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Around the Conference: Week 8

Wesleyan is eyeing an undefeated season and conference championship; Trinity's home winning streak stands in their path.

Wesleyan is eyeing an undefeated season and conference championship; Trinity’s home winning streak stands in their path.

This post was written by lead writers Joe MacDonald and Adam Lamont.

More Interceptions Likely For Amherst Secondary
A lot of people are talking about a possible Williams upset in the Biggest Little Game in the World because Williams has been playing teams close recently. It’s a rivalry game so of course anything is possible, but the play of the Amherst defense has been spectacular all season and will continue to be so this weekend. The front seven for Amherst is great, but what has set this defense apart is its ability to force turnovers, especially in tight games. Five interceptions against Middlebury, three against Colby, and two early against Trinity were instrumental in those victories. Arguably the key in Wesleyan’s win over Amherst was Wesleyan’s Jesse Warren eliminating mistakes. Now Williams comes in unsettled at QB with three players who have showed a propensity for interceptions. Mark Pomella started last week against Wesleyan and struggled with 129 yards on 31 attempts with two interceptions. That spells a field day for Landrus Lewis, Jaymie Spears, Chris Gow, Kevin Callahan and Max Gietz. Amherst sits at 17 interceptions through seven games and could get to a round 20 on Saturday.

Underclassmen QB’s Look to Make Statements
Nine of the ten quarterbacks starting Saturday will be back next season with the notable exception being Middlebury’s Mac Foote. None of them have shown the ability to change games by themselves, but a great performance from one of them this next week will go a long way in boosting a team’s confidence for next year. We predicted Colby’s sophomore QB Justin Ciero breaking out last week against Tufts. He did just that winning NESCAC Offensive POTW with 138 yards rushing and 218 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. Max Lippe has looked good for stretches, but is also being challenged at Amherst by Alex Berluti. Then there is the  trio of Chase Rosenberg (Hamilton), Mac Caputi (Bowdoin), and Alex Snyder (Tufts) who often struggle, but will have a whole offseason to put it together. Jesse Warren has been unbelievably efficient, but many aren’t sold on him as a player capable of carrying an offense by himself. A big game against Trinity this week would cement his status as the top quarterback returning next year. With so many signal-callers set to return, scoring should go up next fall.

Colby Gunning For CBB
The last time Colby won the CBB was back in 2005 when they finished 7-1. This year’s team has a chance to finish 5-3 after a convincing win over Bates. The connection between QB Justin Ciero and Luke Duncklee has been central to a suddenly explosive offense. Duncklee is a Maine native and knows the importance that a CBB brings for Colby. Bowdoin is extremely banged up in the secondary, but still have junior corner Jon Fraser who should shadow Duncklee all game. Ciero will also use his legs often which sets him apart from other QB’s in the NESCAC as a dual threat. The Colby defense has been phenomenal besides from a 41-0 shellacking to Wesleyan. CT Harris has been a force on the defensive line with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. On the back end Zach Padula and Dan Maddox have led a stellar secondary. For Bowdoin, senior running back Zach Donnarumma has to have a huge day in his final game. Expect tough sledding for the Polar Bear offense all day. The defensive linemen will have to get pressure on Ciero while not giving him too many lanes for him to run. Colby will be pumped up for this game while Bowdoin looks to play the role of spoiler. A Bowdoin win leaves a three way tie, meaning Bates would retain the championship.

Last Dash for Trinity’s Horses
While the Wesleyan ground game is the class of the ‘CAC (see below), Trinity’s backs have been almost as powerful. But unlike Ladarius Drew and Kyle Gibson, Bantam seniors Evan Bunker and Ben Crick will be playing their last collegiate game on Saturday. Bunker and Crick rank second and fourth in the league in rushing yards. Trinity has leaned on Bunker, just as they have since the day he stepped on campus. Barring a nearly 200 yard performance this weekend at Trinity, 2013 will represent a career low in rushing yards for Bunker, who posted 938 in his freshman campaign, 853 in 2011 and an astonishing 1275 last year, the third most in NESCAC history since the league began keeping records in 1992 and the second most in Trinity’s history to David Kiarsis’ 1374 in 1970. Part of the reason for the setback in Bunker’s rushing total is an increase in Crick’s share of the carries. Last year, Bunker ran the ball over 200 times to Crick’s 84, but this year Bunker has seen 152 carries through seven weeks and Crick has already run the ball 81 times for 456 yards, a 5.6 yards per carry average. These two will certainly be missed next year. Trinity has two junior backs, Chudi Iregbulem and Jacob Rivers, with impressive yards per carry numbers but very limited action. Saturday will be the last chance to watch Bunker, the best back to ever come through Hartford, and his mate Crick tear up the turf at Jessee/Miller Field.

