Hamilton football wraps up 2017 with 21-point win over Bates

Eli Saucier '18 catches his first career touchdown pass in Saturday's 35-14 win against Bates (Josh McKee photo).
Eli Saucier '18 catches his first career touchdown pass in Saturday's 35-14 win against Bates (Josh McKee photo).

Hamilton College scored 21 points in the third quarter and pulled away for a 35-14 NESCAC football win against the Bates College Bobcats at Hamilton's sunny but chilly Steuben Field on Saturday.

The temperature struggled to get much above freezing in the season finale for both teams. The Continentals have won three straight games against Bates and Hamilton leads the all-time series, 21-19.

The Continentals (3-6 NESCAC) finished alone in seventh place in the conference standings. The 35 points is the most Hamilton has scored in a single game since a 51-48 overtime victory against Bowdoin College on Oct. 16, 2004.

Marcus Gutierrez '18 led the Continentals' offense with a career-high 134 yards rushing and a touchdown on 23 carries. Mitch Bierman '21 added 48 yards and his sixth rushing touchdown. Kenny Gray '20 threw for 262 yards on 22 of 34 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. Gray's 1,871 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air are the second-highest totals for a season in program history. Alec Waugh '18 led all players with eight catches for 82 yards, Joe Schmidt '20 added four receptions for 71 yards and Eli Saucier '18 chipped in four more for 70 yards. Schmidt tied the school single-season record with 55 receptions, set another mark with his 10th touchdown catch and owns the team record with 811 yards receiving.

Hamilton's Sam Robinson '20 returned the second half's opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and gave the Continentals the lead for good. It was Hamilton's first kickoff return for a score since Amman Weaver brought one back 85 yards against Bowdoin on Oct. 11, 2014. Zach Altneu '18 was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra-point attempts.

Colby Jones '19 led the Continentals' defense as he made 12 tackles, recovered a fumble, returned an interception 24 yards and blocked a field goal attempt. Tyler Hudson '19 and Cole Burchill '19 added nine stops apiece, Alex Ganter '20 recorded a sack, and Tim Russell '21 forced a pair of fumbles. Ganter led the team with 4.5 sacks this year.

Bates (2-7) was led by Brendan Costa, who threw for 186 yards and ran for 40 more. Costa was 13 of 22 passing with one touchdown and one interception. Kyle Flaherty rumbled for 62 yards and a touchdown, Mickoy Nichol caught five passes for 77 yards, and Brian Daly contributed three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Jon Lindgren was credited with 12 stops, Coy Candelario forced a fumble, Devin Clyburn intercepted a pass and Joe Frake blocked a field goal try.

The Bobcats drove 59 yards in eight plays on their opening possession and grabbed the early lead on a 1-yard touchdown run between the left guard and left tackle by Flaherty with 11:33 left in the first quarter. Grant DeWald added the extra point. Costa's 27-yard pass to Nichol to the Hamilton 19 was the key play of the drive.

It looked like Bates would add to its lead after Clyburn intercepted Gray and returned it 6 yards to the Continental 19 on Hamilton's second play from scrimmage. The Continentals' defense bailed them out and forced a 33-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Jones.

On the Bobcats' next possession, Russell forced a fumble that was recovered by Jones at the Bates 29. Two holding penalties on Hamilton and a sack by Tyler Harrington stopped that drive cold and the Continentals eventually had to punt.

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 Frake and returned 44 yards by Conner Suraci 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 '20 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 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 Schmidt in the middle of the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown toss with 11.8 seconds to go. Schmidt caught the ball as he fell to his knees just out of reach of the defender in front of him. Altneu's PAT tied the score at 7-7.

Hamilton dominated the second half right from Robinson's opening kickoff return for a touchdown. The Continentals held the ball for 23 minutes and limited Bates to just 17 offensive plays during the final two quarters.

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. 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, 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 recovered by Hamilton at the Bates 36. The Continentals' 10-play drive culminated in a 25-yard catch by 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. Saucier's touchdown reception was the first of his Hamilton career.

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, Matt Golden appeared to run for a first down but Bowen stripped the ball from Golden and Bryce Phillips '20 fell on the loose ball at the 31.

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 Costa's 51-yard touchdown pass to Daly 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 as the final horn sounded.