deflected the confidence blow, because he’s shooting the ball plenty, and doing it successfully.
G/F Jordan Bonner ’19 (12.8 PPG, 5.2 REB/G)
Bonner is Wesleyan’s go-to man. The 6-4 junior guard emerged as a big-time scorer last season for the Cardinals, hitting a buzzer beater against Amherst to send the game, one he sealed with a pair of clutch free-throws, to overtime. He averaged 13 points a game last season, and though his 5.2 rebounds a game is middling, Bonner has bounce, and is capable of producing double-double performances. Though he’s a more than capable scorer, and will be looked to as such, look for Bonner to crank it up a notch this season on the glass in big time conference games this year.
G Kevin O’Brien ’19 (8.3 PPG, 6.5 REB/G, 4.3 AST/G, 1.5 STL/G)
O’Brien will run Wesleyan’s offense from the point. The 6-5 junior is a supersized point guard, and uses it to bully smaller players. He averaged nearly 7 rebounds per game last season in his 26 starts, and also uses his height to see over the defense to make tough passes. But his most important job is kickstarting Wesleyan’s notorious D. O’Brien averaged 1.5 steals a game last year, and is an absolute menace in the pick and roll, due again to his size. O’Brien can legitimately switch onto any position and not give up too much size. You can tell from the stats above that O’Brien is one of the best all around players in the league. But in the absence of shooter Harry Rafferty, O’Brien will be looked at more and more to put up points. He’s certainly capable of it. He scored consistently last season, and was 8-8 with 16 points against Mitchell last weekend. Look for O’Brien as Wesleyan’s lock-down man and floor general this year.
Breakout Player: Austin Hutcherson ’21
The beauty of Wesleyan’s team this year is that almost every stud, or even starter, was, by the end of the year last year, someone coach Joe Reilly looked to consistently and with confidence. Austin Hutcherson is the lone complete newcomer to the floor, and it’s a position that hasn’t appeared to intimidate him in the slightest. Through Wes’s 2-0 start to the season, Hutcherson has shot 4-11 and 6-13 respectively. It’s a volume that tells me he’s playing with the earnest fire of a newcomer to NESCAC hoops, but also with the confidence of someone who’s played at Wesleyan’s level before. I think 2 or 3 more games are all that’s needed to cement Hutcherson’s swagger, and after that, watch out.
As always, the key to this Wesleyan lineup is their defense. Wesleyan may be the closest team in the league to the new NBA ideal of a position-less, switch heavy lineup. Forwards Nathan Krill and JR Bascom are highly skilled and have very quick feet, and their guards Bonner, Hutcherson and O’ Brien run 6’4″, 6’5″ and 6’6″ respectively. Welseyan’s lineup is supersized and quick, making pick and rolls against them tremendously difficult. Their guards are tall enough to guard bigs in the post, and the bigs are quick enough to not get killed by guards on the perimeter. Wesleyan has the personnel to be an elite defensive unit.
Offense is far more of a question mark. They lost their best shooter in Rafferty, and their go to scorer on the block in Kuo. They are left with a lot of defensive players who haven’t proven themselves as scorers. Bonner is the only returning player who was a reliable scoring threat last season. This is one of the reasons that O’Brien is so important. He showed great vision last season, and should turn that vision to more scoring this year. The early returns on O’Brien and Hutcherson are encouraging, but the season doesn’t start until league play anyways.
Final Hot Take:
Hot or not so hot I’m not sure, but Wesleyan’s always deep field of talent this year is both filled with earnestness and experience. They’ve got the talent to score a TON, and if they defend consistently, I see Wesleyan playing deep into both the NESCAC and national tournaments this winter.
As always, make sure you check out Matt’s excellent piece on the Game of the Week, Amherst @ Williams. But that is far from the only good game here on the last weekend of the season. Middlebury @ Tufts has major championship implications, as does, of course, Trinity vs Wesleyan. And the other games feature young teams battling it out for pride and confidence, which can often produce the best games. This is how the season ends, not with a whimper, but with a bang.
Middlebury (6-2) @ Tufts (5-3), 12:30 PM, Medford, MA
It would take a good deal of help from Wesleyan and Williams for this game to have championship ramifications but it could. If Wesleyan beats Trinity, Williams beats Amherst, and Middlebury beats Tufts, then the Panthers would be one of four teams (Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst and them) who finish at 7-2. Additionally, Middlebury would have the head to head tiebreaker over Wesleyan and Amherst. There’s a lot of moving parts to that equation, but all of them are very possible, so Middlebury has quite a bit to play for in this game. Tufts has no championship hopes, but they;d love to play spoiler and grab a win over an elite team.
As has been the case for Middlebury for the last two weeks, the big key is the play of Jack Meservy ‘19. He got knocked around by Trinity (the best secondary in the league) and did some knocking of his own against Hamilton (arguably the worst.) Against the Continentals he flashed a nice touch on deep balls, throwing two deep touchdowns to speed merchant Jimmy Martinez ‘19. Tufts ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of NESCAC secondaries (with Hamilton and Trinity as the two ends.) Tim Preston ‘18 is a threat, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help this year, and Tufts defensive numbers are middling at best. A good showing here could cement Meservy’s spot as next year’s starter… or Lebowitz could come back. We shall see.
Middlebury’s defense has been really excellent since Lebowitz went down, allowing the offense many chances to put it together. But they haven’t faced an attack quite like Tufts yet. Ryan McDonald ‘19 challenges defenses with his legs even more than Puzzo and Maimaron, two quarterbacks whom Middlebury often allowed to escape the pocket and move the chains through scrambling. And plus, the Jumbos’ run game is starting to look more like last year’s albeit without one star. In their last three weeks, which feature a win over Williams and an impressive loss to amherst (31-26,) Tufts has used a committee of talented backs to beat teams on the ground and set up play action throws on the run for McDonald. It’s hard to predict which back will be the lead, but Mike Pedrini ‘21 and Andrew Sanders have both played well. Run defense has killed Middlebury in both of their losses, particularly containing quarterbacks. I think it hurts them again this week.
This classic offense-defense matchup features Trinity fighting to keep the solo championship which was all but guaranteed for much of the season. They’ll need help from Williams, of course, but nothing happens unless they win here. And boy do they have their work cut out for them. Wesleyan may well have played the best all-around game of any team this season last week, pasting Williams 35-0. They held the Ephs to just 127 total yards, and phenom QB Bobby Maimaron to just 51, with two interceptions. And on the other side of the ball, QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 stuck his namely firmly at the front of the POY race. He has now not thrown an interception in three games after throwing seven in the first five, and has five passing touchdowns in the last two. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the year (with no fumbles in the last five games) and is in the top five in the country in completion percentage at over 70%. With Lebowitz possibly done, Piccirillo is the best QB in the conference, and a win over the Bantams would cement his legacy and secure his hardware.