Hamilton and Tufts Seek Their First Victories of the Season
It might be kinder to ignore these teams’ respective futility, but sports journalism is a cut-throat business. The Continentals are terrible this year. Their tightest loss was a six-pointer on the road in Brunswick, and nothing else was even close. They have the worst scoring offense (11.1 PPG) and scoring defense (33.4). But, there may be hope on the horizon. Freshman QB Chase Rosenberg has been decent, throwing for almost 1000 yards through seven games and completing 58.7% of his passes, though he has really struggled to take care of the ball with 13 interceptions. Hopefully the freshman, who has played in every game this year, gets better with age.
And I’d still rather be in Hamilton’s shoes than those of the Tufts Jumbos. They can’t buy a win, and things aren’t looking good this weekend against Middlebury, who, while still hoping to steal a share of the NESCAC title, will not be complacent against Tufts. The Jumbos’ mediocrity has really been astounding. They have not won a football game since opening day of 2010 against, who else, Hamilton. That’s 30 straight losses. I hope they can turn things around soon, but it won’t be this weekend.

Trinity’s Defense of Home Turf Has Title Implications
As you might have heard, Trinity won its 50th straight home game at Jessee/Miller Field three weeks ago against Bowdoin with a tidy 41-20 victory. Trinity last lost at home in 2001 to Williams, 31-10, and has never lost a home game on turf (52-0). But, the Bantams have looked vulnerable the last two weeks. After a stunning last minute defeat on Homecoming Weekend in Middlebury, VT two weeks ago, the Bantams fell again last week 17-16 on the road at Amherst, leaving them out of the NESCAC championship hunt. The Trinity defense was strong last week, but three turnovers killed the Bantams.
This week Trinity will host the Wesleyan Cardinals, who can clinch an outright victory of the NESCAC title with a win in Hartford, but a loss will likely drop the Cardinals into a three-way tie for the crown with Middlebury (who is at Tufts) and Amherst (at Williams). Barring a miracle where both Midd and Amherst lose, Wesleyan will have to do what’s never been done and beat Trinity on their own turf to secure the NESCAC title.

The Multiple Attack of the Wesleyan Ground Game
Wesleyan’s gameplan is no secret. Run, baby, run. The Cardinals have the third most rushing attempts and the second fewest passing attempts on the year. That recipe has been successful, as the Cardinals also lead the NESCAC in points per game with 33.3, and the majority of that damage is done on the ground. Wesleyan leads the league in rushing yards per game (225.0), yards per rush (4.9) and rushing touchdowns (15). A huge part of that success is Wesleyan’s ability to lean on more than one horse. Juniors LaDarius Drew and Kyle Gibson rank first and third in rushing yards this season, combining for 13 touchdowns, 10 of which belong to Drew. Drew has been a workhorse this season, running the ball 151 times (one behind Trinity’s Evan Bunker) and racking up the scores, but Gibson has been by far the more explosive option. His 7.1 yards per carry in 75 carries is mind-blowing. In Weeks 5 and 6 against Bowdoin and Amherst, Drew ran the ball 59 times to Gibson’s 11, but last week the distribution of carries evened out with positive results. Gibson averaged 4.9 yards on 15 carries and Drew had 3.3 on 19 with a touchdown. The weapons don’t end there for the Cardinals. Freshman running back Lou Stevens has impressed as well, averaging 5.9 yards per rush in limited duty. Having such a dynamic stable of running backs has helped QB Jesse Warren immensely during his extremely efficient season and been a huge factor in the Cardinals 7-0 run. One more dominant running performance should earn Wesleyan the conference championship. 

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