Football suffers first loss of season against Middlebury

Joe LaRocca

Despite holding the Middlebury offense scoreless in the second half on Saturday, football (4-1, 4-1 in the NESCAC) was unable to come back from a significant early deficit as they fell short to Middlebury 21-10.

The Panthers controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish, racking up 278 rushing yards and holding the Ephs to their lowest point total of the season in a convincing win. In the first half, quarterback Will Jernigan scored three touchdowns as Middlebury dominated possession time and led long, methodical drives.

The Panthers only ran two plays that gained more than 20 yards, but a combined 56 rushing attempts from Jernigan and running back Peter Scibilia kept the defensive line honest. The Ephs’ defense  didn’t allow a single point in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to come back from the largest deficit Williams has faced this season.

The Ephs defense started off strong, as a Middlebury drive deep into Williams territory ended abruptly when safety Luke Apuzzi ’20 deflected a Jernigan pass, which was then intercepted by defensive back Jake Kastenhuber ’21. The men then gave the ball right back, as a miscommunication between quarterback Bobby Maimaron ’21 and wide receiver Frank Stola ’21 resulted in an easy interception for the Middlebury defense.

The Panthers capitalized on the turnover, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives, the last being an impressive nine-play, 96-yard march down the field to make it 21-3.

Late in the second quarter, Williams had an opportunity to cut into Middlebury’s 18-point lead, but a botched snap led to a fumble on the exchange, which the Panthers pounced on immediately to end the scoring chance with less than a minute to go in the first half.

The Ephs had many opportunities to get back into the game late. After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half, cutting the deficit to 21-10, Williams had five different chances to cut into the lead further. But three of those drives resulted in punts, one in a turnover on downs and the fifth on a game-sealing interception with under four minutes to play.

Williams was unable to get into an offensive rhythm for the whole game as Maimaron was constantly under duress, while the running backs were unable to find many lanes, and the receivers were uable to break away from tight press-man coverage.

Middlebury outperformed Williams in three key areas during the game. First, the Panthers won the turnover battle, 2-1, forcing a second-quarter fumble. This loomed large for the rest of the game and shifted the momentum. Second, Middlebury converted 12 of 23 (52.2%) third- and fourth-down attempts, compared to just 5 of 16 for Williams (31.3%). But most importantly, the Panthers more than tripled the Ephs’ rushing total, rumbling for 278 yards compared to just 92 for Williams.

“It is what it is. They outplayed us and outcoached us today, and they deserved a victory,” head coach Mark Raymond said after the loss. But Raymond is confident that his team will bounce back from the setback. “I expect them, as I always do, to work hard, prepare hard and play hard.”

Maimaron finished the day 20-for-38 with 239 passing yards, with a rushing touchdown, but also a lost fumble and threw his first two interceptions of the season.

While Maimaron led the rushing attack with 55 yards, running back Carter Begel ’22 played well in place of  injured starting running back TJ Dozier ’21, rushing nine times for 40 yards and catching two passes for 21 receiving yards. Stola once again had a standout game, catching nine passes for 88 yards. Apuzzi led the defense with 11 tackles (9 solo), a tackle for loss and an interception.

For the Panthers, Jernigan went 18-for-31 with 162 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Scabilia was impressive all game, picking up 178 yards from scrimmage. No Middlebury receiver caught more than 4 passes or amassed more than 39 yards, but given Middlebury’s strong running game, it was enough.

Injuries have become a concern for the Ephs, as Dozier and linebacker TJ Rothmann ’21 – two of the team’s most impactful players – both left the game with injuries and did not return.

Next week, the Ephs hope to rebound on the road against Tufts (4-1) at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, who also suffered their first loss of the season this week against Trinity.