September 20, 2011

Season Preview: Bates looks to take the next big step

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LEWISTON, Maine -- Could this be the year the Bates College football team takes a big step forward? Or might that have occurred already, last year, in disguise?

The Bobcats finished 2-6 in 2010, but while no one wants to make excuses, their record could have been markedly different. After lifting a long-standing burden by beating Tufts in Week 2, they were on the verge of being 2-2, holding a 20-14 lead late in the fourth quarter, two fumbles in the final two minutes of the game helped Wesleyan prevail 27-20. In Week 5, the Bobcats allowed another potential win get away, turning the ball over on downs, a yard short of a first down, inside the Colby 5 as the Mules escaped Garcelon Field with a 10-6 win. Bates was in position the following week to lick its wounds with a win at Bowdoin, but more frustrating miscues led to a 21-20 setback.

In other words, playing shoulda/coulda vigorously enough could lead one to surmise that the distance between 2-6 and 5-3 was traversable. Bates' senior class of players plans on making this the year that distance is bridged. "Our senior class this year has a lot more guys that have seen significant playing time for us," said 14th-year head coach Mark Harriman. "It's one of the strongest group of leaders we've had since I've been here," starting with the captains: linebacker Kevin Helm (Norwell, Mass.), defensive lineman Pat Quinn (Milford, Mass.) and offensive lineman Andrew Scichilone (Sandwich, Mass.).

Offense

In the second year of Bates' implementation of the triple option offense, the backfield is primed to step forward with an effective and hard to defend ground attack. The Bobcats' leading rusher in his first two seasons, shifty and hard-charging junior Patrick George (Gloucester, Mass.), will be one constant option for junior quarterback Trevor Smith (Malvern, Pa.) to go to on running plays, as will fellow "dive back" sophomore Ryan Curit (South Portland, Maine), who showed a flash of potential last season at Bowdoin, with 47 yards on seven carries, and looked particularly strong in Bates' preseason scrimmage against Colby. Juniors Ryan MacDonald (Melrose, Mass.) and Teddy Downs (South Boston, Mass.) and first-year Lani Eversage (Swanville, Maine) form a swift and potent group of slotbacks for Smith to pitch to.

One big question heading into preseason was who would play quarterback -- Smith and Ryan Katon '12 had more or less split the snaps over the past two seasons, with pretty comparable results. But Katon opted to leave the team prior to preseason practices, making the athletic and talented Smith Bates' undisputed signal-caller. Smith (career: 11 games, 106-199-9, 1207 yards, 9 TD) looked sharp in the Colby scrimmage and may prove to be the key to Bates' fortunes.

Paired with the triple option backfield, the team's biggest offensive weapon is 6-foot-7 wide receiver John Squires (Swampscott, Mass.), who emerged last season as the threat that opposing defenses and coaches must account for on every down. Squires caught 30 passes for 510 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, including a sparkling nine-catch, 142-yard, two-touchdown performance in Bates' win over Tufts. Opposite Squires at the other wide receiver position is senior Tom Finkenstaedt (Norwell, Mass.), a heady presence on the field who started all eight games last season, catching eight passes for 65 yards. Sophomore Kevin Davis (North Andover, Mass.) could become a primary target for Smith as well.

The Bobcats figured to have a deep and experienced offensive line to build their offense around, but that was before preseason injuries dashed the hopes of 2010 starters Ryan Weston (Bangor, Maine), an All-NESCAC left tackle, and junior Mark Sylvester (Everett, Mass.), already a two-year starter. Bates still has some high-quality players returning to the line, but may require a less-experienced player to step forward into a starting role, which today's starting left guard, rookie Larry Guinee (Peabody, Mass.), has done. The returning starters are Scichilone, who started at center for Bates' first two games last season but suffered a season-ending injury, and sophomore Liam O'Neil (Duxbury, Mass.), who earned the starting right tackle job last year in an impressive rookie season. After an impressive showing in preseason practice, junior Matt Antonellis (Sudbury, Mass.), an athletic former tight end, will start at left tackle, and sophomore Michael Bernstein (New York, N.Y.), who played well as a rookie, starts at right guard to form a massive right side of the line with O'Neil.

