In a battle to stay undefeated, Williams Football (5-0) passed a major hurdle by beating the Tufts Jumbos (4-1) 21-17 in fine form on Weston Field on Saturday. The game was a seesaw affair, with Tufts taking the lead on three different occasions only to have the Ephs take the lead midway through the third quarter and survive several Jumbos attempts to advance late in the game.
“It was a great game to watch; not a good game to coach in,” said head coach Dick Farley after the game.
The win maintains the Ephs’ perfect start and keeps them at the top of the NESCAC rankings along with rival Amherst (5-0).
The victory followed last week’s 23-3 manhandling of Middlebury in which defensive back Scott Farley ’03 was named NESCAC defensive player of the week after registering seven tackles, recovering a fumble and returning a punt 63 yards for a touchdown.
On Saturday, though, the Ephs faced a struggle from the start. On the second play of the game, Tufts running back Chuck McGraw sprinted through a massive opening in the Ephs’ defense and ran unchallenged for 59 yards to give the Jumbos a 7-0 lead only 24 seconds into the game.
Three possessions later, the Ephs’ offense responded. Starting at their own 49-yard line, the Ephmen drove down the field in eight plays and scored on a play-action pass in which fullback Tyler Shea ’04 leaked out of the backfield and broke for a wide open pass in the end zone. The touchdown and resulting extra point scored by Farley tied the game at seven.
Tufts charged right back, however. Starting from their own 20-yard line, the Jumbos marched 80 yards in 15 plays in a drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. On a third and 15 from the Williams 20-yard line, Jumbo quarterback Scott Treacy floated a pass to Bryan Pitko, who made a great adjustment to make the catch in the end zone, giving the Jumbos a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Shortly after Tufts had reclaimed the lead, Williams tied the game back up. Starting in great field position thanks to a kickoff return by Vernard Bond ’03, the Ephs were able to maneuver to allow Mike Hackett ’04 several key runs, the last being a 13-yard touchdown run, to tie the game at 14.
At the end of the first half, the Ephs suffered several miscues that gave the Jumbos a key opportunity to take control of the game.
With five minutes remaining in the first half, the Jumbos broke through the Williams punt protection, blocking a punt by Jarod Kidd and giving their offense the ball at the Williams 12-yard line. The Ephs’ defense, however, held the Jumbos without a first down, forcing Tufts to kick a field goal, putting them back in the lead at 17-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bond fumbled the ball at his own 31-yard line, where the ball was recovered by the Jumbos. The defense again held, and this time Johnny Kelly ’03, rushing off the right end, blocked the Jumbos’ field goal attempt.
Williams had an opportunity to score before the half, after a 66-yard completion from Joe Reardon ’04 to Farley put the Ephs at the Jumbos’ 30-yard line. Tufts defensive back Reid Palmer picked off a Reardon pass on the very next play, however, securing the Jumbos’ 17-14 halftime advantage.
“We were very lucky to be down only three points at halftime,” said Coach Farley. “Our coaching staff knew with a blocked punt and fumble, we could have 20 points, so to be down only three points was a moral victory.”
After trading punts, Williams went to work midway through the third quarter. Starting from his own 35-yard line, Reardon connected with Ryan Friend ’03 on two long completions to get Williams inside the Jumbos’ five-yard line. Hackett scored three plays later to give the Ephs a 21-17 edge.
Tufts immediately responded with a 13-play drive that was stopped at the Williams 17 yard line. Howie Rock’s 34-yard field goal, however, sailed wide and the Ephs kept their four point lead.
After holding Williams to one first down, the Jumbos went on the attack again. Starting in Williams territory, Tufts got to the Williams nine yard line by utilizing their 220 lb. running back Keven Kelley for most of the drive. The defense managed to tough it out, however, as lineman Will Gilyar ’02 forced Kelley to fumble and Will McGrath ’04 recovered, cutting of a crucial scoring opportunity for the Jumbos.
Tufts, though, had one more drive left. After a punt by Farley pinned the Jumbos at their own four-yard line, Tufts moved the ball 84 yards in eight plays, helped greatly by a notable 56-yard pass from Treacy to Pitko.
With the Jumbos in position to take the lead late in the game, the Ephs’ defense responded once again with a big play. On a third and ten from the Williams 12-yard line, cornerback Marshall Creighton ’02, a target for the Jumbos’ passing game during most of the contest, intercepted a pass by Treacy and cut off any scoring opportunities for the Jumbos.
Tufts got the ball one last time with two minutes left, but an interception by Eric Bellucci ’02 on fourth and 16 secured the win for the Ephs.
With a 5-0 record, the Ephs are in prime position to capture the NESCAC title. Their main competition will be from likewise undefeated Amherst.
The Ephmen will face an 0-5 Hamilton team next weekend at home before closing the season with games against Little Three rivals Wesleyan and Amherst. Kickoff against Hamilton is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Weston Field.