At the end of Thursday’s practice, the Colby College football team gathered around to watch the team’s offensive and defensive linemen compete in their annual punt, pass and kick challenge. Head coach Jonathan Michaeles was asked, what’s on the line here?
“Nothing but pride,” Michaeles said. “There used to be a trophy, but it’s gone.”
The trophy the Mules really want will be at stake Saturday, when they play at rival Bowdoin, with the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin championship up for grabs. Colby beat Bates two weeks ago, and Bates beat Bowdoin last week. A Colby win gives the Mules their first CBB title since 2005. A Bowdoin win makes it a three-way tie, and sends the trophy back to Bates, last season’s winner.
“We had a chance for it my freshman year, and we didn’t come through. Last year, I missed the game and I’m just excited to be back at it with a chance to take it home,” junior wide receiver Luke Duncklee, a Cony High graduate, said. “No one on our team has seen the trophy. I’m excited to have the chance to bring it back.”
Colby hasn’t won the CBB title since 2005, and the Mules are in their longest drought without the rivalry title since a 10-year dry spell that ended in 1983. The Mules enter this season’s Bowdoin game playing as well as they have for a few seasons. Colby has won three games in a row, and the Mules (4-3) have allowed just three points in the last two games combined.
“Defense has been unbelievable. We’ve been able to shut down run games, and that will be the challenge in this one. They’ve got an excellent offensive line and a very good couple of running backs. They’ve got an excellent quarterback, too,” Michaeles said. “It’s going to be the most balanced team we’ve faced, I think, in the last couple of weeks. If the defense can continue to perform they way they have, I think we’ll be in great shape.”
Michaeles referred to Bowdoin running backs Zach Donnarumma (506 yards rushing) and Tyler Grant (237 yards rushing), as well as quarterback Mac Caputi. Stopping the run has been Colby’s strength of late. Allowing just 84.1 yards per game on the ground, the Mules lead the New England Small College Athletic Conference in rushing defense, and are ranked eighth in the country at stopping the run.
All week, Michaeles has heard from alumni from around the country, wishing the team well in the chase for the CBB title.
“It’s very important to the alumns, It’s one of our tangible goals, every year,” Michaeles said, “and it’s a big one.”
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Duncklee’s sophomore season lasted less than a game. The receiver broke an ankle in the first game of the 2012 season at Williams, and spent the rest of the season on the sidelines. After experiencing some soreness in his repaired ankle early this season, Duncklee has become Colby’s most reliable receiver, and one of the top wideouts in the NESCAC.
With one game to play, Duncklee leads the league in catches (57) and receiving yards (566). Duncklee’s six receiving touchdowns are second-best in the league, behind Middlebury’s William Sadik-Khan, who has nine touchdown catches.
“At the beginning of the year, I was still struggling a little bit, but as the year’s continued on, I’ve been getting healthier and healthier and started to ignore the pains. I’m feeling good now,” Duncklee said.
Duncklee developed great chemistry with quarterback Justin Ciero. Of the 132 passes completed by Ciero and backup Gabe Harrington, 43 percent have been to Duncklee.
“It’s developed into something pretty solid. I think a lot of our schemes our set up well. I’m able to get open, and it’s a pretty easy throw for Justin. I think he trusts me and I trust him when we need a big play,” Duncklee said.
In last week’s 37-0 win over Tufts, Duncklee caught 12 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s getting healthy. He’s hitting his stride,” Michaeles said. “The quarterbacks know where he’s going to be and what he can do with the football. He’s been dynamic both running and catching the ball.”
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Husson has a big game Saturday at Norwich. The Eagles and the Cadets are tied for second place in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. Each has a 4-1 record in conference play, one game behind first place Gallaudet. The winner is still in the hunt for the conference title, as the regular season ends next week.
Husson (5-3 overall) has ensured itself of at least a .500 record for the first time since 2008. Wins over Norwich this week and Mt. Ida in the regular season finale would give the Eagles seven wins, tying the record for most in a season, set in 2008.
With eight sacks, Husson defensive lineman Ernest Wiggins is tied for 27th in the nation. Husson has the top defense in the ECFC, allowing 273.9 yards per game, good for 18th-best in Division III.
Expect a low scoring game at Norwich on Saturday. Both the Eagles and Cadets are ranked in the top 50 nationally for points allowed. Norwich is 36th (16.6 ppg), while Husson is 42nd (17.1 ppg).
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Bates (3-4) closes the season at Hamilton. A win gives the Bobcats back-to-back seasons of .500 or better for the first time since 1981-82.
Lawrence grad Shaun Carroll has seen some playing time for Bates. A sophomore running back, Carroll has six carries for 14 yards and two catches for 10 yards.