Promising rookies on the offensive side of the ball for Bates include quarterback Matt Cannone (Windham, N.H.) wide receiver Kyle Farber (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and slotback Mac Jackson (Hood River, Ore.).

Defense
Perhaps it isn't surprising that the strength of Bates' 3-5-3 defense figures to be the "5" part of the formation: the linebackers. The inside linebacker trio is helmed by Helm, the leading tackler in the NESCAC last season. Senior Will Taft (Hamilton, Mass.), who came on strong in the second half last season, is primed for a big senior season, as is senior Joe Drinkwater (Walpole, Mass.), with junior Josh Chronopoulos (Lowell, Mass.) and junior Joe Dell'Erario (Weston, Mass.) providing excellent depth.

At outside linebacker, which in Bates' scheme is a kind of hybrid linebacker/defensive back position, senior Brett McAllister (Exeter, N.H.) is a fourth-year starter with excellent playmaking ability on one side. Into the opposite OLB position slips 6-foot-0, 205-pound senior Cam Evans (Norwell, Mass.), another fourth-year starter and proven playmaker who makes the unusual transition from cornerback to linebacker. Kyle Aulet (Belmont, Mass.) is another linebacker, like Taft and Drinkwater, poised to make a big impact in his senior season.

The secondary is spearheaded by sophomore free safety Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.), whose explosive rookie season netted six interceptions and All-NESCAC honors. Juniors Chris Alfiero (Polson, Mont.) and Kyle Starr (Concord, N.H.), both of whom have a year of experience at starting cornerback, return as Bates' top cover men.

The challenge that Bates' defensive line may never quite overcome is replacing graduated All-NESCAC tackle Devin Horvath. But big, talented and athletic Tyler Kuehl (Plymouth, N.H.) is back for another season of big plays, and he and Quinn head a promising group that includes junior Matt Gaither (Winchester, Mass.), sophomore Matt Comstock (Amherst, N.H.)

A strong group of rookie prospects will be called upon quickly, among them defensive end Sam Hundley (Cheshire, Conn.) and linebackers Steven Hild (West Hartford, Conn.), Gilbert Brown (Gloucester, Mass.) and Josh Freedland (Marblehead, Mass.).

Special Teams

Four seasons with Gavin Segall-Abrams as Bates' full-time punter and kicker have come to an end. Junior Evan Dowd (Longmeadow, Mass.) starts in Week 1 at punter, while the placekicker is sophomore Charlie Donahue (Plymouth, N.H.). Alfiero and McAllister are likely to handle kick returns, and Quinn returns as Bates' reliable long snapper.

Outlook

Harriman says if Bates can maintain its upward arc in terms of physicality -- he says that's what led Bates to getting into more crunch-time situations in 2010 than in 2009 -- then experience and accountability should take over when the Bobcats return to crunch time.

"We will be in those close, late-game situations again," he said, "and our biggest challenge is having confidence in our abilities and finding a way to come out on top."

Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
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at Hobart 27, Union 23
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at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
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at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
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at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
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MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
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at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
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at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
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St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
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at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
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at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
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at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
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at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
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at Western New England 59, Curry 28
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at Utica 24, Cortland 13
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Colby 9, at Williams 7
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at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
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at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
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Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
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at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
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Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
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at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
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Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
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Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
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Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
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at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
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at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
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at Springfield 28, WPI 23
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at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
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at Denison 45, Wooster 7
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at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
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at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
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at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
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at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
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at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
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at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
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at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
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at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
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at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
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Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
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Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
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at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
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Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
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at Centre 49, Chicago 27
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at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
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Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
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at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
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Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
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Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
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Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
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UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
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at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
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at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
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Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
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Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
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St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
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at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
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Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
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at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
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at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
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at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
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at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
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Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
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at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
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Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
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at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
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Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
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at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
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Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
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at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
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at Ripon 33, Knox 19
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Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
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UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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Central 42, at Loras 34
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at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
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UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
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UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
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at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
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Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
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Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
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at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
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Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
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at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
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at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
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Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
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at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
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at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
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Sep. 29: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Randolph-Macon at Shenandoah
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Sep. 30: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Emory and Henry at Washington and Lee
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Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
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Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
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Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
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Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
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Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
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Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
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Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
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Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
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Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
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Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
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Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
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Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap