Panthers quarterback pipeline runs deep

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The Panthers are in good hands with Matt Milano. If he goes down, there is a capable backup on the roster.
Photo courtesy Middlebury Athletics 

Arguably, the Middlebury Panthers have the best quarterback in the NESCAC. Inarguably, they have the best backup quarterback in the league.

It is a strange odyssey that has brought Jared Lebowitz to Middlebury where he is the understudy to 2014 NESCAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year Matt Milano. It began on the East Coast, bounced all the way to the West Coast, then made a stop in the desert before abruptly making a dash across the country and landing at Middlebury in December.

Lebowitz began his high school career in Vermont. It is a state that can't take its place alongside the likes of Texas, California, Florida and Pennsylvania as a place noted for high school football. Folks in Vermont love their Friday night lights as much as anyone but the state numbers only 33 varsity high school football teams and the state has lost the past 14 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowls, the annual summer all-star game against New Hampshire.

There was no question that Lebowitz was a rare talent, so the family plan was to pack up after his sophomore year in high school and head to California where he would have the opportunity to showcase himself playing big time high school football.

A move 3,000 miles away to play football? Maybe not quite the Todd Marinovich, Robo Quarterback thing but that comparison was overheard in the press box during Saturday's 28-9 victory over Colby.

The plan worked. Lebowitz put up sensational numbers in California and made a couple of lists for top 40 pro style high school quarterbacks in the country.

"My dream was always to get a Division I scholarship," Lebowitz said down on the Youngman Field turf after Saturday's victory.

He got one. He signed with UNLV. He got on the field there. He was definitely in the mix.

But then he felt a strange pull. The dream was alive in the desert but the Green Mountains were beckoning.

"I was missing home a little bit. I was missing my Mom and missing the dogs," Lebowitz said.

He made a decision. And Middlebury, a school not far at all from where he was born, was beginning to look very good.

He had never considered it before. The dream had always been Division I, after all.

"I kind of scoffed at Middlebury," he said.

Not now. "Middlebury is the perfect school. I have no regrets," Lebowitz said.

Milano was brilliant last season. He had 24 touchdown passes against only three interceptions.

He was injured against Colby. Nothing serious. His time on the sideline was brief.

But it enabled Lebowitz to get on the field. He led the Panthers on a touchdown drive. He kept the march going with a couple of long completions and capped it with a laser to Ryan Rizzo in the end zone. Panther fans got to see the future. Milano is a senior and Lebowitz has two years of eligibility after this one.

The ball came out of his hand so quickly and two of the throws had so much zing on them they made it into a small window when his receivers were well covered. He finished the game 5-of-9 for 77 yards. The prototypical QB coaches love these days at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, he also had a 15-yard run.

It was business as usual for Milano. He threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns.

"Matt is our starter. He has more familiarity with the offense," coach Bob Ritter said.

And Lebowitz is gaining that familiarity.

"Last week at Wesleyan I wasn't as comfortable. My comfort level depends on getting game reps," Lebowitz said.

He knows he needs game time in the offense, but he also understands his role and that Milano is the guy. The relationship between them is special.

"There is a very big mutual respect," Lebowitz said. "When he is out there I am on the sideline helping him out with picking up defensive tendencies. He does the same for me."

He loves the offense. And what passing quarterback would not.

"This is awesome. I am getting more and more comfortable with it. It is a very, very quarterback-friendly offense," Lebowitz said.

Isn't that the truth. The guy Milano waited in line for was McCallum Foote and he has all kinds of school passing records including seven touchdown passes in a game and 8,748 career passing yards. Foote's predecessor Donald McKillop also holds program passing records like 814 completions in a career and 462 yards in a game.

Doesn't look like the well is ready to run dry, either.

"It was a last second decision. I made it on Christmas break," Lebowitz said.

Some Christmas present for Panther fans.

No games, no problem

Husson coach Gabby Price had to be uneasy about the Eagles' home game with Castleton. They had not played since Sept. 12.

A double bye must be as rare as the quick kick on third down has become.

