Williams-Amherst rivalry the oldest in Division III; always something special

“Three hours to play, a lifetime to remember.”

These are the words that the football Ephs will hear this Saturday from Coach Dick Farley before their final game of the season against arch-rival Amherst. These are also the same words that Farley has said before every Amherst game that he has coached. His pre-game talk is now a tradition, but it’s just one of many traditions that comprise Williams’ long rivalry with Amherst College.

The heated rivalry between the schools began in 1821, when some members of the Williams faculty, including College President Zepheniah Swift Moore, defected from the Purple Valley and started a new college in Amherst. To counter the crisis that Williams faced, a group of alumni banded together and formed the first college alumni society in the world. This alumni society saw to the construction of several new facilities and worked hard to restore the college to its prior stature.

For many, the defection of Amherst and the degree of support given by the Williams alumni have made the rivalry between the two schools especially intense. “The beauty of the rivalry is that it was sparked by the defection,” said Dick Quinn, Assistant Director of Public Affairs. “The creation of the alumni society really created a great sense of school spirit.”

Although the rivalry between the two schools is now deeply felt by all Williams athletic teams, the football team has had the longest history of battling the Lord Jeffs, and Saturday the two teams will face off in the 114th edition of the “The Biggest Little Game in America.” Williams leads the series 63-45-5, but until the mid ’80s, Amherst had been dominating. Amherst has not won since 1986, however, coming its closest in 1995 by forcing a 0-0 tie.

“Now, we are the hunted, and Amherst are the hunters,” Quinn said. “There has been a turnaround.”

The much-anticipated football games, which always attract over 10,000 fans and have lately been televised on the New England Sports Network, usually do not disappoint. Two years ago, for example, Williams came from behind to beat Amherst 48-46 with a field goal by then freshman Collin Vataha ’01 in the closing seconds. In 1989, the Ephs came back from a two-touchdown deficit to defeat Amherst and finish the season with Williams football’s first perfect season in 103 years.

The post-game homecoming celebration has become just as much a tradition as the actual game, and when the Ephs are victorious, it obviously takes on even more of a special meeting in Williamstown. The many fans present at the game line up along Spring Street and watch as the team marches up, usually singing fight songs and telling jokes. The team ends up at St. Pierre’s Barber Shop, a certain stop for the team since 1989, and parties there for hours, allowing no one but teammates and the St. Pierre’s employees into the shop. This is again just one part of the rich Williams football tradition that has come to mean so much for the players and school.

For the first time in last five years neither team enters the game with a perfect 7-0-0 record, but the Ephs at 6-1 will certainly still have pride on the line when the 5-2 Lord Jeffs arrive Saturday. As Amherst has not beaten Williams in Coach Farley’s 13 seasons, this year’s team does not want to be the one to let the streak expire.

The 1999 Lord Jeffs are led by their stellar defense, which is second in NESCAC in both total yardage and points allowed. Defenders to watch are linebackers Dan Lalli, Brian Landolfi, Greg Stankewicz and Mike Perrone, defensive linemen Greg O’Neill and Pat McGee and defensive backs David Dyer and Brian Daoust. Peter Honig is back at quarterback with his primary receivers as Derrell Wright and Matt Hall, who was excellent in last year’s game but is just getting back from a collarbone injury. The Jeffs have also two solid running backs in Okey Ugwonali and Kevin Kennard.

The Ephs, who lost a thriller to Wesleyan last weekend, look to regain their strength on defense, where they have suffered three critical losses in broken legs to cornerback Casey Flavin ’00, defensive end Ed Gondwe ’00 and linebacker Devareaux Brown ’01. Among those to watch are linemen Will O’Brien ’00, Chris Sweatman ’00 and Nick Weiss ’00, linebackers Chris Hale ’00, Louis Moll ’01 and James Kingsley ’02, and defensive backs Dan Dicenzo ’01 and Alexi Evriviades ’01.

The Eph offense broke the school record for total yardage in a game last Saturday but committed too many turnovers at key moments. Quarterback Sean Keenan ’00 and running back Fred Storz ’01 are now the all-time Williams leaders in passing and rushing yardage, respectively, and will again be the focus of the Eph attack. Receivers Matthew Student ’01, Andy Jones ’00 and Vataha will again need to have big games as standout receiver Mike Paolercio ’00 is out with an injury.

Tradition will loom large Saturday at Weston Field when Williams and Amherst once again renew the longest rivalry in Division III college football. As thousands of cheering students and alums will watch from the sidelines and on television across the country, the players realize just how important the game is to maintaining the special rivalry and genuine nature of the matchup.

“The Amherst-Williams game is college football in its purest form, a classic rivalry between two teams that play strictly for the love of the game,” said Co-captain Hale. “Tradition is a big part of football itself, and to be a part of this one is an honor.”

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