Middlebury College wins NESCAC football title

THE MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE football players and coaches celebrate winning a share of the NESCAC title on Saturday after they defeated Colby, 35-28, in Maine. The Panthers and Trinity both had 8-1 league records this year. Photo courtesy of Middlebury College Sports Information

WATERVILLE, Maine — The Middlebury College football team earned a share of the NESCAC championship on Saturday by defeating host Colby College, 35-28, in the Panthers’ season finale.

Middlebury and Trinity, each 8-1, are the league’s co-champions. NESCAC does not use tiebreakers to decide football titles, and the teams share the crown despite the fact Middlebury won at Trinity on Oct. 14, 20-15. The program won this co-championship in Head Coach Doug Mandigo’s first season in charge.

Middlebury claimed a share of the NESCAC title for the fifth time in program history. The Panthers won it outright in 2007 (7-1) and in 2019 (9-0). They and Trinity are the only teams to complete 9-0 campaigns.

The Panthers took charge vs. Colby with a three-touchdown third quarter after the teams entered the halftime break tied at 14-14.

The Mules struck first with 6:21 remaining in the opening quarter. Colby’s Payton Reid recovered a fumbled punt at Middlebury 30-yard line to put the squad in scoring position. Mule quarterback Thomas Keeling completed a 30-yard strike to Jack Sawyer for the score, and Chris Tzoumakas’ extra point was good for the lead.

The Panthers answered with a touchdown less than two minutes into the second quarter with a five-play, 57-yard drive capped by a 25-yard pass from Cole Kennon to Donovan Wood. Zach Levy’s extra point tied the score.

The Mules responded on their next drive. On third-and-four from the Colby 31, Keeling launched a 69-yard pass to Keon Smart for the touchdown, and it was 14-7.

The Panther defense evened the score with 3:25 left in the half. The Mules began a drive at their own 1-yard line, and Keeling fumbled as he was group-sacked in the endzone, and Dave Filias recovered for the touchdown.

The Middlebury offense came alive in the third quarter. Starting on their own 25-yard line to begin the period, the Panthers marched to set up a Kennon one-yard rushing touchdown and a 21-14 lead.

Middlebury’s next possession began on the the Mules’ 36-yard line after Colby lost yards on its possession due to a penalty and then punted for just 20 yards. Shortly afterward, Panther Cody Weitzman rushed two yards into the endzone, and it was 28-14.

A Brendan Easter interception next set up the Panthers at the Colby 33, and with 6:10 remaining in the quarter Caleb Smith bolted 28 yards for another touchdown to make it 35-14.

Early in the fourth quarter, Keeling found Sawyer for a 39-yard scoring strike, and it was 35-21. A fumble on the next Panther possession set up Colby on the Middlebury 33, but after one complete pass to the 17, the Panthers forced four straight incompletions and took over on downs.

Middlebury then chewed up about six minutes with a drive that ended with a missed field goal at 5:57. Colby drove 80 yards to make it 35-28 on a 9-yard pass from Keeling to Keon Smart with just over two minutes to go, but the Panthers recovered the onside kick to essentially clinch the victory.

Keeling completed 34 of 54 attempts for 361 yards as Colby finished with 391 yards of offense.

Kennon completed 19 of 34 passes for 215 yards and finished his career with 4,148 passing yards, good for sixth in program history.

Wood led the receivers with seven catches for 92 yards. Wood capped his career as the program’s second all-time receiver with 2,246 yards.

Weitzman rushed 13 times for 82 yards, and Middlebury gained 149 yards on the ground to finish with 364 yards of offense.

The Panthers’ one sack on the day allowed them to set a school record for most sacks in a season with 27, erasing the previous mark of 26.5 from 2016. Middlebury finished the season with 56 pass breakups, ranking second all-time for a season. Rocco Stola finished the fall with 10 pass breakups, second on the individual single-season list.

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