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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Middlebury Football finishes strong season

The Middlebury football team finished the year 7–2 as the NESCAC runner-up behind Trinity College (9–0). This year showed a significant improvement from the Panthers’ 3–6 season last year, marking a solid final stretch for Bob Ritter, who completed his final year as head coach.

For the players, the rediscovered success of the program is a result of the team’s improved culture and chemistry. After the Covid-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 football season, it took some time for the players to get used to playing with each other.

“I think last year was still a really get-to-know-your-teammates year,” wide receiver and defensive back Donovan Wood ’24 said. “This year, we bought in, and we all trust each other.”

As important as culture and chemistry are to a team, it still does not explicitly dictate how a team plays. The talent and hard work of countless Middlebury players on the gridiron helped elevate them this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Cole Kennon ’23.5 had a fantastic year as the team’s primary quarterback. In six games played, he threw 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions and averaged 309 passing yards per game. Kennon’s most prolific game came at home against Hamilton, when he threw six touchdown passes and no interceptions. 

To help support Kennon, the Panthers had countless offensive weapons. LeeCharles McNeil ’23 served as Middlebury’s primary running back averaging 53.78 rushing yards per game; notably, McNeil had two games with over 100 rushing yards. Middlebury’s receiving corps was also elite, with three players averaging over 60 receiving yards per game. Wood led the group with a monster season of 11 touchdowns and an average of 104.22 receiving yards per game. Captain Greg Livingston ’22.5, also had a fantastic season, catching five touchdowns and averaging just under 80 receiving yards per game.

“Greg Livingston was our only senior captain this year and played a crucial role in keeping our team together,” Wood said.

On defense, the Panthers also played very well. Notably, defensive back Finn Muldoon ’23 led the team with 82 tackles, and Tomas Kenary ’24 led the team with six sacks. 

As successful as Middlebury was this season, it ended on a somewhat somber note after Ritter coached his last game at the helm of the Middlebury football team. Ritter has been Middlebury’s head football coach since 2000 and has won three NESCAC championships during that time. 

“I don't think [Coach Ritter leaving] really hit any of us until the very end,” Wood said. “I feel like we've all been with Coach Ritter, and he has been the face of our program for so long, so we really wanted to do something special. I'm glad we did.”

Even though Ritter won’t formally be there, the Middlebury football team has high expectations for next year.

“We're only losing around five starters from this season to next season,” Wood said. “Our team will still be relatively the same, and we should be even better than we were before.”