Panther football opens on Saturday

MIDDLEBURY — There is no question the Middlebury College football team will have a different look this fall.
Between 2007 and 2013, first Donald McKillop for four years and then McCallum Foote for three seasons locked down the quarterback position and took turns rewriting the Panther record books — they combined to throw for 16,831 yards with 139 touchdown passes over 53 games, numbers that put them among NCAA Division III’s elite statistically.
In 2013, Foote helped the Panthers compile a 7-1 record that was good enough to tie for the NESCAC title with Wesleyan — the team that will visit Middlebury on Saturday at 1 p.m., when both teams open their season. The Cardinals return 19 starters and are expected to contend again.
For this season, Ritter said junior Matt Milano edged out senior Eric Bertino and sophomores Jake Stalcup and Nick Andonian for the starting quarterback job. Bertino will be the top backup, with Stalcup, the former Burr & Burton Academy standout, No. 3 in line.
Milano has seen action in 10 games his first two years, with 12 completions in 22 attempts for 115 yards. Milano is mobile, Ritter said, and “can probably throw on the run a little better” than Foote, a pocket passer. He expects the Panthers to call more rollout plays, but also to rely more on the running game than they have for most of the past decade.
“It’s a similar offense that we installed in the preseason. But we are going to shade the offense to where our strengths are,” Ritter said. “It’s going to be much more balanced than it has been in the past.”
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE SENIOR Ryan Hislop runs a play against his own teammates during practice Tuesday. The Panthers open their season at home Saturday afternoon. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
That means the Panthers will probably look at least two running backs who return. Senior Ryan Hislop was the team’s second-leading rusher in 2013, appearing in five games with 41 rushes for 134 yards, and junior Andrew Miller had six runs for 17 yards against Hamilton.
The Panthers welcome back key receivers. Junior Matthew Minno, a first-team All-NESCAC honoree, hauled in 50 catches and eight touchdowns last year for a league-leading 677 yards. Senior captain Brendan Rankowitz, a second-team all-conference recipient, finished fourth in the league in catches (47) and yards (552). Other wideouts include sophomore Grant Luna, who caught 38 passes for 354 yards as a freshman. 
At tight end, senior Brett Harasimowicz was the top backup last fall, and junior Trevor Miletich will also move up the depth chart.
On the offensive line, the team returns two starters in seniors Blake Shapskinsky, a second-team All-NESCAC pick a year ago, and Daniel Finta, and several other players have seen extensive action.   
Ritter expects a veteran defense, including the return of the team’s top six tacklers from this past season, to be a plus this fall.
“We have a very experienced group back on the defensive side of the ball,” said Ritter. “They have continued to improve in each of the last few seasons, and we’ll be counting on them to have another big year.”
Leading the defensive line will be junior Jake Clapp, who in 2013 registered 39 tackles, recorded a team-high 4.5 sacks, and forced three fumbles. Classmate Gil Araujo made 16 tackles, while Nick Burdeau had a dozen stops. Senior defensive end Jack Crowell also started a year ago.
At linebacker, the Panthers welcome back two-time second-team All-NESCAC pick Tim Patricia, a junior who was fourth in the conference with 78 tackles a year ago. Sophomore Addison Pierce in 2013 made 35 tackles, while senior Jake Vacovec added 16 tackles and three pass breakups. 
Middlebury also returns experienced players to the defensive backfield. Senior captain Matthew Benedict, a second-team all-league player in 2013, was second in the conference among defensive backs with 66 tackles.  
Sophomore Nate Leedy finished third on the team in 2013 with 45 tackles while tying for third in the conference with seven pass breakups. Senior Will Bain enters his final season with 47 career tackles, and junior Dan Pierce played in six games last fall.
Heading into the opener, Ritter said the Panthers don’t think or talk much about the accomplishments of recent seasons, particularly 2013: They are focused on making 2014 a success.
“Our guys are excited to get things going,” Ritter said. “I think our guys are ready to go.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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