The Williams College Ephs football team was last defeated over two years ago when it traveled to Andrus Field and lost to the Wesleyan Cardinals, 28-14. Fifteen games and 15 victories later, the injury-riddled Ephs once again traveled down the Connecticut River Valley Saturday to take on their old nemesis from Middletown. Carrying the hopes of a perfect season just as they did two years ago, the Ephs put up record numbers on offense but were plagued by costly turnovers and fell in heartbreaking defeat, 33-28.
The Cardinals, who entered the contest with a record of 4-2, were playing in their homecoming game and, for the seniors, it was the last time they would ever play at home. Wesleyan knew that to beat the vaunted Eph defense it would have to establish a running game after opening up the field with the pass and take advantage of any and all Williams miscues. Saturday, the Cardinals did both.
Wesleyan jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the opening minutes of the game, capitalizing on two Eph turnovers deep in their own territory early in the first quarter. Both Wesleyan scores were on passes from quarterback Jake Fay to receiver Matt Percival, two of NESCAC’s top performers.
After the Ephs were forced to punt, Fay and Percival tacked on yet another score to extend their club’s lead to 19-0 after 20 minutes of play.
Even with a three-touchdown deficit to overcome, the Ephs remained determined. Quarterback Sean Keenan ’00 went deep on the first play after the third Wesleyan touchdown. The referee called a pass interference penalty against Wesleyan, and the Cardinal sideline erupted, leading to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Wesleyan’s coach. Two plays later Keenan found Matt Student ’01 over the middle for a 53-yard connection. The Ephs ended the drive on a six-yard pass from Keenan to Sean Collins ’02. The deficit was cut to 19-7.
On their next possession, the Ephs went back to work. Keenan connected with Collin Vataha ’01 for a 47-yard bomb to the Cardinal 29. Fred Storz ’01 then ran with the ball on five consecutive plays, pounding into the end zone. In just a few minutes, Williams had made it a five-point ball game.
At the end of the half, Williams almost put up more points, but the team was held at bay closing in on the goal line. It was an amazing first half of play. Keenan and Fay both had strong passing halves. A key development in the game was the establishment of the Wesleyan running game. Given an unexpected 19-0 lead, the Cardinals actually had to run the ball for the first time all season. Wesleyan tailback Larry Woolard had 91 yard rushing in the first 30 minutes of play. Also critical were two Eph drives that went deep into Wesleyan territory, but ended without any points.
Wesleyan took back the momentum of the game early in the third quarter. Fay and Perceval connected for 39 yards on the way to another Cardinal touchdown. The rest of the third quarter was a hotly contested battle of field position that produced no points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Keenan was sacked on fourth down at the Wesleyan nine. It appeared that the end was near for the mighty Ephs. However, on its next drive, Williams had one of its more impressive possessions of the season, slicing the Cardinal defense into pieces on a combination of Storz’s runs and Keenan’s rifle passes. At Wesleyan’s 12-yard line, Storz appeared to be stopped, but he evaded the Wesleyan defenders on the way to a touchdown. With nine minutes left, the Ephs had cut the deficit back to five points.
On the very next drive, Wesleyan began to move the ball. At the Eph 46, Fay hit Perceval on a short hitch, and he ran the distance. With the clock and Ephs’ hopes of a comeback running down, the Cardinals had increased their led to 33-21.
The Wesleyan kicker attempted to squib the kick down the field, but the ball bounced off an Eph in the front row of the kickoff return team and Wesleyan recovered the ball. Williams eventually got the ball back without giving up any points, but Wesleyan was able to take two-and-half minutes off the clock and force Williams to use two precious time-outs.
With just four minutes left, Keenan led his troops back down the field back into Cardinal territory. On a dramatic fourth-and-9, Keenan scrambled for 10 yards, sliding just past the first down marker. The Cardinals began to clamp down on the Eph passing attack. At the five-yard line, Keenan threw a shovel pass to Storz, totally faking the Wesleyan defense towards the goal line. The Ephs had cut the led back to 33-28, but there were only two minutes left.
Williams then attempted the expected onside kick. It appeared that the Ephs had recovered the ball, but the referee ruled that the ball had not traveled the necessary ten yards to make the ball live for recovery. After taking possession of the ball, Wesleyan wisely ran the ball to run the clock down. The Ephs took possession at their own 20 with 29 seconds left. Keenan connected with Andrew Criqui ’00 and Andrew Jones ’00 for moderate gains. It appeared the game had ended, but the clock stopped to allow the chains to move forward for the first down. The crowd began to rush onto the field with two seconds left on the clock. Williams had one play left. Unfortunately, the hail mary fell incomplete and Wesleyan’s fans surged onto the field .
Several records were set on the day. The Ephs broke a school record for total offense with 587 yards. Wesleyan quarterback Jake Fay set the new NESCAC passing record with 6,389 yards. Williams 15 game winning streak, second longest in the nation, came to a close.
Sean Keenan completed 26 out of a school-record 57 attempts for 404 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Matt Student made nine catches for 174 yards. Three other Ephs—Vataha, Collins and Jones—finished the day with four receptions. Fred Storz rumbled for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. For Wesleyan, Matt Perceval had a career day—four touchdowns on nine catches and 162 yards. Jake Fay went 15-32-242 with four touchdowns. But maybe more key were the 183 yards rushing by Larry Woolard on 26 carries. Woolard’s day forced the Ephs to respect the run, keeping them unable to double-up on Perceval.
The Ephs, 6-1 on the season can still end the year as NESCAC champions in front of the Homecoming crowd and the cameras of the New England Sports Network next Saturday against archrival Amherst. Amherst, 5-2 on the season, has a chance to win the Little Three outright and take a share of the NESCAC title if it can upset the Ephs at Weston Field. The games is scheduled to start at high noon for the renewal of the “Biggest Little Game in America.”