Bates will be looking for a better second half when the Bobcats host Middlebury in NESCAC football action at Garcelon Field on Saturday afternoon.

It’s a two-part mission for Bates, which played the first four games of its eight-game schedule without a win due in part to some letdowns after halftime.

The Bobcats will be looking for a fresh start against the Panthers, as well as a better finish than they had in losses to Tufts and Wesleyan. Both will be key against a Middlebury team that enters the game 3-1.

“We’re at a point where it’s a matter of making plays in critical situations that we haven’t in the last three weeks,” Bates head coach Mark Harriman said. We’ve played very well at times, certainly against some quality opponents — similar to this week. It’s just a matter of, as I said, making some plays when it’s crunch time.”

Bates has lost its last three games by a combined 11 points, and held halftime leads in two of those games, including a 14-0 lead against Tufts. The Bobcats led Wesleyan 9-7 at the break.

Harriman said his team has been more balanced on offense recently, and the defense has started to grow during that time as well. The defense will need to be even better against a Middlebury team that Harriman called “probably the top passing team in our conference.”

Bates has given up an average of 280 passing yards per game, while the Panthers average 314 yards through the air, led by senior quarterback Matt Milano. Harriman said junior defensive backs Trevor Lyons and Brandon Williams will have to keep up their good play, and freshman free safety Joe Frake will need to keep improving as he has.

Harriman said limiting the big play on defense will be a big key in springing the upset.

“They’re going to make some yards, obviously,” Harriman said. “The bottom line is, not letting them get behind us, No. 1, and then as the field shrinks, coming up with some plays to keep them out of the end zone.”

The Bobcats could look to exploit a Middlebury run defense that has given up 171.5 yards per game with its balanced rushing attack. Bates has four players – Ivan Reese, Frank Williams, Shaun Carroll and Mickoy Nichol – who have more than 100 yards rushing through four games.

Harriman said the team has been close to breaking through the past few weeks, but just hasn’t been good enough to get a win. The Bobcat coach said his team controlling the things it can control – namely penalties – is one the things that will help it break through.

The game will be played on Bates’ home turf, something Harriman said could be an advantage.

“We always love playing at home. It’s a great atmosphere,” said Harriman, though noting a possible smaller student section with the school on break. “We love playing on Garcelon, and the home routine is something that I think our guys really embrace.”

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

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