LEWISTON — Bates College receiver Mark Riley knows that he and 11 fellow seniors are blessed among football players in school history.

All they’ve known are home games on beautiful, new artificial turf in front of glistening bleachers, and seasons with a winning percentage of .500 or better.

How rare is the air where Riley and friends hope to climb this autumn? The last Bates seniors never to lose more games in a season than they won graduated in 1969. Before that, you have to dig through the archives back to an eight-year stretch from 1893 to 1900.

“We came in kind of hearing about Bates being a losing tradition, and my freshman year we were 5-3. We’ve kind of had that mentality of winning throughout my four years here, so we want to continue that,” Riley said. “I think we just realized we can beat some of the top teams in the league and didn’t really back down from anyone. We kind of that mentality that we’re a good group of guys athletically and mentally.”

The Bobcats have parlayed a clock-churning offense and ball-hawking defense into consecutive 4-4 campaigns. Bates has won or shared the in-state CBB title three consecutive years, something that also hadn’t happened since that 1960s group under the tutelage of Bob Hatch. The Bobcats swept Colby and Bowdoin to win the championship outright in both 2012 and 2014.

Bates opens its 121st season at home Saturday against reigning NESCAC champion Amherst.

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Another hallmark of Bates’ rise to annual contention is its vastly improved performance against longtime tormentors. A year ago at Amherst, the Bobcats scored a touchdown with 1:16 remaining in regulation and missed a two-point conversion that would have given them the lead.

The Lord Jeffs scored immediately after recovering an onside kick and escaped with a 14-6 victory.

“I’ve been a part of this as we’ve been doing really well, beating a lot of teams, playing a lot of close games,” junior middle linebacker Mark Upton said. “I think it gives you confidence going into these games, knowing how to win. It makes a huge difference. It takes a while to change, and now that we have it, we’re working hard to keep that momentum.”

Riley (41 receptions, 572 yards, four touchdowns) and Upton (73 tackles, including 10 for loss, and three forced fumbles) were first-team all-NESCAC performers.

With eight offensive starters returning compared to three defensively, only one of whom is a senior, Bates may count on its triple-option to carry a heavier load than usual early in the season.

Bates introduced the offense in 2011, so it, too, is all the current Bobcats have ever known.

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“There’s no transition. It’s what we are. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been recruiting for,” Bates coach Mark Harriman said. “I think we’re finally in a spot where we have good skill guys who understand what their roles are. It’s one of those things where it’s a little bit of an unselfish offense for everybody. Mark Riley is an all-conference receiver, but a lot of his responsibility is to block on the perimeter. Guys have really bought into that.”

Patrick Dugan takes over after two injury-plagued seasons as understudy to Matt Cannone and could emerge as Bates’ best running quarterback yet in the current system.

Lawrence product Shaun Carroll returns in the slot as the Bobcats’ leading rusher, and Lyle Seebeck anchors the line. Both are seniors.

“We have a lot of guys that have played in the game before. A lot of experience there, and I think that’s going to carry us a long way,” Riley said. “Over the years we started to balance it out more and get that dual threat. If they put eight in the box, we’re going to throw the ball. If they put seven in the box, we’re going to run it down their throats.”

Defensive lineman Tucker Oniskey is the only senior starter returning on that side.

Juniors Ben Coulibaly (linebacker), Sean Antonuccio (defensive end) and Brandon Williams (cornerback) weren’t explicitly starters but contributed heavily a year ago, so the cupboard is anything but bare for defensive coordinator Chris Kempton’s aggressive group.

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Bates was fifth in the league in yards allowed per game but produced 21 takeaways.

“We blitz a lot. It’s about being really tenacious,” Upton said. “Our motto is ‘put it down.’ We’re always trying to get turnovers. That’s been a big part of our defense, getting the ball back for our offense in good position, Everyday that’s what we’re doing, trying to get fumbles and picks in practice.”

Amherst and Middlebury enter the NESCAC season as the consensus one-two. Wesleyan is coming off a strong season. Tufts ended a multiyear losing streak and went 4-4.

“Really in this conference, you’ve got to show up every Saturday, and if you do, you have a chance, and if you don’t, you don’t have a chance,” Harriman said. “It doesn’t matter who it is.”

Bates enters the season riding a three-game winning skein.

“From Christmas, we were looking forward to Amherst,” Upton said. “Going off on a high note helps a ton. It gives you a lot more energy.”

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