It won’t be playing for a conference championship this season, but Bates College football does have a shot at a different title with a victory over Bowdoin College on Saturday.
After a thrilling 34-28 victory over Colby in overtime during homecoming last weekend, the Bobcats can win the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin title outright if they defeat the Polar Bears at Whittier Field. Bates has won a share of the CBB title each of the last two seasons. The Polar Bears own a 66-43-7 lead in the series.
The Bobcats (2-4) fought back from a pair of 14-point deficits against the Mules. They trailed 14-0 to star the game and 21-7 with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter. Bates responded with 14 unanswered points in a span of 2:30 to tie the game at 21 before Colby reclaimed the lead three minutes later.
Trailing 28-21, Bates defense recovered a fumble at Colby’s 16-yard line with 2:06 remaining in regulation. On fourth-and-goal from the 3, quarterback Matt Cannone found receiver Frank Williams in the end zone for the game-tying touchdown with 33 seconds remaing. It was Williams’ first reception of the game.
After the Mules missed a 42-yard field goal, Cannone again found Williams, this time for a 25-yard touchdown to end the game. Prior to Saturday’s contest, the Bobcats hadn’t played an overtime game since 2006, when Colby defeated Bates in four overtimes.
The Bobcats are hoping their homecoming victory over the Mules carries over when they travel to face Bowdoin. Bates is still looking for its first win away from Garcelon Field. The Bobcats are 0-3 on the road and have been outscored 91-36.
The Polar Bears (2-4) aren’t in the discussion for a conference title either, but they will have some extra motivation. Saturday’s contest marks the final home game for Bowdoin head coach Dave Caputi, who announced Oct. 14 that he will be stepping down at the end of the season.
Bowdoin is coming off a 35-0 loss to Wesleyan and is riding a two-game losing streak after winning two straight to start the month of October.
Both teams rely heavily on the running game. Bates and Bowdoin rank at the bottom of the NESCAC in passing. They are the only two schools that haven’t amassed 1,000 passing yards. The Bobcats have attempted the fewest passing attempts at 132, but is third in the conference at 11.1 yards per completion. The Polar Bears have tossed just one touchdown in 188 throws.
Bates and Bowdoin rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in the rushing department, separated by just five yards this season. While Bates’ running game is more by committee, Tyler Grant shoulders the load for the Polar Bears. He leads the NESCAC in carries (162) and yards (586) and is second in yards per game (97.7) and touchdowns (6). He rushed for 208 yards on 43 carries in a win over Tufts on Oct. 4.
Defensively, both teams give up huge chunks of yardage. The Bobcats surrender 346.7 yards per game, while the Polar Bears give up a conference-worst 402.2 yards per contest. Bates is one of two teams in the NESCAC without a defensive touchdown (Hamilton). The Bobcats have forced 11 turnovers.
If Bowdoin wins on Saturday, it can win the CBB title outright if it defeats Colby in the regular-season finale. If Colby beats Bowdoin, the three teams will again share the trophy.
Cannone, Riley connection on track
Matt Cannone wasn’t the only one affected when the starting quarterback struggled through injuries earlier in the season.
Wide receiver Mark Riley was in the midst of a breakout season when he saw his quarterback suffer an ankle injury in Bates’ first win of the season, a 19-12 decision against Williams. The injury forced Cannone out of the lineup in the Bobcats’ next game against Wesleyan, and Riley went without a reception for the first time all season.
He again didn’t record a catch the following week against Middlebury, with Cannone only playing the first half. Prior to those two weeks, Riley averaged eight catches a game and led the NESCAC with 116.3 yards per contest. He had back-to-back games of 142 and 143 yards receiving, respectively, hauling in three touchdown passes in the process.
Riley returned to form in Bates’ 34-28 overtime victory against Colby last week when the junior caught five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Not coincidentally, Cannone played the full game.
Even with the two receptionless games, Riley maintains the top spot among NESCAC receivers in yards (458) and yards per game (76.3). He leads Wesleyan’s Jay Fabien by 50 yards with two games left.
Entering his junior campaign, Riley had eight career receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown. But with the loss of Kevin Davis and Shawn Doherty to graduation, Riley has filled the top receiving spot admirably for the Bobcats.
Riley has been without question Cannone’s favorite target this season. Nearly 44 percent of Cannone’s completions have been to Riley, who averages more than two catches per game more than Bates’ second- and third-leading receivers. Riley’s 458 yards accounts for 56 percent of the team’s receiving production.