"We just couldn't get a game," Price said, adding that he tried schools as far away as California and Wisconsin in an effort to secure a contest. "I don't know if anyone has a prescription for success for this."

Husson recently added a pharmacy program. Maybe Price could head it up. He seemed to have the prescription: Husson 40, Castleton 7.

It was a big win as the Spartans are supposed to be one of Husson's main challengers as the Eagles try to defend their Eastern Collegiate Football Conference title.

John Smith had 98 yards rushing for Husson and Joe Seccareccis passed for 298.

Cadets rebound

Norwich started 0-3 against a trio of tough Liberty League opponents.

How different everything looks for the Cadets at 1-0 in the ECFC. They started league play with an impressive 31-14 win over Becker.

Coach Mark Murnyack said in the preseason that the Cadets would have to run the ball by committee until somebody emerged. Al Georgio had been the main back and his graduation left a big void.

It might be that someone is emerging. Quincy Williams rushed for 162 yards against the Hawks.

Mount Ida also had an impressive ECFC opener, dropping Gallaudet 43-12.

The other ECFC opener saw SUNY-Maritime routing Anna Maria 44-7 as Nick Fischetti rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns.

Quick kicks

There is some defense being played by Trinity. The Bantams have put up shutouts in their first two games. Spencer Donahue keyed the 24-0 win over Williams with nine tackles and an interception. ... Tim Patricia had seven tackles and an interception for Middlebury. ... It is not taking Conrad Banky long to make a splash as a freshman at Middlebury. He had five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. ... Reece Foy threw for 202 yards and a score to keep Amherst unbeaten with a 37-6 win over Bowdoin. ... Tufts kicker Willie Holmquist was at it again. Last week he kicked three field goals including the winner in overtime. This time his 34-yard field goal was the difference in a 17-16 win over Bates. Alex Snyder passed for the other two scores. ... Devon Carillo ran for two scores including a 19-yard TD with just 3:19 left to help Wesleyan defeat Hamilton 15-10. ... Garrett Dellechiaie had a monster day in Fitchburg State's 36-7 win over Mass.Maritime. He completed 35 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. Devin Summiel caught three of those TD throws. ... Zack Edwards's touchdown pass with 54 seconds left sent the game into overtime for Plymouth State and the Panthers then edged Westfield State 20-19 on a touchdown by Jonathan Young. ... Danny Higgins ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns in Bridgewater State's big 34-27 win over Western Connecticut in the MASCAC. ... Somebody still has to topple Framingham State in the MASCAC if anyone is going to dethrone the Rams. They remained perfect in the league by beating UMass-Dartmouth 26-14. Some accused the Rams of being one dimensional as the result of most of the real estate coming through the air behind talented QB Matt Silva. This time Silva was quiet as Jalen Green piled up 186 yards rushing. Matthew Mangano, Lewis Bailey and Kenneth Bartolo had interceptions for the Rams. ... Sam Ouellette threw for three touchdowns as Endicott beat MIT 31-27. ... Derek Victory had two TD passes for Coast Guard and Kyle Wood made a whopping 18 tackles as the Bears tripped Maine Maritime 21-14. ... Sam Pascale rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns and Alex Hulme had 110 receiving yards to key Salve Regina's 31-13 win over Curry. ... Western New England just keeps rolling. The Golden Bears are 5-0 after beating Nichols 49-6. Tyler Ward led the way by throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for another.

The big games

Middlebury travels to Amherst in the day's biggest NESCAC game, the only meeting of 2-0 teams.

The NEFC is off and Framingham State tries to remain perfect in the MASCAC on the road against Westfield State.

Norwich will try to go to 2-0 in the ECFC but has that long trip to D.C. to play Gallaudet.

Truth be told, it is not a weekend with a lot of scintillating matchups. But those are coming.

And as we all know, when a titillating matchup does not jump out at us, that's when we are often left with a mammoth surprise, the I-didn't-see-that-one-coming game.

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter. He has been D3football.com's Around the Northeast columnist since 2007.

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