Football Friday: Revisiting Middlebury’s Perfect 2019 Season

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Middlebury College quarterback Will Jernigan guided the Panthers to its third perfect season in program history in 2019. (PHOTO COURTESY: Will Costello)

By Matt Noonan 

Happy Friday, everyone.

And welcome to our first of many ‘Football Friday’ posts, which will revisit (and yes, highlight, too) previous campaigns, stories, and games we have covered since our blog began pressing the publish button back in May 2009.

Today, we’re revisiting last year’s perfect season by the Middlebury College football team, which saw the Panthers win nine games, as well as capture the 2019 New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title.

The 2019 NESCAC crown was the team’s first outright title since 2007. It was also the program’s fourth championship – they shared the crown in 2000 and 2013.

Middlebury’s run toward its first conference crown in nearly a decade featured many twists and turns, including an epic double-overtime win over Amherst College (34-31), along with two hard-fought season-ending victories against Hamilton College (14-7) and Tufts University (31-24). 

While the team’s three-point win over the Mammoths may have been their most thrilling victory of the 2019 season, they also scored some dramatic (and last second) victories against Colby College (27-26) and Williams College (17-13).

The one-point win over the Mules was something I discussed with Colby’s head coach Jack Cosgrove earlier this summer – he told me it “would have been a great win for (his) program.”

Middlebury, which entered the game riding a four-game winning streak, was held to just seven points in the final frame while the visitors produced 13 points on two touchdowns – they almost finished the frame with 16 points, but a game-ending 29-yard field goal sailed wide of the goalposts.

“Yeah, we were in a football game,” Cosgrove said of his team’s heartbreaking defeat to the Panthers.

But beyond their epic and dramatic finishes, Middlebury’s most impressive performance of the 2019 season occurred one week after their win over Colby when they defeated Wesleyan University in a battle of undefeated teams.

Middlebury beat Wesleyan, 45-21 while finishing the game with 529 yards of total offense. Will Jernigan, who was named the NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year, concluded the highly anticipated matchup with four touchdown passes, while halfback Alex Maldjian rushed for a game-high 95 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns.

Jack Pistorius led the Panthers defense with 10 total tackles, including two sacks for a loss of 11 yards while Nick Leone finished with four total stops, which included three tackles for a loss of 12 yards.

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Middlebury College’s Will Jernigan was named the 2019 NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year. (PHOTO COURTESY: Will Costello)

Middlebury would continue its winning ways over the next three weeks to cap its perfect season, but as noted above, their final two victories over Hamilton and Tufts were certainly not easy.

The Continentals of Hamilton limited the Panthers to their fewest points in a single contest (14) – they also kept Middlebury off the scoreboard for three-straight quarters.

Against the Jumbos, Middlebury needed its defense to fend off a late rally by Tufts, which came within one touchdown with 13 seconds remaining. The Panthers recovered the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff to not only seal the win but cap its magical season with a perfect season.

Unfortunately, the Panthers won’t have a chance to defend their conference crown this fall due to the conference canceling competition because of the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, but you can bet that Middlebury would have been ready to go toe-to-toe with its conference foes, including both Wesleyan and Williams College, which finished their respective campaigns with identical 8-1 records.

The 2019 NESCAC football season was exciting, but the wait for its next kickoff – not just Middlebury’s, but all 10 teams – will certainly be worth it.

D3 Football Notebook: NESCAC Quarterbacks Impressive In First Week

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Middlebury College quarterback Jared Lebowitz tossed three touchdowns in his team’s season-opening win over Wesleyan. (Photo Credit: Middlebury College Athletics)

By Matt Noonan (@MattNoonan11) 

The third week of the Division III football season saw some impressive quarterback performances, including a few from the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which officially began its season last Saturday, September 16th.

Three NESCAC quarterbacks concluded the first week with four touchdowns, while three student-athletes tossed two scores. Middlebury’s Jared Lebowitz was the lone NESCAC quarterback to throw three touchdowns – his final score came in the middle of the fourth quarter, which provided the hosts with a 17-point advantage (30-13) with 9:17 remaining.

Middlebury hung onto defeat Wesleyan, 30-27, thanks to its defense down the stretch.