Trinity has to be pretty steamed following a pretty severe beatdown at the hands of the Mammoths. The final score of 28-20 is misleading–Amherst dominated the whole way, and the Bantams scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left to make it more respectable. Much of Trinity’s offense is created by their defense; takeaways set them up in great field position and force opposing defense back onto the field quickly tiring them out and allowing Max Chipouras ‘19 to find the holes. Amherst didn’t turn the ball over once, and as such was able to dominate time of possession 36:22 to 23:07. As I said above, Wesleyan has not been turning the ball over at all lately. Piccirillo has cleaned it up, and they have a pen of sure-handed running backs, like Sean Penney ‘21 and Glenn Smith ‘21, who hold onto the ball and can run out the clock or set up Piccirillo scrambles. Trinity has to force turnovers in this game, and they may have to look outside of Dominique Seagears ‘18, who will have his hands full with Mike Breuler ‘18. The linebacking corps of Dago Picon-Roura ‘19, Liam Kenneally ‘18 and Carty Campbell ‘18 may make the difference. If they can pick of a slant pass or force a fumble from one of those young running backs, Trinity is back in business.
Predicted Score: Trinity 27, Wesleyan 20
Bates (2-6) @ Hamilton (2-6)
The “Best of the Rest” championship could actually be a pretty thrilling game. Both teams are high octane offenses with bad defenses. That’s the recipe for a lot of points, and in a hurry. Bates’ offense is more of a recent development. QB Brendan Costa ‘21 has found the easier half of the schedule to his liking, turning into ‘08 Madden Michael Vick before our eyes. He leads all NESCAC players in rushing yards over the last four weeks, and has made some big throws as well. Bates is inverting the NESCAC offensive trend of the season, by using passes as a change of pace for a run-heavy offense. Mickey Nichol, Brian Daly and Jaason Lopez are all receivers who can make big plays out of short, dump-off passes in between Costa’s electrifying runs. Against bad defenses, this offense is very fun to watch, and tremendously successful.
Hamilton is a more traditional offense, but can also light up weak defenses. QB Kenny Gray ‘20 is underrated, and he has legit set of weapons in Joe Schmidt ‘20, Christian Donohoe ‘20, and RB Mitch Bierman ‘21. Gray missed their game against Middlebury last week, and his status for this game is up in the air. If he doesn’t play, Bates should have an easy path to victory. But even if he does, the porous hamilton defense should let Costa do whatever he wants in leading the Bobcats to victory.
Predicted Score: Bates 35, Hamilton 28
Colby (0-8) @ Bowdoin (0-8), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME
If you remember Season Four of Friday Night Lights, the “Toilet Bowl” was a huge moment of team bonding for East Dillon Lions. It was their first win, and for a team that had to forfeit their home opener due to injury concerns, the importance of that win could not be overstated. For one of these teams, that will also be the case. Bowdoin has enjoyed some offensive success as of late. Promising first year QB Griff Stalcup played a great game against Wesleyan, but missed last week’s loss to Bates. But Noah Nelson ‘19 was able to step in against Bates and put up a very effective performance, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Bowdoin has the weapons to be an effective offense with consistent QB play. RB Nate Richam ‘18 is injured, but Gregory Olsen ‘21 looked like his NFL counterpart last week, catching two touchdowns. WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18 have long been underrated based on playing in Bowdoin. The Polar Bears have the offense to make this a laugher.
Colby doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of Bowdoin, but they have real difference-makers on defense. LB Sebastian Philemon ‘19 (69 tackles) and S Don Vivian ‘19 (3 INT) are legit All-League candidates. Against Bowdoin’s precariously good offense, the two of them should be real difference makers. Add in versatile RB Jake Schwern ‘19, who should get a ton of touches, and this really is anybody’s game. I’ll take the Polar Bears at home.
What a weekend! Here we go, headed into the first ever Week Nine with the NESCAC championship hanging in the balance. After Amherst’s 28-20 victory over the previously undefeated Trinity Bantams, the Mammoths are in first place and in control of their own destiny. However, Amherst has no easy task in their game against Williams, who surprisingly got blown out by Wesleyan 35-0. Middlebury knocked off Hamilton (41-20), and Tufts routed Colby easily (28-14), each showing a bit more fight than expected. Bates was able to defeat Bowdoin 24-17, winning the CBB for the fourth straight year. There is a lot in store for this coming weekend, with lots of potential tiebreakers on the table, but these rankings focus on where teams are now. Heading into the last week with a leapfrog at the top of the standings, this is how things shake out:
I didn’t expect to see another team other than Trinity in this spot all year, let alone Amherst. When I wrote off Amherst earlier in the season, I considered only their lack of a superstar at QB, making it difficult to win the league. While Ollie Eberth is solid, teetering on elite, he is not as good as Trinity’s Sonny Puzzo. With the NESCAC being a QB centric league, a team at the top of the standings without the best QB is a bit puzzling. With their victory over Trinity, the Mammoths proved that defense can rule all as this team’s ability to stop the run puts them over the top. Andrew Yamin and John Callahan had big games on Saturday, collecting a sack and five tackles for a loss between them, limiting RB Max Chipouras to just 3.5 yards per carry. Amherst has a stellar defense, QB depth, a solid receiving group, and a top back in Jack Hickey. It’s there for the taking; bring it home, Mammoths.
Let’s be clear—Trinity is not far below Amherst. A one possession loss as their only slip up as the entire season is not exactly a cause for drastic distance in these ranks. Chipouras struggled but is still the best RB in the league and won’t be stopped this weekend. Sonny Puzzo is still one of the top three QBs in the NESCAC despite an INT. Trinity’s defense is still by and large the best in the league, but matched up poorly against the deep Amherst rushing attack. Amherst has a better rush D, but Trinity still has the best secondary and has allowed the fewest points all year—the main goal for defenses. They were bested on Saturday by two Jack Hickey rushing TDs, one Eberth rushing TD, and a Reece Foy passing TD. Trinity could still win it all with a win against a hot Wesleyan team and an Amherst loss, but they are second this week. Let it sink in, folks, the winning streak is over.
