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Football Preview: Bobcats poised for first win

Game Preview: Wesleyan University Cardinals (0-3) at Bates College Bobcats (0-3)

Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 at Garcelon Field

Watch and listen to the game live on BatesCast.com! Al Harvie '65 and Ryan Horvath '10 will have the call live at Garcelon Field.

First-year quarterback Ryan Katon goes up against a fellow freshman in Wesleyan's Blake DuBois on Saturday.

The Bobcats, in search of their first victory, come into week four looking to build on an offense that has showed signs of promise. In week three Bates took the opening kickoff drove 67 yards in 10 plays and capped it off with a five-yard touchdown scramble by freshman quarterback Ryan Katon. Bates appeared to be prepared for a dogfight with NESCAC rival Williams College, and an opening drive touchdown seemed it could be the spark that the Bobcats would need to capture their second victory all-time against the Ephs. The Ephs countered with an equally impressive 11-play, 60-yard drive, capped by a 10 yard touchdown run to even the score at 7-7. Despite a valiant first-quarter effort by the Bobcats, Williams scored 27 unanswered points en route to a 27-14 victory.

In week four the Bobcats take on Wesleyan, which leads the all-time series between the conference foes 22-4. Bates’ last victory against the Cardinals came in 2005 in thrilling fashion, a 30-29 overtime victory decided by a Wesleyan mishandled snap on the game-tying extra point attempt. Wesleyan is also searching for their first victory of the 2008 campaign, following a week three 13-7 defeat to Colby. The Cardinals were victorious in last year’s meeting against the Bobcats, a 41-21 drubbing over a tired Bates team. Unless there’s a tie, one team will emerge with its first win. 

Scouting Bates

The Bobcats enter this week’s contest with much to prove on offense. Bates is tied with Wesleyan for ninth in the conference in scoring at 9.3 points per game, and although Bates accumulated a season high 258 yards of offense against Williams, they rank last in the NESCAC in first downs and total offense. The offensive line of the Bobcats, anchored by senior guard John MacKenzie and junior tackle Dave Myerson, ranks an impressive second in the NESCAC in sacks allowed, allowing opponents to get to Bates quarterbacks just three times this season. Katon has had ample amounts of time to find his corps of receivers, including a pair of talented tight ends in juniors Matt Sherburne and Sean Wirth, as well as junior wide receivers Matt Gregg and Tommy Beaton. Gregg leads the team in receptions with 13 and Beaton is second on the team in total offense. Senior running back Greg Thornton leads the rushing attack with 89 yards through three games. He is complemented by junior Judd Smith, who has established himself as a short-yardage back for the Bobcats.

The Bates defense has displayed abundant ability to keep the Bobcats in games. The Bobcats are first in the NESCAC in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score a mere 54.5 percent of the time when inside the 20. Additionally, Bates is second in the league in third-down defense, holding their opponents to just 14 conversions on 48 tries (34%). In week three the defense was led by sophomore standout Ted Durkin, who recorded a career-high 11 tackles from his inside linebacker position against Williams. Durkin proved to be a strong run stopper on a defense with lots of potential, and sits at fifth on the team with 4.3 tackles a contest. Junior safety Kyle McAllister and sophomore outside linebacker Myles Walker lead the Bobcat defense with 8.7 tackles per game, and are tied at fifth in the NESCAC in tackles. McAllister is joined in the defensive secondary by junior Bill Jennings, who has built an impressive resume through three games for the Bobcats. In addition to leading the team in all-purpose yards, Jennings is first in the NESCAC in kick return average, second in interceptions and third in passes defended. Providing the pass rush for the league’s third-ranked pass rushing defense is sophomore defensive end Rich McNeil, who ranks second in the NESCAC in sacks and sixth in the league in tackles for loss. Though the defense is young, it may be only a matter of time before the Bobcats begin to come into form and use these weapons to their advantage.

