Noontime’s ‘What If’ D3 Football Conference Champion Predictions

Bobby Maimaron and the Williams College football team would have been one of our teams to watch this fall. (PHOTO COURTESY: Kris Dufour/Williams College)

By Matt Noonan

Like many of our fans and friends, I miss New England D-III football. But as an optimist, I believe we’ll see our favorite teams and student-athletes back on the gridiron at this time next year vying for conference crowns, along with at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.

And speaking of conference crowns – and yes, the national postseason, too – I thought it would be fun to produce a special Noontime’s ‘What If‘ post on which teams I believe would have won their respective conference this fall.

As expected, these predictions were not easy as there are a slew of teams and programs capable of winning their respective conference, but here are my predictions. And as usual, you can share your thoughts with me on social media, as well as send a note to MattNoonan@noontimesports.com.

Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC): Western New England

For the past few seasons, the Golden Bears have been the team to watch and beat in this conference. And once again, Western New England would be the squad to watch in the CCC this fall. They would most likely enter their final game of the regular season with two important wins against Endicott College and Salve Regina University. And like most teams highlighted in this post, the 2020 Golden Bears would look a bit different than previous years, especially on offense as they would have a new quarterback, but their defense would be be a unit to watch – it would be led by linebacker Erich Keutmann, who was named a D3Football.com Preseason All-America second-teamer in September.

Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC): Dean College

The Bulldogs captured their first-ever conference crown last season, thanks to quarterback Terrell Watts, who was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, along with wide receiver Errol Breaux and safety Tyzohn Poole. Of course, there would be other student-athletes to watch as the season progressed, but at this point of the 2020 season, the Bulldogs would have claimed some important wins against Castleton University and SUNY Maritime. They would have also beaten a new D-III football team: Keystone College.

Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC): Framingham State University

Like Western New England, it is hard to pick against the Rams, which would be starting a new chapter in its program history with first-year coach Aynsley Rosenbaum, who spent the past 12 seasons overseeing the Framingham State offense. But like prior years, this would be the team to watch in the MASCAC. Sure, they would look a bit different on offense without quarterback Adam Wojenski, who graduated last spring, but the Rams would welcome back some key pieces from that unit, including halfback Devaun Ford, who was named the 2019 MASCAC Rookie of the Year. Framingham State would be challenged for the top spot by Bridgewater State, UMass Dartmouth, and Western Connecticut.

New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC): Williams College

The Ephs of Williams College suffered just two setbacks last season, including an opening day loss to Middlebury College, which would be a game circled on their calendar this season. Williams would somehow find a way to beat the Panthers at home, along with Wesleyan University, which tripped up the Ephs prior to their season-ending win over Amherst College last November. But for the Ephs to win the NESCAC, they would not only need to beat Amherst, Middlebury, and Wesleyan, but also Trinity College and Tufts University. Additionally, let’s not overlook Colby College and Hamilton College, which would challenge the Purple and Yellow, but in the end, quarterback Bobby Maimaron, along with the rest of the Ephs would make just a few more plays in all nine contests to secure the NESCAC title.

New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC): Springfield College

Sure, MIT maybe the favorite after winning the NEWMAC crown the past two years, but it would be hard to overlook Springfield College, which would be led by halfback Hunter Belzo and linebacker AJ Smith. The Pride, which finished with six wins last year, would win at least seven, maybe eight games this season, but their most important victory would occur during the final weekend of the regular season against the Engineers in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Football Friday: Revisiting Framingham State’s 2012 Campaign

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Framingham State’s Melikke Van Alstyne chases Endicott College’s PJ Bandini after an interception in the second half. (Photo Credit: Matt Noonan/NoontimeSports.com)

By Matt Noonan 

Happy Friday, everyone!

And welcome to our second installment of ‘Football Friday,’ a post where we revisit stories, teams, coaches, and student-athletes that we have covered over the past decade.

Today, we’re jumping back to 2012 to highlight a Framingham State University football team that not only won the New England Football Conference (NEFC) championship against Salve Regina University but also advanced to its first-ever NCAA D-III Tournament.

The Rams’ run toward a national championship, unfortunately, concluded in the opening round against SUNY Cortland – the Red Dragons edged Framingham State, 20-19, despite a fourth-quarter rally by the Black and Gold.

Yet, despite a one-point setback in the national tournament, the 2012 season was quite a memorable one for the Rams, which captured the program’s first and only NEFC title, while four members of the squad, including coach Tom Kelley, garnered major postseason awards from the conference. Additionally, Framingham State won 10 games for the first time in program history and only lost once in the regular season to Endicott College, which defeated the 2011 NEFC Bogan Division and Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) champions on the opening day of the 2012 season.

Endicott’s defense shined in its week one victory against the Rams as the unit finished the contest with five interceptions, five tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery, and a trio of pass break-ups.

