Middlebury eleven starts fast, throttles Hamilton

MIDDLEBURY – On the second play from scrimmage in Saturday’s NESCAC football game, Middlebury College quarterback Jack Meservy lofted a ball to wideout Jimmy Martinez down the right sideline. Martinez caught the ball in stride and raced untouched about 20 yards into the end zone to give the Panthers the lead vs. visiting Hamilton 45 seconds after the kickoff.
The Panthers then forced a fumble on Hamilton’s second play from scrimmage. Middlebury linebacker John Jackson recovered, and two plays later Meservy threw a 22-yard strike to Martinez slanting into the end zone. With 1:29 gone the Panthers were well on the way to a 41-20 victory that moved them to 6-2.
The story was the first half. Middlebury took a 41-0 halftime lead by forcing the 2-6 Continentals in four turnovers while Meservy — a junior pressed into action when senior all-league starter Jared Lebowitz suffered a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago — tossed four touchdown passes.
Coach Bob Ritter said that first TD pass set the tone after the Panthers had struggled in a 27-5 home loss to first-place Trinity the week before. Vs. Hamilton Meservy completed 11 of 16 passes for 212 yards, aided by a ground game in which Diego Meritus and Peter Scibilia combined for eight carries for 47 yards.
“It was really important, I think, particularly for Jack Meservy, to come in and get that connection with our wideouts,” Ritter said. “That, I think, gave us a lot of confidence when he hit that ball.”
On defense Jackson led the way with nine tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and one of five Panther sacks. Linebacker Wesley Becton added seven tackles and returned a Hamilton fumble for a TD, linebacker Kevin Maxwell forced two fumbles and made six tackles, and defensive back Kevin Hartley picked off a pass.
Ritter praised his defense and noted that Hamilton was also forced to play a backup quarterback, but with less success: Sam Foley was 22 of 40 for 276 yards, mostly in the second half, and lost two fumbles as well as tossed an interception.
“I just think we had a good bead on what they were doing, and our guys did a great job executing. They had a new quarterback in, so that was part of it, too,” Ritter said. “I think a combination of those things really allowed us to play well.”
Hamilton’s first-half possessions went, in order: lost fumble, two three-and-outs concluded by Ibrahim Nasir and Robert Woods sacks on third-down plays, the Hartley interception, a failure to convert on fourth-and-inches on the Panther 20, two more three-and-outs, lost fumble, Becton’s 45-yard fumble return, and a failure to convert on fourth-and-three in Middlebury territory.
The Panthers third possession ended when Sam Bowen picked off Meservy, but they made it 20-0 on their fourth drive after a short punt to the Hamilton 33. Meservy capped the march with a 4-yard pass to Scibilia, who snuck behind the defense in the right side of the end zone.
The Panthers’ offense slowed for a while, but they got back on the board at 8:20 of the second on Becton’s fumble return that made it 27-0.
Roberts’ sack on Hamilton’s first play after the kickoff forced a fumble that Panther Aaron Slodowitz recovered on the Hamilton 24, and on third-and-22 Meservy hit tight end Frank Cosolito for a 36-yard score. Cosolito out-jumped a defender at the left end of the goal line to make a two-handed grab at 6:16.
Freshman QB Will Jernigan came on to lead the Panthers on a 67-yard drive to make it 41-0 that ended with a 5-yard toss to Conrado Banky with 0:03 left in the half. Jernigan, who finished four of six for 58 yards, completed all four of his attempts on the march.
The Panthers eased off the gas in the second half. Hamilton’s Mitch Bierman scored on runs of 8 and 2 yards in the fourth quarter, and Foley found Joe Schmidt on a 6-yard strike to create the final score. Hamilton ended up outgaining the Panthers, 373-350, but picked up only 124 yards in the first half.
The Panthers have faced adversity, with a heartbreaking last-second loss to Williams, the Lebowitz injury and the setback to Trinity all coming since Oct. 14. Ritter said he is proud of his team’s response, which he credited in part to a group that played its last home game on Saturday.
“We have great senior leadership, and those guys really didn’t let us feel sorry for ourselves or miss a beat,” he said. “We had a great week of practice. Everyone came ready to go.”
The Panthers could still claim a share of the NESCAC title with a win at Tufts this Saturday, although they would need two upsets on the same day, Williams over Amherst and Wesleyan over Trinity.
“We’re all kind of saying if the right guys all win and we win, who knows?” Ritter said. “We’d take it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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