Walkover Win for Panthers

By Stephen Etna

Traveling to Clinton, NY to face the Hamilton Continentals after beating perennial power Trinity College last week, it would have been easy for Middlebury to relax. However, the stakes were arguably higher this week: the Rocking Chair Classic was on. The victor of the matchup between Middlebury and Hamilton has, since 1980, taken home the “Mac-Jack” rocking chair. Not wanting to go home without an extra place to sit, the Panthers came to Hamilton with their emotions at a fever pitch.

Perhaps struggling to deal with all the pressure of retaining such an esteemed prize for the Middlebury faithful, the Panthers started the game making uncharacteristic mental errors on both sides of the ball. With the defense causing, yet inexplicably failing to recover two fumbles in the first four minutes of the game – although defensive end Jake Clapp ’16 deserves credit for an excellent sack to cause one of them, major opportunities to get on the Continentals early and often were lost.

Similarly, following offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on both teams, Middlebury would settle for only a field goal to put the Panthers up 3-0.

Middlebury would make good on their next drive, with quarterback Matt Milano ’16 finding Matt “the Fish” Minno ’16 with an expertly thrown pass over the top for a 42-yard gain. Stationing the offense on Hamilton’s 13-yard line, the former Duxbury Dragon, running back Jon Hurvitz ’17, would only need one carry to find the end zone, putting Middlebury up 10-0, as the first quarter drew to a close.

Hamilton would not go down quietly, however, busting Middlebury’s coverage in a rare lapse from the Panther’s vaunted defense, where Hamilton’s Jim Fisher wrangled a 64-yard pass down the sideline to bring the Continentals within range of the Panthers. However, following a great return on the ensuing kickoff by Middlebury first-year Kevin Hopsicker, ’18, Milano and company would have a short field with which to play with on offense. After finding the speedy Ryan Rizzo ’17 for a few completions underneath, Milano would again go over the top and find Minno for the touchdown on a 25-yard strike.

The defense would follow up the touchdown by forcing an excellent three-and-out, spurred by a sack from linebacker Addison Pierce ’17, causing an 11-yard loss. With a solid return from Rizzo, the Panthers would again take a short field. On third and goal, following some nice work by Hurvitz, Milano would find captain Brendan Rankowitz ’15 on a slant for the score, putting Middlebury up 23-7.

As Middlebury’s offense would score another touchdown, Middlebury’s defense would force another three-and-out from Hamilton.

This time keyed by crucial stops against the run from free safety Matt Benedict ’15 and defensive tackle Gil Araujo ’16, Middlebury would take over again on offense with little over five minutes left in the half.

Starting on their own 21-yard line, the offense would put on a master class in execution. With Milano finding Rizzo and Grant Luna ’18 repeatedly underneath, Middlebury would drive the length of the field in little under 4 minutes, before Milano found Minno again for the score.

Going into the half up 30-7, the Panthers would begin to cruise. Receiving the ball to start the second half, Milano would, wasting no time, find Matt Minno again for the score, putting the Panthers up 37-7. Minno’s third score of the day, the Panthers would soon pull the starters and go into an extended victory formation, the final score remaining 37-7. With such a dominant win, the Panthers could rest easy – the Mac-Jack rocking chair would remain in merry, merry Middlebury for another year.

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