HARTFORD — On Middlebury’s first offensive play, Remi Ashkar caught a 4-yard pass from McCallum Foote. As soon as Ashkar turned upfield, a phalanx of Trinity defenders closed to clobber the Middlebury running back.
It would be the type of toughness Trinity showed all day.
“We weren’t trying to be dirty. We were trying to make a statement,’’ Trinity coach Jeff Devanney said. “Nobody comes onto this field and plays more physical than we do. I’m just really proud of our kids. They did what we worked on all week. We talked about it. ‘We need to be more physical. If they catch some underneath routes, that’s fine. We’ve got to knock them down when they catch underneath routes. Don’t get beat over the top.’ ’’
On Saturday at Jessee/Miller Field, which their players call The Coop, Trinity pasted Middlebury, 45-7. Middlebury had been averaging 383 passing yards per game. Trinity held Middlebury to 207 yards in the air while picking off Foote twice.
There should have been some crackle to the matchup. Both teams entered with 5-0 records. Both are gunning for a NESCAC championship.
Trinity’s all-around performance — speed and punishing tackling on defense, balance on offense — turned a showdown of the league’s two best teams into a varsity-against-JV rout. By halftime, when Trinity held a 31-0 lead, the result was no longer in question.
“I’m not going to lie. There was a little extra zest to it this week,’’ Trinity cornerback Nick Campbell said of preparing for Middlebury. “It was a No. 1 offense coming into The Coop. Our 45-game home winning streak that we wanted to keep intact. Everything on the line.’’
The Bantams have now won a nation-best 46 straight games at home. Their last Jessee/Miller loss was in 2001 against Williams.
“I know there’s a tremendous amount of pride in those wins,’’ Devanney said. “A lot of different teams put in those wins. Guys who played eight, nine years ago are part of that streak. As a coaching staff, we try to minimize the pressure on current players. It’s an added layer. We don’t talk about the streak at all as a staff to the players. I know the players feel it. Sometimes it’s more of a positive. They feel they can’t lose at home.’’
The streak has been both salve and irritant. It has been one of the program’s signature accomplishments.
At the same time, it’s created another level of pressure for Trinity. There is no Bantam who wishes the streak to conclude under his watch.
“There’s a little bit of pressure to keep it going, since it has been since 2001 the last time we lost here,’’ acknowledged Campbell, a senior. “There’s something magical about The Coop. My first game in here, we came back against Williams by over 10 points in the fourth quarter. There’s just a never-say-die attitude here in The Coop.’’
The Bantams had gone through a busy week. They’ve been occupied with midterm exams and papers. But the coaching staff reminded them that to slow down Middlebury’s air attack, their video work would be just as important as their on-field preparation.
Foote was averaging 327 passing yards per game and had thrown for 21 touchdowns. Zach Driscoll had caught 11 TD passes while averaging 133.8 receiving yards.
It was during one of those video sessions that Campbell studied Middlebury’s preference to run post corners. In Saturday’s first quarter, down just 10-0, Middlebury called a post corner in hopes of scoring a touchdown. On first and 10 from Trinity’s 19, wide receiver Brendan Rankowitz sprinted for the corner of the end zone and turned to look for Foote’s pass. It never got there.
Campbell, having recognized the play, intercepted the pass.
“They run a whole bunch of posts,’’ Campbell said. “We were trying to be on top of it. I just tried to flip my hips as quick as I could to try and undercut it. That’s what happened.’’
On offense, quarterback Ryan Burgess oversaw a unit as consistent in the air as it was on the ground. In the first quarter, Burgess underthrew Chris Ragone in double coverage. But the wideout hauled in the throw for a 59-yard touchdown, giving Trinity a 10-0 lead.
Ben Crick (158 yards, two touchdowns) and Evan Bunker (141 yards, two touchdowns) gave Trinity a two-pronged rushing attack that Middlebury couldn’t slow.
“Ryan Burgess is playing really well,’’ Devanney said. “If he plays well and we have Ben Crick and Evan Bunker, I don’t know how you defend us.’’
The trouncing of Middlebury was just one notch en route to Trinity’s greater goal. After the win, Devanney told his players that being 6-0 meant nothing.
Next Saturday, the Bantams will host Amherst. They will conclude their season at Wesleyan Nov. 10. The seniors like Campbell may be undefeated at home. But they have also never won a NESCAC championship. Trinity’s last league title was in 2008.
“We’ve said all year that our goal isn’t 6-0. It’s 8-0,’’ Campbell said. “This week was the beginning of the playoffs for us. It’s a three-game playoff. We’re taking it one game at a time. Now we’re just moving on to Amherst.’’