Middlebury went in to Trinity with a NESCAC championship in mind and left with a humbling reminder from the Bantams that room at the top is hard to come by in this conference.
Trinity’s 45-7 rout was about as convincing as they can come, as the Bantams dominated from start to finish, on every unit, and in every aspect of the game. In a game that represented opportunity and legacy for the 2012 Panthers, they did anything but live up to the moment.
After Trinity received the kickoff and moved the ball effectively ont the first drive, a nice red zone stop limited the Bantams to a field goal, Middlebury’s offense then took the field against the top-ranked Trinity D, looking to even things up. A few plays into that first drive, Mac Foote fired a ball low to Billy Chapman coming across the middle in traffic, and it bounced up into the air, where Trinity linebacker Stephen Goniprow grabbed it, and therein ended the only possession Middlebury ever had within a score of the lead.
After the Middlebury defense made a tackle for a loss and a sack on the first and second plays of the ensuing drive, Trinity converted on a 3rd and long with a 59 yard touchdown pass from Ryan Burgess to Chris Ragone. The ball could have been deflected, but the Middlebury defensive back did not go after it aggressively, and it went over his head and into Ragone’s hands.
From there on out, Trinity scored and stopped at will. Foote threw an interception on a pass intended for Rankowitz in the end zone on the next drive. Mac telegraphed the pass, defensive back Nick Campbell made a break on the ball, and Rankowitz waited on it instead of attacking. Trinity ball again. What followed was a montage of big Trinity plays that could have filled an entire highlight video. Here are the highlights, of the highlights:
-Evan Bunker picks up 47 yards rushing on a 3rd and 8 from his own 3 yard line.
-Ben Crick scores on a 40 yard pass and run from Burgess.
-Bunker gains 22 yards on a 4th down on the next drive, then rushes it in for six one play later.
-As the second quarter winds down, Crick scores again, this time after breaking tackles and getting to the outside on a 49 yard run.
-Towards the end of the 3rd quarter, on a 3rd and 26, Ben Crick breaks tackles near the line of scrimmage and at the second level before knifing through the middle of the secondary on his way to a 66 yard touchdown run.
After that Crick touchdown, which made the score 38-0, both teams added a scoring drive before the second units came into to finish off the game. Crick finished the day with 198 yards from scrimmage, and Bunker with 165. Burgess was 9 of 16 for 193 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Trinity safety Rae Haynes had several huge hits and pass breakups, putting on one of the most impressive defensive performances that we have seen, and leading a Trinity secondary that held Foote to 133 yards and 1 touchdown. The touchdown was to Zach Driscoll, who had only 52 yards on 5 catches. Credit to the defensive backs on Trinity’s three sacks as well, as the front seven as able to send extra men early and often without consequences downfield.
So why did the game turn into a Trinity highlight reel, to the shock of most all NESCAC observers?
First, Trinity is a better team. Crick and Bunker are unbelievable runners, far more talented than anyone we have seen come through Middlebury this season. But the Trinity defense was even more impressive, as their speed was a huge disruption to Middlebury’s passing game. Whenever Mac Foote saw an open receiver, a Bantam would break to the ball so fast that by the time Foote threw it the receiver wouldn’t be open any more. Foote and the offense never adjusted to that. Middlebury’s previously dominant offense was overwhelmed and outmatched from the start.
But playing a great defense doesn’t explain a blow out like this, and the other contributing factor was the total lack of life from the Middlebury defense. After that deep touchdown to Chris Ragone, Middlebury’s defense laid down and never got up. It was amazing how poorly they tackled and pursued all game long, to the extent that it was obvious they had completely lost their competitive mentality. It looked like every defender expected somebody else to wrap up the ball carrier or close the gap, and so many times, it resulted in nobody doing it. Crick and Bunker bounced off would-be-tacklers like they belonged in a different division from them, and the previous strengths of this Middlebury defense—situational football and limiting the big play—were thrown out the window and replaced by their polar opposites.
So, the NESCAC title was not meant for these Panthers, and if they finish off the season with wins over Hamilton and Tufts, they will lock up the second spot in the conference, which is still a season to reflect on positively. But the game today is the one that will remind us that the 2012 Panthers were a good, not great, football team.