Hosting the Williams Purple Ephs on Saturday, Oct. 14, the Middlebury Panthers dropped a nail-biting contest that came down to the final six seconds of play.
Middlebury dominated the first half of play, much as they have done in the rest of their games to this point. The Panthers burst out of the gate from the opening kickoff, as Jared Lebowitz ’18 found Maxwell Rye ’20 from 19 yards out to cap their first drive of the game with a touchdown. Rye’s touchdown was set up by several rushes by Peter Scibilia ’21 and Diego Meritus ’19, who returned after missing the first four weeks of the season with an injured quad. Carter Massengill ’20 converted the extra point and the hosts jumped out to 7–0 lead with 11 minutes left in the first.
Eight minutes later, Rye flipped the field with a brilliant punt that went 72 yards and was downed at the Williams one-yard line. The Purple Eph’s offense was unable to move the ball given the tough starting field position, amounting in a three-and-out. With no room to maneuver, Adam Regensburg’s punt attempt was blocked by John Jackson ’18 for a safety, tacking two points onto the hosts’ lead in the final scoring play of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the sole score came from Massengill’s 25 yard-field goal attempt. His opportunity was set up by an 11-play drive by Lebowitz and his offense, giving the hosts a 12–0 lead at the break. Most notably, Lebowitz connected with Jimmy Martinez ’19 and Rye for 29 yards each. The ensuing seven minutes before the half flew by without a score.
In the third quarter, the Panthers sniffed the end zone on several occasions, finishing at the Williams nine-yard line after 13 plays, but Massengill could not complete the 25-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left.
While Williams cut into the Panthers’ lead on their ensuing eight-play 80-yard touchdown drive that earned the Ephs their first points of the day, the Panthers answered right back. Lebowitz led the team on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was highlighted by a 40-yard completion to Rye. The Lebowitz-to-Rye connection set-up a Lebowitz two-yard pass Scibilia for a touchdown.
Middlebury led 19–7 heading into the fourth quarter and everything was looking up for a Panthers offense that had dominated to that point. They even tacked-on an additional touchdown after Williams cut the lead to 19–14, as Lebowitz and company drove 59 yards in just over three minutes. Leading 26–14 and ten minute, the Panthers looked to hold off the Purple Eph’s down the crucial stretch.
Williams’ quarterback, however, answered efficiently and quickly. Middlebury’s defense saw the 12-point cushion erased after the Ephs marched 75 yards on 11 plays, ending in another touchdown. With four minutes left on the clock, Middlebury went to work trying to add an insurance score to preserve a victory and an undefeated record.
Starting at their own 28-yard line, Lebowitz handed the ball to Scibilia and Meritus to run the clock out. The Panthers even received some help from Williams’ defense, gaining 15 yards on a personal foul. However, the Panthers could not move the chains and were forced to punt from their own 48-yard line, giving Williams’ duel-threat quarterback the ball with 2:19 left on the clock at their own 20-yard line.
Williams found their way down the field and, with time running out, Bobby Maimaron stepped up into the pocket, firing a rocket into the open hands of Frank Stola in the end zone for the Williams victory. Alumni Stadium went silent while the Williams bench charged onto the field, celebrating their upset victory.
After the loss, Meritus talked about the importance of moving passed a loss that will be sure to linger with the Panthers.
“Instead of running away from that feeling we felt after Saturday’s loss, we need to embrace all that energy and use it to motivate us to get better.
“A loss is a loss,” Meritus said. “We can’t change what happened, but we can change what we do from here. And that means we have to win out.”
Though the Panthers took the loss, Middlebury outgained Williams 432–378, as 304 passing from Lebowitz. Rye finished the day with 133 receiving yards while Meritus and Scibilia combined for 64 yards on the ground.
With three games left in their season, the Panthers look to resume their win streak and finish with no more defeats. The biggest game left on the schedule, and a contest that both teams have certainly circled, is the Saturday, Oct. 28, date at Alumni Stadium when Middlebury will host undefeated Trinity — and on Homecoming Weekend, no less. It will be a decisive matchup with serious Nescac title implications. But for now, the Panthers head back on the road to Bates on Saturday, Oct. 21.