Scouting Wesleyan

The young Wesleyan offense is led by freshman quarterback Blake DuBois, who ranks seventh in the conference with 161 yards passing per game. DuBois’ favorite target is senior wide receiver Kevin Leamy, who ranks seventh in the league with 5.33 receptions per game. Joining Leamy at wide receiver is senior Ryan Walsh, second on the Cardinals with 12 receptions; Walsh leads the team with 15.7 yards per catch and 60 yards per game receiving. Leading the rushing attack for Wesleyan is junior Lane Kirshe, who has only carried the ball for 78 yards through three games, but has done so on merely 15 attempts from scrimmage, averaging 5.2 yards per touch. However, Wesleyan has been bothered by its offensive line play: the Cardinals rank last in the NESCAC in sacks allowed, letting opponents get to DuBois 12 times in three games.

The Cardinals come into week four against Bates with the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the league. Despite fielding the ninth-ranked rush defense (195 yards per game), the Cardinals make up for it by allowing only 153 yards per game on through the air, good for third in the NESCACsurprising, considering the Cardinals have not intercepted an opposing quarterback yet this season. The Wesleyan defense is led by freshman linebacker Cyprian Oyomba, who ranks fifth in the conference in tackles per game. Second for the Cardinals in tackles is freshman defensive back Cameron Davila, at 7 tackles per contest. Providing the pass rush for the Wesleyan defense is junior defensive end Bo Brown, who is fourth on the team in tackles with 15 on the year, including two for a loss.

Keys to the Game

Special teams

Special teams proved to be crucial in the Bobcats’ defeat against Williams in week three. Two errant punt snaps resulted in excellent field position for the Ephs, and subpar kickoff coverage helped shift the game from winnable to all but over. They will need to shore up these mistakes and capitalize upon their No. 2 ranking in punt return average to establish field position and gain those instrumental hidden yards. Additionally, the Bobcats will look to Bill Jennings for a spark in the kick return game. Jennings ranks first in the NESCAC at 26 yards per return, and he’ll be looking to take one all the way back. Look for Jennings and the Bobcats to shore up some early season special team woes and increase their chances on Saturday.

First-year Quarterbacks

Both teams come into this weekend relatively inexperienced at quarterback. DuBois of Wesleyan and Katon of Bates rank seventh and ninth, respectively, in the conference in passing yards per game. Katon looked poised for the most part in his second collegiate start against Williams, connecting on a number of long third-down conversions. Yet three interceptions by Katon cost the Bobcats good field position and crucial opportunities. DuBois comes to Garcelon with four interceptions on the season, tied for second most in the conference. Triple threat Tom Beaton has also shown game-changing ability while taking quarterback snaps, completing 6 of 8 passes and rushing for 63 yards on 13 attempts, and can help take the pressure off of Katon.

Time of Possession

This weekend’s matchup pits eighth-ranked Bates against the ninth-ranked Wesleyan Cardinals in terms of time of possession. Particularly against young defenses, establishing the run and chewing up the game clock could be central to winning the game. The Bobcats can gain a competitive advantage by exploiting the Cardinals’ ninth-ranked rush defense and keeping the Wesleyan offense off the field.

Around the NESCAC

Bowdoin (1-2) at Hamilton (1-2): Coming off a nail-biter win against the Tufts Jumbos (28-26), junior quarterback Oliver Kell and the Polar Bears hope even their record with a victory in Clinton, N.Y.

Colby (2-1) at Amherst (2-1): Following a disappointing loss at the hands of the Middlebury Panthers, sophomore quarterback Alex Vitras brings his second ranked passing average back home as the Lord Jeffs look to rebound against the Mules.

Tufts (2-1) at Trinity (3-0): After a surprising loss to Bowdoin, NESCAC leading rusher Will Forde take to the road to face the first-place Bantams.

Middlebury (2-1) at Williams (2-1): With both teams coming off victories, senior running back Brian Morrissey and the Ephs take on sophomore quarterback and NESCAC-leading passer Donald McKillop and the Panthers in what could be termed the NESCAC’s game of the week.