I was quite critical of Wesleyan after their poor offensive performance in their 21-10 victory against Bowdoin in week seven. They really proved me wrong. Like really, really did the opposite of what I thought. And that’s one of the reasons why college football is so great and why I don’t get paid. QB Mark Piccirillo flipped the switch in their 35-0 trouncing of a great Williams team, winning NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week and accounting for four TDs (two throwing, two rushing). The Cardinal defense also picked off Bobby Maimaron twice, big steps if they are to have a chance against Trinity this week. Sans Dario Highsmith, their offense proved that it is not to be trifled with, beating a much better defense than that of the Polar Bears who they struggled against. They made adjustments, kept the ball in Piccirillo’s hands more and trusting his decision-making. They should do the same in their finale against Trinity, he’s proven himself.
While Colby (0-8) is not good at football, Tufts (5-3) had some bright spots in their 28-14 win. Ryan McDonald looked a little bit iffy, but still ran the ball well, accumulating 65 yards, giving way to Ryan Hagfeldt later in the game. Mike Pedrini was a work horse in the game, rushing 31 times for 135 yards. His development into a more established and reliable back for the Jumbos should make 2018 very interesting. The Tufts secondary, namely Alex LaPiana (INT), Brett Phillips (INT) , and Tim Preston (two INTs) were on fire against the Mules, giving hope for a final win against Midd this weekend. They have been a bit inconsistent this season, putting up some duds, but also beating Williams—so what they bring to the table is a bit up in the air. They look to have a top tier QB, a true starting RB, decent receivers, and a good secondary—a recipe for success against the current Midd team.
You might be thinking how could a three loss team (Tufts) possibly be above a two loss team (Midd is now 6-2 after beating Hamilton)? Well for one, it’s boring to just rank teams off of their overall records—if that’s how it was then you wouldn’t need rankings and could just look at the standings. Secondly, these rankings are about where team are now not where they were earlier in the season and what their aggregate season totals are. Jack Merservy would be in the ‘Stock Up’ category if this was a stock report, but it isn’t. He is still unproven—Hamilton isn’t good—and Tufts’ Ryan McDonald is proven. The run game for the Panthers just isn’t there. Diego Meritus finally had a solid game in an injury hampered season, but they still are comparably weaker to the other top teams. Their receivers are still awesome, but their defense performed weakly against a first time Continental QB and a below average RB in Mitch Bierman. Crazily enough, they still could win a share of the NESCAC title if they beat Tufts, Trinity loses to Wesleyan, and Amherst loses to Williams. Of course, that share of the title would be based on their past successes and not how good they are right now without Jared Lebowitz.
This ranking wasn’t too difficult and it looks as if the Ephs are locked into their sixth place spot for the season. A 35-0 defining loss to Wesleyan surely spells the end of the magic for this young and coming team. They have dropped 2-3 games to teams that they were favorites against (Tufts and Wesleyan) and sit at 5-3 after a blistering start to the season. QB Bobby Maimaron had his first collegiate football hiccups after throwing two picks and for just 51 yards and zero points. It was bad all around for the Ephs and they looked as bad as they did last year in week eight. Let’s hope that they salvage their morale and promise for next season with a solid closing performance against Amherst.
The Bobcats and Hamilton are essentially tied for this seventh spot, but Bates (2-6) takes the cake with the hot hand. They really embodied their offensive style against Bowdoin, totally giving up on throwing and dominating the ground for a 24-17 win. Part of that was surely a factor of the score of the game and weakness of their opponent, but it’s cool to see such dynamic rushers getting high volumes of chances. They attempted five passes and 51 rushes, accumulating 367 yards of offense, 344 from the rush. Brendan Costa ’21, a wildcat, RB in QB form, elusive player, showed the Polar Bears what he’s made of with 170 of those yards. While they didn’t see another up and coming QB in Griff Stalcup—a huge bummer as a 2021 QB matchup would’ve been pretty sweet—they still shut down the more experienced Noah Nelson. The final week will settle this battle with Hamilton in the rankings as it will decide, truly, who is the best of the rest.
Another decent offensive performance against a top team and another loss, 41-20. It’s been a tough season for this team (2-6) in that they have looked like they are ready to pull off an upset but can never really get over the hump to win against a team not named Bowdoin or Colby. They were never in the game against Midd, but at least scored some garbage time points. Their defense is their biggest weakness, as 41 straight Panther points spelled a quick doom for the Continentals. Sam Foley made his first start of the year and did alright, finding Joe Schmidt and Connor Cates frequently, collecting a TD and 276 yards in the air. The second and third tiers of their defense—linebackers and DBs—stood no chance against the Midd receivers. While they beat Bowdoin and Colby just like Bates, they haven’t been able to limit opposing offenses and could easily let Costa run all over them.
While I am uncertain about the nature of Griff Stalcup’s absence from their week eight loss, it’s easy to say even without him, the Polar Bears are better than Colby. Finally, one of these teams will get into the win column, and if Stalcup is playing, it will likely be Bowdoin. Bowdoin consistently puts up double digit points regardless of their opponent, and has manageable if not good receivers. In what is Bryan Porter’s and Nick Vailas’ last games, whoever throws the ball will throw to them. They are the playmakers putting Bowdoin over Colby and should take them into the 1-8 promise land.
This has been a season of despair for a team that represented a guaranteed win for all other NESCAC teams in 2017. Jack O’Brien tried to make a push towards a mid-tier QB level, but threw too many picks to do so. Jake Schwern tried to establish himself as a reliable back but lacked the efficiency. LB Sebastien Philemon and DB Don Vivian tried to tackle every single opponent and pick off every pass, but had zero help. They didn’t have depth, consistency, playmakers, or hope. Sorry, Mule fans, start hoping for a good class of 2022 and strong recoveries for the injured offensive linemen in your football futures as this program needs to rebuild.
After what seemed like an eternity, Week 8 in the NESCAC awoke us from what had been a 7 week snooze fest. Trinity finally fell, Amherst roared to the front, and everything in the middle is really starting to shape up. With a champion still yet to be crowned, however, and a lot of spots to be settled in the standings, let’s see who’s playing their best football at the right time.
I don’t know at what point over my two decades of being a Patriots fan I realized that Bill Belichick was a genius and some sort of football savant, but I’ve never felt more confident in that opinion than after Saturday afternoon in Middletown. Following a visit from the legendary head coach during practice in the lead up to the game, Wesleyan absolutely trounced Williams 35-0. Bill Belichick has done some truly exceptional things in his football career, famous for turning late round draft picks and free agent cast offs into stars, but motivating this Wesleyan defense to pitch a shutout against a standout and prolific Williams offense, holding them to just 127 (127!) yards of total offense, as well as rallying Mark Picarillo ’19 to turn in his best game of the season, 26-32 for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as 69 more yards and two more touchdowns with his feet, all without starting running back Dario Highsmith ’20, might be his most impressive.
