Let’s face it — while Midd football has played solidly in recent years, powerhouses like Trinity, Tufts, and Amherst have stopped the team from claiming the NESCAC title. But considering how well this season has unfolded so far, it wouldn’t be crazy to think 2019 will be different.
The Panthers brought this season’s record to 5-0, with a 27-26 win over the Colby Mules on Saturday, Oct. 12. Now halfway through the season, the Panthers and the Wesleyan Cardinals are the only undefeated teams in the NESCAC. Both will be put to the test next week, as they face off at Middlebury to see who will get to the 6-0 mark.
This past weekend, however, was a wake-up call for the Panthers, as they barely scraped by against the 0-4 Colby Mules.
The atmosphere at the game was electric. Alumni were back, the crowd was packed and the game was exciting at every turn for those looking to watch the Panthers go 5-0.
The Mules pulled away during the first half, scoring 13 points compared to the Panthers’ six. The Panthers then switched the momentum post-halftime by scoring three unanswered touchdowns. Despite maintaining a cushy 27-13 lead, fumbles by Middlebury on two consecutive drives gave way to two Colby touchdowns. The Mules missed an extra point attempt on their last touchdown and the score was 27-26 Middlebury. A last-second missed field goal by the Mules brought Panther fans to their feet and sealed a Middlebury victory. Although this past weekend was an exciting turn for the Panther crowd, the team must look forward to maintaining their undefeated streak against a tough bout with Wesleyan.
Going into the game against Wesleyan, the Panthers know that this week will be an indicator of the rest of their season. After two close games (double OT win against Amherst and last-second, one-point win against Colby), the Panthers will have to put their best foot forward against a strong Wesleyan team.
Within the past five weeks, the Panthers have accumulated an average of 27.6 points per game, fewer than two points lower than the Cardinals. Although these numbers are not indicative of the team’s successes thus far, it is telling of the upcoming battle on Saturday.
Will Jernigan ’21 has been a crucial piece to the Panther offense this season thanks to his solid passing ability. Jernigan has averaged 227.4 passing yards per game and has accumulated over 1137 passing yards in the past 5 games. The Panthers are third in the conference in this metric. Wesleyan, on the other hand, have not amassed this type of yardage yet this season. The Cardinals average 196.2 passing yards per game, accumulating 981 yards in total. Throughout the season, Jernigan has played an integral role leading the Middlebury offense.
A combination of Middlebury players have accumulated receiving yards. Five different Panthers have notched over 100 receiving yards on the season so far: Maxwell Rye ’20 (345 yds), Greg Livingston ’22 (175 yds), Frank Cosolito ’20 (166 yds), Maxim Bochman ’20 (146 yds), and Aidan Power ’20 (127 yds).
First-year Alex Maldjian ’23 has dominated the Panther rushing game, with Jernigan not far behind. Maldjian has rushed for 448 yards thus far this season, scoring 3 touchdowns on the ground. Jernigan also ran for 396 yards, scoring 5 touchdowns for the Panthers.
Defensively, the Middlebury squad’s depth has driven its 5-0 run. Jack Pistorius ’21, Pete Huggins ’21 and Wyllis McKissick ’20 have recorded over 30 tackles each (Pistorius 45, Huggins 42, McKissick 30). Four Panthers, Zander Bailey ’21, Kevin Hartley ’20, Michael Carr ’20, and Finn Muldoon ’23, have each accumulated two interceptions, respectively. Alex Norton ’20 leads the team in sacks, recording four sacks for a loss of 40 yards total.
Carter Massengill ’20 and Rye have controlled the kicking and punting games for the Panthers. Massengill logged 28 points on the kicking game this season for the Panthers, with his longest bootcoming from 33 yards out. Rye has amassed 948 punting yards within the past five games.
This year, I’ve felt an undeniable sense of energy — it’s not over the top, but this palpable recognition of our confidence to execute.
-Carter Massengill ‘20
The difference between this year’s successes and last year’s season is heavily influenced by the energy of the team.
“I have the honor of spotting the ball throughout practice, which gives me a close up feel of how we are doing as a team. This year, I’ve felt an undeniable sense of energy — it’s not over the top, but this palpable recognition of our confidence to execute,” Massengill said. “I remember making a remark to some other seniors during the preseason that the energy feels different this year. We’ve carried it throughout the season in all three phases of the game.”
This season has been a testament to the Panthers’ strengths on all phases of the game. Jernigan runs the offense using his versatility in the rushing and passing games, with a strong offensive line leading the way. A combination of receivers, alongside Maldjian’s running game, have developed the Panther offensive game. Defensive depth has played a key role in the Panthers’ undefeated season as well, behind a stout defensive line and prepared backfield players.
Looking forward, the Panthers will face a tough, undefeated Wesleyan team. Behind their successes so far, the team looks to come out of the game on top of the NESCAC, to best position themselves for the end-of-season rankings, and win the championship.