Football preview: High-voltage Panthers (4-0) host Bobcats (1-3) in Week 5

Sean Peterson, who made his collegiate debut with four receptions last year against Middlebury, will start at slotback at Middlebury this Saturday. (File photo by Brewster Burns for Bates College) 

LEWISTON, Maine -- The perenially high-flying Panthers of Middlebury College stake their undefeated record against visiting the visiting Bobcats of Bates College this Saturday during Middlebury's homecoming weekend.

After their signature 27-26 win over visiting Amherst two weeks ago, which snapped Amherst's 21-game winning streak, the Panthers are 4-0 for the first time since 2012.

Middlebury's quarterback may be new to the Panthers' starting role, but Jared Lebovitz's results have been much the same as ever for the NESCAC's version of a quarterback factory. The former transfer from UNLV has already won a Gold Helmet and two NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week awards, and he has thrown for seven more touchdowns (17) and 98.5 yards per game (310.5) more than any other QB in the conference.

History is decidedly pitted against Bates in this one, as the Bobcats haven't defeated the Panthers since 1988.

The Particulars:

What: Bates College (1-3) at Middlebury College (4-0)

When: Saturday, October 24, 1 p.m.

Where: Alumni Stadium (Middlebury, Vermont)

Live Coverage: Live Stats Video

All-Time Series: Middlebury leads 42-14-3

Last Meeting: Middlebury 41, Bates 27 (Middlebury, Vt. | Oct. 24, 2015)

Bates Facts & Figures

  • Bates ranks second in the NESCAC in pass defense, allowing 148.0 yards per game, but eighth in rush defense (177.8).
  • Bates ranks at the bottom of the NESCAC in passing yardage (94.0 per game), but sophomore quarterback Sandy Plashkes has thrown seven touchdowns and only one interception and has Bates fifth in the NESCAC in passing efficiency (124.9).
  • Senior linebacker Mark Upton ranks second in the NESCAC in tackles per game (12.8) and sacks per game (0.75). Ranking among Division III leaders each of the last two seasons in tackles and forced fumbles per game, Upton is a two-time First Team All-NESCAC selection and a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation's William V. Campbell Trophy for scholar-athletes. Upton is a politics major and rhetoric minor carrying a 3.56 grade point average.
  • Bates is tied with Amherst for first in the league in average turnover differential (+1.00).
  • Sophomore Justin Foley is not only the busiest punter in the NESCAC, with 47 attempts, but is also second in the conference in average (38.3), with 12 landing inside the opponent's 20, including only two touchbacks.

Middlebury Last Week:

Middlebury defeated Williams for the fifth consecutive year, scoring more points than it ever has against the Ephs in a 49-23 win on Saturday in Williamstown. The Panthers moved to 4-0 for the first time since 2012 when they opened with a 5-0 mark.

The Ephs scored on their opening possession when quarterback Jansen Durham found Tyler Patterson for a 79-yard touchdown just 1:03 into the contest.

The Panthers answered on their second drive, when Frank Cosolito fell on a fumble in the end zone after a five-yard run from quarterback Jared Lebowitz.

Middlebury took a 14-7 lead late in the quarter on an 18-yard scoring strike from Lebowitz to Ryan Rizzo. The drive was set up by a 40-yard reception from Conrado Banky.

Williams cut into the lead at the 10:19 mark of the second quarter when Adam Regensburg connected on a 25-yard field goal to make it a 14-10 contest.

Middlebury linebacker Clay Hunt intercepted a pass at the Panther 44-yard line, leading to a 10-yard touchdown reception by Rizzo from Lebowitz. The touchdown at the 4:02 mark of the second quarter held, as the Panthers took a 21-10 lead into the halftime break.

Middlebury scored on its opening possession of the second half when Diego Meritus rushed for 24 yards, Rizzo caught a 21-yard pass before Banky pulled down a 22-yard touchdown on a feed from Lebowitz.

Meritus finished with a career high 122 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown. Middlebury had a big day on the ground overall with 206 yards rushing to go along with 292 yards through the air. This marked the first time since October 18, 2008 that the Panthers have rushed for over 200 yards in a game.

Lebowitz was steady, completing 22-43 passes for 292 yards with four touchdowns to go along with 41 yards on the ground and a touchdown. His top target was Banky, who caught nine passes for 159 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Rizzo also scored twice, catching six balls for 86 yards. Kicker Carter Massengill converted all seven extra points and is now 15-15 on the season. Addison Pierce led the Panther defense with 11 tackles and a pair of pass break-ups, while Becton added eight tackles, a sack and an interception.

Bates Last Week:

Devon Carrillo rushed for two touchdowns and set up a third touchdown with a 40-yard punt return, as Wesleyan University defeated the Bates College football team 28-7 Saturday at Garcelon Field.

The visiting Cardinals (3-1) defeated the Bobcats (1-3) for the 11th straight year, with a 367-132 difference in total offense, an 18-5 edge in first downs and possession of the ball for over 38 minutes of the game clock. Bates was held to a single first down in the second half, a 25-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Sandy Plashkes to junior Sean Peterson in the third quarter.

Running backs Lou Stevens and Dario Highsmith both rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown in Wesleyan's victory.

For Bates, Plashkes completed 8-of-15 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions thrown. Frank Williams rushed for a team-high 34 yards on four attempts. Peterson (2-35) and Noah Stebbins (2-22) had two catches apiece for the Bobcats.

Shayne Kaminski led Wesleyan with nine tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. For Bates, senior Mark Upton led all players with 12 tackles, including his third sack of the season, while senior Trevor Lyons had 11 tackles (10 solo), including two for a loss. 

Previous Bates/Middlebury Meeting: 

Matt Milano threw for five touchdowns and 405 yards as Middlebury defeated injury-depleted Bates 41-27 on Oct. 24, 2015 at Garcelon Field, despite Bates' season-high 444 yards of offense.

The visiting Panthers (4-1) overcame a 10-7 deficit after one quarter to build leads of 28-13 and 35-20. Despite losing several players to injury during the game, including both starting slotbacks, Bates twice closed within one score in the fourth quarter, to 28-20 and 35-27. But Panther backup quarterback Jared Lebowitz iced the win with a 40-yard touchdown run on a read-option play with 3:38 left to go in the game.

Milano was intercepted three times but completed 31 of 53 passes. Matthew Minno caught 10 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Conrado Banky caught five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, and Ryan Rizzo caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers outgained Bates by a 475-444 margin despite a big edge in time of possession for the Bobcats, 38:10 to 21:50. Bates also had a season-high 23 first downs to Middlebury's 21.

Bates (0-5) rushed for 204 yards and accumulated a season-high 240 yards through the air. Senior quarterback Patrick Dugan completed 19 of 32 passes for career-highs of 217 yards and two touchdowns, while getting picked off twice. Mark Riley caught a career-high 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, while Sean Peterson, playing in his first career game after missing 1 1/2 seasons to injury, caught four passes for 55 yards.