Defensive back Jon Lindgren had a team-high 12 tackles in Bates’ season-opening loss to Amherst. (Theophil Syslo/Bates College)

The Bates College football team’s new offense received the most buzz leading up to the start of the 2018 season, the first under head coach Malik Hall.

All the attention was justified. Of all the changes in the Bobcats program this summer, none seemed larger than the switch from the run-first triple-option to a pass-heavy Air Raid-type offense.

But after the season kicked off last Saturday, the defense grabbed the spotlight.

“I was pleased with the defense’s pursuit to the ball,” Hall said. “I think No. 32 (Amherst running back Jack Hickey) is a load to tackle. … I was pleased that the defense didn’t try to make it about one person tackling him (but) the entire Bobcat posse trying to tackle him.”

Bates lost to Amherst 19-7, but held the Mammoths scoreless through two quarters, and up until midway through the fourth quarter, the Bobcats made Amherst quarterback Ollie Eberth and Hickey fight for every yard they picked up.

Fatigue seemed to set in near the end, which led to mental errors. Running out of fuel, though, showed effort, especially since Bates is trying to build its depth.

“They played extremely hard for four quarters,” Hall said. “Going into the game, the goal was to empty our tanks and get the game in the fourth quarter and see who is the better team.”

Junior defensive back Jon Lindgren led Bates with 12 tackles. Walter Washington, Connor Hunt and freshman Michael Bulman all recovered fumbles. In his first game, Bulman, a linebacker, had four solo tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss.

“I was super-excited for Bulman, because he played with extreme effort,” Hill said.

Bates’ defense, which was missing captains Joe Frake and Bobby Dee, also had nice efforts from two other freshmen linebackers, Caleb Eckland, who is from Lovell and attended Fryeburg Academy, and James Weir.

OFFENSE STILL LEARNING

While the defense had a nice debut, the offense remains a work in progress. The Bobcats finished with only 150 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Brendan Costa accounted for 134 of those yards, 90 passing (12-of-21 and an interception, which was tipped) and 44 rushing on 16 carries, highlighted by a 26-yard touchdown run.

Bobcats coaches thought the offense might be a slow roll because the players only had three weeks to learn the new concepts, which were contrary to what they played last year.

Therefore, the offensive playcalling was conservative, with a goal to keep the Bobcats close to give them a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. That was accomplished against Amherst.

“They’re not used to throwing the ball 21 times a game,” Hall said. “Right now, the objective is to win some games and get the game to the fourth quarter. Though we want to spread it and want to throw it around the lot, every game doesn’t dictate that, especially when it’s your first game out and debut of the offense.

“So, the thought process is to not try to run our entire playbook in Game 1 for the sake of a new era or a new offense, or for a quarterback just to show he can throw. It’s to try to win the game.”

BANTAMS UP NEXT

The defense will be tested even more this Saturday, when the Bobcats travel to face reigning NESCAC champion Trinity.

Last week, the Bantams won 35-0 as they spoiled spoiled former University of Maine coach Jack Cosgrove’s debut as Colby’s coach.

Because the NESCAC has the same schedule every year, Bates always opens the season against a pair of conference powerhouses.

“Couldn’t ask for a better situation,” Hall said, “to play the top dogs in the league in the first two weeks.”

Trinity senior running back Max Chipouras gained 173 yards and scored three touchdowns on 15 carries against Colby.

“Their running back is very talented, their quarterback is good, they’re big on the outside,” Hall said, “and they’re as fast as they are strong on defense.”

Last year, the Bantams handed the Bobcats their worse loss of the season, putting up 31 first-quarter points and winning 51-0.

WOMAN OF THE YEAR

Rower Amelia Wilhelm, who graduated from Bates College earlier this year, has been named one of 30 finalists for the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year Award.

The award honors recently graduated student-athletes who stood out academically and athletically, and who are service-oriented and strong leaders.

Wilhelm, from Charlotte, North Carolina, helped the Bates win three NCAA Rowing championships in her four years.

“Amelia is perhaps one of the most positive, thoughtful and welcoming members of our team,” rowing head coach Peter Steenstra said in a news release earlier this month. “Her primary goal was always fixed on the success of the team as a whole, but like any good athlete she used this to motivate herself, as well.”

The four-year dean’s list student graduated in May with honors in chemistry.

Wilhem is the first Bates athlete to be nominated for the Woman of the Year Award since Vantiel Elizabeth Duncan in 2010.

The top nine finalists will be announced in early October. The winner will be named Oct. 28 in Indianapolis.