So it all comes down to this, the weekend in which brothers square off, one undefeated record will fall and the NESCAC title will likely be decided.
When Trinity, New England’s top-ranked team boasting one of the country’s best Div. III defenses, visits No. 2 Amherst on Saturday, it will mark one of most highly anticipated games in the rivalry’s history.
Really, this is by far the most important game this season, and the winner will be just one win away from closing an undefeated campaign.
To break down the matchups this weekend, including the way more trivial games, NESCAC Insider goes around the horn:
Got predictions? Post them in the comments. Want to skip to a certain matchup? Click below:
- Game of the Week: Trinity (6-0) at Amherst (6-0)
- Williams (4-2) at Wesleyan (3-3)
- Hamilton (2-4) at Middlebury (2-4)
- Bowdoin (3-3) at Bates (2-4)
- Tufts (0-6) at Colby (2-4)
The winner will clinch at least a half share of the NESCAC title. But both Trinity and Amherst aren’t in this to split the gold.
Trinity enters with a slim advantage, given its No. 1 ranking in the New England Div. III poll and one of the nation’s best defenses. The Bantams have three shutouts this season and beat Amherst 28-13 last season in Hartford, Conn., behind 211 rushing yards from sophomore running back Evan Bunker. In their 42-7 rout of Middlebury last week, sophomore receiver A.J. Jones had five catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense held the Panters to just 194 yards of total offense. Senior linebacker Mark Snyder finished with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, earning the NESCAC co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. Look for Bunker (3rd in NESCAC with 591 rushing yards) and Ben Crick (6th with 395 yards) to establish the NESCAC’s top rushing offense (214.5 yards per game) early, as the Bantams’ pass offense has been mediocre at best this season.
Amherst enters boasting the highest-scoring offense in the NESCAC at 28.8 points per game, but will be tested against Div. III’s top-ranked scoring defense. Senior running back Eric Bunker, Evan’s brother, is the second-leading rusher in the NESCAC with 635 yards and a league-high nine touchdowns. The Lord Jeffs cruised to a 30-0 rout at Tufts last week and will bring a solid defense of their own at home this weekend, including senior lineman Kevin Ferber and junior linebacker Mike Aldo, who have combined for 11 sacks this season.
Williams is hitting its stride late in the season while Wesleyan, once one of the NESCAC’s hottest teams, has cooled off recently, but will try to regain its form at Homecoming this week. League-reading rusher LaDarius Drew is making a strong case for NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors; he’s one of two backs in the conference to average over 100 yards per game this season, but was held to a league-low 48 yards in a 12-6 loss to Bowdoin. According to the Williams game outlook, however, Drew isn’t listed as the starter, which could be a big blow for the Cardinals on Homecoming.
The Ephs’ offense came to a near-halt last week but still managed to pull away with a 14-7 win against Hamilton and enters on a three-game winning streak. Eph junior linebacker Chris Cameron was named co-NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week for his role in the Hamilton game, in which he had seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. On offense, running back Tom Wohlwender (league-high nine touchdowns) did not play versus the Continentals, but the Cardinals rank seventh in the conference in rushing yards allowed, so look for Marco Hernandez to get going if Wohlwender can’t go.
Middlebury, once the NESCAC’s most prolific offense, ran into a brick wall called the Trinity defense. It didn’t help that McCallum Foote, the conference’s leading passer, was held out of the game due to injury, and his replacement threw two interceptions for a touchdown in the first quarter. If Foote plays, the Panthers instantly have one of the league’s most dangerous offenses. If he can’t go, however, then the load will likely fall to running back Remi Ashkar, third in the conference with seven rushing touchdowns and fifth with 79.2 yards per game.
Hamilton also has a weapon at quarterback in Jordan Eck, third in the conference with 208.2 passing yards per game, though he’s only thrown four touchdowns. The Continentals enter with the second-best pass defense in terms of yards per game, but opposing teams have only thrown the ball 123 times against them this season, the second fewest in the league. Hamilton enters on a four-game losing streak, having only mustered 21 points during that span after putting up 31 in the first two games combined.
Contrary to Hamilton, Bowdoin started off with two losses to Williams and Amherst but has since rebounded to the tune of three out of four wins, losing only to Trinity, and has a serious chance at a 5-3 record this season. In the Polar Bears’ CBB premier, look for Bowdoin to continued its ball-control attack, a far departure from when it consistently ranked among the NESCAC’s top passing teams over the pass three season. Bowdoin ranks third in the league in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. Senior Peter Troubh ranks second in the league with 5.0 sacks.
After ranking among the top passing teams in the NESCAC over the last three seasons, the Polar Bears have transitioned into a ball-control attack, partially by design and partially by personnel. With injuries to its first and second string quarterbacks this fall, Bowdoin has relied on an excellent rushing attack and emerging defense to tip the scales. Last week, in a 12-6 win over Wesleyan, was the first time since 1998 that the Polar Bears won a game in which they didn’t score an offensive touchdown, instead using a 77-yard punt return from Pat Noone and two field goals from Jimmy Garvey to pull away.
After starting the season 2-1 for the first time since 1982, and earning their first-ever appearance in the New England Division III rankings, the Bobcats have struggled, losing three straight and allowing an average of 35.6 points per game in that span. Last week, against a Colby offense that entered ranked seven in total offense, Bates allowed 490 yards and 37 points. Quarterback Trevor Smith ranks second in the league with 1,174 passing yards and 12 touchdowns this year, while receivers John Squires and Ryan Curit each caught 35 passes. Last year, Bates hit the uprights on a 27-yard field goal as time expired in a 21-20 loss.
Colby enters riding a two-game winning streak including a 37-13 rout over Bates last week in which senior Connor Walsh earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors, finishing with four receptions for 104 yards, one receiving touchdown, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. Behind quarterback Nick Kmetz, the Colby offense is ranked second in NESCAC for passing efficiency and will look to capitalize against a Jumbo defense that ranks last in the league for pass defense efficiency. Last season, kicker David Bendit hit an extra point with no time on the clock as Colby surged to a come-from-behind 42-41 victory at Zimman Field.
Tufts is the last winless team remaining in the NESCAC, and will need to somehow revive the conference’s worst offense (8.0 points per game) against Colby. Senior quarterback Johnny Lindquist missed last Saturday’s 30-0 loss against Amherst due to a shoulder injury but practiced this week. The Jumbos rank ninth in the league in rushing yards per game. Senior Zach Skarzynski is tops in the NESCAC with 13.0 tackles per game for a mysterious defensive unit which ranks last in the conference in rushing yards per game, first in passing yards per game but last in passing efficiency.