Football shaky but victorious

Behind the strength of a dominating defensive performance, football (3-0; 3-0 in the NESCAC) beat Bates 24-0 on Saturday in Lewiston. The win pushed the Ephs’ record to 3-0 this season and places them in a three-way tie for first place in the NESCAC along with last year’s other standout teams, