Middlebury won their opening game today 42-18 against Bowdoin. You can see the box score of the game here.
Middlebury’s defense was the story of the first half, and their offense was the story of the second half. The defense forced three turnovers (all interceptions), got consistent penetration at the line of scrimmage, and kept the ball on Bowdoin’s half of the field for most of the first two quarters of play. Nick Burdeau, Joel Blockowicz, and Jared Onouye made the picks. Burdeau’s and Blockowitz’s picks were heads-up athletic plays. Onouye’s was a gift. Until the last drive of the second quarter, Middlebury’s defense only made one mistake, allowing Polar Bear quarterback Grant White to scramble for 29 yards on a third and nine in the beginning of the second quarter. Other than that, the unit looked far better than last year’s. Linebacker John Wiet was all over the field, piling up 10 tackles and a sack. The biggest defensive lapse for the Panthers came with under two minutes remaining in the half, when they allowed a huge 40 yard pass down the seam to Nick Goldin on another 3rd down, soon followed by a 28 yard touchdown pass on a crossing route to David Black.
The defense’s success, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. The Bowdoin offense, which only scored 13.1 points per game last season, went into the game short-handed on offense and it only got worse. We heard that top wide receiver and senior co-captain Sean O’Malley tore his ACL in an intrasquad scrimmage last weekend, but that was just the start. Running back Zach Donnarumma, their top offensive player from last season, was listed as the starter but never saw the field, for unclear reasons. Instead, carries were split early on between converted defensive back Greg Pierce, and freshman Trey Brown. That was, until Brown went down with an injury in the middle of the second quarter. Then, later that same quarter, Bowdoin’s starting quarterback, White, was taken out and replaced by Thomas Romero after being hit on a rollout. Though White was not down on the field after the play, he never returned to the game. So, from halfway through the second quarter onward, Bowdoin’s already mediocre offense was playing without its QB1 (White), WR1 (O’Malley), RB1 (Donnarumma), and RB3 (Brown). Panther fans should be cautious about what they take away from this performance.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers started slow, but found their groove before the end of the first half and rode that for the rest of the game. Foote threw five touchdown passes, including two each to seniors Zach Driscoll (5-74) and Billy Chapman (7-76). The Foote-to-Driscoll connection was out-of-sync early, as Foote threw three early incompletions to Driscoll on mistimed passes, but Driscoll played huge in the second half, pulling down everything thrown his way and gaining tough yards after the catch. On his second half touchdown, he crossed the goal-line dragging two Bowdoin defenders at his feet. Chapman, the pre-season All-American, seemed to get a lot of attention from the Bowdoin defense, and was quieted early on, but found his game soon enough, working the defense with little hooks and out-routes. The Middlebury offensive line looked extremely solid against the inexperienced Bowdoin defensive line, giving Foote tons of time to throw and creating holes for Remi Ashkar and Matt Rea, who both ran the ball well. Ryan Moores, the NFL-prospect tackle, played on the right side of the line.
Perhaps the most exciting development from the Middlebury offense, however, was the play of sophomore wide receiver Brendan Rankowitz. Rankowitz, who is filling much of the whole left behind by the departure of Nick Resor and Matt Wassel, only had three receptions and 40 yards all of last season. It took him until midway through the second quarter to surpass those numbers today, as he was the first of the Panther pass-catchers to establish himself against the Polar Bears. He continued to impress throughout the game, finishing with seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown, including an athletic over-the-head catch on the sidelines at the start of the second half. He was also solid in the kick return game. It looks like Rankowitz is the next big thing in the well-oiled machine that is the Panthers passing offense.
One thing to takeaway for Bowdoin: freshman defensive back Jibrail Coy looks like a great football player. He was the starting kick returner for Bowdoin (alongside fellow freshman Greg Thompson), and he had a 42 yard return in the third quarter, and a 53 yard return in the fourth. He showed great burst and elusiveness. After there were no kick returns for touchdowns in the NESCAC last season, Coy is my pick to break the drought. He also made a very athletic play on defense on a deep pass intended for Zach Driscoll, ranging backward and skying up high to tip the pass, which would have been a touchdown. Looks like a future star for the Bowdoin defense.
Middlebury heads to Colby next week, looking to improve to 2-0. Colby lost their opener today, 41-7 versus Williams.