With just two games remaining in New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference play for each of the league’s ten teams, the race to determine the best NESCAC football team is down to three. Better luck next year to Hamilton, Colby, Williams, Bowdoin, Bates, Tufts, and Middlebury, who have already been eliminated. That leaves Wesleyan, Trinity (Conn.), and Amherst — so let’s break down how they got here, the games they have left, and what needs to happen for each school to take the crown.
BR-137 Wesleyan Cardinals 5-1 (5-1)
Remaining games: @ Williams, Vs. Trinity (Conn.)
The Cardinals, currently 5-1, might end up looking back at their loss to Amherst as the reason they failed to win the NESCAC championship. They outgained the Jeffs on offense and held a nine-minute time of possession advantage in that game, but the Cardinals fell 33-30 thanks to a pair field goals near the end of regulation and overtime that won the game for Amherst.
Offensively, the Cardinals rank first in the conference in points per game (30.3) and total touchdowns (25). Senior quarterback Jesse Warren ranks second in the NESCAC in yards per game(204.2) and is tied for first in touchdowns (14). His main targets have been senior wide receivers Jay Fabien and Josh Hurwitz, who rank second and third respectively in the NESCAC in yards per game with nine touchdowns between them.
On defense, the Cardinals have allowed the fewest passing yards in the conference (138.5) while also picking off the second most passes (11). Of those 11, Jake Bussani is responsible for a NESCAC-leading five. The Cardinals have allowed a respectable 14.2 points per game, good for fourth in the league. Wesleyan is going to need some help to take the title, but it’s not out of reach. They have to win out and need Trinity to beat Amherst this weekend. Having to rely on another team at this point in the season isn’t where the Cardinals would like to be, but it’s where they are. They have to take care of business and hope.
BR-155 Trinity (Conn.) Bantams 5-1 (5-1)
Remaining Games: vs. Amherst, @ Wesleyan
The Bantams suffered a bad loss at home to Middlebury last week, 27-7. It was their first home-loss since September of 2001. Even with the loss, the Bantams control their own destiny with games against Amherst and Wesleyan left on the schedule. If they can find a way to win both, the streak-breaking loss to Middlebury won’t matter.
Junior quarterback Henry Foye has thrown for 966 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions, but the offense runs through the backfield. Senior running back Chudi Iregbulem leads the conference in rushing yards per game (111.0) rushing touchdowns (10), and points-scored (66), despite playing only five games this season.
On defense, Trinity has allowed the fewest yards on the ground (83.8) of any NESCAC team, and put up the second second most total yards (260.2) and points per game (10.8) themselves. The Bantams have done this without any defensive player ranked highly in any major category. Instead, senior Tom Szymanski, junior Frank Leyva, sophomore Spencer Donahue, and sophomore Kevin Martin form the core of a balanced group. Is the Trinity defense good enough to stop the two top offenses in the league? We’ll find out in the next two weeks. Maybe the Bantams loss to Middlebury was a wake up call and they’ll find a way to beat Amherst at home. If that happens, the following week at Wesleyan will be a de facto NESCAC title game. Down to the wire.
BR-129 Amherst Lord Jeffs 6-0 (6-0)
Remaining games: @ Trinity (Conn.), vs. Williams
At 6-0, Amherst has navigated through the NESCAC without missing a step up to this point — not that it’s been easy. The Lord Jeffs pulled out a 33-30 win over Wesleyan in overtime, and a slim one-touchdown victory over Middlebury 7-0.
The Jeffs have three quarterbacks this season: senior Max Lippe, sophomore Alex Berluti, and freshman Reece Foy. Each has completed at least 60% of his passes and the trio has combined to throw for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns to pace an offense that ranks second in the league in scoring (24.8 PPG). Behind them, sophomore running back Nick Kelly is third in the NESCAC in yards per game (82.5) and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns with five. His rushing unit sits second overall in the NESCAC, averaging 166.8 yards per game.
On defense, senior linebacker Chris Tamasi and defensive lineman Max Lehrman share the league sack-lead with 4.5. The pair has led the Amherst defense to a conference-best 9.3 points allowed per game, as well as a NESCAC-best 19 sacks. The secondary also leads the NESCAC in interceptions with 13 total, led by junior defensive back Jaymie Spears’ four.
When you are at or near the top of your conference in both points scored and allowed, you’ve got a pretty good shot to go unbeaten. The Jeffs face a tough Trinity (CT) team on the road this week, followed by historical-rival Williams at home, and neither of these games are guaranteed, but Amherst hasn’t shown any reason to believe they’ll falter now. They should be considered the favorite for the NESCAC title.