If you’re reading this blog you probably already know that the Middlebury football team beat Amherst 24-3 on Saturday to improve to 3-0. You may not know how they did it, however.
The offense got off to a slow start — a recurring problem that will eventually catch up with this team if it can’t figure out how to put points on the board early in the game. I’ve asked head coach Bob Ritter, Zach Driscoll and Foote all the same question — why is the offense out of sync early? — and I’ve gotten three different answers. The concern is there, however, and if I had to guess I would say that this is a “small sample size problem.” Saturday at Williams will provide another crucial opportunity for the unit to correct its early game woes.
The defense, meanwhile, was dominant in the first half in particular, forcing Amherst into six three-and-outs on just eight possessions. The Lord Jeffs had just four first downs in the first half, crossing into Middlebury territory only on the second possession of the game. Defensive coordinator Doug Mandigo’s unit put forward a superlative effort, consistently making plays on third and fourth down as well as on the rare occasions when Amherst found its way into scoring position.
Early in the first quarter Amherst threatened to take the lead as Lord Jeffs quarterback Max Lippe and his top receiving target Wade McNamara got in sync. With Amherst facing first-and-10 from the Middlebury 20-yard line, the defense finally made a play. Trying to find a receiver downfield, Lippe rolled to his left with the ball in his inside hand. Matt Crimmins, who made the game’s biggest play the week before against Colby, knocked the ball out and Jimmy Tilson, who spent most of the game in the Amherst backfield, recovered.
If the first quarter was won by the defense, the offense returned the favor in the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on three of its five possessions. Foote was considerably more accurate, but he was helped by a number of athletic catches by his receivers. Zach Driscoll had 11 catches for 126 yards in the game, cementing his status as the top pass catcher in the NESCAC thus far this season. But one of his catches in particular stood out. On first-and-10 from the Amherst 32-yard line, Driscoll ran a fly route down the left sideline and Foote, made a high arching pass over Driscoll’s left shoulder. Driscoll made a phenomenal play, separating from top Amherst corner Landrus Lewis and extending fully for the catch. Much more impressive, though, was his ability to stay in bounds, dragging his back foot to complete the play and setting up first-and-goal for Middlebury at the 8-yard line. Three plays later, Foote found Chapman in the back of the end zone for the pair’s second touchdown.
The Panthers’ most impressive drive came two possessions later, however, when Foote drove 50-yards in 42 seconds, ultimately diving into the end zone from two-yards out for the first rushing touchdown of his Middlebury career. Foote said that he considered throwing the ball up for Driscoll, but that the Amherst defense overplayed Driscoll, leaving no one to spy on Foote who stepped out of a desperate arm tackle in the backfield and dove across the plane with 8 seconds left in the half.
Foote’s scramble was made possible by a leaping 20-yard grab over the middle by first-year wide receiver Harrison Goodkind. Goodkind, who’s listed at just 5’10”, displayed tremendous athleticism and great hands to bring the ball in. He had one other catch, finishing with 23 yards receiving.
After scoring 21 first half points, Middlebury added just 3 in the second half, but successfully managed the clock. Backup running back Matt Rea did a nice job moving the chains while giving Ashkar a couple of plays off. And the defense shut the door, allowing a field goal on the visitors’ opening drive of the second half but limiting them to just that. First-year linebacker and NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week, Tim Patricia led the defense with 12 tackles and the game-ending interception with just over 2 minutes to play.
Patricia said that DJ Petropolous, who replaced Lippe midway through the fourth quarter, had gone to his first option on consecutive passes on the drive. Figuring he’d be forced to go to his second option, Patricia sat on the route and stepped in to make the play.
Incredibly, the California native has been the most outstanding player on the NESCAC’s top scoring defense through the first three weeks. Patricia said Friday that the transition from high school to college was made easier because the defensive system is the same. With Patricia at the Mike linebacker spot flanked by Crimmins and Wiet, an experienced defensive line and an opportunistic secondary, this defense should continue to throttle teams like they did against Amherst on Saturday.
Check back in Friday when we’ll have a long post looking at Middlebury’s matchup this weekend at Williams. Middlebury has a lot of history riding on the line on Saturday. If they beat the Ephs it will be the team’s first win against their Route 7 rivals since 2000 and will give the Panthers their best start since they went 5-0 to start the 1992 season.