Middlebury, Vt. - The Colby College Football team fell to Middlebury College on the road 26-27.
Colby entered the contest as huge underdogs. In the first four weeks of the season, we saw flashes of greatness but the Mules came away with four losses. Against Wesleyan, four turnovers and twice turning the ball over on downs inside the Cardinal 10 yard line spelled the final story. In week two the Mules played as tight as one recently remembers against Amherst, only to fall to late scores. On the road at Hamilton in week three, Colby held the league's top ranked rushing unit to 63 yards and zero points in the second half. Last week at home against Williams the Mules once again held their opponent scoreless in the second half and turned one of the NESCAC's most explosive offenses into a game manager. This week at Middlebury, the Mules looked like they were putting it all together.
The Panthers entered their Homecoming Weekend ready to celebrate. They held one of the two remaining undefeated records in the conference. Middlebury had the second ranked rushing offense and second ranked passing offense. Their defense is ranked third in yards allowed and forced 12 total turnovers. They allowed opposing teams less than 20 points a game en route to the Panthers' four wins. Middlebury eyed their fifth straight win and a perch atop the NESCAC, and Colby was ready to ruin their party.
Junior captain Marcus Bullard (cover photo) came into the contest as the NESCAC's leading tackler. To say this Mule is special is an understatement. Bullard added 15 more tackles today, two for a loss, and added a sack and an interception on his way to Player of the Week consideration. Teammate CJ Hassan was once again electric from his defensive back position, recovering two fumbles, aiding in a sack, and recording nine total tackles and a pass breakup on the day. The Mules defense came to play today, keeping the high-flying Middlebury passing attack to a stat line of 12-30 passing for 172 yeards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
Offensively, the Mules flipped the script from the last few games where they fell behind early. Colby found themselves up 13-0 one minute into the second quarter. Tight end Pat Sweetnam (photo inset) scored a pair of 18 yard touchdown receptions at the hand of quarterback Matt Hersch (230 yards passing, three touchdowns, zero interceptions). It appeared the Mules would hold the Panthers scoreless as the second quarter wound down, but a late score by Middlebury sent the teams to the locker room at the half with a score of 13-6.
Middlebury roared into the third quarter looking to right their ship, and proceeded to account for the next three scores of the contest, all rushing touchdowns. The final one came on the first play in the fourth quarter as quarterback Will Jernigan (21 rushes, 153 yards, three touchdowns) broke through the line and outpaced the Mule defense for a 62 yard score and a 27-13 lead.
Colby never gave up, and with a defense that stiffened and and an offense that converted, the Mules turned two fumble recoveries on Middlebury's next two possessions into a 26-27 game. The first score was an 11 yard touchdown reception from Hersch to Andrew DeFranco with nine minutes to play. The second score was actually off a Chris George fumble at the goal line that was recovered in the end zone by offensive lineman Ty Mahar for a touchdown with seven minutes left on the clock. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was thrown following the play for a spiked ball, and place kicker Moises Celaya was backed up for the extra point attempt. The ensuing kick bounced off the crossbar, leaving the Mules down by one.
All football lovers know how crucial all three phases of the game are. Today's contest came down to the phase often undervalued, the kicking game. Middlebury missed its first extra point attempt of the game, as did Colby. Backing up 15 yards on the fourth touchdown made the attempt much more difficult for Celaya, and one would have to believe the score would have been knotted otherwise. Or maybe the Mules would have gone for two and the win. Regardless, the Mules mounted one final attempt at the win, driving on its last possession to the Middlebury 15 yard line with 20 seconds remaining. Celaya's play for the win from 32 yards away sailed wide right.
This Mules team plays with energy and with pride. This Mules team is fun to watch and fun to cheer for. This Mules team is ready to break through and make a run. That run begins next Saturday when they travel to Trinity College for a 1:00 PM start time.
(photo courtesy of Calvin Wetmore '20)