By Matt Noonan
Another week of New England NCAA Division III football is quickly approaching, which means it is time to highlight five teams to watch this week (and yes, this weekend, too).
In case you missed it, make sure to check out this week’s Noontime Sports Top 20 New England D-III Poll, which found Western New England in the top spot followed by Endicott College (second) and UMass Dartmouth (third).
Middlebury College: The Panthers’ title defense officially begins this Saturday, September 18 when they visit Williams College in what might be the game of the weekend.
A slew of players from the 2019 squad is back, including quarterback Will Jernigan, halfback LeeCharles McNeil, wide receiver Greg Livingston, and linebacker Jack Pistorius.
Of course, there are others, as well, along with 26 first-years that should help coach Bob Ritter’s squad contend for the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) crown.
Two years ago, the Panthers scored an opening day win over the Ephs — the game was played in Vermont — but a win on Saturday would certainly be the ideal start for Middlebury’s title defense.
Trinity College: Two years after producing just five wins, many, including myself, believe these Bantams will bounce back and be in the mix for the NESCAC crown this fall.
Yet, for Trinity to begin its quest for its initial title since 2018, they must find a way to top — or outlast — Tufts University, which also enters the 2021 season with hopes of contending for a league title, too.
The Jumbos topped the Bantams in 2019 while Trinity beat Tufts, 38-24, on their home turf in 2018.
Keep your eyes on quarterback Seamus Lambert, who was the 2018 Co-NESCAC Rookie of the Year, and linebacker Brian Casagrande, who led the Bantams in tackles during the 2019 season.
Coast Guard Academy: After starting its season with a 16-0 victory over the University of New England, the Bears took a step back last Saturday, falling to Curry College by a score of 21-18.
Saturday’s clash against Nichols College will mark the Bears’ first home game in 672 days — crazy, right? — so scoring a win in New London would certainly help the team regain its week one momentum.
The Bears defense has been a unit to watch thus far, limiting opponents to just 10.5 points per game, along with 297 yards of total offense.
Coast Guard’s defense will be tasked with slowing down an offense that is led by quarterback Logan Sawyer, who tossed three touchdowns last Saturday in the Bison’s come-from-behind win over Anna Maria College.
A player to watch on Saturday is linebacker Connor Healy, who leads the Coast Guard defense with 20 total tackles, including 16 solo stops. He has also recorded one sack (for a loss of two yards), and one pass breakup this season.
Anna Maria College: Credit is due to Dan Mulrooney’s AMCATs, who almost knocked Nichols College last Saturday in their 2021 season-opener.
For most of last Saturday’s non-conference clash, Anna Maria was in control. However, they struggled to stop a Bison’s offense during the second half, which rallied to beat the AMCATs for a hard-fought win.
While the setback might still sting (or be on the team’s mind?), Anna Maria proved they are a team to watch this fall, including this weekend in another non-conference clash with Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
From a quick look at last Saturday’s box score, Anna Maria finished the game with 353 total yards of offense, which was 23 yards more than Nichols. Additionally, quarterback Alex Cohen threw for a game-high 270 yards while Swavaughn Small paced the defense with nine total tackles, including eight solo stops and two tackles for a loss of seven yards.
Husson University: The Eagles will host Dean College on Friday evening — both teams enter the non-conference clash with identical 1-1 records.
Husson enters the third week of the season as an interesting team to watch — sure, they could be 2-0, but the Eagles’ one-point advantage disappeared down the stretch against UMass Dartmouth in their season-opener.
Last week, they needed a late touchdown drive to beat Plymouth State in a hard-fought — and yes, somewhat of a throwback — 10-7 win.
A win over the Bulldogs is certainly possible, but the Eagles defense will need to slow down a passing attack led by quarterback David Curry, who has thrown 607 yards and eight touchdowns.
Husson’s Tucker Buzzell and Kaleb Caron will be players to watch on defense.