The play called for a rollout and a throw back to the running back. Soon after Bowdoin College freshman quarterback Noah Nelson took the snap, he was pressured by the Hamilton defense. What happened next reaffirmed Coach JB Wells’ belief that Nelson wasn’t in over his head in his first game as a starter.

“Noah calmly pivoted and lofted a throw-back pass over the defense to our running back for a 30-yard gain,” said Wells, in his first season as the Polar Bears’ head coach.

“I thought to myself that’s a pretty savvy play for a freshman. Noah has shown maturity and poise all the way through. He had a similar performance in the Lobster Bowl.”

Nelson, the former Falmouth High standout, made his first college varsity start a memorable one Saturday, throwing four touchdown passes on 28-of-43 completions for 328 yards to lead Bowdoin to its first win, 30-20 at Whittier Field.

“He played like a wily veteran,” said Wells.

It was the first time a Bowdoin freshman quarterback passed for over 300 yards in a game. His four touchdowns and 328 yards were also freshman records.

Nelson was selected as Offensive Player of the Week by the New England Small College Athletic Conference – the first Bowdoin quarterback to earn the honor since Oliver Kell in November 2009.

“It was all pretty surreal,” said Nelson. “My dream has always been to be a starter in college. Starting and getting the win for the team were big things. I was kind of nervous in the first series, but after I took my first hit, my nerves went away and I settled down. We ran our offense and I went through my progressions.”

Nelson said running the first-team offense and a strong week of practice by the team prepared him for his big moment.

“It’s awesome practicing with guys who are big and fast. It was just like the guys on Hamilton,” he said.

Nelson capped his high school career with an impressive perfornance in the Lobster Bowl in July. He also passed for four touchdowns as the West beat the East, 45-21. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 265 yards.

Wells was at that game and got a first-hand look at Nelson’s potential.

Nelson got his first taste of college action two weeks ago at Tufts when he replaced starter Tim Drakeley, a junior from Woodbury, Connecticut, who suffered a concussion during the game. Nelson was 11 of 16 for 134 yards and one touchdown against the Jumbos.

“I knew at the end of the Tufts game that I would be starting against Hamilton,” said Nelson.

Drakeley was back at practice this week. Nelson and Drakeley have had a friendly competition since the first practice.

“The guys are battling each other in practice, which is what you want to see,” said Wells. “When I was at Endicott College, we had a good quarterback competition.”

Wells said Nelson will start Saturday when the Polar Bears play at Trinity (4-0).

Wells pointed out that if Nelson hadn’t done as well as he did, there might have been a question as to Saturday’s starter. Nelson’s performance sealed it.

“Noah has the hot hand. He deserves every opportunity to play, He’s our man,” said Wells.

“I had a sit-down with the quarterbacks. Tim’s a coach’s kid. He fully understands. He told me he’ll be ready if we need him.”

With the graduation of last year’s starting quarterback, Mac Caputi, Nelson entered preseason practice feeling confident of playing.

“I was thinking I would see some time this season,” he said.

Going from Class B Maine high school football to Division III is a big jump.

“The game is a lot faster, and the players are bigger, stronger and smarter,” said Nelson. “The receivers run their routes a thousand times better than they do in high school. They’re a lot more physical. After the catch they’re looking to get upfield.”

Nelson connected with seven receivers against Hamilton. His longest completion was a 44-yarder to Dan Barone, a senior co-captain from Holliston, Massachusetts. Barone was impressed with Nelson’s play and poise.

“He throws a very clean ball,” said Barone. “It was Homecoming with a lot of emotion. Alumni are back on campus. Noah put all that in the background and was very relaxed. He had a good grasp of everything we put in during the week, which was kind of surprising because he’s only a freshman. Anytime a team loses its starting quarterback, it’s tough. Noah took advantage of the opportunity.”

Wells said he has been asked if he was surprised by Nelson’s performance.

“Not in the least. Noah had an efficient, polished performance against Hamilton just like he did in the Lobster Bowl. He’s a freshman with a tremendous upside. I’m looking forward to having Noah and the other young guys for the next few years in working to build the program,” he said.

Besides the football field, there’s also been the adjustment to college studies.

“It’s definitely a lot of work and a shift from what I was used to in high school,” said Nelson.

“I’m in class about three hours a day but then I have five hours of homework. But once you get used to it, it’s better.

When you mix in school, football practice, games, and the various team and positional meetings, there’s not much left to do except eat and sleep.