Great to have Wes Alum Coach Belichick come talk to the team before big game against Williams! #ChooseGreatness#RollCards pic.twitter.com/EnhnxPjG4a
Trinity had a chance to clinch the league at Pratt Field on Saturday, but Amherst showed up in a big way to snap their 16 game win streak. Instead, Amherst finds itself holding the head to head tiebreaker between the two 7-1 teams. Now the league championship will be settled in Williamstown on Saturday, where Amherst and Williams will play what should be their most exciting game in years. If Amherst wins, they’ll be league champs. If Trinity wins and Amherst loses, then everyone will lose their minds trying to figure out tiebreakers between potentially 4 two loss teams. Either way, the league being decided in its most famous rivalry is a whole lot better than Trinity having already locked it up. Amherst @ Williams and Trinity @ Wesleyan will be must watch games.
Tufts’ Balance Heading into 2018
Sitting at 5-3 and mathematically eliminated from championship contention, Tufts has begun looking forward towards next year, and they should have a lot to be excited about. Understandably so, they may never fill the hole Chance Brady ’17 left in their backfield, but following RB Mike Pedrini ’21’s 135 yard and 3 TD performance against Colby, they can see that it is slowly being repaired. If Pedrini can continue to produce like he has of late, the idea of the Jumbos returning dual-threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19, Pedrini, and top WR Jack Dolan ’19 for 2018 should project them to be one of, if not the, top offense in the league next year.
Bates’ 24-17 victory over Bowdoin clinched their 4th straight CBB title, as the Bates senior class became the first class in the 123 year history of Bates football to go a combined 8-0 against Bowdoin and Colby. Things have been bleak in Lewiston for most of the year, but I would imagine this has to feel pretty good.
Morale in Williamstown
I think a lot of people thought this year’s matchup against Wesleyan was going to go differently than last year’s, a 59-14 final that would have been a lot worse had Wesleyan Head Coach Dan DiCenzo not called off the dogs at 56-14, which was the score at halftime. Williams’ rapid turnaround under second year Coach Mark Raymond, and the breakthrough of QB Bobby Maimaron ’21 and the rest of their stud freshman class (way too many to name, seriously) has been one of the stories of this season, but they were certainly brought down to Earth after a 35-0 drubbing. They need to turn things around in a hurry to give their senior class a legitimate chance (which they have) to beat Amherst for the first time in their careers, and 6-3 sounds a whole lot better than 5-4.
It’s coming to an end, folks. Just one more week in what has turned out to be quite a season in the NESCAC. Winter sports have started up and pretty soon all the pristine turf fields around New England’s elite small colleges will be draped in snow. As mentioned earlier, this is shaping up to be quite the finale, so enjoy it while you can.
There is another championship caliber game this week in Trinity @ Amherst, which has its own separate preview, but there are still a number of interesting games with pride on the line. The final nine positions in the standings are still up for grabs, and while that might not mean much to some, many programs will benefit in morale, momentum, and recruiting (which obviously doesn’t happen in the NESCAC for our readers from admissions offices) for future seasons. Bates and Bowdoin have the battle for Maine, Williams and Wesleyan are tied in the standings with Williams looking to jump even higher up the ladder from 2016, Midd needs to put up or shut up, Hamilton could still put up a respectable record, and Tufts is in danger of falling to .500. Sorry to Colby Mule fans, there isn’t much going on for you this week other than a potential for a monstrous defeat. Lots to watch this weekend and here is what to expect:
Bowdoin (0-7) @ Bates (1-6), 12:30 PM, Lewiston, ME
Two promising first year QBs for struggling teams in this game. Is this the future of the NESCAC? The next two teams to make a Williams/Bobby Maimaron-esque jump to the top in 2018? Only time will tell how each young signal caller turns out and how their teams develop with them, but for now, Griff Stalcup ’21 and Brendan Costa ’21 should provide an intense matchup in their first of four career head to head battles. Stalcup struggled mightily against Trinity (63-14 loss), looking like he was in danger of losing his job, but knocked it out of the park in a 21-10 loss to Wesleyan. He threw for 317 yards, a TD, and didn’t turn the ball over. Despite a loss, the two possession difference against Wesleyan is a positive for this struggling Polar Bear squad. With Nate Richam ’18 out, the Bowdoin running game is much weaker, but they adjusted from the Trinity to Wesleyan games, making a stab at a late comeback. They also resorted to a more pass oriented offense as Robert Kollmer isn’t nearly as dangerous as Richam. While Richam and Kollmer are both young and promising for the Bowdoin future, without Richam, the passing game will once again be on display. Defense has been a big issue for the Polar Bears, holding off the Cardinals’ running attack, although they were without lead back Dario Highsmith ’20. Their passing defense isn’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern against a run-heavy Bobcat offense. Their senior receivers Nick Vailas and Bryan Porter should be open for Stalcup, but their key will be stopping the rush. They have a shot, but Costa might be too much to handle.
A run oriented offense against a weak rush defense (actually, the worst rush defense, allowing 205.7 yards per game). This is a recipe for success for Brendan Costa and the slot-receivers of Bates football. Coming off of a rather ugly win against Colby (27-24, we must not forget that Bates could still easily be 0-7 and in search for their first win. I mean, looking at the matchup and how Costa played, they are the favorite here, but they shouldn’t be by much. If it weren’t for the perfect opponent for this offense, there’s no way the Bobcats could be projected to win. They allow the most pass yards per game (273) and points per game (40.6!) in the NESCAC. Granted Bowdoin, as previously mentioned, allows the most rush yards per game and also the second most points per game (34.7). This is a recipe for Costa to find some success to Mickoy Nichol, and for him, Nichol, and Frank Williams to find some room on the ground. This game should be a defensive nightmare, but will also be a mano-a-mano battle of the new guy QBs for bragging rights in Maine.
