LEWISTON, Maine -- A virtually mistake-free performance by the Bates College football team led to a 17-10 win over rival Bowdoin College on Homecoming Saturday at Garcelon Field, the Bobcats' fourth win against the Polar Bears in their past five meetings and their third in a row.
The Bobcats (3-4) finish up the 2013 season next Saturday at Hamilton (0-7) at noon, with a chance to finish 4-4. That would be Bates' first back-to-back seasons at .500 or above since 1982.
Bowdoin (2-5) hosts Colby (4-3) Saturday at 12pm. A Colby win would give the Mules the CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) championship, while a Bowdoin win would split the CBB series three ways.
Bates won the turnover battle, 3-0, and held onto the ball for more than 34 minutes of the game clock. The Bobcats achieved a 21-13 advantage in first downs, with 17 of them coming via the rush; Bates also had a 378-285 edge in total offense.
Bates junior quarterback Matt Cannone (Windham, N.H.) completed 10 of 12 passes for 102 yards, including a picture-perfect 36-yard touchdown bomb down the right sideline to senior wide receiver Kevin Davis (North Andover, Mass.), which led off the scoring in the first quarter. Cannone also rushed 17 times for 72 yards, second on the team to senior Ryan Curit's (South Portland, Maine) 18-carry, 74-yard effort. First-year quarterback Nick LaSpada (Billerica, Mass.) completed 4-of-6 pass attempts for 36 yards and also rushed seven times for 41 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Bowdoin junior quarterback Mac Caputi completed 16-of-28 passes for 123 yards, with two interceptions. Caputi also ran for a 3-yard touchdown as time expired on the first quarter, as part of his 29-yard rushing effort. Zach Donnarumma ran the ball 14 times for 108 yards, including a 61-yard burst up the middle that set up Caputi's touchdown.
Bowdoin linebacker Joey Cleary, who entered the game as the leading tackler in the conference, made 19 tackles, including 12 assists. Bates senior safety Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.) led the Bobcats with nine tackles (7 solo) in addition to an interception.
Bates' first possession of the game threatened to stall out as the Bobcats faced 4th down and 5 at the Bowdoin 36, after Brendan Lawler threw Curit for a two-yard loss. But Cannone dropped back and aired out a beautifully thrown ball toward the right pylon. Davis caught up to it just as he crossed into the end zone, and senior kicker Charlie Donahue's (Plymouth, N.H.) point-after attempt made it 7-0 Bates.
Bowdoin was held to 22 yards and a punt on its next possession, but Morowchikc's kick backed the Bobcats up to their own 6-yard line. A quick 9-yard gain by senior Shawn Doherty (Mansfield, Mass.), on his first touch of the game, was followed by a 3-yard run by Curit and a 25-yard scamper by Cannone. Another 9-yard gain by Doherty carried Bates into Bowdoin territory, and a 4-yard carry by Curit gave Bates a first down at the Bowdoin 30. There, however, the snap from center sailed over Cannone's head, and the QB fell on the ball for an 8-yard loss. A 16-yard connection near the sideline on 3rd-and-16 took Bates to the Bowdojn 20, and four plays later, Donahue kicked a career-long 38-yard field goal, moving Bates into a 10-0 lead with 34 seconds left in the first quarter.
Bowdoin's next play from scrimmage, starting at its own 36, saw Donnarumma burst through a big hole up the middle. Donnarumma broke one tackle downfield before he was dragged down by junior Mike Kelleher (Saugus, Mass.) at Bates' 3-yard line. Caputi took over from there, narrowing the gap to 10-7 with a 3-yard scoring run at the end of the quarter.
Bates was forced into a three-and-out by Bowdoin's defense, but a big play returned the ball to the Bobcats shortly thereafter. Caputi connected with Greg Thompson on a high pass to the left side. Thompson landed with the ball and his momentum caused him to roll over and lose the ball. Kukesh, five yards down the field from Thompson, intercepted the ball before it hit the ground.
Bates' next offensive series saw LaSpada enter at quarterback and fellow rookie Ivan Reese (Savannah, Ga.) as the tailback. Reese converted a 4th-and-1 with a nine-yard run, and later gained four yards on a 3rd and 3 at the Bowdoin 24. Following a 15-yard connection from LaSpada to Doherty, LaSpada twisted his body into the end zone on a 3-yard keeper for a 17-7 Bates lead with 8:00 left in the second quarter.
LaSpada quarterbacked the next drive as well and Bates moved 53 yards before turning the ball over on downs, at Bowdoin's 34, for the first of four occasions in the game. Bowdoin took over with 1:26 left in the half but failed to move beyond the Bates 31, as the drive fizzled out with three straight incompletions.
After a scoreless third quarter, Bowdoin narrowed the gap to 17-10 on Andrew Murowchick's 26-yard field goal with 10:33 left in the fourth quarter. The kick completed a 17-play, 68-yard drive that took up 8:26 of the game clock.
The Polar Bears got the ball back at their 26 and stood at the Bowdoin 35 when the ball was popped out of Donnarumma's hands at the line of scrimmage, a fumble thought to be forced by Kelleher and recovered by sophomore cornerback Michael Lee (Bealeton, Va.) in Bates' backfield.
Bates couldn't move the ball more than 31 yards on either of its two possessions sandwiching the fumble, but the Bobcats did run 7:50 off the clock. The Polar Bears' last-chance possession started at with 59 seconds left on its own 21-yard line. The Polar Bears quickly moved 17 yards on two plays, but from their own 38, Caputi's throw to the sideline was intercepted by junior safety Ryan Newson (Stanhope, N.J.), sealing the win for Bates.
Davis finished the game with a season-best five catches for 75 yards and the touchdown. Doherty, who entered the game as the NESCAC leader in all-purpose yards, had a game-high 137 all-purpose yards, 80 of them coming on four kickoff returns.
Seamus Power led Bowdoin receivers with three catches for 38 yards. Brian Glazewski (11 tackles), Jake Prince (10) and Tom Wells (10) all racked up double-digits tackles in addition to Cleary.
Junior Gilbert Brown (Gloucester, Mass.) and first-year Mark Upton (Winthrop, Mass.) were credited with six tackles apiece for Bates. Senior defensive tackle Matt Comstock (Amherts, N.H.) made five tackles, and junior linebacker Josh Freedland (Marblehead, Mass.) sacked Caputi for an eight-yard loss, his team-best third sack of the season.