One of the three student-athletes to toss a pair of scores in his team’s opening day win was Williams’ Bobby Maimaron, who concluded his first collegiate game with 283 passing yards. Maimaron recorded his first collegiate touchdown pass in the opening minutes of the second quarter with a 93-yard strike to Frank Stola – the 93-yard pass was the longest heave by any of the 10 NESCAC signal-callers.

Amherst quarterback Ollie Eberth, who was one of three student-athletes to toss four touchdowns, recorded a 75-yard touchdown pass to Craig Carmilani in the third quarter, which provided the Mammoths with a 27-3 lead. Amherst would go onto capture its first game by defeating Bates, 41-17.

Wesleyan’s Mark Piccirillo did not throw a 70 or 90-yard pass, but did conclude his team’s initial contest with four scores and 432 passing yards. And 15 of his 39 completions were hauled in by Mike Breuler, who is currently second in the league with three touchdown receptions. Hamilton’s Joe Schmidt currently leads all NESCAC receives with four touchdown receptions.

We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on all of these student-athletes this week when they return to the gridiron on Saturday, September 23rd. The NESCAC will feature five games this weekend, including a 6 p.m. kick-off between Tufts and Wesleyan – the game will be played at Wesleyan.

Another big NESCAC game to watch this week is Amherst at Hamilton – this could be a battle of two great offenses, especially from what we saw in the opening week. Hamilton recorded 28 points in his season-opening setback to Tufts, while Amherst tallied 41 points against Bates.

SUNY Maritime’s Matthew Murphy Eclipse 100-point Plateau: For the third-straight week, the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) honored SUNY Maritime’s kicker Matthew Murphy as the Special Teams Player of the Week. As noted in Tuesday’s press release, this is the seventh time Murphy has been honored by the ECFC for his kicking.

Additionally, Murphy was tabbed the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III South Region Special Teams Player of the Week for the second consecutive week after booting a career-long 48 yard field, while connecting on five extra point attempts in his team’s seven-point (38-31) win over Merchant Marine.

As noted in today’s release, Murphy is now the program’s third kicker (and seventh student-athlete) to record 100 points or more in his career.

According to the latest NCAA Division III Football statistics, Murphy is tied for seventh in the country in field goals per game (two) and 32nd in field goal percentage (.857).

In addition to Murphy, wide receiver Brandonn Drumgole was named this week’s ECFC Offensive Player of the Week after hauling in 13 receptions for the second-straight week – the 13 receptions in back-to-back weeks are both program records. Drumgole also established a new single-game receiving record of 164 yards against Merchant Marine – he also caught two touchdowns in his team’s seven-point win to bump his season total to five scores.

Program Note: Make sure to circle back later this week for our weekly 10 Games to Watch post, which does include some non-New England teams, as well as a brad new Football Friday Podcast. The Football Friday Podcast is a brand new podcast we started prior to kick-off this season that highlights the various teams, coaches and student-athletes we cover. 

Be Social: Stay connected with Noontime Sports on Social Media by becoming a fan of our site on Facebook, while following us on Twitter, too. You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel and join our email list – sign-up today by submitting your email on the right side of the screen if you’re on a laptop or computer or at the bottom of this post on your tablet or phone. 

Story Ideas: Have a good feature on college or high school sports here in New England or the Northeast? Let us know by sending us a tip, idea or thought to NoontimeSports@gmail.com. We welcome all suggestions, friends! 

Former Bates Quarterback Matt Bazirgan Named New York Jets New College Scouting Director

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(PHOTO COURTESY: Bates College Football)

By Matt Noonan (@MattNoonan11) 

Former Bates College quarterback Matt Bazirgan was recently named the new College Scouting Director of the New York Jets.

The news of Bazigran’s new gig was confirmed today, Friday, July 28th by multiple reports, including Jets Wire of the USA Today

Bazigran began working for the Jets in 2004 as a College Scout Assistant, and spent the past two seasons as the organization’s Director of Pro Personnel. Bazigran replaces Rex Hogan, who accepted a front office position with the Indianapolis Colts last month.

A former quarterback (and intern coach) for the Bobcats, Bazigran, who concluded his senior year with eight touchdown passes, graduated from Bates in 2000. He would earn his Masters in Sports Management from Springfield College in 2004.

Noontime Sports The Podcast: Episode 14 (James Baker | In The HuddLLe)

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By NoontimeSports (@NoontimeSports

In honor of the NCAA Division III Football Tournament, which kicks-off this weekend, Noontime Sports the Podcast welcomed back James Baker, who is one of the co-hosts of In The HuddLLe – yes, two ‘L’s’ – to discuss the first round of the playoffs.