Predicted Score: Bates 31, Bowdoin 28
Williams (5-2) @ Wesleyan (5-2), 1:00 PM, Middletown, CT
Another exciting game between two top teams who are just barely out of it, still feeling the sting of Trinity’s dominance. Pride is on the line for both, while Williams looks to one up another top team who dominated them a year ago. With such a young team, each high intensity game gives them an edge for next year when they face the Bantams again. With Williams’ depth, they should be the favorites as without Dario Highsmith, injured against Bowdoin, Wesleyan is not nearly as dangerous offensively. Connor Harris has been the lead back all year, but TJ Dozier has really come on the past three games, putting a hurting on Hamilton last game with 112 yards in their 24-6 win. With Bobby Maimaron at the helm, Rashad Morrison, Harris, and Dozier on the ground, and Frank Stola, Justin Nelson, and Adam Regensburg on the hands team, the Eph offense is scary good. Their only real flawed game was against Tufts in a 21-13 loss where they were vulnerable in the secondary. S Luke Apuzzi, LB Jarrett Wesner, and LB TJ Rothman will need to be strong in the second and third tiers of the defense helping the DBs in order to limit Piccirillo.
Without Dario Highsmith, QB Mark Piccirillo will need to step up in a big way if Wesleyan is to better their 6-2 record from 2016. Piccirillo looked good against Bowdoin, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen because of how weak their defense is. Therefore, recently, Piccirillo has struggled mightily. Besides the Bowdoin and Amherst games, he has thrown INTs in every game (including games against Hamilton, Bates, AND Colby). In the game he didn’t throw one against the Mammoths, he got absolutely abused, sacked nine times for 51 yards. Even against Bowdoin he was sacked four times. So maybe, he is just learning to go to the ground and not make late passes when he is being bore down upon by defensive linemen. The Cardinals offensive line is clearly a factor here as their RB Highsmith is injured and Piccirillo is getting hit at an incredible rate, spelling trouble against a strong Williams defense (fourth in the NESCAC with 20 sacks). Williams has a good secondary to boot, so Piccirillo has a tough test here. Now, I am critical of Piccirillo because of how one bad decision could easily change the course of this game. He still leads the NESCAC in passing yards, passing TDs (18), and has the best receiver in the league in Mike Breuler. This is going to have to be a two man show for the Cardinals, and unless Piccirillo learns how to scramble a bit better, he might be in for some trouble. Can he take care of the ball enough to get it to Breuler two times or more? Possible, but unlikely.
Predicted Score: Williams 27, Wesleyan 17
Hamilton (2-5) @ Middlebury (5-2), 12:30 PM, Middlebury, VT
Sadly, Middlebury must now prepare for life post-Lebowitz three games earlier than expected. Jack Meservy ’19 is the heir apparent, and this game is critical for his development. He got knocked around big time by Trinity, but impressed many with his perseverance and arm strength. Middlebury is a quarterback factory, and he has all the tools to succeed. A choice matchup with Hamilton is a great opportunity for Meservy to gain some confidence going into a tough final game at Tufts, and then his senior season.
Against Trinity, Middlebury tried to take some pressure off Meservy by establishing the run, never an easy thing to do against the Bantams. It didn’t work. Middlebury only averaged 3.1 yards per carry against Trinity, down from their season average. Middlebury isn’t built to run the ball, as their entire offense has been set up around Lebowitz’ elite arm. Against Hamilton, they should be free to use much more of the original playbook, as the Continentals give up the third most passing yards per game. Look for Middlebury to get back to their high-flying ways, and potentially use this game as an audition of sorts for Meservy as the starter of the future.
As much as this game is an opportunity for Middlebury, it is far more of one for Hamilton. They will NEVER get as good a chance to knock off a top tier team as this one, and a win against Middlebury would give their various young stars a huge confidence boost. To do this they need to vary their offense. Middlebury’s defense played a fabulous game against Trinity despite getting virtually no rest; they held Sonny Puzzo to his lowest completion percentage and fewest yards of the season. The odds are that they can do the same to Kenny Gray ’20. Middlebury has a plethora of excellent athletes in the secondary to throw at Joe Schmidt ’21, so the run game is the key this week for the Continentals. Mitch Bierman ’21 has been largely ineffective since a breakout against Bowdoin two weeks (and as always, offensive performances against Bowdoin don’t count,) but Marcus Gutierrez ’18 has been running well lately. Look for both of them to get more carries than usual to try and set up Gray’s big play ability. Hamilton will try to seize this opportunity to take down the Panthers, but I think they still fall short.
Predicted Score: Middlebury 20, Hamilton 17
Tufts (4-3) @ Colby (0-7), 1:00 PM, Waterville, ME
The only one-sided game on paper this weekend features a Tufts team that is struggling to remain on the upper crust of the league. They have one quality win; a 21-13 victory over Williams two weeks ago, but other than that they have lost all three of their games against teams with winning records. It is turnovers that have been their downfall. Each of their losses has been decided by one possession and they have 13 turnovers in 7 games. You’re not going to beat Trinity or even Wesleyan if you give them free possessions. QB Ryan McDonald has 11 of those turnovers, keeping him out of the POY conversation even though he is electrifying to watch. McDonald should use this game as an exercise in taking care of the ball, as their Week Nine game with Middlebury will be another golden chance to beat a top tier team.
Luckily for the Jumbos, Colby’s offense is likely not good enough to make them pay if they do turn the ball over. But it’s an improvement to even say likely. After not scoring more than seven points in any of the first five games of the season, they have scored 24 points in each of the last two. This is largely the result of lesser competition; Colby finally reached the other lower tier teams part of the schedule. But they have also finally worked out some QB issues. Jack O’Brian ’20 has found success in the read option, using his legs to create Colby’s best scoring chances of the season. It won’t matter against Tufts, but Colby has enough pride to make this a game if Tufts takes it too lightly.
The Middlebury-Trinity game fell flat due to Jared Lebowitz’ injury against Bates. This has thrown the league for something of a loop, but it doesn’t really change the top that much. Trinity and Amherst play this weekend in the game that decides the league championship. If Trinity wins, no one can catch them, as they’d have the tie-breaker with Amherst even if they happened to lose in the final week of the season (unlikely.) There are several other terrific games this weekend with huge implications for the final standings. Let’s take a look at where those standings are at before those games.
1) Trinity (7-0)
The Bantams face their final challenger this weekend when they travel to Amherst to take on the Mammoths. Last weekend they easily dispatched the Lebowitz-less Panthers, forcing backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 into three turnovers (two picks and a fumble.) It was another dominant defensive performance, and LB Dago Picon-Roura ‘2 picked up the Defensive Player of the Week award on the strength of an amazing one handed interception. The run game was also dominant, as Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 combined for 258 yards on their own, with Puzzo scrambling in for two touchdowns. This defensive, pounding gameplan made up for a very poor effort from Puzzo through the air. He was only 9-20 throwing the ball for 120 yards, and had several throws that should have been intercepted by the Middlebury secondary. Amherst’s offense should be able to give their defense more of a rest than Middlebury’s did, so Puzzo will have to play better this weekend.
