The Panthers improved to 5-0 on the season with a 38-23 win over Bates in front of a capacity crowd on homecoming weekend in Middlebury.
Led once again by senior wide receiver Zach Driscoll, the offense pulled away in the second half after a slow start, and the defense did enough to hold the Bobcats in check. Though the performance was ugly at times, the win puts the Panthers at 5-0 heading into what will almost certainly be the NESCAC Championship Game, this Saturday at also-undefeated Trinity.
The defense started the game uncharacteristically flat, allowing the Bobcats to beat them on the ground and through the air. It seemed that the biggest issue for the defense was missed tackles. Bates’ Patrick George and Trevor Smith picked up significant yards after contact all day, and Bates finished the game with 219 yards on the ground, the most Middlebury has allowed all season. Smith, the senior dual-threat quarterback, gave Middlebury a lot of trouble. He made great reads both in the pocket and in the option. His signature play was a second quarter 3rd down conversion in which he bounced off a tackle in the backfield, rolled left and found a receiver open downfield. The play reflected the playmaking abilities he showed all game long. Senior linebacker John Wiet was the biggest bright spot for the defense, as he was all over the field on his way to 15 tackles. Matthew Benedict had 15 tackles and freshman Tim Patricia added 12 despite a quiet start.
The offense started slow, as has been a theme this season, and quarterback Mac Foote played inconsistently throughout, despite finishing with 436 yards and 5 touchdowns. (By the way, if you haven’t seen it, check out this feature in the Boston Globe on Mac Foote and the Panthers). On the first drive of the game, Foote had two chances to throw touchdown passes to Driscoll and overthrew them both. He then threw an interception in the end zone on a pass intended for Driscoll. It looked like Foote hit Driscoll in the wrong shoulder and Bates defensive back Kyle Starr made a nice play on the ball.
Remi Ashkar got the offense out of their funk by putting forward his best game of the season. He had 106 yards on 26 carries, behind a Middlebury offensive line that did a nice job of consistently creating holes for the senior running back. Ashkar’s best play came on a 4th and 1 early in the game when he hit the pile hard and carried it for a seven yard gain. Ashkar had 48 rushing yards in the first quarter alone.
It looked like Bates played single coverage on Driscoll for most of the game, and the superstar made them pay to the tune of 15 catches, 203 yards, and 2 touchdowns. The first touchdown came on Middlebury’s second drive, on a second and long-play from 35 yards out. Driscoll came across the middle from Foote’s right to his left, then once he hit the left side of the hashmarks he broke vertically downfield and Foote hit him in the right shoulder in the pocket between Driscoll’s man and the safety. Driscoll broke the safety’s tackle at about the 5 yard line on his way to the score. Driscoll’s monster performance put him in first place in Middlebury history in receptions, and it might just have locked him in as the 2012 NESCAC Offensive Player of Year.
Middlebury’s second touchdown went to freshman Harrison Goodkind, the up and coming athletic 5′-10″ wide receiver who had 3 catches for 32 yards in the game. The Panthers had the ball near the goal line, and Foote hit Goodkind in traffic a yard or two short. Goodkind was facing away from the end zone and pushed himself backwards through contact into the end zone. The freshman added the play of the game in the third quarter when he elevated above two Bates defenders on a crossing route in traffic and brought down the laser pass from Foote for a 19 yard gain. Goodkind moves at a different speed than most NESCAC defenders.
Preseason All-American tight end Billy Chapman brought in two touchdowns on 94 yards receiving in the game. He dominated the middle of the field, holding on to several catches while being hit. Chapman is a big-time matchup problem for defenses. Sophomore Brendan Rankowitz had 4 catches for 57 yards including an incredible 3rd quarter play in which he leaped up over a Bates defender to bring in an underthrown deep ball for a 43 yard gain.
While the passing attack put up big numbers all around, it looked like it might have been Foote’s worst game of the season. He threw two interceptions and had several overthrows, mistimed passes, and forced throws that could have been picked. He made up for it with big plays but his play did not inspire confidence. He needs a bounce back performance if Middlebury is going to beat Trinity next week.
A few other notes and observations:
-Ryan Moores continued to show why he is one of the best offensive linemen in the NESCAC. On one screen pass in the flat to Remi Ashkar, the 6-6 tackle bounced outside and got in front of Ashkar before the cornerback in the open field. It’s very fun to watch him move in space.
-Middlebury’s front seven had its worst performance of the season and Trinity’s Bunker-Crick combo will run all over them if they don’t turn things around.
-On a big third down conversion to Driscoll, Foote wouldn’t have been able to allow the route to develop had Remi Ashkar not made a great low block on the blitzer coming off the edge. After the play, Foote immediately went to Ashkar to show his appreciation.
-Joel Blockowitz might have gotten away with illegal contact earlier on the route in which he made his interception on Bates wide receiver Kevin Davis, and Davis gave the referee a mouthful for the no-call.
-Kicker Jake Fuery made a nice heads up play recovering a fumble on a kickoff early in the 3rd quarter. The ball looked like it bounced off the leg of the Bates returner as he was running under the ball to make the catch, and it bounced about twenty yards forward before Fuery pounced on it near the sideline.
-Zach Driscoll NESCAC record watch:
Single-season receptions: 54 (record is 76, on pace for 86)
Single-season receiving yards: 781 (record is 1137, on pace for 1,250)
Single-season receiving touchdowns: 11 (record is 14, on pace for 17)
Mac Foote NESCAC record watch:
Single-season completions: 162 (record is 262, on pace for 259)
Single-season passing yardage: 1,919 (record is 2,873, on pace for 3,070)
Single-season passing touchdowns: 21 (record is 25, on pace for 33)