Football Preview: Bates looks to knock off defending champ Amherst in opener

James Fagan (59) is sliding from guard to center and will be snapping to new starting quarterback Patrick Dugan (14) when the Bobcats host Amherst College in their season opener on Sept. 26, 2015. (File photo by Sarah Crosby/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- The first game of the season presents the Bates College football team with a very tough opponent on an annual basis, be it Trinity or Amherst. This year is in no way an exception, with the defending NESCAC champion Lord Jeffs visiting Garcelon Field Saturday at 1pm, riding an 11-game winning streak that dates to October 2013.

Bates gave Amherst one of its most competitive games in 2014, a 14-6 Amherst victory on Sept. 20. The last time Bates hosted Amherst was Sept. 24, 2011, a 20-7 Jeffs win. Amherst led that game 14-7 at halftime despite a 12-4 Bates advantage in first downs, a 19:07 to 10:53 edge in time of possession and a 183-113 edge in total offense. 

The Particulars:

What: Amherst at Bates

When: Saturday, September 26, 1 p.m.

Where: Garcelon Field | Lewiston, Maine

Live Stats Video

All-Time Series: Amherst leads 23-4-2

Last Meeting

Amherst 14, Bates 6 (Amherst, Mass. | Sept. 20, 2014) Only a failed two-point conversion with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter kept Bates from pulling off an upset win at Amherst on Sept. 20, 2014. That and Nick Kelly's subsequent 42-yard touchdown run with 1:06 to go gave the Lord Jeffs a 14-6 victory in the teams' season opener on Saturday at Pratt Field.

Bates (4-4 in 2013) was outgained by Amherst (7-1 and NESCAC co-champion in 2013) in total offense, 339-232, but the Bobcats had an advantage in time of possession in each quarter, for a 36:21 to 23:39 edge overall. 

Amherst at a Glance

Amherst returns 13 starters and 61 varsity letter-winners from its undefeated 2014 team. In 2014, Amherst ranked third in the conference in total defense (273.1 yards allowed per game) and fifth in total offense (308.6). Amherst also enjoyed a +0.75 average turnover differential in 2014, second best in the NESCAC.

The Lord Jeffs lost six All-NESCAC selections to graduation, but return three others in senior defensive back Jaymie Spears (28 solo/11 assists), 8 BrUp, 6 INT), junior running back Nick Kelly (585 rushing yards, 5 TD, 4.8 ypc) and junior defensive lineman Paul Johnson (26 tackles, 4 sacks). Other top returners include senior wide receiver Jackson McGonagle (277 receiving yards, 3 TD) and senior linebacker Thomas Kleyn (60 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF).

Amherst's starting quarterback from 2014, Max Lippe, has graduated, but the Lord Jeffs have two experienced QBs returning in junior Alex Berluti (36-57, 408 yards, 3 TD) and sophomore starter Reece Foy (20-31, 192 yards).

Amherst finished 2014 as the No. 1-ranked team in the New England Division III football poll, and begin this season as the No. 3-ranked team.

Bates at a Glance

Bates finished 4-4 in 2014, the program's third straight .500 or better season since 1979. The Bobcats ranked 10th in the league in total offense (265.3 yards per game) but fourth in rushing offense (141.2), and their defense ranked fifth in the NESCAC (320.8). Bates tied for fifth place with Tufts in the final conference standings.

The Bobcats return 12 starters from last year, including eight on offense and three on defense. The latter figure may be somewhat misleading, as it excludes well-experienced, productive players such as junior linebacker Ben Coulibaly (Philadelphia, Pa.), junior defensive end Sean Antonuccio (Boxford, Mass.) and junior cornerback Brandon Williams (Gardner, Mass.).

Bates returns two First Team All-NESCAC selections from 2014, one on each side of the ball, in senior wide receiver Mark Riley (Needham, Mass.; 41 catches, 572 yards, 4 TD) and junior linebacker Mark Upton (73 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles). Last season's top rusher also returns in senior Shaun Carroll (Clinton, Maine; 281 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 96 receiving yards, 1 TD), who leads a deep and dangerous group of slotbacks. On defense, junior Trevor Lyons (Hamilton, Mass.; 27 tackles, 2 INT, 4 BrUp in six games) moves from cornerback to become Bates' starting free safety.

Replacing the team's 2014 offensive MVP, Matt Cannone, at quarterback will be senior Patrick Dugan (Westford, Mass.) who has shown great promise in the past two seasons as a triple-option quarterback. Dugan (career numbers: 5 games, 13-31 passing, 163 yards; 133 rushing yards on 56 attempts with 1 TD) could be Bates' best ball-carrying quarterback to run the triple-option since it was installed in 2011. 

Coach to Cure MD

For the eighth year in a row, the Bates coaching staff and football coaches nationwide are banding together for the Coach to Cure MD program, held during games on Saturday, September 26. The annual effort has raised more than $1.25 million to battle Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) members will wear a Coach to Cure MD logo patch on the sidelines. College football fans will be asked to donate to research projects supported by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. to focus solely on Duchenne muscular dystrophy. 

Football fans can donate to Duchenne muscular dystrophy research by either going on-line to or by texting the word CURE to 90999 (a $5 donation will automatically be added to your next phone bill).

Heavy Metal Halftime

At halftime of Saturday's game, the Bates women's rowing team will present President Clayton Spencer with the NCAA Championship trophy it won in May 2015, becoming the first national championship team in college history. The 2015 New England and NESCAC champion Bates men's rowing team will also present their awards to the president.