A historic day in the New England Small College Athletic Conference and the annual battle for the Admiral’s Cup highlight this weekend’s Maine college football schedule.
Both the University of Maine and Husson University of Bangor are idle this weekend, but NESCAC schools — including Bates College of Lewiston, Bowdoin College of Brunswick and Colby College of Waterville — start play a week earlier this year after conference presidents voted to expand the football schedule from eight weeks to nine.
That means for the first time, each team in that 10-school NCAA Division III football conference will play all nine other teams in the conference this season. Previously, each team played all but one conference foe after one formal preseason scrimmage. The scrimmage has been eliminated to accommodate the ninth game.
“We are pleased to move to a full, round-robin schedule for football,” said Trinity College president Joanne Berger-Sweeney, chair of the Conference Committee, in announcing the change. “Converting the scrimmage to a regular-season game solves challenges institutions had finding opponents to play in a scrimmage and supports our efforts to improve safety.”
This change also results in fewer live-contact practices for teams as they prepare for a game rather than a scrimmage in what is now Week 1 of the season.
NESCAC football coaches supported the change and reduction in contact practices and also unanimously agreed to continue their practice of players not engaging in live tackling during practice once the season begins.
Colby Mules vs. Trinity Bantams, 1 p.m. Saturday at Hartford, Connecticut: Colby opens its season against the only NESCAC team it didn’t face last year in 2016 conference champion Trinity. The Bantams dominated the league last year, outscoring its opposition 305-109 while going 8-0.
Colby was 3-5 last season under Jonathan Michaeles, now in his sixth season as the head coach. Co-captains and senior linemen Sam Gomez and Craig Strand and the entire secondary are among eight returning defensive starters for Colby, which also brings back record-setting All-NESCAC place-kicker John Baron.
Baron tied the NESCAC record with 13 field goals last fall and tied the school record for field goals in a game with four against both Tufts and Bowdoin. Baron, whose longest kick is 43 yards, also set a Colby record with nine consecutive made field goals.
Colby returns two veteran quarterbacks in quarterbacks in Christian Sparacio (717 passing yards, four TDs in 2016) and Jack O’Brien (535 passing yards, two TDs), Junior Harry Kraft, a transfer from Dartmouth, also is in the Mules’ signal-calling picture.
Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers (0-1) vs. Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (0-1), noon Saturday at Castine:
The 45th annual Admiral’s Cup battle is also homecoming at Maine Maritime Academy, which is coming off an early bye week to face its nearest maritime rival.
Mass. Maritime holds a 25-19 lead in the series that began in 1973, but Maine Maritime has won the last two meetings, including a 42-35 win over the Buccaneers at Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, last year.
Chris McKenney, Maine Maritime’s 17th-year head coach, is fielding perhaps his youngest team this fall, with 43 freshmen and sophomores among the 58 players on the roster. Senior quarterback Corey Creeger, senior halfback Jacob Doolan and senior fullback James Ferrar pace the Mariners’ offense, while senior linebacker and captain Cody O’Brien anchors the defense.
Both teams are coming off season-opening losses to SUNY Maritime, Maine Maritime 59-13 at Throggs Neck, New York, on Sept. 2 and Mass. Maritime 37-32 at home last weekend.
Mass. Maritime is led by senior quarterback Chris Haggerty, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns a week ago, and junior Paul Santes, who had 10 catches for 226 yards and two scores.
Saturday’s other Maine college games: Bowdoin at Williams, noon; Bates at Amherst, 1 p.m.