“We stuffed them on first down (and) forced them (into) long second downs (and) that really got them out of their groove,” Endicott’s Andrew Holfinger said following his team’s initial win of its 2012 campaign.

Luckily, the loss to the Gulls was quickly forgotten six days later when Framingham State scored its first win of the 2012 season against Nichols College.

The Rams, who defeated the Bison by a score of 34-6, leaned on its ground game as both Matthew Mangano and Melikke Van Alstyne combined for four touchdowns and 393 rushing yards.

The victory over the Bison seemed to provide the Rams with a ton of momentum as they would go onto capture its next nine contests, including a 16-0 win over rival Bridgewater State University followed by an exciting overtime victory against Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Not only did the Framingham State offense shine throughout the 2012 season, but so did  the defense, which limited its numerous foes to 12.8 points per game, along with 63.0 rushing yards per contest.

After registering just seven points in the opening week, the Rams concluded seven contests with 30 points or more. But during the team’s final regular-season contest against Worcester State University, all three units – offense, defense, and special teams – collaborated to produce a season-high 65 points.

The 65-21 win over the Lancers allowed the Rams to clinch its second-straight NEFC Bogan Division crown, as well as secure a spot in the conference’s championship round one week later against Salve Regina.

“We’re certainly going to be tested,” Kelley said when previewing his team’s contest against the Seahawks at the New England Football Writers’ Gridiron Club of Greater Boston luncheon, which was held at Harvard University.

Salve Regina entered the contest with an identical 9-1 record. The Seahawks averaged nearly 400 yards of offense while the defense limited opponents to roughly two touchdowns per game.

But despite scoring the first points of the 2012 NEFC title game, Salve Regina struggled to contain both Melikke Van Alstyne and Matthew Silva, who combined for three rushing touchdowns. 

James Muirhead led the Rams defense with eight total tackles, including three stops for a loss of 17 yards and one forced fumble.

Salve Regina, which trailed Framingham State by four points (14-10) at the break, attempted to mount a late comeback during the final minutes of the fourth quarter but saw its rally dashed when the Rams recovered its onside kick.

Moments after the final kickoff of the game was recorded, the Rams celebrated a hard-fought championship, which Muirhead considered “so surreal.”

“All the hard work paid off,” said Muirhead, who was named the Bull Mottola Championship Game Most Valuable Player Award following the final whistle.

“I don’t really have any words to explain it,” he would add.

The 28-16 win over the Seahawks was a culmination of the Rams’ commitment of hard work and determination that was fueled by an overtime setback one year earlier in the same contest to Western New England. And while the victory over the Seahawks did not spark a deep postseason run, it was certainly the beginning of many more conference titles and postseason appearances for a squad that has maintained its success over the past few years.

Watching – and yes, covering – this team truly made me fall in love more with small college football. The 2012 season truly marked the beginning of my tenure of producing content on various New England D-III athletic teams and programs, and I am thankful for the time both Tom Kelley and the players provided me throughout this exciting and historic campaign.

NCAA D-III Presidents Council Cancels Fall Sports Championships

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Photo Courtesy: NCAA D-III Twitter

By Matt Noonan 

There will be no fall sports championships for any NCAA D-III member for the upcoming academic year.

In a statement posted (and seen) on the NCAA D-III Twitter handle earlier today, the President’s Council officially put an end to any thought or hope of fall championships due to the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The announcement follows a previous announcement from the NCAA Board of Governors from earlier today, which “directed each division to make a decision on its fall championships.”

“Looking at the health and safety challenges we face this fall during this unprecedented time, we had to make this tough decision to cancel championships for fall sports this academic year in the best interest of our student-athletes and member institutions,” said Tori Murden McClure, who is the chair of the President’s Council and president at Spalding, in a statement.

McClure did add that the championship committee “reviewed the financial and logistical ramifications” for having fall sports championships moved to next spring, but realized ” it was logistically untenable and financially prohibitive.” This would mean the next time any of us see a D-III football game won’t be until 2021.

As of now, the hope, according to McClure, is to provide both the winter and spring student-athletes with a championship experience that they did not endure earlier this year when both seasons abruptly concluded in mid-March.

NCAA D-III Reduces Number Of Games Required For Championship Selection

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NCAA D-III Football teams will only need to compete in five games this season to be eligible for the postseason. (PHOTO COURTESY: Visualunt.com)

By Matt Noonan

The upcoming NCAA D-III sports season will look a bit different than usual due to the ongoing pandemic, which brought an end to multiple winter championships in March, along with numerous spring sports seasons.

Yesterday the Division III Administrative Committee approved the recommendation from the Division III Membership and Championships Committee to allow its various members to compete in fewer contests than usual this upcoming school year – 33 percent less than normal, to be exact – so they can be eligible to contend for a national title.

The reduction of contests will allow each institution to remain in compliance to compete for a championship but also provide flexibility for athletic departments when it comes to scheduling to “seeking relief in the form of waivers.”

