Tailgate party

Norwich running back Manni Romero (3) sprints past Castleton’s Nick Reca (25) during their matchup earlier this year. Both teams will hit the road this weekend in tough matchups.

The Castleton University football team broke through for its first win last week with a big day from quarterback Jacob McCarthy. He threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Sports Information Director Thomas Blake was excited. He had himself a hot nominee for the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week honor.

He was set to nominate the sophomore and then — uh-oh. He saw the numbers Dean College quarterback Terrell Watts had put up in the Bulldogs’ 50-46 victory over Alfred State. All Watts did was throw seven touchdown passes.

Watts got the ECFC weekly award and now Castleton must deal with him on Saturday in Franklin, Massachusetts.

Kickoff for the game between the Spartans and Bulldogs is at noon.

The other two Vermont teams are also on the road. Middlebury (8-0) tries to complete its undefeated season at 4-4 Tufts where kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. and Norwich visits MIT for a noon kickoff.

Middlebury was also 8-0 in 1972 and the Panthers had another unbeaten team in 1936 but a NESCAC team has never had a 9-0 season so the Panthers have a chance to make history.

The Spartans take a 1-7 record to Dean. The Bulldogs are 4-4 and 4-0 in the ECFC. They are still in their NCAA probationary period so SUNY Maritime will be the ECFC representative in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Watts, of course, is a big concern for the Spartans.

“I think they want him to be a thrower first and a runner second but that doesn’t mean he can’t do both,” Castleton coach Tony Volpone said.

The Spartans enter that game with a new outlook after getting that elusive first victory. Beating Anna Maria last week also gave them possession of the Helmet Trophy that the programs have been fighting for since they both started football in 2009.

Not only did McCarthy and his stable of receivers led by Anthony Martinez, Chance Fee and Dylan Ellis, have a big game but so did the Spartan defense.

“We forced some turnovers. Dustin Rock and Spencer Kozlak did a good job of getting in the backfield,” Volpone said. “Chris Rice made a great play on a screen pass.”

The Dean defense presents its own problems. Dean head coach Steve Tirrell is a disciple of Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown and coached on Brown’s staff at Plymouth State. He uses the same principles as Brown in trying to confuse the offense.

This is the regular-season finale for the Spartans and closing the campaign with two wins would be a big boost for the program in the offseason and in recruiting.

Norwich brings a 5-3 record to MIT and a win would assure the Cadets of a winning season.

MIT is 5-2 and 4-1 in the NEWMAC. The Engineers control their own destiny in the NEWMAC race. Beating Norwich and then Springfield in their final game would give them the league title and the NCAA berth that goes with it.

The Cadets will be trying to rebound from a frustrating 31-27 loss at Catholic.

Catholic was winless going into the game and Norwich coach Mark Murnyack had been stressing during the week leading up to the game how deceiving the Cardinals’ record was and that they were a dangerous team.

Maybe his words were not heeded early in the game when the Cadets fell behind 17-0.

“We fought back,” Murnyack said.

The Cadets, in fact, took a 24-17 lead.

The long ride back from Washington, D.C., was not a happy one.

It carried over into the practices. Murnyack described Monday’s practice as “lethargic” and Tuesday’s session as “we were uninterested.”

But the Cadets snapped out of the funk.

“Wednesday’s practice was awesome,” the coach said.

Now, the Cadets will need an awesome effort on Saturday against an MIT team that is trying to defend its NEWMAC championship.

But there is also plenty to play for if you are the Cadets — a winning record and a possible invitation to a postseason bowl game.

The Cadets have another game the following week at home against WPI.

“We want to finish the right way,” Murnyack said.

Middlebury quarterback Will Jernigan went out of last week’s 14-7 win over Hamilton with an injury and is questionable for today’s game at Tufts.

The Panthers received votes in the D3football.com Top 25 Poll.

QUICK KICKS: No. 25 New Hampshire is at No. 2 James Madison in one of the nation’s marquee FCS games. UNH is 5-3 and 4-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association and the Dukes are 8-1 and 5-0 in the CAA. Kickoff in Harrisonburg, Virginia is 3:30 p.m. ... Hartford’s Tyler Hamilton, a Vermont Gatorade Player of the Week, played for Bates College in its first night home football game last week, a 30-5 thumping of Bowdoin.

tom.haley

@rutlandherald.com

Follow Tom on Twitter: @RHSportsGuy

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