The Ephs’ home opener against Bates was a tale of two halves. One half saw a determined Bates team looking to end Williams’ 11-game winning streak. After the initial shock, the second half revealed why Williams is the team to beat this year in NESCAC.
The Ephs came out of the gates very sluggish, underestimating the resolve of their opponent. Bates quickly drove 61 yards to the endzone in its first drive of the game. The Bates sideline erupted in euphoria for jumping on the mighty Ephs 7-0. These were the first points scored by an Eph opponent all season long and the first time Williams Football has trailed since the Amherst game in November 1997, which Williams won memorably 48-46. Earlier in the season, the Williams defense stymied both Bowdoin and Trinity, but Bates drove with great ease. There was now a sense of fear that Bates could come into Williamstown and steal a win. Williams appeared lethargic in its initial offensive and defensive showing in the contest.
After the initial shock of seeing Bates drive down the field, the Eph defense buckled down, harassing Bates quarterback Mike Bazirgan the rest of the afternoon. The momentum of the game shifted at the end of the first quarter when Sean Keenan ’00 tossed a 62-yard touchdown bomb to Mike Paolercio ’00. The first quarter ended at a 7-7 tie., much to the surprise of the Eph crowd.
Bates and Williams appeared to be two evenly matched teams in the first half. Early in the second quarter, Bates drove for a field goal, only to be equalized later by an Eph field goal. Williams’ Fred Storz ’01 had a strong first half, running for 65 yards, but he was nearly matched by Bates’ Paul Erickson’s 54 yards on the ground. Keenan’s and Bazirgan’s numbers were also similar. Seemingly everything in the first half was equal between the two teams, except that Williams had an 11 game winning streak on the line and was expected to handily defeat all of its opponents. Paul Erickson made excellent runs against a strong Williams defense. Erickson’s running game complimented Bazirgan’s passing attack well in the first half. For the first time all season, a team could run and pass on the Ephmen. If Williams wanted to win and save its winning streak (the second longest in Division III), it was be up to the defense to hold Erickson in check and apply pressure on the Bates passing game.
Coach Dick Farley said, “Bates got our attention in the first half.” It was up to the Ephs to prove their mettle in the last thirty minutes of play.
The Ephs came out charging in the second half with renewed determination. Linebacker Devareaux Brown ’01 said that the team was “ a bit surprised and knew well that we would need to play a better second half. The coaches explained that it was up to the players to decide the game.”
Williams stuffed Bates on its first drive of the second half and forced the Bobcats to punt. The offense, driven by a deadly combination of Keenan’s passing and Storz’s running, marched 53 yards to the endzone on the Ephs’ first possession of the half.
Late in the third quarter, Williams pieced together another drive, culminating in a 34 yard field goal by Robert Kaufman ’01. The field goal gave Williams a two score lead at the end of the quarter.
The last thirty minutes of the struggle belonged to the Williams defense. Bates gained just 72 yards in total offense and six ineffectual first downs in the second half. The Eph linebacking corps led by Louis Moll ’01 and Devareaux Brown ’01 was outstanding. The linebackers played a major role in holding Bates running back Paul Erickson to zero net yards rushing in the second half. Brown registered nine tackles and four assists, and Moll, not to be outdone, returned a Bates fumble 41 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Moll’s touchdown return was made possible by the excellent play of defensive end Will O’Brien ’00 (six tackles).
Bates’ aerial attack also came crashing down in the second half. Bazirgan completed only 4-of-13 passes for 20 yards in the final two quarters. A strong pass rush harried Bazirgan all half long, recording two sacks for a 27-yard loss. On the coverage side of the defense, the secondary again played admirably. Cornerbacks Casey Flavin ’00 and Robert Kleberg ’00 were tremendous in pass coverage, shutting down Bates receivers Jason Coulie and Paul Fantasia.
Williams put together a solid 53-yard drive at the end of the third quarter, capped by a 34-yard field goal by Robert Kaufman ’01. Though Williams controlled the third quarter, there was still hope for Bates to come back into the game, trailing the Ephs by a score of 20-10.
But it appeared that Bates had lost its early energy, or on the opposite token, the men in Purple and Gold were ready to dominate the last thirty minutes of play.
The beginning of the fourth quarter told a tale similar to the third. It had become the best of times for the Ephs, who were in control of a formidable opponent.
Williams scored another touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a one-yard Storz dive into the endzone.
Any fantasy of a Bobcat comeback ended when O’Brien stripped the football from Bazirgan. Moll scooped up the ball and outran Bates for 41 yards to the endzone for a fourth Eph score in the half. Moll’s touchdown recovery finally sealed the fate of the upset-minded Bobcats.
Williams triumphed in its first main test of the season. The entire team showed that it had the resolve to come back from a slow first half. Storz had an impressive game, running for a tough 94 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns. Sean Keenan ’00 finished the day with a respectable 214 yards in the air on 12 for 26 passing and a touchdown.
Keenan also had 34 yards on the ground, scrambling for key first downs to keep several drives going. Mike Paolercio had another fine day, gaining 113 yards receiving on six receptions. The Bates game was an important test for the Ephs. Next week the Ephmen travel up Route 7 to meet a tough 2-1 Middlebury squad.