2) Amherst (6-1)
We may owe Ollie Eberth ’20 a small apology. For much of this season we’ve been talking about Amherst’s “QB uncertainty.” Eberth had been playing all year with the spectre of Reece Foy ’18 behind him. And indeed, even last week Foy threw a touchdown pass in his four attempt. But Eberth is clearly the guy, and he showed it against Tufts. He managed the game masterfully and took care of the ball, throwing for 250 yards and no interceptions. And he was dynamic with his legs, rushing for two scores. on his way to his first Offensive Player of the Week honor. Eberth will get an even bigger test against Trinity, a defense that turns people over better than anyone. He should get a lot of help from his defense. Andrew Yamin ’19 has 11.5 sacks this season and eats offensive linemen like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs. Amherst is the team most suited to beat Trinity, and they have their chance at home.
3) Williams (5-2)
We have yet another first year star in Williamstown. After Connor Harris ’18 went down with an injury, it was TJ Dozier ‘s (’21) time to step up. And that he has, getting more and more confident every week leading up to their game with Hamilton last Saturday. And against the Continentals (admittedly porous) defense, he broke out, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. The speedy back is proving he can be a workhorse, which is important for the Williams offense. They like to run a lot of play action and read plays to take advantage of Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his quick feet, but to do that you need a running back that scares the other enough to make them buy the fake. Williams has another suspect defensive matchup this weekend in Wesleyan, but the Cardinals offense should offer much more of a fight than Hamilton’s did. Dozier and the other young Ephs will get another chance to prove themselves as the future of the league.
4) Middlebury (5-2)
This ranking is based on where Middlebury is now, not where they’ll end up. The Lebowitz injury is devastating, not just to the Panthers but to the league as well. It ruined our best chance of not having to crown Amherst or Trinity as league champ, but more than that, it takes away one of the most electrifying players in recent NESCAC memory, and maybe the best of Middlebury QB dynasty. We’ll have a deeper career retrospective on Lebowitz coming out in the offseason, but we just wanted to acknowledge the impact he’s had on the league and on our hearts (okay too far, but I’m a homer.)
It’s hard to know where Middlebury will end up this season. Backup QB Jack Meservy ’19 made some impressive plays against Trinity, but he also had three turnovers and completed under 50% of his passes. And the defense made some big plays as well, despite having virtually no rest for the entire game. Middlebury still has the skeleton of an elite team. Conrado Banky ’19, Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19 are an enviable set of weapons for Meservy to take over, and the senior linebacking trio of Slodowitz, John Jackson and Wesley Becton is as good as any in the league. But Lebowitz was the heart, and without him, it’s hard to know how they’ll do. A matchup at home with Hamilton is winnable, but also not a guaranteed win, and they close the year at Tufts in what is now a very tough game.
5) Wesleyan (5-2)
The Cardinals put up a fairly lackluster performance against Bowdoin, winning 21-10 and allowing 317 passing yards to Griff Stalcup ’21, who has improved every week but still has no business out throwing Mark Piccirillo ’18 by nearly 60 yards. Piccirillo-Mike Breuler ’18 is the best QB-WR connection in the league, and it accounted for all three of Wesleyan’s touchdowns (by the way, Breuler should be getting A LOT of POY hype. He’s unbelievable. More on that later.) But Wesleyan’s defense is becoming a problem. They have forced the fewest turnovers of any team in the league, and that includes the Maine teams. No one is scared of the Wesleyan defense, as Bowdoin proved, and Amherst should be licking their chops as they plan to triple team Breuler and throw the ball all over the field.
6) Tufts (4-3)
Tufts continues to stand outside the window looking in at the top tier teams like Lloyd in Say Anything. The biggest thing separating them from the elite is turnovers. Ryan McDonald ’19 is an unbelievable athlete, but he also has 11 giveaways all by himself this season. That is simply unacceptable. If he wants to sit at the table with Puzzo, Lebowitz, Piccirillo (and arguably Maimaron,) he has to take care of the ball. They also don’t really scare anyone on defense, giving up a middling 20 points per game and only forcing seven turnovers. They have a dominant pass rush, led by Micah Adickes ’18 and Zach Thomas ’18 (12.5 sacks between them) but once the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand it is usually completed. Luckily, they end the season with Colby and then Middlebury (probably) sans-Lebowitz. This is a golden chance to finish 6-3.
7) Hamilton (2-5)
Like Tufts, Hamilton has an unexpectedly good chance to finish the season 2-0 thanks to the Lebowitz injury. Before he got hurt, their game in Middlebury this weekend was a guaranteed blowout. But now, it’s a chance for a quality win before they close the season with Bates. To beat Middlebury they need to establish the run early and often. Marcus Gutierrez had good success against the excellent Williams front, putting up 77 yards on just 15 carries. He should have gotten 10 more carries at least in my opinion, as Kenny Gray ’20 completed under 50% of his passes with two interceptions. Hamilton should try to move to a more balanced offense, with a threatening running game setting up Gray to hook up with dynamic WR Joe Schmidt ’20. They will need to against Middlebury, who still has one of the better secondaries in the league.
8) Bates (1-6)
The Bates Second-Half Redemption Tour reached its apex last weekend with their first win of the season, a surprisingly exciting 27-24 thriller over Colby. And as has been the case for most of their recent improvement, QB Brendan Costa deserves much of the credit. Costa had his best game of the season, throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another 155 yards and a TD. That’s the first game this season that a NESCAC QB has had 150 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and no turnovers. And to go along with Costa, the defense finally made some big plays, with two interceptions. Bates is having a feel-good end to the season, and they end the season with Bowdoin and Hamilton. A three game winning streak would take much of the sour taste left over from the 0-6 start out of the Bobcat’s mouths.
9) Bowdoin (0-7)
Bowdoin also got an encouraging performance from their young QB, as Griff Stalcup ’21 threw for a season high 317 yards against Wesleyan. Much of this came on an 85 yard throw to WR Nick Vailas ’18, but it’s still encouraging. Even more exciting than that is the defense. A week after giving up 63 (!!) points to Trinity, they held maybe the other best offense in the league reasonably in check, and came within 17 yards of out-gaining them in total yards (389-372.) This was mostly thanks to an impressive pass rush. They had four sacks on the day, two by DL Nat Deacon ’20. Their game with Bates this weekend may be a sneaky-exciting one.