Baker and host Matt Noonan discussed the ‘Alfred’ section of the tournament tree, primarily the Saxons’ game against Bridgewater State, Western New England hosting Husson and Hobart drawing perennial powerhouse Mount Union.

In addition to some NCAA Tournament talk, Noonan and Baker also discussed the inaugural New England Football Bowl, which takes place this Saturday (Salve Regina versus Framingham State), and the final week of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) football season, too.

Make sure to follow Baker and co-host Frank Rossi on Twitter!

Catching Up With Trinity College Senior Safety Spencer Donahue

Trinity College senior Spencer Donahue was tabbed this week's NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week following an impressive performance against Middlebury College last Saturday. (Photo Credit: Trinity College Athletics)

Trinity College senior Spencer Donahue was tabbed this week’s NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week following an impressive performance against Middlebury College last Saturday. (Photo Credit: Trinity College Athletics | David B. Newman)

By NoontimeSports.com 

Last weekend, Trinity College senior Spencer Donahue turned in an impressive defensive performance, tallying six solo stops, including a pair of sacks, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two pass break-ups to help the Bantams secure an important New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) win over Middlebury College.

Donahue’s effort last Saturday earned him this week’s NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Our defense prepared extremely well for (last weekend’s game) against Middlebury,” said Donahue. “Middlebury had been having success (through the air), so that was definitely a point of emphasis for us during the week, but we couldn’t overlook their running game, too.”

Trinity’s defense limited Middlebury’s air attack to a season-low 126 passing yards, while finishing the game with five interceptions and five sacks.

Earlier this week, we caught up with Donahue to talk about his team’s impressive win against the Panthers, Trinity’s final home game of the season against Amherst College on Saturday, and if he watched the Chicago Cubs break a 108-yard-old curse.

Did you imagine your defense would record five interceptions and five sacks against a talented offense? 

Our coaches prepared a great game plan, so we knew as long as we executed good things would (happen).

You had a big game individually – earned this week’s NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week honors – what worked for you this past week? 

My teammates did an incredible job at executing and making plays when the opportunities arose, so I just tried to follow their lead.

This Saturday marks your final home game as a member of the Bantams’ football program. Care to share a favorite memory/moment of playing in front of the hometown fans? 

Unfortunately, I cannot think of a specific moment (or memory), but the atmosphere here at Trinity on a Saturday is electric. It is something I will really miss once my career is over.

What does your team need to do to be successful this weekend against Amherst? 

We really just need to stay focused. We need to continue to approach each day with the same intensity and energy that we have done throughout season.

A few non-football questions, starting with your major: economics. How did you choose your major and what do you hope to do with it? 

I took an (econ class) my sophomore year and really enjoyed it. Although it was one of the more difficult classes I took here at Trinity, I felt that it taught me more about how the world functioned, as well as how finance and economics impact our society. After graduation, I am hoping to go into commercial real estate.

Being from Illinois, I would presume you’re a Chicago sports fan, so have you been following the Chicago Cubs in the World Series? 

I am actually not a true Chicago sports fan. The Minnesota Vikings are my favorite NFL team, but I do root for the Chicago Cubs. I enjoy going to their games in the summer, but it’s been great for Chicago to have the Cubs back in the World Series and win their first World Series since 1908.

What has been the greatest advice you have received from a football Coach – either past or current?

I would say that the greatest advice any coach has given me is to just have fun and enjoy the game. Football is a tough sport and I have had a lot of ups and downs while playing it, but any time that I get to put my pads on and compete alongside my teammates is truly a blessing. I just try to cherish every moment of it.

Have you always played safety? If not, what other positions have you played? 

I started playing football in third grade – I played running back before transitioning into a receiver and cornerback my freshman year of high school. One year later, I transitioned into a safety and have played the position ever since.

Do you idol your game after a current or past professional football player? 

Yes, I would have to say that my favorite player is Tyrann Mathieu, who is a safety for the Arizona Cardinals. I love the way he plays – I try to do my best to play with the same intensity and fearlessness that he does.

Three favorite movies of all-time? 

Forrest Gump, The Dark Night, and Saving Private Ryan

Finally, your favorite non-football activity? 

Golfing.