Milano, Pierce and Panthers Hand Trinity First Home Loss in Over a Decade

By Stephen Etna

Following last year’s game against Trinity — an instant classic in which Middlebury downed the heavily favored Bantams to earn a share of the NESCAC title — the Panthers went into this year’s rematch knowing Trinity would have the loss firmly on their minds. Trinity, again considered one of the strongest teams in the conference, went into last weekend’s game sporting an undefeated streak at home spanning 53 games and 13 years.

With Trinity having not lost a game at Jessee-Miller Field since before many of the team’s current first-years were even in kindergarten, coming away from Hartford with a win seemed like a daunting task for Middlebury. However, it seems that the Middlebury football team doesn’t care much for history, as they not only beat, but thoroughly routed Trinity by a score of 27-7.

Middlebury’s offense started strong with a 25-yard return from Ryan Rizzo ’17 to the 30-yard line, followed by a series of moves from Matt Milano ’16 and company.

Setting the tone for the day, Milano linked up early and often with receivers Matt Minno ’16 and Brendan Rankowitz ’15, finding the pair for completions of 15 and 26 yards on the drive respectively. Reaching Trinity’s four-yard line before stalling and botching the field goal attempt, Middlebury’s offense showed great facility in throwing the ball downfield.

Middlebury’s defense came out just as strong as the offense, shutting down Trinity and their vaunted running game. Gil Araujo ’16 and Tim Patricia ’16, part of Middlebury’s tough front seven, found themselves frequently in the Bantam backfield during the first quarter of play, with Patricia infiltrating Trinity’s offense’s A-gap to record a particularly impressive tackle resulting in a loss of seven yards for the Bantams.
The hard work done by the Middlebury defense would be rewarded late in the first quarter.

After a three and out, the Panther offense took over on their own nine yard line following a booming 62-yard punt by Trinity.

The Panthers disregarded their adverse field position, driving the ball at will. With Milano completing passes to five different receivers on the drive, and running backs Drew Jacobs ’18 and Jonathan Hurvitz ’17 picking up solid chunks of yardage on the ground, the 91-yard drive only took four minutes of game time, with Milano completing a 28-yard score to Minno to put the Panthers up 7-0.

The game would break open again early in the second quarter with a great play from the Panthers defense. With the Bantams driving down the field, and the goal line in sight, Trinity looked poised to score.

However, Middlebury’s Dan Pierce ’16 had other intentions, picking off the ball in the end zone, the junior defensive back took the return 71 yards, giving the Middlebury offense a great field position just outside Trinity’s red-zone.

Milano and Minno decided to give the rest of the offense a breather, with two passes, including a four yard touchdown reception, giving the Panthers a bigger lead. A failed field goal attempt would make the score 13-0, which held to the end of the half.

Having elected to receive the ball to begin the 3rd quarter, Trinity set up for the return.

Catching Trinity off-guard, Middlebury successfully pulled a surprise-onside kick, with Pierce coming up big on the recovery. Just 40 seconds later, Milano found Minno for a 24-yard score, the third touchdown for both on the day. Putting the Panthers up 20-0, the Panthers did look back.

The ensuing drive from Trinity was another three and out, with big stops from Patricia and defensive tackle Nick Burdeau ’15.

The Panthers offense, however, sputtered, causing the two teams to trade punts for much of the third quarter. Some semblance of action came late in the third, with Trinity finally breaking through on the scoreboard. A 33-yard score early in the fourth quarter proved to be a rare misstep for the dominant Middlebury defense.

Pierce, recording his second interception of the game, then set up the offense near midfield. Milano soon capped off the drive with a 26-yard pass to Brendan Rankowitz ’15 for the final score of the game.

With the Panthers up 27-7, the Middlebury defense rode out the rest of the game to secure the win.

For their efforts, Milano and Pierce were the respective NESCAC Players of the Week on offense and defense.

Milano, going 25-36 on the day for 286 yards and four touchdowns, turned in his finest effort as a starter to date, showing continued and sustained development at the quarterback position.

Pierce, meanwhile, was all over the score sheet, doing a little bit of everything for the Panthers defense. Recording 12 tackles on the day, including 10 solo tackles, as well as 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and an onside kick recovery, there really was nothing the defensive back didn’t do.

Milano and Pierce were not alone in their outstanding performances, as the win was truly a team effort, with the offense, defense and special team units all contributing to the victory.

Going into next weekend’s matchup against Hamilton, a lesser opponent than Trinity, the Panthers should be more than confident about their ability to win.

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Milano, Pierce and Panthers Hand Trinity First Home Loss in Over a Decade