Football preview: Bobcats (3-4) eye 3-0 finish vs. visiting Continentals (2-5)

Mark Upton returned a fumble recovery for his lone career touchdown the last time Hamilton visited Garcelon Field in 2014. Upton and 11 senior teammates will play their final game Saturday at noon. (File photo by Daryn Slover for Bates College) 

LEWISTON, Maine -- After falling to 1-4 two weeks ago with a loss at Middlebury, the Bates football team still had much to play for. So far, so good.

Bates seized on its chance to continue its recent domination of the CBB series, holding off Colby in a 21-19 victory and coming back to beat Bowdoin 24-7 on Saturday.

Saturday's season finale against Hamilton offers Bates the chance to finish with a .500 record, at 4-4, and on a three-game win streak. Saturday's winner will take over the series lead, after the Continentals tied it at 19-19 with last season's 14-0 victory. A Bates victory would earn fifth place in the final NESCAC standings, or at worst a tie with (improbably) Amherst (3-4), if it defeats Williams.

Hamilton is trying to record three wins for the first year since 2011. Bates' senior class is looking to finish their careers with a third four-win campaign.

The teams are nearly the same in total offense, with Hamilton averaging 266.9 yards and Bates 264.1. Hamilton has passed the ball more frequently than Bates, with attempts split almost evenly between freshman Kenny Gray (56-115, 738 yards, 2 TD, 6 INT) and junior Cole Freeman (57-108, 646 yards, 4 TD, 8 INT). The Continentals pass for 198.9 yards per game but rush for only 68.0. Bates runs for 170.7 yards per game and passes for a league-low 93.4 yards. Bates is fifth in the NESCAC in pass efficiency, however, largely on the strength of throwing for nine touchdown passes against only four interceptions.

The game will mark first-year quarterback Matt Golden's first career start for Bates.

The Particulars:

What: Hamilton College (2-5) at Bates College (3-4)

When: Saturday, November 12, 12 p.m.

Where: Garcelon Field (Lewiston, Maine)

Live Coverage: Live Stats Video

All-Time Series: Tied 19-19

Last Meeting: Hamilton 14, Bates 0 (Clinton, N.Y. | Nov. 14, 2015)

Facts & Figures:

  • Bates is tied with Middlebury for the second most sacks in the NESCAC, with 23. Eleven different players have recorded at least a half-sack this season, including two of the top three individuals in the league, in senior Mark Upton (6.0) and sophomore Tyler Harrington (5.5).
  • Hamilton has committed a league-high 20 turnovers and has lost the turnover battle by a margin of -14 through seven games. Bates is third in the NESCAC in that category, at +5.
  • Bates has visited the red zone (inside the opponent's 20-yard line) a league-low 12 times and recorded a league-low 12.0 first downs per game. Hamilton has a healthier 15.6 first downs per game, but the Continentals' 20 trips to the end zone have resulted in the same number of touchdowns (5) as the Bobcats.
  • Sophomore Justin Foley broke the team record for punts in a season in Week 6 with his 65th attempt. Foley has now punted a NESCAC-leading 73 times, ranking second with a 38.2-yard average.
  • Senior Trevor Lyons has a career-high 49 tackles (40 solo). His two interceptions last week at Bowdoin give him nine in his career.

Bates Last Week:

Bates' chances of winning a third consecutive CBB outright title appeared pretty dim late in the third quarter Saturday at Bowdoin's Whittier Field. 

With 18 minutes left in the game, the Bobcats trailed 7-3, starting quarterback Sandy Plashkes was out with an injury, and Golden had fumbled the ball away for a second time.

But the Bobcats flipped a big switch in the fourth quarter, with Golden running wild for 104 yards in the final period alone.

Golden and the Bobcats scored 21 unanswered points to win 24-7; for the first time since 1929 through 1931, Bates has defeated both Bowdoin and Colby. Bates has also claimed at least a share of the CBB title for six straight seasons, dating to 2011.

Golden rushed for 126 yards in all, including a 65-yard touchdown streak down the sideline, and passed for a 35-yard touchdown; Golden's 35-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Marcus Ross gave Bates its first lead at 10-7 with 14:10 left in the fourth. Junior Frank Williams ran untouched up the sideline for a 36-yard touchdown five minutes later, and Golden's 65-yard TD capped the scoring with 6:52 left in the game, giving Bates three long touchdowns in a span of 7:18.

Meanwhile the Bobcat defense forced an unraveling Bowdoin offense into three turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore Peter Boyer rushed for 83 yards on 17 carries and Williams gained 63 yards with the touchdown. The Bobcats rushed for a season-high 337 yards, including 168 in the fourth quarter.

Hamilton Last Week:

Middlebury racked up 29 first downs and 483 yards of offense as the Panthers posted a 45-10 win at Hamilton Saturday.

Middlebury led just 10-3 late in the second quarter but scored a touchdown 60 seconds before the half, added three more in the third quarter and another midway through the fourth for a 45-3 cushion. 

Hamilton turned the ball over six times and finished with 199 yards of offense. 

Robert Morris booted a season-long 40-yard field goal that pulled Hamilton within 10-3 with 7:19 left in the second quarter. The 13-play, 46-yard drive was helped by a personal foul flag on Middlebury, an 11-yard pass from Kenny Gray to Charles Ensley on third-and-long and a 9-yard run by Gray on third-and-four.

Gray was 7 of 21 for 40 yards before he was replaced by Cole Freeman in the third quarter. Freeman finished 11-for-18 for 99 yards with a touchdown. Ensley caught six passes for 62 yards and Joe Schmidt made a 5-yard touchdown catch with 3:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Last Bates/Hamilton Meeting:

A stifling and opportunistic defense led Hamilton to a 14-0 season-ending victory over Bates on Nov. 14, 2015 in Clinton, N.Y.

Both teams finished 2-6, part of a four-way tie for sixth place in the NESCAC with Williams and Bowdoin. Hamilton defeated Bates for the first time in five meetings and the third time in the past 14.

All of the game's scoring took place in the second quarter. Jason Nastovski ran through a big hole untouched into the end zone from the 3-yard line for a 7-0 lead with 12:30 left in the first half, and with 3:01 left, Hamilton's Nick Sobczyk fell on the ball in the end zone after a fumbled exchange in Bates' backfield. 

The Continentals held the Bobcats to one first down and 11 yards of offense in the second half, and Bates finished the game with season lows in first downs (nine) and yards (104).

Bates' defense, outstanding for most of the game, showed signs of running out of gas down the stretch, as Hamilton awakened its rushing attack to finish out the game with a non-scoring drive that ate up the final 11 minutes on 18 plays. Nearly a third of Hamilton's total time of possession (33:55) and yardage (227) took place on the final possession, as snow swirled around Steuben Field.