CLINTON, N.Y. — Sam Robinson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 87 yards for a touchdown to give the Hamilton College Continentals the lead for good as the Bates football team fell 35-14 in the Bobcats’ season finale Saturday afternoon.
The Continentals (3-6) blanked the Bobcats (2-7) 21-0 in the third quarter in what turned out to be the difference in the game.
But before Hamilton’s big third quarter, the two teams went toe-to-toe in a very close first half of action.
Bates took the early lead thanks to a strong opening drive. Sophomore Matt Golden(New Bedford, Mass.) returned the opening kick to the Bobcat 41. First-year Brendan Costa (Westport, Mass.) completed a pass right away to senior captain Frank Williams(Brookline, Mass.) for a gain of nine yards. After senior Mickoy Nichol(Dennis Port, Mass.) ran the ball for four yards, the Bobcats went to the air again and Costa connected with Nichol for a gain of 27 to the Hamilton 19 yard line.
Golden, Nichol and Costa took turns running the ball, moving Bates to the Hamilton nine. Then junior Kyle Flaherty(Litchfield, Maine) ran up for the gut for eight yards, setting up second and goal from the one. Flaherty pounded the ball across the goal line to put Bates up 6-0. Senior Grant DeWald(Duxbury, Mass.) made the extra point and Bates led 7-0 with 11:33 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bobcat defense stepped up on Hamilton’s first drive. On the Continentals’ second play from scrimmage, junior Chase Fulton(Benecia, Calif.) intercepted a pass to give Bates the ball back deep in Hamilton territory. But the Bates offense went three-and-out and the Continentals blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt to keep the score 7-0.
Hamilton drove all the way down to the Bobcat 4 on its first drive in the second quarter before the Continentals attempted a 28-yard field goal that was blocked by sophomore Conner Suraci(North Haven, Conn.) and returned 44 yards by Nichol to the Hamilton 35. Bates eventually tried a field goal from 36 yards out but the kick came up just short of the crossbar.
Hamilton’s next drive ended with a 45-yard punt by Billy Wagner that was downed at the Bobcat 1-yard line. Bates held the ball for more than four minutes as the Bobcats drove 72 yards in 15 plays before they turned the ball over on downs at the Continental 27-yard line with just 51 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
As it turned out, that was enough time for Hamilton quarterback Kenny Gray. He completed five of six passes for 73 yards on the drive, and the lone incompletion was a pass he deliberately threw into the turf at the line of scrimmage to stop the clock. Gray found Joe Schmidt in the middle of the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown toss that Schmidt caught as he fell to his knees and was just out of reach of the defender in front of him with 11.8 seconds to go. Zach Altneu’s PAT tied the score at 7-7.
The Continentals held the ball for 23 minutes and limited Bates to just 17 offensive plays during the final two quarters.
After Robinson’s touchdown to start the third quarter, Colby Jones intercepted Costa and returned it 24 yards to the Bates 25 on the Bobcats’ first play of the second half. Hamilton drove to the 10 and lined up for a 27-yard field goal attempt. Alec Waugh, who was the holder, took the snap and tried to run for a first down but was brought down well short of the marker.
The Continentals forced a punt and had great field position at the 50-yard line. Seven plays later from the Bates 7, Marcus Gutierrez ran around left end, broke some tackles inside the 5 and went into the end zone standing up with 8:05 left in the third quarter.
Altneu’s ensuing squib kick was mishandled by the Bobcats and was recovered by Hamilton at the Bates 36. The Continentals’ 10-play drive culminated in a 25-yard catch by Eli Saucier near the front-left corner of the end zone where he leaped high over a defender to snare Gray’s lofted ball with 3:45 remaining in the third. The touchdown came just one play after Gray was sacked for a 20-yard loss by junior Coy Candelario(Haverhill, Mass.) and first-year David Campbell(Marblehead, Mass.).
The Continentals took a 28-7 lead into the fourth quarter. On the first play of the quarter and Bates facing fourth-and-1 at the Hamilton 39, Golden appeared to run for a first down but Sam Bowen stripped the ball from Golden and Bryce Phillips fell on the loose ball at the 31.
Mitch Bierman rushed for 30 yards on the next drive as the Continentals grabbed a commanding 35-7 advantage. On first-and-10 from the Bobcat 12-yard line Bierman took a direct snap out of the Wildcat, bolted straight up the middle, and crossed the goal line standing up with 10:24 to go. A 21-yard pass from Gray to Waugh on third down was the key play of the drive.
Bates drove 72 yards in just 83 seconds on its next drive, which was capped by a 51-yard touchdown pass from Costa to senior Brian Daly(Marblehead, Mass.) with 8:59 left. Daly caught the pass near the 20 and ran untouched down the right side into the end zone.
The Bobcats never had another chance to cut into their deficit as Gutierrez took over and helped Hamilton hold the ball for the final 8:54. Gutierrez carried the ball 10 times for 55 yards on the final drive, which ended with the Continentals taking a knee at the Bates 6.
Costa completed 13-22 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown on the afternoon. Flaherty paced the Bobcat rushing attack with 12 carries for 62 yards and a score. Nichol caught five passes for 77 yards and Daly added three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Jon Lindgren(Plainville, Conn.) led Bates on defense with 12 tackles.
Bates wraps up the 2017 season in eighth place in the NESCAC, ahead of in-state rivals Colby and Bowdoin.