“We hope that a reduction in contest minimums will provide flexibility to our member schools as they work to reopen during what is a very uncertain and complex time,” said Tori Murden McClure, the chair of the committee and Spalding president, in Friday’s release. “We understand this won’t fix everything for everyone, but we believe it is the right move at this time and we will remain flexible moving forward.”

The flexibility will certainly help schools when it comes to reopening – it is possible some schools could start earlier or later like a slew of Division I institutions announced this month, including Notre Dame and Syracuse University.

Football teams, including those here in New England, would only need to compete in five contests this fall to be eligible to compete in the NCAA D-III postseason while basketball teams will need to play 12 contests.

As of now, it appears fall championships will occur, but those plans could be altered due to the coronavirus (Covid-19).

Noontime’s Top 10 New England College Football Rivalries

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By NoontimeSports.com 

There is nothing better than a rivalry, especially on the gridiron. And we have quite a few here in New England, but which one is the best?

Well, we think this list features the best rivalries – 10 to be exact – but if you feel we missed a game (or two), let us know by leaving a comment below. All ideas are welcome!

1. Harvard University vs. Yale University: Hands down, this is the best New England college football rivalry. And while some may think Amherst-Williams belongs in this spot, Harvard-Yale is just as important as The Biggest Little Game in America. The Bulldogs needed two extra sessions this past year to edge the Crimson, 50-43, to claim the 136th edition of The Game. Harvard captured the 2018 meeting, which was played at Fenway Park.

2. Amherst College vs. Williams College: As mentioned above, Harvard-Yale, Amherst-Williams are the two of the best rivalries in New England, but there is nothing better than being in the stands in Amherst or Williamstown in early November to watch this game. The Ephs won their last meeting against the Mammoths by a score of 31-9 and finished their 2019 campaign with their best record under head coach Mark Raymond.

3. Bentley University vs. Stonehill College: The 35th meeting between these two programs was an instant classic. Taking place last October, Falcons won the game on a last-second 32-yard field goal by Grant Buchanan. The win was the Falcons’ second-straight against the Skyhawks, as well as their first against their rival in Easton, Massachusetts since 2011.

4. Maine vs. New Hampshire: The Black Bears may have won the first-ever meeting between these two programs, but the Wildcats have been rather successful since that initial games, especially these past few years. New Hampshire beat Maine twice in the last three seasons, including last fall in their season finale. The winner of each matchup claims the Brice-Cowell Musket, which is named after the former head coaches of the two programs.

5. The Colby-Bates-Bowdoin Trophy (CBB): Since 1892, Bates CollegeBowdoin College, and Colby College have been playing football against each other. And believe it or not, but Bowdoin and Colby have competed against each other 131 times with the Mules winning their most recent meeting with the Polar Bears last November. The win provided Colby with its second-straight CBB title after Bates claimed the crown from 2014-2017. Bowdoin last won the trophy in 2010 when they beat Colby in the final game of the season by a score of 26-21.

6. Coast Guard Academy vs. Norwich University: “The Little Army-Navy Game” is always a must-see, must-watch affair in September, October, or November. The two teams, who entered their previous meeting with identical 2-0 records, first met in 1929. The winner claims “The Mug,” which was donated by The Day with the first award being presented at the conclusion of the third meeting in 1931. Coast Guard currently leads the all-time series, but the Cadets won the most recent contest last September, thanks to an impressive second-half comeback.

7. Dartmouth College vs. New Hampshire: This may not be the most well-known rivalry to current football fans (and players), but the Big Green and Wildcats have met quite a few times over the past few decades. In fact, the first-ever meeting between Dartmouth and New Hampshire occurred in 1901 with the Green and White claiming a 51-0 victory. The two teams last met in 2016 but will meet again in 2021.

8. MIT-WPI: Sure, WPI’s longstanding rivalry may be RPI, but from an in-state (or in-region) opponent, it has to be MIT, right? The Engineers of Cambridge won the first six meetings – both MIT and WPI initially met in 1888 – but since 2001, the Engineers of Worcester have won six of seven contests. The two teams began playing against each other every year since 2015. Last fall, MIT snapped WPI’s six-game winning streak by securing a hard-fought win in double-overtime. The victory was MIT’s first against WPI since 1900.

9. Endicott College vs. Western New England: This always seems to be a must-see, must-follow contest, no matter the records. But for the past few years, this has been the de-facto conference championship game. The Golden Bears have won two of the last three meetings while Endicott captured the 2018 meeting. The win over WNE in 2018 provided Endicott with its sixth victory at home against its rival while snapping the Golden Bears’ 25-game conference winning streak.

10. Southern Connecticut vs. University of New Haven: The Elm City Trophy has resided in New Haven these past few seasons, but the Owls did make things interesting last October. The Chargers have won 24 of the 31 meetings in this series and will attempt to continue its recent momentum against the Owls when they visit West Haven, Connecticut later this year.