CLINTON, N.Y. -- The Bates College football team scored on five of its first six possessions to build a 31-7 lead en route to a 38-21 victory over Hamilton College in its 2013 season finale on Saturday.
Bates (4-4) finishes at .500 or above in consecutive years for the first time since 1981-82. Bates ties Colby for fifth place in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and also takes a three-way share of the CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) crown, following Bowdoin's win over Colby today.
The Bobcats have defeated Hamilton (0-8) for two straight years and in nine of their past 11 meetings.
Bobcats posted season highs in points, total offense (464 yards), yards gained per rush (5.4) and yards gained per pass (11.8).
Senior Shawn Doherty (Mansfield, Mass.) rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, part of a game-high 215 all-purpose yards, in his final game as a Bobcat. Senior Ryan Curit (South Portland, Maine) ran for 87 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and sophomore Shaun Carroll (Clinton, Maine) gained 47 yards on just three carries. Junior quarterback Matt Cannone (Windham, N.H.) completed 9-of-14 passes for a career-high two touchdowns and 165 yards, including scoring passes of 63 yards to sophomore Mark Riley (Needham, Mass.) and 30 yards to senior Kevin Davis (North Andover, Mass.), who hauled in three passes on the day for 68 yards.
Senior Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.), team co-captain with Doherty, posted a final virtuoso performance. The All-New England and preseason All-America safety totaled 11 tackles (7 solo) and both of Bates' interceptions. Six different Bobcats were credited with pass breakups.
Bates seemed to come up with big plays at will throughout the first half, beginning with the opening kickoff, which Doherty returned 61 yards all the way to Hamilton's 27-yard line. Following an initial loss of three yards, on the Bobcats' second play from scrimmage, Cannone lofted a 30-yard pass down the left sideline and into the end zone to Davis, who had a step on his defender, for a 7-0 lead just 53 seconds into the game, following senior Charlie Donahue's (Plymouth, N.H.) extra point.
It didn't take long for Bates' defense to follow the lead of special teams and the offense in coming up with a big play. No sooner had Hamilton converted its first first down of the game then junior Gilbert Brown (Gloucester, Mass.) forced Hamilton running back James Stanell to fumble, and the ball was recovered by first-year linebacker Mark Upton (Winthrop, Mass.) to return the ball to Bates at midfield with 12:43 still left in the first.
Doherty fumbled the ball away on Bates' next series, the only non-scoring possession of the first half for the Bobcats. But after a Hamilton three-and-out, Bates added its second touchdown on a 3rd-and-12 play from its own 37. Cannone found Mark Riley over the middle. Riley, who was in 1-on-1 coverage, was open because his man fell down and he sprinted 63 yards untouched into the end zone.
Bates' defense stuffed Hamilton for another three-and-out. Sophomore quarterback Nick LaSpada (Billerica, Mass.) rushed for nine yards on first down, then Doherty broke free for a career-long 76-yard score. He reached the corner on a run around right end and found the sideline. Doherty was nearly pushed out a couple times but managed to stay inbounds and cruised into the end zone for a 76-yard TD run with 5:44 to go in the first.
Hamilton then pieced together a solid drive, moving the ball 70 yards on 12 plays, including a 32-yard keeper by quarterback Chase Rosenberg. Hamilton had a first-and-goal from Bates' 5 and the Bobcat defense pushed the Continentals back into 4th and goal at the 6, but from there Rosenberg passed to Pat Donadio for a 6-yard touchdown, putting the Continentals on the board and closing the gap to 21-7 at the close of the first quarter.
A career-long 27-yard carry by Carroll highlighted another drive in which Bates' triple-option offense made it look easy, moving 65 yards on seven plays. Curit had a 9-yard pickup on the drive, Doherty had a 10-yard run, and LaSpada began the drive with an 8-yard run and finished it off with his second 3-yard rushing touchdown in as many weeks, putting the Bobcats up 28-7.
Badly in need of an answer on offense, Hamilton instead committed a turnover. Facing a pass rush from three Bates defenders, Rosenberg appeared to try to throw the ball away, but Kukesh made a great play, jumping to pick the ball out of the air before it sailed out of bounds. Kukesh tiptoed up the sideline for a 5-yard return, setting up the Bobcats on the 50-yard line.
Three penalties for 35 yards slowed Bates' offense on the following drive. A holding penalty on Bates wiped out a 36-yard touchdown run by Carroll, but a 24-yard pass from Cannone to Davis put the Bobcats down at the Continentals' 8. Four plays later, Donahue booted a 31-yard field goal for a 31-7 lead with 6:38 to go in the first half.
A fumble by Curit at the Hamilton 31 marred Bates' final series of the first half, but Kukesh finished off the half with another interception, his third in the past two games and the 17th of his career. Rosenberg overthrew his target over the middle and Kukesh leaped high to catch the ball, then weaved upfield for a 15-yard return. Bates took a knee to send the game into intermission.
Hamilton tightened up defensively and chopped into Bates' lead in the second half. The Continentals picked off Cannone and converted that into a 13-yard touchdown run by Stanell. Bates couldn't advance the ball into Hamilton territory, but a 53-yard punt by junior David Kurey (West Chester, Pa.) was downed at the Continental 1-yard line.
But Hamilton responded with an impressive 99-yard, 15 play drive, accomplished mostly via the arm and legs of Rosenberg, who completed three passes and rushed for gains of 14 and 26 yards on the drive. Hamilton converted two 4th-and-1 situations to keep the drive alive and Stanell capped it with a rush over the goal line from the 8, narrowing the difference to 31-21.
With the game clock ticking under 5:00 and still trailing by two touchdowns, Hamilton turned the ball over on downs at its own 17, with Brown tripping up Rosenberg a yard short of converting a 4th-and-2. The play set up a rather easy scoring drive for the Bobcats, their only one of the second half, and it was all Curit, for three, six and finally eight yards and the score that put Bates ahead 38-21.
Upton and junior Steven Hild (West Hartford, Conn.) came up with eight tackles apiece, while Brown and junior Ryan Newson (Stanhope, N.J.) had seven tackles each. Brown had two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to his credit.