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NESCAC Preview: Trinity Goes for 50

Editors’ Note: A group of writers from around the NESCAC, led by Joe MacDonald (Middlebury) and Adam Lamont (Bowdoin), will be contributing to the blog for the remainder of the football season and hopefully beyond. This post was written by Lamont, a sophomore at Bowdoin and a former member of the Polar Bears’ football team.

Death Valley at LSU or Camp Randall at Wisconsin are usually mentioned first when college football fans list the most fearsome stadiums to play in. Miami owns the longest Division I home winning streak in the history of college football with 57 straight wins from 1985 to 1994. The Trinity Bantams are approaching that same level of success as they attempt to win their 50th (50th!) consecutive home game against Bowdoin today. The last Bantam loss was on September 29, 2001 against Williams. Most of the players in today’s game were in elementary school and the freshman class was in first grade the last time Trinity lost at home. Today’s game will undoubtedly have plenty of recent football alumni who contributed to the streak along the way to ensure the current group maintains the streak.

Like a season ago, Trinity has gotten off to a perfect 4-0 start. Over the first two weeks of the season, however, this team did not look like the typical Trinity team of recent years that has steamrolled over much of the NESCAC. Close wins over Bates and a still-winless Williams team did not suggest another run at an undefeated season for the Bantams. In the last two weeks the status quo has returned as—playing against lesser competition—Trinity won consecutive games against Hamilton and Tufts by 35-plus points.

One of the early-season storylines is that Trinity has yet to settle on a single quarterback to replace recently-graduated Ryan Burgess. Freshman Sonny Puzzo and sophomore Henry Foye have split time under center the last three games. Neither has separated himself from the other and forced Coach Jeff Devanney to make a decision. Last week Puzzo was the more effective of the two, connecting for a touchdown with AJ Jones, the big play receiver who could be poised for a big game today. Last year Jones caught a long touchdown against Bowdoin, and the Polar Bears’ secondary has been suspect so far this year.

Trinity and Bowdoin are both run-first teams that want to control the line of scrimmage before airing it out. Trinity has not had the same success running the ball in 2013 as they did last year when Evan Bunker led the NESCAC in yards per game and Ben Crick paced the conference with 6.5 yards per carry. Ground-and-pound has not been effective for the Bantams this season as Williams held Bunker to just 2 yards per carry on 22 rushes in a game Trinity was fortunate to win. For Bowdoin to keep it close and have any chance at an upset, therefore, they will have to replicate the Ephs’ performance against Bunker. While Trinity has looked improved on defense the past two weeks, Hamilton and Tufts are relatively punchless. The Jumbos actually had success on their first possession, scoring an opening-drive touchdown, but Trinity stiffened after that. Surprisingly, the Jumbos—typically a pass-heavy offense, had tremendous success on the ground, rushing for 251 total yards, while averaging 5.3 yards per carry as a team. If the Bowdoin offense can run the ball to similar effect, this game could be far closer than people—Trinity’s alumni in attendance in particular—expect. Linebacker Michael Weatherby and co. must force Bowdoin into third and long, therefore, by stopping the run on the early downs and forcing Mac Caputi to beat them over the top with his arm.

It’s On His shoulders: Evan Bunker

If Bunker can run the ball effectively and gets his name called early and often, Trinity will be almost guaranteed victory. Bunker has had a great career for Trinity and though he has been overshadowed so far by the Wesleyan backfield, a few big games would reassert him as the top running back in the NESCAC. Last year Bunker struggled to run the ball against Bowdoin, a big reason why the game hung in the balance through much of the first three quarters. The Trinity offensive line will have their hands full with Bowdoin defensive tackle Jake Prince. Bunker and Crick, if healthy, could also be big coming out of the backfield in the screen game.

X-Factor: Mac Caputi

Bowdoin will need to have a very good passing attack if they hope to move the ball consistently against Trinity’s defense. Though this year’s unit might not be quite as fearsome as the 2012 version, Trinity remains a top-three defense, particularly against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for an average of just 139 yards against the Bantams. Last week the Bowdoin offense appeared improved early, as they scored 21 first-half points, but it sputtered in the second against a porous Hamilton defense. Caputi has mobility as a runner and can pick up first downs with his legs, if necessary. The Polar Bears will try to rely on the running game as much as possible, but if an upset materializes, Caputi will need to make plays through the air as well.

Prediction: Trinity 27- Bowdoin 10

Don’t expect a much different game from last year when Trinity struggled to move the ball for much of the first half against a stout Bowdoin front seven. Neither of the two Trinity quarterbacks will make many plays to sustain long drives. The Bantams’ defense, however, will be the difference, keeping Bowdoin off the scoreboard and giving the offense good field position all game long. Eventually, Trinity will wear Bowdoin out and extend their lead to a comfortable margin of victory.

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