MIDDLEBURY, VT– Hot off a 47-14 win against Bates, the Williams College Ephs (3-1) visited the undefeated Middlebury Panthers (4-0). Last week, Middlebury beat Amherst, who were also undefeated at the time, 35-31. The Ephs had lost five in a row against the Panthers coming into the game, although they had won 11 in a row before the current losing streak. In an incredible finish, Williams won the game 27-26 on the last play of the game.
The Ephs elected to receive, but punted soon after gaining possession. Middlebury then started at their own 43. The defense looked poised for a stop, but on 3rd and 2, quarterback Jared Lebowitz threw the ball deep to Frank Cosolito, drawing a pass interference call in the process. The new set of downs allowed the Panthers offense to reset, and continue to drive down the field. Eventually, the Panthers scored after a 19-yard pass to a wide-open Maxwell Rye, bringing the score to 7-0.
Rye was heavily involved in the Panthers' next scoring play. Facing 4th and long, Middlebury was forced to punt. Rye stuck his punt to the 1-yard line, giving the Williams offense no room to work. After 3 downs with no net yardage, the Ephs were forced to punt from deep in their own territory. The Panthers rushed nearly all their men at Eph punter Adam Regensburg, and blocked the punt out of the end zone. This was ruled a safety, bringing the Middlebury lead to 9-0, and giving possession back to the home team after a Williams free kick.
Middlebury threatened to break the game open early in the ensuing possession. However, the Ephs' defense, who were the 2nd-best scoring defense in the NESCAC through 4 weeks, were up to the challenge. Lebowitz gained 29 yards on the 2nd play of the drive, but after that play, the defense stepped up and forced a 4th down. This led to a 34-yard field goal attempt, but the Ephs' Edward Manzella '21 got a hand on it, not allowing the kick to have a chance to go through the uprights. In retrospect, considering that the score stayed at 9-0, the safety was not a bad result.
A similar situation occurred on the next Panther drive, although there was a different result. After the Williams offense was stymied by their opponents, they punted it away again. This time, Lebowitz led the drive up the field by airing it out every play. He hit his receivers in stride with quick throws, eventually coming into the red zone again. The Eph defense held, though, forcing the Panthers to try another short field goal. This time, though, kicker Carter Massengill got his attempt off cleanly, and it sailed through the uprights for 3 points. The score, now read 12-0 in Middlebury's favor and it stayed the same heading into halftime.
Middlebury seemed in control in the first half. The Eph offense had a tough time getting things moving, only garnering 103 yards of total offense in the first 30 minutes. Middlebury's high-powered offense, meanwhile, often got into the red zone, but only once were they able to convert an opportunity into a touchdown. This kept the game within reach, making the second half anybody's game.
The Panthers received the ball to start the second half, and immediately marched up the field again to the red zone. The Ephs did not allow a touchdown, resulting in another field goal attempt. On another 25-yard field goal, Massengill's kick flew wide of the target, keeping the score at 12-0 and giving the ball back to Williams.
The offense seemed to get a second wind to start the half, quickly moving into Middlebury territory. Long rushes by first-years TJ Dozier and Bobby Maimaron moved the Ephs into midfield, and then back-to-back 15-yard penalties by Middlebury brought the ball near the red zone. This set up a beautifully executed touchdown pass from Maimaron to tight end Justin Burke '21. While most of the offense rolled to the right, Burke streaked across the field to the left. When Burke received the pass, there was no one in front of him, and he ran into the end zone untouched. After first-year Min Kyu Park's successful extra-point kick, the score was brought to 12-7.
Middlebury responded quickly, however. Midway through their ensuing drive, Lebowitz found Rye on a route through the middle, giving him room to run after the catch. Rye looked to be tackled, but he evaded his defender, and was clear to run forward. Only a tackle by Jarrett Wesner '21 stopped him from scoring. This effort was eventually for naught, however, as the Panthers scored soon after on a pass to Peter Scibilia.
The Ephs looked to respond strongly to keep the game close. Maimaron led his team from the Williams 49 into Middlebury territory. At one point, he seemed to have been hurt, but Maimaron soon came back into the game after making a quick recovery. This was essential, as he completed two rushes that totaled 12 yards, including one that he ran in for a touchdown. With the teams separated by only 5 points with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the game was truly up for grabs.
The Panthers would not let up, however. Again, they responded with a strong touchdown drive, making the game a two-possession contest again. At one point, the Ephs seemed to have earned a stop after Christopher Hattar '18 forced Leibowitz to throw it away, receiving an intentional grounding penalty in doing so. On 3rd and 14, though, the Ephs were unable stop a well-placed pass through the middle, which gained 28 yards for a first down. Soon after, Leibowitz found Aiden Powerfor a touchdown pass through the middle of the field, like the previous pass play. It seemed that whenever the offense got Williams back into the game, Middlebury responded in turn.
In a strong offensive display, the Ephs again scored on the next drive, bringing the score to 26-21. Led by passes and quarterback runs by Maimaron and intermittent rushes by Steve Bohling '20, the Ephs worked their way up the field and into scoring position. Then, with 10 yards to go, Maimaron handed the ball off to Rashad Morrison '21, who cut upfield, broke a few tackles and made his way into the end zone. This TD was followed by a big stop by the defense, giving the offense back the ball at their own 20 with 2:45 left to play, but with no timeouts remaining.
The crucial final drive started with four quick pass plays, gaining about 25 yards. However, the offense soon had a few hiccups, starting with a fumble by Morrison which fortunately went out of bounds, and then a false start penalty. With the clock winding down, the Ephs could not afford to have any more mistakes. Maimaron then completed four of his next five passes before throwing an incomplete pass with only 6 seconds left. Williams had only one play, and 15 yards stood between them, and a win. On the last play of the game, the Panthers rushed 3 men, leaving 8 others in coverage. Maimaron dodged one defender, before running forward through the pocket. Just before he was going to be sacked, he let a ball fly into the open arms of Frank Stola '21, who held onto the ball as he fell down in the end zone. Teammates charged the field and piled on Stola in celebration of their walk-off touchdown to beat the previously undefeated Panthers.
Eph head coach Mark Raymond was extremely proud of his team and their resilience. "We just kept fighting and gave ourselves a chance to win. I cannot say enough about the toughness that these guys displayed today."
The offenses from both teams were impressive, especially in the second half. Williams had 378 yards of total offense, led by Bobby Maimaron's 195 yards passing and three total touchdowns. Middlebury, meanwhile, had 432 yards total, with 304 of those coming by way of quarterback Jared Lebowitz. He was 24 for 37 with 3 touchdowns, and ran for 34 yards. Maimaron also led the Ephs in rushing, with 93 yards and 1 touchdown on 15 carries. For the Panthers, Peter Scibilia led the way with 62 yards rushing.
Frank Stola had 11 catches for 88 yards, including the winning touchdown. Middlebury, meanwhile, was led by Maxwell Rye, who had 7 catches for 133 yards and a score. He also averaged 50 yards per punt, including having one that traveled 72 yards and indirectly led to an Eph safety.
The Ephs defense was led by sophomore linebacker Luke Apuzzi and first-year linebacker TJ Rothman. They had 16 and 15 tackles respectively, and combined for 2 tackles for losses. Aaron Slodowitz, meanwhile, had 18 tackles for Middlebury. The only sack of the game came from Middlebury's Wesley Becton.
The Ephs, no doubt fired up by their string of success lately, will return home next Saturday to play against the Tufts Jumbos (3-2) at 1:30 PM on Farley-Lamb Field..