WILLIAMSTOWN — To describe the start of the 2016 season as a rough one for the Williams College football team might be an understatement.
The Ephs are 0-3, and while nobody anticipated first-year coach Mark Raymond's team being 3-0, this has been a bit of a tougher start than he anticipated. But the Eph head coach said it's been a chin-up, straight ahead look for the players.
"Everybody's a little bit disappointed where we are," the coach said. "These guys, one thing I've learned about them is that they're a hard-working group. They're a very determined bunch of guys.
"They keep coming to practice with the same spirit every day."
Two teams heading in opposite directions will meet Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on Farley-Lamb Field, as undefeated Middlebury (3-0) comes calling.
The Panthers come to the Purple Valley ranked fourth in the Grinold Chapter New England Division III football poll. Middlebury is one of four NESCAC teams ranked — Trinity is third, Tufts fifth and Amherst is seventh.
Coach Bob Ritter's Panthers have won four straight against Williams, two straight in Williamstown , including 2014's 23-20 overtime win.
In that game, quarterback Matt Milano's 2-yard touchdown pass to Drew Jacobs with 59 seconds left helped Middlebury tie the game at 17.
In overtime, Williams' drive stalled on the Panther 3-yard line, and Joe Mallock booted a 23-yard field goal. Middlebury's drive ended in six points as Brendan Rankowitz caught a 14-yard pass from Milano.
Milano, meanwhile, has graduated. He has been replaced by Burlington, Vt., native Jared Lebowitz. Lebowitz's resume is quite interesting. He played two years at South Burlington High School, and then played his final two seasons at St. Francis in California. He was the No. 40 pro-style quarterback in the nation in his senior season and the No. 99 recruit in California.
At Middlebury, he has stepped into the offense that Ritter put in and offensive coordinator Dave Caputi — offensive coordinator at Williams under Hall of Fame coach Dick Farley — has continued to tweak. Lebowitz has completed 66 of 109 passes for 950 yards, 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has completed 20 fewer passes than Williams freshman quarterback Jansen Durham (48 for 86) has thrown.
Conrado Banky and Ryan Rizzo are the top receiving threats for NESCAC's No. 1 passing offense. And it's a far cry from the triple-option that Bates ran last week.
"It's the opposite end of the spectrum, that's for sure," said Raymond. "It comes back to being sound in assignment football. It's just a different emphasis."
Williams' freshman quarterback continues to rest in the middle of the NESCAC pack statistically, but junior tailback Connor Harris has made a significant move up the ladder in rushing numbers. Harris, who ran for 151 yards last week, is now third in the conference in rushing with 247 net yards, and he averages 4.8 yards per carry.
"Coming in here, you're learning as you go," said Raymond. "Obviously, we wish we further along at this point. We are where we are. We just have to keep moving forward."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.