LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates football team put a final, thrilling stamp on the 2012 season, defeating Hamilton 47-33 at Garcelon Field to finish 5-3, the Bobcats' first winning year since going 6-2 in 1981. Bates scored its most points since a 48-28 win over Bowdoin in 2002.
The Bobcats finish the season on a three-game win streak, and with a 3-1 record at home.
Although he was so hoarse that he could hardly be heard amidst the postgame revelry on the field, Bates head coach Mark Harriman exuded a weary contentment after the game. "I'm just so proud of what these guys have done -- what they've been able to accomplish despite a lot of adversity this year," Harriman said.
Though it led only once in the game, after a first-quarter touchdown, Hamilton (1-7) didn't go down without a fight. The Continentals scored three touchdowns in a wild fourth quarter, finishing the game with 491 yards of offense to Bates' 436. Bates countered with two touchdowns of its own in the final period, including linebacker Gilbert Brown's (Gloucester, Mass.) 101-yard interception return.
Senior team captain Patrick George (Gloucester, Mass.) ran for a career-high 144 yards on 15 carries in his final game for the Bobcats, leading a ground attack that piled up 358 yards on 50 attempts, Bates' most rushing yards in a game in more than a decade. "It all started with the guys up front, just like it has all year," said George, referring to Bates' excellent offensive line: senior left tackle Ryan Weston (Bangor, Maine), senior left guard Mark Sylvester (Everett, Mass.), sophomore center Larry Guinee (Peabody, Mass.), right guard Michael Bernstein (New York, N.Y.) and right tackle Liam O'Neil (Duxbury, Mass.). It is the Bobcats' fourth time this season with 288 or more rushing yards. Bates finishes the year with a program-record 1,868 rushing yards, exceeding the former mark of 1,852 set in 1985.
Hamilton quarterback Jordan Eck eluded Bates tacklers on several sack chances, and finished the game with 27 completions on 42 attempts for a career-high 329 yards. Eck was intercepted three times by the Bobcats, who entered the game ranked fourth in Division III in interceptions per game, and he also tossed three touchdown passes. James Stanell, meanwhile, carried the ball 30 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught an Eck pass for a 63-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Bates' defense forced a season-high six turnovers -- three interceptions, three fumble recoveries. The Bobcats finished the year with 32 takeaways, including 19 interceptions -- both numbers are new team standards, as are Bates' 349 interception return yards and three pick-sixes. Brown's 153 INT return yards is also a team record.
Four Hamilton receivers had five or more catches, led by Garrett Hoy's six receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. Joe Jensen caught five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, his fifth straight game with a TD catch.
Bates quarterback Trevor Smith (Malvern, Pa.) completed 7 of 13 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, and also carried the ball 11 times for 50 yards and his fifth rushing touchdown of the season. Junior slotback Shawn Doherty (Mansfield, Mass.), meanwhile, found the end zone twice, finishing the year with seven touchdowns in all. Doherty scored from 42 yards out on a reception from Smith late in the second quarter, then ran for a 27-yard score in the fourth quarter.
Hamilton could not slow down Bates' running game, which averaged 7.2 yards per rush. In all, Bates had 12 runs that went for more than 10 yards. Senior Teddy Downs (South Boston, Mass.) ran nine times for 55 yards and a score, and sophomore Mac Jackson (Hood River, Ore.) added 44 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
Junior placekicker Charlie Donahue (Plymouth, N.H.) made field goals from 28 yards and a career-long 34 yards, finishing the season a perfect 9-for-9 on field goal attempts and shattering Bates' single-season accuracy record, formerly held by Rejean Guerriero's 7-for-10 season in 1999. Donahue's nine field goals ties as Bates' single-season mark with the nine kicked by Don Sarason '83 (on 13 attempts) in 1981. Een before the game, Donahue had eclipsed Sarason's record of 40 points in a season. Donahue's new standard is 49.
It is Bates' seventh win over Hamilton in the teams' past nine meetings, and the Bobcats have closed the all-time series to an 18-17 edge for Hamilton.
The Bobcats finish in a tie for fourth place in the NESCAC with Wesleyan; the Cardinals escaped Lewiston with a 24-22 win in Week 4. Only Trinity (8-0), Middlebury (7-1) and Amherst (6-2) placed ahead of Bates in the final standings.
Brown had a career- and game-high 12 tackles in addition to his third interception this season and the 101-yard return for a touchdown. Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.) added eight solo tackles, a forced fumble and his team-high sixth interception of the season, and senior Evan Dowd (Longmeadow, Mass.) also made eight tackles. Senior Kyle Starr (Concord, N.H.) made seven tackles and broke up two passes.
Bates marched 60 yards on 11 plays on the opening series of the game, capped by Donahue's 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. But the Continentals did the Bobcats one better, moving the ball from their own 35-yard line into the end zone and making it look easy, taking only seven plays to cover the 65 yards. The key play of the drive was a seven-yard run by Stanell capped by an illegal helmet contact penalty called on Bates, putting Hamilton at the Bates 20. Eck then hit Hoy for 14 yards to the Bates 6, where Stanell danced into the end zone. Hoy's extra-point kick made it 7-3 Hamilton.
Bates, which entered the game ranked second in Division III in average turnover differential, committed the game's first giveaway late in the first quarter. Punting for the Continentals from their own 15, Hoy sent a 54-yarder spiraling over the head of Bates' return man, Brown. Brown signaled for a fair catch but couldn't secure the ball, and Hamilton's Nick Ufkes recovered the ball for the Continentals at the Bates 31.
