Middlebury ends its season at home against Tufts, losers of 20 straight games. While the matchup is pretty lopsided, Middlebury has a lot to play for, both on an individual level and as a team. The Panthers still have an outside shot at sharing a NESCAC title, though it requires a win and a Trinity loss at Wesleyan. This will also be the final time the senior class plays together, which includes some of the most talented players in program history. Zach Driscoll and Billy Chapman could both secure All American selections Saturday in the final game of their careers and Ryan Moores, Harris Huguenard and Ling Zhou will play their last game as the anchors of the best unit in the NESCAC. Defensively, Middlebury will graduate five members of their front seven, including defensive captain John Wiet and defensive linemen Jimmy Tilson, Keegan Ashley and Doug Rogers. In the secondary, Andrew Singley and Dan Kenerson, who leads the team with 4 interceptions on the season will also be playing in their final games.
Foote and Driscoll will also be playing with a chance to break a number of NESCAC records. Number 11 is 4 catches, 128 yards and 2 touchdown receptions from breaking all three records and cementing himself as the best wide receiver in conference history. Driscoll is also within striking distance of leading the nation in receptions/game (1st), yards/game (2nd) and touchdowns/game (4th). That he could set every single season NESCAC record and lead the nation in each speaks volumes to the transcendent season that Driscoll has had. The Panthers’ signal caller, meanwhile, has already shattered the single season NESCAC touchdown record and is 366 yards short of breaking Donnie McKillop’s 2009 single season passing yards mark.
Fans, if not coaches and players, will also be keeping a close eye on the proceedings in Middletown, Connecticut, where Trinity will attempt to complete its undefeated campaign and secure a NESCAC Championship on the road against Wesleyan. The Cardinals are tough at home — they’ve only lost two home games in the past two seasons — and will present a challenge to the Bantams who are considerably more susceptible on the road.
With so much on the line, however, head coach Bob Ritter will call on his team to do the same thing he asks them to do every week — go 1-0.
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Keys to the game: Middlebury will need to harness their emotions, which will be running at an all-time high before the game, maintain their efficiency and find a rhythm in the passing game early. Driscoll and Foote need to push the records aside — something they’ve done without a problem all season — and play within the flow of the game, taking advantage of what the Tufts defense gives them. Defensively, the Panthers will have to play assignment sound football as Tufts’ quarterback John Dodds has put together a strong senior season, averaging 182 yards per game through the air, third best in the NESCAC. Tufts, meanwhile, will need to force the Middlebury offense into mistakes. Winning the turnover battle will be crucial for the Jumbos, who will need the defense to make a number of big plays to keep the offense on the field and in the game.
Matchups to watch: Mac Foote and Zach Driscoll vs. the Tufts secondary: Entering the game, the Jumbos have allowed just 177 yards per game through the air, fourth best in the NESCAC. How much of this can be attributed to their talent in the secondary and how much is a result of their atrocious run defense (the worst in the NESCAC), however, is hard to know. Driscoll has been a matchup nightmare all season long, finding space behind even the Trinity defense, and Tufts doesn’t have the athletes to keep up with the NESCAC’s most prolific pass catcher.
John Dodds vs. Dan Kenerson and the Middlebury secondary: Kenerson has been incredibly opportunistic in the Panthers third level, often breaking off defensive assignments to make plays on the ball in the air. While Dodds has thrown for a lot of yards this season, he has thrown the second most interceptions in the NESCAC (10) while completing just 52% of his passes. If he is wild over the middle, or in the area of Kenerson, the senior corner and the Middlebury secondary will come away with multiple interceptions, something the Jumbos absolutely cannot afford.
The Final Word: Middlebury 49 – Tufts 10. With an outside shot at a NESCAC title and the emotions of senior day, the Panthers will jump all over the Jumbos, dropping Tufts with their second consecutive winless season. Driscoll and Foote will have a field day, setting all four NESCAC records in their grasp, stamping the final game of a tremendous season with a performance for the ages.