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Football gains early 9-0 lead, falls at unbeaten Middlebury

Mark Upton opened the scoring with his tackle for a safety in Bates' 28-9 loss at Middlebury on Oct. 22, 2016. (File photo by Brian Foley for Bates College) 

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- Jared Lebowitz passed for 394 yards and three touchdowns as Middlebury overcame an early 9-0 deficit with 28 unanswered points in a 28-9 homecoming victory over the Bates football team Saturday at Alumni Stadium.

The Panthers rose to 5-0 and dropped Bates to 1-4. The Bobcats begin defense of their Colby-Bates-Bowdoin (CBB) title against Colby next Saturday at home.

Bates turned four great plays in the early going into a 9-0 lead within the game's first seven minutes. 

The first of them came on the Panthers' game-opening drive. Defending receiver James Burke, Bates sophomore outside linebacker Joe Frake (Windham, N.H.) caused the Panther receiver to bobble the ball. Frake gobbled up the pop-up and scampered 19 yards up the sideline, giving Bates its first possession starting at the Middlebury 35-yard line.

Bates' offense went nowhere on its first series, but sophomore punter Justin Foley (Lynnfield, Mass.) made it all better by bouncing his punt out of bounds at the Middlebury 1-yard line. On first down from the 1, Middlebury handed off to Drew Jacobs, who spun around one tackler in the end zone before he was wrapped up by senior linebacker Mark Upton (Winthrop, Mass.) for the safety and a 2-0 lead.

Bates' offense then took over at its own 49-yard line and on third down, sophomore quarterback Sandy Plashkes (Del Mar, Calif.) hit wide-open junior receiver Brian Daly (Marblehead, Mass.) in stride over the middle, and Daly sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown. The junior has two touchdowns on six receptions this season. Junior Grant DeWald's (Duxbury, Mass.) extra point made it 9-0 in Bates' favor with 8:49 left in the first quarter.

Bates kept up the momentum. The first of two sacks on the day for sophomore defensive endTyler Harrington (Haverhill, Mass.) -- on Lebowitz's 14th pass attempt of a 15-play drive -- forced Middlebury to turn the ball over on downs, and a career-long 22-yard run by sophomore running back Peter Boyer (Dover-Foxcroft, Maine) put the Bobcats at midfield in the final minute of the first quarter. Bates punted the ball away to the Panthers, but Upton picked off a long pass by Lebowitz for his first interception this season, giving Bates' offense great field position again at its own 46.

But Middlebury's Nate Leedy answered with an interception of his own, and a facemask penalty called against Bates on the play allowed the Panther offense to start at the Bates 25. Facing third down after two incompletions, Lebowitz found Banky open in the end zone for a 25-yard connection.

The Panthers then forced a three-and-out from Bates and drove 77 yards on eight plays, ending with a second Lebowitz-to-Banky connection for 26 yards, giving Middlebury its first lead at 14-9 with 8:50 left in the half, the NESCAC-leading receiver's eighth score this season. The final drives of the half went nowhere for both teams.

Bates started the third quarter with a three-and-out, giving the Panthers the ball at their own 27. Running back Diego Meritus picked up three first downs for Middlebury en route to the Bates 33, where Lebowitz found Burke for a 33-yard score and a 21-9 Middlebury lead with 10:51 to go in the third.

Bates drove as far as the Middlebury 35 on its next drive, and a Foley punt was downed at the Middlebury 1. The Bobcat defense got a three-and-out from the Panthers, and the offense was able to take over at the Middlebury 27. Plashkes picked up a first down with an 11-yard scamper, but he was later stopped for a three-yard gain on 3rd and 7, and Bates turned the ball over on downs. 

Middlebury took over at its own 11 and drove to the Bates 25, where Lebowitz completed to Jimmy Martinez over the middle. But inside the 5-yard line, Frake jarred the ball loose and senior Trevor Lyons (Hamilton, Mass.) recovered, breathing life into Bates' chances in the final minute of the third quarter. 

But Bates' offense was held to zero first downs in the fourth quarter, keeping the defense on the field for much of the final period. The Panthers notched a final scoring drive beginning with 10:49 left on the clock, as Lebowitz found Jacobs, Banky and Martinez for successive gains of 11, 14 and 11 yards into the red zone. Meritus finished off the drive with a seven-yard run and a three-yard touchdown for the 28-9 lead.

Lebowitz completed 35 passes on 56 attempts for 394 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Banky, Martinez, Burke and Frank Cosolito combined for 28 receptions, all with six or seven apiece, with Banky scoring twice and Burke once. Meritus rushed 14 times for 61 yards and a score.

Plashkes finished with seven completions for 80 yards on 16 pass attempts, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Boyer led the Bobcats to 149 yards rushing with 13 attempts for 56 yards, while senior Tyler Janssen (Rocky Hill, Conn.) added 37 yards on eight carries. Daly hauled in three receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Upton led Bates in tackling for the fourth time in five games this season with 13 (nine solo), to go with his fourth sack and first interception of the season and the tackle for a loss that gave Bates a safety. Lyons added 10 solo tackles and Harrington had eight tackles, including two sacks. John Jackson had 13 tackles for Middlebury, including 1.5 sacks.