Date Posted:09/17/2008, 3:00PM
The Bowdoin College football team will open their 2008 campaign on the road at Middlebury College this Saturday. The Polar Bears finished as CBB Champions in 2007, earning a 3-5 overall record to place seventh in the conference. The Panthers are coming off a 7-1 season that saw them claim their second NESCAC Championship.
The Polar Bears and Panthers have not tangled since the 2005 campaign and are headed by former teammates - Bowdoin head coach Dave Caputi (Middlebury '81) and Middlebury head man Bob Ritter (Middlebury '82) shared the field in their collegiate playing days. The duo have played each other three times with Ritter holding a 2-1 edge in the meetings.
Bowdoin defeated Middlebury in the 2005 season-opener (22-21) en route to their best season in nearly three decades. The Polar Bears also faced off against the defending NESCAC Champion to open their 2007 campaign - Williams - and stunned the Ephs, 28-14.
BOWDOIN BY THE (2007) NUMBERS
Junior quarterback Oliver Kell proved to be very effective in his first full season at the helm of the Bowdoin offense, passing for 1,308 yards and eight touchdowns. He also ran for four touchdowns to lead the squad in scoring in 2007. He finished fifth in the conference in pass efficiency last season. A veteran offensive line led by seniors Gus Spaulding, Ray Wang and Ben Larkins will look to improve on Bowdoin's rushing attack that averaged 96.9 yards per game last year.
Bowdoin led the conference in turnovers last season, finishing with a margin of +16 to lead the NESCAC. Bowdoin's defense, although ranking ninth in the league, collected a NESCAC-high 30 turnovers in 2007 and will look to continue that success. The Polar Bears return their top five tacklers from a year ago, led by All-NESCAC performer Kevin Zikaras at linebacker. Zikaras led the squad with 76 total tackles in 2007, while defensive backs Bobby Welch and Matt Leotti had three interceptions apiece for the Polar Bears.
SCOUTING THE PANTHERS
Middlebury is coming off a championship season that saw them go 7-1 en route to the outright NESCAC Championship. Several key players return to the field offensively, while some large holes to fill on defense remain. The biggest was left by the graduation of linebacker Erik Woodring. The team's captain a year ago earned NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while garnering spots on the All-NESCAC and All-East teams. He departs as the school's all-time leading tackler with 307. Also lost to graduation were All-NESCAC performers David Randolph (running back), senior Nick Welch (offensive lineman), Brian Young (defensive back), Jack Britton (kicker/punter), Chad Guerrero (defensive lineman) and Nathan Clancy (linebacker). However, Middlebury does return quarterback Donald McKillop, who ranked fourth in the NESCAC in total offense in 2007.
Thanks to a record-setting performance by wideout Jeff Nolin (203 receiving yards), the Polar Bears won their first season-opener since 1991 with a one-point victory over Middlebury in 2005. Despite his receiving total, it was Nolin's legs that carried the day for the Polar Bears, as the then-senior scampered on an end-around from 12 yards out to score the game-winning touchdown with just 2:37 remaining. Bowdoin quarterback Ricky LeClerc went 22-37 with 303 yards passing to ruin a stellar day by Panther tailback Stefan Hrdina, who totaled 238 yards on the ground.
BOWDOIN vs. MIDDLEBURY
Bowdoin has played Middlebury just 17 times in the series history- the fewest of any of the Polar Bears' NESCAC foes. The squads first played in 1916 (a 7-0 Bowdoin victory) and did not play again until 1976. The Panthers, who hold a 10-6-1 edge in the all-time series, had won seven straight meetings before falling to Bowdoin in 2005.