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Tier for tier, peer for peer, where the NESCAC fits in

More news about: Bowdoin | Trinity (Conn.)
Bowdoin coach J.B. Wells believes the top players in the NESCAC are at least as good as the top players in the other New England conferences.
Bowdoin athletics photo

What is the New England Small College Athletic Conference? Exactly what is this league cloaked in anonymity by playing only within its own family and not jumping into the fun of the Division III playoffs? Who are these guys?

Our Around The Nation feature decided not to rank the conference when it hammered out the pecking order of the other D-III conferences and for good reason.

"It's the eternal question. How do you compare us when we don't play any teams outside the conference," Bowdoin coach J.B. Wells said.

Yet, Wells and a number of other coaches are entrusted with doing exactly that. He is one of the coaches on the panel that does the voting for the New England Division III Football Poll each week.

Five of the 10 NESCAC teams have found their way into the top 10 in that poll, which has had the NEFC's Western New England in the top spot. Obviously, the NESCAC is very highly regarded among the coaches in New England.

"I think the top teams in the NESCAC would win the other conferences in New England easily," Trinity coach Jeff Devanney said.

The NESCAC is composed of Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Williams and Wesleyan.

"If you looked at the teams in each league I would definitely say the top NESCAC teams rank with the top teams in New England," Wells said.

Wells believes the top players in the NESCAC are as good or better than the top players on the teams in the other New England leagues. That is, he said, because the NESCAC teams tend to get more Division I-FCS players than the other teams. These would often be players who chose between football in the Ivy League and the NESCAC. Academics is a big draw at the NESCAC schools, which offer an education stacking up with the best in the country.

The edge the teams in the NEFC, ECFC and MASCAC have is in depth, because the NESCAC has a 75-player limit for its rosters.

But without the NESCAC playing the Western New Englands and Framingham States of the world, the debate will go on forever without resolution.

What we can say about the NESCAC is that it has a rich and long history that would compare favorably with any conference. And, yes, despite playing only eight games and not being eligible for playoffs, football does matter in the NESCAC. It matters a lot.

Nothing matters quite like the Amherst-Williams game. This will be the 132nd meeting between those programs when the Ephs and Lord Jeffs clash in Amherst on Nov. 12.

It can draw more than 10,000, and in 1993, The Biggest Little Game in America attracted a NESCAC record of 13,671 fans.

Then in 2007, ESPN's College GameDay came to the Biggest Little Game in America, the first time for the ESPN traveling carnival to make a stop at a Division III game.

Williams and Amherst are also part of another rivalry series that involves Wesleyan. When any combination from those schools tangle it known as a Little Three Game.

Up in Maine, they have their own special rivalry, the CBB Series involving Colby, Bates and Bowdoin.

"It's a league within a league," Wells said.

The CBB began in 1965 but is a continuation of the old Maine State Series that at one time included the University of Maine.

"It's a little extra for us just like the Little Three is for Williams, Amherst and Wesleyan," Wells said. "Those games mean a lot to our guys and a lot to our alumni."

The CBB games often come in a package that includes adverse weather since they are played near or at the end of the season. There is a memorable photo in the Dec. 4, 2006, issue of Sports Illustrated of the Bates-Colby game that shows players covered with mud in Colby's four-overtime 10-7 victory in which two inches of rain fell just in the 3 hours and 15 minutes of game time. The game was finally settled on Brian Bachow's field goal.

The photo shows Bates' Jamie Walker moving a number of Colby players during one of his 43 carries that day.

Wells is a former Trinity player, and one reason he came back to the NESCAC after building a regional power at Endicott was to get back to the league with all its history and traditions.

"Coach [Donald] Miller always used to say that NESCAC football is the most pure form of football," Wells said.

The history is never lost on Wells, especially as the Polar Bears celebrate an anniversary.

"It means everything. This is the 125th season of Bowdoin football. That's pretty incredible," he said.

But back to the level of the top players in the league. Devanney has a couple of tackles that he is certain could be playing at least at the FCS level.

"Chris Simmons is 6-4, 305 without any body fat," Devanney said. "I am surprised he didn't have nine scholarship offers."

And then there is Austin Baiardi at the other tackle, a player who drew interest from the likes of Cornell and Colgate.

"They were all talking about him, but he wanted a different experience. He wanted to play right away and to study abroad as a junior.

