The Middlebury defense picked off four passes as the Panthers improved to 5-2 with a 21-16 win over Hamilton (1-6) on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium. The victory was Middlebury's 20th straight over the Continentals, as the Panthers now hold a 43-15 all-time advantage in the "Rocking Chair Classic." Middlebury concludes its season next week at Tufts, while Hamilton hosts Bates. Members of Middlebury's 2015 Hall of Fame Class were honored at halftime, with the induction ceremony taking place Saturday night.
Middlebury wasted little time putting points on the board, scoring on its third play from scrimmage. Quarterback Matt Milano hit Matthew Minno over the middle for 13 yards before the wide receiver broke a pair of tackles and raced downfield for a 70-yard touchdown reception.
Cornerback Nate Leedy ended Hamilton's next drive, picking off a pass at the Middlebury seven after a Continental receiver had fallen down.
The Panthers drove to the Hamilton 23 later in the quarter, but turned the ball over on downs. Hamilton responded with a 16-play, 77-yard scoring drive to go up 7-6. LaShawn Ware gained 47 yards on six carries, before Jason Nastovski scored from one-yard out with 11:45 left in the second quarter.
Jimmy Martinez returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards, but Middlebury was unable to capitalize, going three-and-out. Hamilton responded quickly when Cole Freeman connected for 78 yards with Charles Ensley on a flea flicker, putting the visitors on top, 14-6.
The Panthers drove to the Hamilton 10 two possessions later, but Jimmy Giattino picked off Milano on the Hamilton two, ending the drive.
The Middlebury defense held, taking over at the Hamilton 26 after a short punt. Two plays later, Milano found Minno on a quick out for a 10-yard touchdown strike. A two-point conversion tied the game at 14-14 with 17 seconds left in the first half.
Middlebury regained the lead on its first possession of the second half, driving 53 yards on seven plays. Milano and Minno connected for a 10-yard gain before the duo hooked up for the third time, this one coming for 20 yards out to put the Panthers up 21-13 at the 11:33 mark of the third quarter.
Leedy picked of his second pass of the game on Hamilton's next possession, catching a pass in the end zone. Middlebury's Kevin Hopsicker intercepted a pass later in the quarter, returning it 29 yards to the Hamilton eight. The Panthers turned the ball back over to the Continentals when Jared Lebowitz was picked off by Colby Jones in the end zone before a 34-yard return.
Hamilton chipped into the lead at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter when Sean Tolton blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety.
Two series later, Hamilton began a drive on its own 27, trailing 21-16 with 2:26 remaining and three timeouts. Matthew Daniel ended the threat on the fourth play of the drive, earning the team's fourth interception of the day when he picked off a pass at the Hamilton 45 to seal the win.
Minno had a big day for the Panther offense, catching six passes, three of them for touchdowns, while gaining 171 yards on the afternoon. Milano finished 14-29 for 273 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Diego Meritus gained 75 yards on the ground with 22 carries. Hopsicker finished with a game-high 10 tackles to go along with his interception, while Wesley Becton, Tim Patricia and Addison Pierce each had eight stops. The Panther defense broke up six passes on the afternoon, while forcing 10 plays for lost yardage.
Freeman finished 13-31 for 196 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions. Ensley had four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, while Nick Caso caught four passes for 71 yards. Ware led all rushers, gaining 77 yards on 21 carries. Nick Sobczyk paced the Continental defense with eight tackles and a sack.