Colby’s Nick Donatio and Elian Joseph get excited during warmups for a Sept. 23 game in Waterville. Annie Chadwick photo

WATERVILLE — You don’t need to remind the Colby College football team what Bowdoin denied it last November.

In one night, Colby’s goals for the 2022 season vanished. What could have been a first winning season in 17 years and first fourth straight CBB consortium crown since the early 1990s instead flew out the window as Bowdoin handed the Mules a 21-14 defeat on a cold night in Brunswick.

“That was definitely not a good feeling for us,” said Colby’s Rome Banaitis, a senior defensive lineman. “Respect to them for doing it — they played a great game — but that was not a good feeling. It was not how we wanted to end our season.”

A year later, the Mules are in a similar position: They need to beat the Polar Bears if they want to avoid a 17th straight losing season and win a 20th Colby-Bowdoin-Bates crown. They’ll get that chance when Bowdoin comes to town to renew the rivalry at 5 p.m. Saturday.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Colby (3-4). After an 0-2 start, the Mules rolled off a string of three straight wins that included an impressive victory over Wesleyan, which is now 6-2. Since then they’ve suffered two straight defeats with the latest coming in a 38-0 drubbing Saturday against Tufts.

“Offensively, we need to get back on track,” said Colby head coach Jack Cosgrove, whose team lost 17-6 two weeks ago before the loss to Tufts. “We did not play well at Tufts, and this is a Bowdoin defense that is similar to Tufts in that they do a lot of things actively. They’re aggressive on the blitz, and they provide challenges to your offensive line.”


Colby will be especially challenged in the run game. Bowdoin (3-4) has the second-best rush defense in the New England Small College Athletic Conference at just 77.6 yards allowed per game, while Colby’s rushing attack enters the rivalry showdown eighth with an average of 69.6 yards.

Bowdoin College football coach B.J. Hammer talks to his team during a game in Brunswick this season. Photo provided by Bowdoin athletics/Brian Beard

Still, Bowdoin is plenty wary of this Colby offense. Second-string quarterback Thomas Keeling, head coach B.J. Hammer said, has done admirably filling in for Miles Drake, and running back Keon Smart’s versatility as both a runner and a pass-catcher gives the Mules an added dimension.

“He can be running a power play to the right, and all of the sudden, he’ll reverse field and gain 9 yards on you,” Hammer said of Smart. “That makes it tough if you’re trying to be a disciplined defense, but we’ve done a good job against the run this year, and if we can do that and make them one-dimensional, that would be outstanding.”

Offensively, Bowdoin also has the NESCAC’s top passing offense at 301.4 yards per game with Andrew Boel (1,910 passing yards) boasting two top threats in receiver Colton Fahey (684 yards) and tight end Brendan King (445 yards). Andre Eden, one of the top running backs in program history, leads the Polar Bears’ ground game.

If there’s a strength this Colby team has, though, it’s against the pass. The Mules have a solid duo of defensive backs in Joshua East and reigning All-NESCAC first-team selection Nick Donatio. Linebacker Julian Young can also drop back into coverage, not to mention that he’s the conference No. 2 tackler with 69 total.

“We’re going to have to play our best game of the year on defense to limit their offensive prowess,” Cosgrove said. “Their quarterback is outstanding, and they have a group of receivers that’s very talented. They’re a team that’s resilient for four quarters and does a good job moving the ball and possessing the clock.”


The Colby and Bowdoin football teams compete during last season’s game in Brunswick. Photo provided by Bowdoin athletics/Brian Beard

While there’s motivation for the Mules after last year’s season-ending loss, the Polar Bears are also on the verge of a breakthrough. A win Saturday would give Bowdoin its first CBB title since 2010 and push it within one victory of its own first winning season since 2005 — the same year Colby last topped the .500 mark.

“It’s a huge goal for us,” Hammer said. “Coming into this season, we could see the big changes start to take place after last year, and this was No. 1 on our list: to win the CBB, have a winning season and compete for a conference championship. This is a huge one for our program to continue the development we’re on right now.”

For Colby, Saturday is about reclaiming the mantle that it lost on that awful night in Brunswick last year. It would then get a shot at NESCAC title contender Middlebury with a chance at securing that elsuive winning season.

“We want to finish with a positive record,” Banaitis said. “That’s all we talk about. It’s do-or-die time now. We have two games, and there’s no other options. We play Middlebury after, and they’re a good team, but we have to take care of business Saturday first. We want this one.”

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