August 29, 2011

Ten games to watch

Norwich vs. Western New England
It's safe to say that Norwich vs. Western New England will be a game to watch again this season.
Norwich athletics photo

Alexander Wolff lives up the road about 30 miles from me in Cornwall, Vt., a little town in the shadow of Middlebury College.

You probably read Alex's latest piece in Sports Illustrated, an open letter to University of Miami president Donna Shalala about the unfortunate situation at her school regarding all the ills of the Hurricane football program.

Alex sometimes participates in the pickup noon basketball games at Middlebury. Talk about experiencing different worlds.

It's not that Division III college football doesn't have any warts. It's just that is has far fewer of them. And stories! Great, great stories. It has more of them. And they unfold every week, delicious, compelling and stay-with-you stories.

The one about Ben Gavlick, the young man overcoming cerebral palsy and announcing Ursinus football games, was one of my favorites from last year.

There were also plenty in my own neighborhood, one that encompasses the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, New England Football Conference and New England Small College Athletic Conference.

One of my favorites was the one about Chad Bentz, the 30-year-old former one-handed pitcher with the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos, who always wanted to play college football while growing up in Alaska. He got his chance last season and was an effective short-yardage back for Castleton State. This year he is a student coach with the Spartans.

And there was the saga of Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, the head coach who took SUNY-Maritime to a 10-0 regular season all the while knowing he was bound for a deployment in Afghanistan right after the season that would cause him to miss the 2011 campaign. But his deployment was abbreviated and he's back. His story mesmerized the country.

But no need to rehash last year's tales. There are many more just as compelling getting ready to burst onto this site each week this season.

Here's a road map. But a word of caution: Like any map, it is subject to change by virtue of considerable construction. What we thought would be a big game in October very likely will be replaced by another as teams spring surprises and come out of nowhere. More fodder for great stories, so here we go:

Norwich at Western New England, Sept. 3: There is nothing like an opener. The Cadets and Golden Bears had outstanding seasons last year. They are forces to be reckoned with in their respective conferences and this one promises to be a good barometer for each. Norwich is expected to challenge SUNY-Maritime for supremacy in the ECFC.

The view
Coast Guard-Merchant Marine is one of the great unsung rivalries in Division III football.
Photo by Keith McMillan, D3sports.com

Coast Guard at Merchant Marine, Sept. 10: One of the great traditions and spectacles on the D3 landscape, playing for the Secretaries' Cup.

Anna Maria at Castleton State, Sept. 24: Kindred spirits who launched their football history together on Sept. 5, 2009 with all the pomp and circumstance. Anna Maria is still searching for the first win in program history. Castleton State is adjusting to a new head coach in Marc Klatt. And it is a trophy game. They play for a helmet, half painted in the AmCat colors and half in the Spartan colors.

Williams at Bowdoin, Sept. 24: Did I say there is nothing like an opener? You never heard of a conference opening the last football weekend of September? Yes, the NESCAC is a little different. Williams is a perennial power. Bowdoin is not, but the Polar Bears are looking to take steps to change that. Everyone has hope going into a season opener and Bowdoin will look to send shock waves through the NESCAC by picking off the Ephs at home.

Endicott at Curry, Oct. 1: Curry had been the gold standard in the NEFC for a long time. Endicott is the new darling after carrying the league's banner into the NCAA playoffs. This is a big game for Curry as it looks to restore the luster.

Norwich at Castleton State, Oct. 8: Indiana and Purdue have the Old Oaken Bucket. Vermont's Castleton and Norwich fight over the Maple Sap Bucket. The Cadets, with all of their storied trdaition, lead the series 2-0. A win would give Castleton more than bragging rights, it would put them in a new station of the state and regional football fraternity. This rivalry is gathering steam and fills the void left from 21 years ago when Middlebury and Norwich ended their tussle over the Wadsworth Trophy.

Framingham State at Maine Maritime, Oct. 15: The Rams and Mariners figure to still be in contention for the Bogan Division title in the NEFC at this point. Castine, Maine, is beautiful this time of year, but a physical game will provide a stark contrast to the tranquil setting.

Trinity at Middlebury, Oct. 29: Trinity will likely still be in NESCAC contention. Middlebury will be far different after its four-year run of Donald McKillop who smashed school conference and even New England passing records. The Bantams and Panthers always seem to stage exciting games and there have been upsets.

Norwich at SUNY-Maritime, Nov. 5: A game this late with everything at stake in the ECFC? Many think so. A great setting with plenty of pageantry only adds to it. And it might be a quick one. Military schools that love to run the football.

Amherst at Williams, Nov. 12: "The Biggest Little Game in America" makes the list every year. How could it not? A whopping crowd of 12,000 fans sees a game that often is for the NESCAC championship.

If this one is not for the title, maybe Wesleyan's trip to Hartford to play Trinity will be the one for the championship. But even when it is not for the title, Williams-Amherst is everything to the grads.

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