Hamilton moved up to the Bates 14 on a 7-yard Eck-to-Hoy connection followed by a Bates offsides penalty. But then followed the game's biggest play to that point. Stanell advanced the ball 10 yards on a sweep to the left, but Bates defensive end Matt Gaither (Winchester, Mass.) wrapped him up at the 4 and stripped Stanell of the ball, which skittered into the end zone to be recovered by Bates sophomore cornerback Mike Kelleher (Saugus, Mass.) for a touchback.
Bates perhaps caught Hamilton reeling, immediately getting an 11-yard scamper from junior Ryan Curit (South Portland, Maine) before George burst through a big hole up the middle for 46 yards, a career-high gain, before he was dragged down by Michael de Percin at the Hamilton 23. Mac Jackson then picked up 13 more yards, and Downs and Jackson totes took the Bobcats to the Hamilton 3 as the first quarter came to a close. On the first play of the second quarter, Smith followed his offensive line into the end zone for a 10-7 lead Bates wouldn't relinquish.
Hamilton was undone by three penalties on its next possession, and the Continentals netted seven negative yards on six plays before Hoy punted just 16 yards to the Hamilton 48. Bates then capitalized on a Hamilton facemask penalty and a 17-yard run by Downs to move into the red zone. Donahue was summoned for a 34-yard field goal, which he kicked high and cleanly through the uprights for a 13-7 Bates lead with 6:54 left in the half.
Hamilton got pinned at its own 3-yard line thanks to sophomore Mike Tomaino's (Gloucester, Mass.) tackle on the ensuing kickoff return. The Continentals got some breathing room, moving up to their own 39 before facing a 4th and 1. Hoy's punt attempt was deflected by Bates sophomore Adam Cuomo (Plymouth, Mass.) and downed at the Hamilton 49, again giving the Bobcats strong field position.
Curit picked up seven yards on first down, and from the Hamilton 42, Smith rolled to his right and lofted a short lead pass to Doherty near the right sideline. The speedy, shifty slotback took things from there, dancing through a broken backfield to paydirt, a 42-yard touchdown reception. Leading 19-7, Bates tried a two-point conversion that failed.
The teams traded three-and-outs in the final two minutes of the half. The Continentals got the ball back again with 47 seconds left and moved the ball ahead 33 yards to the Bates 33. But on the final down of the half, Eck's pass was intercepted by Kelleher at the Bates 5.
Hamilton opened the second half with another turnover, a Stanell fumble recovered by junior Matt Comstock (Amherst, N.H.), but Bates gave the ball right back when Smith coughed up the ball and Mike MacDonald fell on it at the Hamilton 23. The Continentals finally capitalized this time. On 3rd and 6 from the Hamilton 37, Stanell caught a pass from Eck in the flat, found open field and pulled away from Bates' defense, cruising up the sideline for a 63-yard score to pull Hamilton with six points, 19-13. Hoy's extra-point attempt was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Bates found its running legs again when it got the ball back, rushing six straight times to move from its own 45 into the end zone, capped by an impressive 21-yard touchdown run by Jackson. Jackson began the drive with a six-yard reception from Smith, and Smith had a key 17-yard pickup on a 3rd and 4 near midfield.
Another quick turnover by the Continentals helped Bates begin to pull away. Eck threw over the middle from the Hamilton 37. Senior Josh Chronopoulos (Tyngsboro, Mass.) tipped the ball behind him, and the ball fell into Kukesh's hands for his sixth pickoff of the season, and the 14th of his career. Bates resumed running the ball through a ragged Hamilton defense, picking up yardage in chunks of seven, 11, 15 and, finally, an 18-yard touchdown run by Downs. Smith ran the ball in for a two-point conversion, and Bates had opened up a 34-13 lead with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
Although Hamilton couldn't close the gap to less than two touchdowns the rest of the way, Hamilton still had 216 yards and 21 points to go in the fourth quarter. They finished an eight-play, 80-yard drive that began the quarter with Eck's 40-yard touchdown pass to Jensen, a beautifully thrown ball that dropped over a Bates defender softly into Jensen's hands as he crossed the goal line. Hoy's extra point was blocked by Comstock to keep the score at 34-19.
After forcing Bates into a three-and-out, the Continentals were ready to close the gap to one possession, as they methodically moved the ball from their own 44 to inside Bates' 1-yard line in 12 plays. The Bobcat defense held up Stanell on two attempts from inside the 3, so on 3rd and goal at the 1, Eck looked for Pat Donadio on the left side of the end zone. But Brown stepped in front of the pass and was off to the races -- a 101-yard return for a touchdown that put the Bobcats ahead 41-19 with 6:02 left in the game.
Hamilton remained in passing mode when it got the ball back, and it paid off with a 6-play, 43-yard touchdown drive that only required 1:26 of game clock. Eck found Hoy wide open for a 21-yard scoring connection that made it 41-26.
The Bobcats, however, got excellent field position after a failed onside kick attempt, and they answered the score with a final touchdown of their own. From the Hamilton 27, Doherty eluded a series of Hamilton would-be tacklers in a spectacular scoring run -- Doherty's seventh touchdown this season, all scored in the past five weeks.
Hamilton fit in one more touchdown before the game was over, with Stanell running the ball in from 9 yards out to make it 47-33 with 29 seconds left.
After the game, the bells rang from Hathorn Hall, the Bobcats sang the team fight song for the fifth time this season, and students, parents and other Bates community members gathered with wide smiles as the sun began to set on Garcelon Field.
After standing for group photos with various teammates, Trevor Smith stood with his father and two older brothers, reflecting on the game, the season and the sort of end to his career that Smith might have only dreamed about a couple of years ago. It was suggested that one day he'd be back with his 13 senior teammates, reminiscing about the historic senior season they had put together. "That's exactly what we set out to do," Smith nodded. "We just wanted to keep getting better and better, and we did that. I'll be back here next year, too, to watch these guys keep it going. I wish I could keep playing."