LEWISTON — The melted eye-black wasn’t blurring Andrew Scichilone’s vision. It hadn’t seeped into his brain and caused a manic episode.

Scichilone, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound offensive lineman from the Cape Cod community of Sandwich — yes, he’s eaten his share — didn’t blink, look away, smile or stutter.

“If you come back next year at this point,” Scichilone said, “maybe we‘re 7-0 and looking to win the league championship in Week 8.”

Son, are we both talking about Bates College?

Bates, which hasn’t experienced a winning season since “Endless Love” was the No. 1 song in the land and President Ronald Reagan was in the first year of his first term.

Bates, whose epic 1990s losing streak was the passkey to a few sentences in Sports Illustrated for all the wrong reasons.

Bates, cradle of statesmen, war heroes, Pulitzer Prize winners, theologians and some pretty fair track and field throwers.

Yup, that school.

Don’t look now, but something is slowly, surely, slyly and surreptitiously happening on that artificial greenery at Garcelon Field. Bates football is getting good.

Not great.

Not yet in position to beat Amherst, Williams and Trinity every year.

But closer than you think.

The Bobcats are intriguing, legitimate and relevant. If you’ve been watching this movie with even a modicum of interest for the last decade or two or six, you know that’s 99 percent of the battle.

When this two-month journey ends next Saturday at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., Scichilone and his fellow seniors may take a reflective pause and kick themselves over what might have been. Even that is a new, refreshing experience around here.

Bates won two of its first three games, including a convincing road victory over longtime tormentor Williams.

Fans, family and friends had never seen such high times on Central Avenue. Crazy folk such as I started squawking that the Bobcats could run the table.

Then Wesleyan warded off Bates by three. Middlebury won a 49-43 slugfest.

The academics-first NESCAC doesn’t offer much margin for error or solace for near-misses with its eight-game schedule. When the hangover continued in a one-sided loss at Colby, Bates was banished to its 30th consecutive non-winning season.

Anyone who had been paying attention knew that the won-lost record didn’t tell nearly the entire story.

Saturday’s 24-2 dissection of Bowdoin wasn’t the work of a two-win, four-loss team haunted by the same-old, same-old. Senior Day 2011 was a dance recital; a show-and-tell game for a school suddenly visualizing a prosperous football future.

“We got away from what we’d been doing on defense for a few games, but I think we got that back today and got all 11 people to the ball,” senior linebacker Kevin Helm said. “Hopefully we keep this up.”

Bates will bid farewell to a baker’s dozen of seniors in a week. There’s not a quitter in the bunch.

Scichilone battled back from a season-ending knee injury in 2010 to finish his career in style. Former linemate Ryan Weston, his own career beset by injuries, has served as a student assistant.

“I’m happy for them in a lot of different ways. This has been such a great group,” Bates coach Mark Harriman said. “These guys have done so much throughout their career to get this far, and we’ve got one more to get. They’ve done a great job separating themselves from the pack the past couple years.”

Bates’ last .500 finish was in Harriman’s second season of 1999.

Optimism reigned for the first time since the days of Web Harrison. But the realities of recruiting against the traditional powers in Massachusetts and Connecticut set in. One- and two-win seasons remained the rule.

The new turf, the glistening bleachers and the shiny gates christened last October were a symbolic rededication. Football at Bates isn’t going to die anytime soon.

Thirteen seniors know it’s all window dressing unless they leave an impact on the field, as well.

“It’s a huge step for us,” Helm said. “We’ve got to get back in the film room. Enjoy this but get back (Sunday) and keep working hard next week. It’s going to be a tough one.”

Other teams might scoff at celebrating a potential .500 season.

At Bates, it is a crucial leg of the journey.

“For the whole program, and for the seniors, to go out with a win would be sweet,” Scichilone said. “We’ll take it. It’s not where we wanted to be.”

Or where Scichilone thinks they could be next year.

Go ahead, call him crazy. I’ve been closely examining the evidence, and I say he makes a pretty good case.

Just wait ’til next year. Yes, at Bates College.

— Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


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