"We have a lot of I-AA type players who either fell through the cracks or wanted a different experience," Devanney said.

Middlebury has been winning games with a prolific passing teams for a number of years now under coach Bob Ritter, and a couple of the quarterbacks have come from the FCS level [Mac Foote, Brown] or the FBS level in the case of today's quarterback Jared Lebowitz, who transferred from UNLV.

Lebowitz threw three more touchdown passes on Saturday in a 27-26 win over Amherst. That gives him 13 touchdown passes in the three games.

There was plenty of more notable accomplishments in the NESCAC this week. Sandy Plaskes threw four touchdown passes as Williams beat Bates 29-17. Frank Williams caught three of them.

Carter Massengill made both field goal attempts for Middlebury in its one-point win.

Mark Piccirillo rushed for 109 yards and threw for 127 in leading Wesleyan to a 37-6 victory over Colby.

Sonny Puzzo threw two touchdown passes to help Trinity to the 37-6 win over Hamilton.

Puzzo threw nine interceptions last year and has not thrown one this season for the 3-0 Bantams.

"That is a testament to his off-season study," Devvaney said. "He spent a lot of time learning the offense and studying what teams were doing on defense."

Eric Sachse made all three of his field goal attempts for the Bantams and Spencer Donahue had two interceptions.

Linebacker Liam Kenneally has also been a big piece of that defense.

"He's all over the field," Devanney said.

Tufts went up to Bowdoin and won 41-21 to extend its record to 3-0. Willie Holmquist made both field goals including one from 46 yards prompting a member of the Bowdoin broadcast team to say that he had an NFL leg.

There is already a NESCAC kicker in the NFL: Steve Hauschka of Middlebury, the outstanding Seattle kicker.

Also a key performer in the win for Tufts was Ryan McDonald, who rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

It is the passion of the players and alumni that stamps the NESCAC as a special place.

"Every game we have former players from the 1950s and 1960s at our games," Wells said.

The late W.C. Heinz, acknowledged by many as the greatest sports writer of the last century, once told me that while a student at Middlebury, he sneaked out of a sick bed in the infirmary to cover a Middlebury football game for the campus newspaper.

That is the passion that still surrounds the NESCAC today.

Around the ECFC

Norwich, Husson, SUNY-Maritime and Castleton were the winners in the ECFC.

Husson rolled past Gallaudet 50-16 as Cory Brandon threw three touchdown passes.

Mitch Caron threw for 277 yards with two touchdowns and Darren Callen had a whopping 21 tackles to help Castleton past Mount Ida, 26-14,

Quarterback Philippe Bazinet ran for 106 yards and Quincy Williams added 93 as Norwich ran by Becker 22-13. Wes Medeiros made three of his four field goal attempts for the Cadets who notched their first win.

Thomas Wright passed for 294 yards to lead SUNY-Maritime to a 22-0 win over Anna Maria.

MASCAC madness

There were close games in the MASCAC where Western Connecticut outgunned Mass. Maritime, and Framingham State got by Westfield State 30-28.

Quinn Fleeting had three touchdown passes for Western Connecticut, and Kareen Patterson keyed the defense with eight tackles, an interception and three pass break-ups.

Shawn St. Marie made his field goal, and Adam Wojenski had two touchdown passes for Framingham.

Worcester State edged Fitchburg State 17-14 when Derek Moore caught a touchdown pass from Ismael Jenkins with 1:59 remaining. Noah Hwang had a field goal and Rafael Guzman two interceptions.

Bridgewater statement

Bridgewater State has been on a roll since MASCAC play began. The Bears are 4-2 but 4-0 in the league after topping UMass-Dartmouth 27-19.

Alex McLaughlin rushed for a career-high 207 yards and a score. Steven Jacobs was the man on the other side of the ball with 16 tackles including 3.5 for a loss.

The big games

Tufts is at Trinity for the NESCAC's biggest game. A close game is expected, the kind of contest where you love having Holmquist's leg as a weapon. But the Bantams rarely lose in Hartford.

Husson and Castleton are both 2-0 in the ECFC and they meet at CU's Spartan Stadium.

Bridgewater State hosts Plymouth in the MASCAC's marquee game.

The NEFC is back after everyone had a bye last week. Curry's visit to Coast Guard looks like he most competitive game. Western New England tries to stay unbeaten when the Golden Bears host MIT.

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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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