MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- Middlebury College improved to 5-0 for the first time since 1992 with a 38-23 win over the Bates College football team on Saturday at Alumni Stadium.
The Panthers and their opponent next week Trinity, are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the NESCAC. Middlebury wide receiver Zach Driscoll finished the game with 15 catches for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns, becoming the school's all-time receptions leader in the game with 143.
Bates scored on its opening possession, driving 66 yards on 11 plays after a 29-yard kick-off return from junior Shawn Doherty (Mansfield, Mass.). Senior quarterback Trevor Smith (Malvern, Pa.) had a 14-yard rush on the drive before scoring from seven yards out. Middlebury answered two possessions later with a 35-yard scoring strike from McCallum Foote to Driscoll.
The Panthers added to their lead midway through the second quarter with a nine-play, 84-yard drive ending in a two-yard connection from Foote to Harrison Goodkind. Foote found Driscoll twice for 38 yards on the drive, along with a 24-yard strike to tight end Billy Chapman.
Bates came right back to tie the game at 14-14 when Smith hit Doherty from 14 yards out. A 17-yard connection with first-year wide receiver Harrison Murphy (Whitinsville, Mass.) and a 21-yard rush from senior Patrick George (Gloucester, Mass.) were the key plays on the drive.
Middlebury answered the score on its next possession, with Foote finding Chapman from 11 yards out to make it a 21-14 game with 1:16 left in the first half.
Bates got in a final score before the half was over. Smith hit Murphy for a 20-yard pass, leading to a late 27-yard field goal from junior Charlie Donahue (Plymouth, N.H.), closing the gap to 21-17 Middlebury at the intermission.
Chapman made a great catch over the middle on the Panthers' first drive of the second half, pulling in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Foote. Bates fumbled the ensuing kick-off, leaving Middlebury with the ball at the Bates 41. After a 21-yard pass from Foote to Driscoll, Foote found him for a quick two-yard scoring strike to make it a 35-17 game with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
Bates climbed back into the game early in the fourth, with an interception by junior safety Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.) that was returned 23 yards to the Middlebury 47. Six plays later, Smith found Doherty for a 30-yard touchdown pass, making it a 35-23 game after a missed extra point. The Bates defense held, but the offense turned the ball over when Middlebury's Joel Blockowicz intercepted a pass a the Middlebury 35 at the 10:13 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Panthers made it a three-possession game when Jake Fuery made a field goal from 28 yards out, giving them a 38-23 advantage with 7:42 remaining.
Foote finished the day 36 of 50 for 436 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He now has 21 touchdown passes through five games, one shy of the school's single-season record. Driscoll's big day left him just 70 yards shy of the school's all-time receiving yardage record. Chapman finished the contest with eight catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns, while Brendan Rankowitz and Remi Ashkar each caught four balls. Ashkar kept the offense balanced with 106 yards on the ground on eight carries. John Wiet and Matthew Benedict each had 15 tackles to lead the defense.
Smith went 16 of 32 for Bates, throwing for 151 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. Doherty caught five passes for 50 yards with a pair of touchdowns, while sophomore slotback Mac Jackson (Hood River, Ore.) caught four passes for 28 yards. George rushed for 82 yards on 17 carries, while Smith had 15 carries for 81 yards. Kukesh and senior Joe Dell'Erario (Weston, Mass.) each had 13 tackes in the game, followed by 12 from sophomore John Durkin (Rye Beach, N.H.).
The teams combined to run 169 plays in the game, with the Panthers earning 568 yards on 89 snaps and Bates gaining 370 yards on 80 plays. Middlebury held a 10:52 to 4:08 time of possession advantage in the fourth quarter, and neither team allowed a sack in the contest.
Both teams committed two turnovers, the first game this season in which Bates hasn't achieved a clear advantage in takeaways. The No. 3 team in Division III in interceptions per game heading into the game, at 2.75, got two more in the game, one by Kukesh and the other by senior Kyle Starr (Concord, N.H.).