10) Colby (0-7)
Colby has nearly tripled their season point total in the last two weeks. Coming into their game two weekends ago with Hamilton, they had only scored 27 points in five games, which is not ideal. But they have now scored 24 points in each of the last two games. Unfortunately, the teams they have played, Bates and Hamilton, have each scored 27. Colby hasn’t been able to take advantage of choice match-ups with other lower tier teams, and it’s hard to imagine them coming out of this season with a win. But they deserve a great deal of praise for continuing to work hard and improve despite an unimaginably difficult first half of the season.
It felt like it would never end, but the first six weeks of NESCAC football and the atrociously mismatched scheduling that came with it are in the past. With the exception of a couple of recent games, there have been few results that have made a serious impact on the league’s landscape. If this was a season of Game of Thrones, this upcoming week would be Episode 9, the penultimate episode of each season when everything hits the fan and we are left absolutely stunned. Everything is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Yawn. Did anyone expect anything different? Trinity rolled Bowdoin 63-14 on Saturday, putting up 49 points in the first half while having the ball for barely 10 minutes. They took their foot off the gas after that and were able to give Max Chipouras ’19 and the rest of the starters an early shower in advance of next week’s tilt against Middlebury, but this was the type of Trinity performance that reminded people why they are a cut above the rest of the league right now. They’ve taken care of their business week in and week out and still sit in the driver’s seat. Needless to say, their trip to Middlebury this week is their biggest test of their season, but they continue to check all of the boxes of a championship team.
The Panthers return to the number 2 spot following an equally comfortable win over Bates, a game in which they jumped out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back. 10 different Panther receivers caught passes, but their biggest concern is that they caught them from two different quarterbacks as Jared Lebowitz ’18 was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with some sort of lower body injury. While the game was already out of doubt, any fan of the league should hope it was merely a precaution, because without a healthy Lebowitz, Middlebury’s already slim chances of beating Trinity will be far slimmer. It’s do or die for Midd this week and they need to play their best game to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the NESCAC title.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the week was the Mammoths, who knocked off Wesleyan in a come from behind 21-17 win in Amherst. Their then league leading offense never really got going, but Hasani Figueroa ’18’s 51 yard run with 1:27 left was enough to secure them their biggest win of the year to date. What was most impressive about this win was their ability to win a dirty, tight, defensive game. They scored less than 30 points for the first time all year but held Wesleyan’s offense to 197 total yards. The Picarillo-Breuler combination was completely shut down and although no one stood out offensively for Amherst, Andrew Yamin ’19 was an absolute monster on the other side of the ball, making 12 tackles—including 4.5 sacks. Being able to get that type of pressure next week against dual threat Ryan McDonald ’18 will be crucial if they want to get out of Somerville with a win, and the road doesn’t get any easier with Trinity and Williams to finish out the season, but Amherst is now one of the 3 teams with a shot at winning the league. I certainly wouldn’t count them out.
A big time bounce back week for Tufts, traveling to Williams and extinguishing a red hot Ephs squad. Ryan McDonald ’18 had a big time bounce back game, throwing for 336 and running for an additional 55. But the story of this one, and not for the first time, was the Tufts front 7, who were absolutely everywhere on Saturday, particularly in the Ephs backfield, racking up another 4 sacks to bring their total on the year to 25. It was consistent pressure from Micah Adickes ’18, Doug Harrison ’18 and co., as Bobby Maimaron ’21 was never really able to settle in, and in turn their offense could never really get going. It was a gritty road performance like this that reminded everyone why Tufts is such a good team in the first place. They have so much talent on defense, and their offense is starting to find a steady balance in ways to beat you. McDonald ’18 was his usual slippery self on the ground, but the way they were able to mix in Mike Pedrini ’20 on key short yardage plays was what allowed them to target big play threat Jack Dolan ’19 to the tune of 5 catches, 119 yards, and a touchdown. Other than Trinity, there is not an offense in the league right now that can boast this type of balance. Additionally, this is an experienced, senior-laden team, and I expect that to play a big role as they look towards the final stretch of their season, which, like everybody else, doesn’t get any easier.
A bit of a deflating loss for Williams, as they too had championship aspirations following their buzzer beating win at Middlebury. Instead, they join the pack of 2 loss teams looking to finish out their season strong. As I mentioned previously, Tufts’ front 7 kept this offense in check for nearly all of the game, holding them to 13 points on 299 yards of total offense. One of the things that had made freshman standout Bobby Maimaron so successful was his ability to stay out of trouble, keeping plays alive with his legs and making other smart decisions that were key to their only taking 2 sacks through their first 5 games. But Tufts was able to get a steady stream of pressure all day long, limiting his options and consistently putting them in long yardage situations.
While it is only one loss and
doesn’t warrant an overreaction, there is cause for a little bit of concern in Williamstown. With top running back Connor Harris ’18 out for the year with a broken collarbone, this dynamic offense all of a sudden has a look of one dimensionality in the name of Frank Stola ’21, their big play wide receiver. TJ Dozier ’21 has been a strong deputy out of the backfield but will now need to step up as their feature back if they hope to continue putting up points.
Additionally, while any number of Eph wideouts have shown the ability to contribute, someone needs to emerge as a strong number 2 to Stola ’21 so that they can continue to hurt teams with their fast paced passing attack. Adam Regensburg ’18 and Justin Nelson ’21 are the two most likely candidates for that role, and a home game versus Hamilton is the perfect opportunity for them to figure it out, but with Little 3 foes Wesleyan and Amherst looming, this young breakout team will need to earn what they hope will be an equally strong finish to an already impressive season.
Last week I wrote that Wesleyan has the offensive capability to beat anyone, and they certainly didn’t do that on Saturday. Mark Picarillo ’19 was held to 129 passing yards and 0 touchdown passes, as Andrew Yamin ’19 and the rest of the Amherst defense sacked him 10 times. Their defense was impressive, as they had held the league’s top offense to 7 points through 3 quarters, but ran out of gas in the 4th when Amherst scored twice to eventually take the game. Picarillo ’19 was only able to find standout WR Mike Breuler ’18 3 times for 57 yards on a day for the offense to forget. The Cardinals will have a pretty good chance to clinch a winning record on the year when they play Bowdoin next week, but with Williams and Trinity to follow, this team is all of a sudden trending towards a potential 5-4 finish. It all depends on which offense shows up for Wesleyan. If it’s the one they brought to Amherst, they’re not spoiling anybody’s title plans.
