Football takes Tufts in thriller

With only 11 seconds left Saturday, the Tufts Jumbos and Williams Ephs stared at each other in the muddy turf that was Weston Field, both knowing that five yards would determine the outcome of the game. Having marched 60 yards in 30 seconds on three receptions by Jon Troy, the Jumbos’ offense found itself just five yards from the biggest victory in years for Tufts, an upset over a Williams team that owned the second-longest winning streak in the country.

“We needed a bunch of guys to step up on each play and make something happen,” linebacker and tri-captain Chris Hale ’00 said. “From a defensive standpoint, it’s more fun for us, as we’re usually sitting on a lead and just playing prevent. With the game culminating in that last drive, it was in our hands to win or lose.”

After Tufts spiked the ball to stop the clock, the Ephmen stymied the Tufts attack on its first two attempts from five yards out, and now the game had come down to just one play. Jumbo quarterback Chris Fahy dropped back to pass, surrounded by a strong Eph pass rush. He evaded the defensive linemen, rolled right and tossed the ball in the air towards an open Renny Depaolis. All of a sudden, Williams defensive back Ben Sands ’02 jumped into the picture and got a hand the ball, batting it away from the outstretched arms of Depaolis. As the ball hit the ground, the Purple and Gold celebrated victory once again.

“We were just reacting out there, and we had the feeling that we’d bend but not break like all season,” linebacker James Kingsley ’02 said. “All season people had stepped up and made the big play, and Ben made a great play to be the one on Saturday.”

In the most exciting football game Williamstown had seen since the Amherst game in 1997, the Ephs (5-0) held on to defeat Tufts 28-21 on a cold and rainy afternoon. The Ephs, coming off a 25-0 shutout of Middlebury the week before, appeared sloppy at times and had trouble developing offensive continuity and defending Tufts’ (3-2) running and passing strategies. Though they were outgained 374 to 291 in total offensive yardage, the Ephs capitalized better on their opportunities to pull out the win.

Williams came into the game leading NESCAC at 4-0, top-ranked in the entire nation in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense and second in total defense. But Tufts was not deterred by the aura of invincibility emanating from the Williams football machine. Tufts sliced the Eph defense on the initial drive of the game, quickly moving 76 yards to the Eph end zone. Williams replied to Tufts’ initial salvo with a 45-yard bomb from quarterback Sean Keenan ’00 to receiver Matt Student ’01, who streaked down the far sideline into the end zone.

The rest of the first half was a fiercely contested battle for field position as the conditions worsened. The grinding play and the pouring rain turned Weston Field into a swamp. The terrible field conditions contributed to the injury of standout Williams cornerback Casey Flavin ’00, who broke his leg after being hit in coverage in the second quarter.

In the closing minutes of the half, the Ephs pieced together a second scoring drive, capped by Keenan’s second touchdown pass to Student with under a minute to go. The score gave the home team a 14-7 lead entering the half.

Williams and Tufts played to the same tune in the third quarter as they had in the previous 30 minutes, struggling to generate drives and put up points in the miserable weather. Late in the third, Tufts drove through the swamp and was finally able to break through the Eph defense again to tie the score 14-14.

For the first time in two seasons, the Ephs found themselves deadlocked with an opponent entering the final quarter of play. Early in the quarter, Kingsley picked off a stray pass from Fahy at midfield. Keenan refused to be denied on this golden opportunity to break the tie, first hitting Collin Brooks ’02 for 17 yards and then Student for 25 yards to advance to the five-yard line. Keenan followed with his third touchdown pass of the day, finding Collin Vataha ’01 in the right corner of the end zone.

“We ran a quick slant, and Keenan threw a great ball,” said Vataha, who sparkled in his return from injury. “I just tried to get in between the ball and the cornerback and the ball was right there.”

On the succeeding drive, Tufts coughed up the ball, and Hale recovered for the Ephs. From the Tufts 25, Williams took advantage of the second Jumbo mishap in the quarter and lengthened its lead to 28-14. When Tufts took over again, Kingsley made his third interception of the game. Williams appeared to finally be control and it seemed as though the Ephs would finally cruise to victory.

But on the Ephs’ next possession, one of Keenan’s passes got away from him, falling into the hands of Jumbo cornerback Brian Holmes, who zigzagged 75-yards back to the Eph end zone. All of a sudden, Tufts was back in the game, trailing only by one score.

Williams’ final drive drained the clock as much as possible, but the Jumbos forced a punt and took possession with just over a minute left in the game. After Fahy completed three consecutive passes to Troy, Tufts had a first and goal on the five-yard line. Though they came close on three final pass attempts, the Jumbos finally had to concede the loss when Sands knocked down the potential last-second touchdown.

On the day, Fred Storz ’01 surpassed the 2,000-yard career rushing mark, and he now needs only 155 yards to become the Williams all-time leader. Kingsley’s three-interception day tied a Williams record for most picks in one game. Keenan finished with 237 yards passing and three touchdowns, while Student had 106 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

The previous weekend, the Ephmen traveled to Middlebury College to take on the Panthers, an up-and-coming NESCAC team. Williams was sharp on both sides of the ball all game and handily won 25-0.

In the win, Keenan established himself as the most prolific quarterback in Williams history, setting records for career yardage (3,159), touchdowns (27) and completions (219). Keenan finished the game completing 21 of 32 passes for 243 yards. Storz rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while Andy Jones ’00 caught eight passes for 107 yards.

The defense recorded its third shutout of the year in victory in victory, shutting down Middlebury’s talented tandem of quarterback John Wenner and running back Brian Sanchez. Leading the defense were Kingsley, who recovered a fumble and snared an interception, and Will O’Brien ’00, who sacked Wenner two times.

Next Saturday the Continentals from Hamilton College (0-5) come to take on the Ephs. Kick-off is set for 1:30 pm.