What can they do for an encore?
That’s the question many fans of the Purple-and-Gold football team are asking themselves in preparation for this weekend’s season opener at Bowdoin.
The Ephs return 13 of 22 starters from last year’s untouchable 8-0-0 team, the fourth perfect season in 113 years of football. All four perfect seasons have come under head coach Dick Farley (81-12-3). Overall the Ephs are riding a nine-game win streak.
“We have just enough question marks on offense to make me wonder if we can do that again this year,” Farley said. “This year is no different than my previous 27 here — we’ll put the best kids we have on the field and try to win.”
Farley enters his 13th season ranked fifth in winning percentage among all coaches in all NCAA divisions. Farley ranks second in Division III in winning percentage behind only Larry Kehres of Mount Union.
Headlining the list of six offensive players returning is senior QB Sean Keenan. Pro Football Weekly has named Keenan a senior-to-be who could be drafted by the NFL. Keenan was named the New England Div. II/III Offensive Player of the Year in 1998.
A team captain, Keenan threw for a school-record 1,780 yards last season, completing 122 passes. He connected for 15 TD strikes and led NESCAC with a passing efficiency rating of 154.2. Keenan is particularly adept at changing the play at the line of scrimmage to isolate his receivers in one-on-one situations.
Senior Mike Paolercio is the top returning receiver for the Ephs. Paolercio had 20 catches for 231 yards and on e TD last season. Senior Andy Jones had 13 receptions for 163 yards and one score in 1998. Adam Sigrist and Colin Vataha will also play wideout.
The Eph attack will certainly not be one dimensional as junior TB Fred Storz, NESCAC’s top rusher in 1998, returns. Storz ran his way in to the Eph record book with 16 touchdowns and 98 points in one season. The rugged tailback rambled for 1,064 yards on 206 carries and also threw the TB-option pass for one TD.
Jake Rosenbury ’00 is among those who will also see time in the backfield.
Junior guard Rob Houle returns as does senior tackle Miles Baltrusaitis and senior guard Wyeth Lynch. Junior Phil Swisher will play center, while Jeff O’Neill takes over at right tackle. Several backups also have the ability to play when called upon.
“This is the best depth we’ve had on the offensive line since I’ve been here,” noted position coach Mike Whalen. “They are all athletic and they have all been dedicated to hitting the weights in the off-season. “
Senior Andrew Criqui (2 catches for 16 yards), sophomore Sean Collins and sophomore Eric Bellucci will all see time at tight end.
The Eph offense averaged 423.5 yards a game last fall and scored 314 points (39.25 a game) and looked equally good on defense. Williams finished ranked third in nation for fewest points allowed with just 8.6 per game, fourth in pass efficiency defense and fifth in turnover margin (1.77 a game). Overall the Eph defense was ranked eighth nationally, allowing just 229.6 yards a game.
“Last year our offense made our defense look good,” Farley said. “We dictated the way each game was to be played by getting a big lead. When you can do that you pretty much know what your opponen t has to do so it makes the job on defense somewhat easier.”
Three of the front four return in Nick Weiss (15 solos, 6 assists, 2 tackl es for a loss and one sack), Chris Sweatman (14 solos, five assists, 3 tackles for a loss and five sacks) and Will O’Brien (16 solos, 10 assists and four tackles for a loss). Defensive ends will be seniors Ed Gondwe, Matt Campanelli and junior Chris Ripley.
At linebacker captain Chris Hale is expected to fill in for the departed Jim Thomas while experienced junior Louis Moll will fill in for Steve Bradley. Hale notched 23 solos tackles and 9 assists last fall and had 3 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and had one interception and one fumble recovery. Moll had 26 solos and 10 assists, 4 tackles for a loss, one interception and 5 pass deflections. Junior Devareaux Brown had 13 solo tackles and four assists last season and looks to take over the third linebacker spot.
Casey Flavin returns at CB where a year ago he batted down six passes, made 11 solo tackles and assisted on five others. The other CB slot was going to go to returning captain John Berry but he has been forced to the sideline after donating a kidney to an older brother in June. Berry twice earned All-NESCAC honors on the corner and last fall returned two picks for TDs and was sixth on the team in tackles.
Senior Michael Hickey could be moved up from the safety position to team with Flavin or senior Rob Kleberg could step in. Junior Dan DiCenzo will return at strong safety, having finished eighth on the team in tackles with 24 (17 solos) and notching a team-high eight pass deflections in 1998.
Either Keenan or sophomore Jarod Kidd will do the punting. In Keenan averaged 34.5 yards a punt on eight punts and Kidd averaged 29.2 on six.
Junior Robert Kaufman returns to handle the placekicking duties. Kaufman was 34-40 on PATs and one for three on FGs last season.
This Week’s Action:
Sept. 25 at BOWDOIN 1:30
-Series started in 1890
-Williams leads series: 44-15-5
-Last Williams win: 1998 (42-0)
-Last Bowdoin win: 1979 (7-0)