Catching their second win in a row this week was Hamilton, and they looked thoroughly unimpressive doing it. They allowed 24 points in the first half to the worst offense in the league, a Colby team whose previous season high in points was 7. It was 17-0 Colby before Hamilton woke up and began to play football. But nonetheless they were able to come back and eke out a win behind Kenny Gray ’20’s 3 second quarter TDs in a span of about 6 minutes that really turned the game around. The Conts now sit at 2-4, and with one more game against a team from Maine (Bates), should like their chances to get to 3-6—although those chances are a lot slimmer if they play like they did on Saturday. Bates’ offense has come a long way in the last two weeks, and if Hamilton’s defense starts like it did against Colby, Bates could bury them.
Speaking of the Bobcats, they held their spot as the strongest first-grader this week following a comfortable shellacking against Middlebury. While Colby giving Hamilton a serious run for their money would warrant some consideration, but I’m sticking with Bates after another strong performance from Brendan Costa ’21 who has improved in each week he’s been the starting quarterback. 138 rushing yards on Saturday as well as 141 passing yards (a decent amount in a triple option scheme) and a TD, this kind of consistency and the closest thing to firepower any of these bottom three teams have is why I’m picking Bates to finish the year at 2-7. Their matchup against Colby will pit the league’s worst defense against the league’s worst offense, so who knows how that will end up. But Costa very well may be the best player on the field come Saturday, and that could make all the difference.
Colby moves up a spot here following their best performance of the season to date, a game in which they led 24-20 for much of the second half, before Mitch Bierman ’21 won the contest for Hamilton with just under 7 minutes to play. The Mules were treated to something they haven’t really had all year: good quarterback play. Jack O’Brien ’20 had by far his best game of the year, going 28-41 for 242 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Jake Schwern ’19 continues to give his best Chris Thompson impersonation, catching 10 balls out of the backfield while also leading the team in rushing. Unfortunately for Colby, most of that production came in the first half, and they left most of it in the locker room as they were shutout in the second. We will find out next week against Bates if this offense has made some actual adjustments and improvements, or if the first half against Hamilton was just a fluke.
We don’t have many rules here at Nothing but NESCAC, but one of our general guidelines is that if you’re a winless team and someone scores 63 on you, you’re last in the power rankings. We knew this was never going to be a game in Hartford, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. Trinity had their way with Bowdoin and it got ugly in a hurry—21-0 in the first nine minutes of the game. Not a whole lot more to add to this one, Bowdoin plays Wesleyan next week and they probably won’t win that one either. They can only hope to keep improving as a team and give themselves the best shot to catch a couple W’s against Bates and Colby.
Although we saw a relatively unsurprising series of results in this weekend’s games, there were certainly some important headlines and things to focus on as we move into the final third of the season. The only real excitement this week was that Amherst (5-1) topped Wesleyan (4-2) in an ugly game out at Amherst, but then again someone had to lose that game as we start to see the top teams in the league squaring off against each other. Hamilton squeaked out a 3-point victory over Colby at home, holding on to their unofficial title as “the best of the rest,” and now Trinity, Middlebury, and Amherst are the only remaining teams with championship hopes. And luckily for us, Middlebury and Trinity meet this Saturday in a de-facto league championship.
This one could just be called the O’Brien-Snyder duo, but I will give credit to Colby’s entire offense. Against Hamilton, QB Jack O’Brien ’20 did his best Matt Stafford impression, going 28-41 for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns, while throwing no interceptions, to ultimately still fall short 27-24. Colby entered the game with just 7 points as their previous season high, so finishing with 24 is clearly an upgrade no matter what the outcome. O’Brien’s favorite target was undoubtedly WR Mark Snyder ’18, whom he connected with 7 times for 99 yards and 2 TDs. Putting up 24 points is obviously a huge step forward for Colby’s offense, not only scoring more points, but allowing their defense to actually get a break on the sideline instead of having to come right back onto the field. Look for O’Brien and Snyder to continue to do damage as Colby gets into their CBB matchups against the much weaker Bates and Bowdoin squads.
There really was not much to highlight from the Bates-Middlebury matchup this weekend, as Middlebury did exactly what they expected to do, blowing out Bates 43-17. What was interesting about Middlebury’s offensive attack, however, was that 10 different receivers caught a pass of at least 5 yards, 7 receivers had at least 2 receptions, and 7 receivers had between 20 and 75 receiving yards. This is an incredible amount of balance in a receiving corps that leads the league in yards and touchdowns, with much thanks to QB Jared Lebowitz ’18. Despite a week 5 loss to Williams, Middlebury’s title hopes are still very much alive thanks to early season wins over Amherst and Wesleyan. This type of balance and depth will give Middlebury a chance to score a lot of points against an elite defense as Trinity comes to town for a big week 7 showdown.
I was hesitant to include this one, because I don’t feel that Amherst has done much to lose credibility despite a somewhat down year in 2016. Prior to the Wesleyan game, Amherst had not beaten a “top tier” team. They took care of Bates, Colby, Bowdoin, and Hamilton, but fell to Middlebury, keeping them in the middle of the conference. After grinding out a 21-17 against Wesleyan, they have certainly solidified their place amongst the top teams in the NESCAC, even while dealing with quarterback uncertainty all year.
Wesleyan’s Title Hopes
I know the same could be said for Williams this week too, but with all due respect to the Ephs, Wesleyan’s expectations for this season were a little bit higher. After losing week 1 to Middlebury, the Cardinals got hot, winning 4 in a row. Amherst had been struggling to find a consistent quarterback, and Wesleyan was just not able to capitalize. Lots of credit needs to go to the Amherst defense, who held Piccirillo and co. to just 197 yards of total offense. Piccirillo ’18 didn’t throw an interception and Wesleyan didn’t lose a fumble, which is why I am more inclined to say that Wesleyan simply could not get anything going on offense. With Dario Highsmith ’20 out, there was no rushing attack for Amherst to respect, so they could key in on the secondary. Wesleyan has no choice but to play the spoiler for the rest of the season, with intriguing matchups versus Williams and Trinity on the horizon.
Jared Lebowitz’s Health
Potentially the biggest story of the weekend is that Middlebury QB Jared Lebowitz ’18 left the game against Bates in the second quarter with what appeared to be some sort of ankle or knee injury. This is not meant to be a knock on the rest of Middlebury’s team, but it is no secret that their offense is contingent upon having Lebowitz’ under center. I don’t know the full extent or even much about the injury at all – it is possible that he was merely roughed up on a play against Bates, and with the game being so secure, the substitution was merely precautionary. I certainly hope this is the case, because like any other NESCAC fan, I’m eager to see how Middlebury’s offense stacks up against the mighty Trinity defense. Either way, this is worth keeping an eye on because even if Lebowitz plays next week, his performance could be limited.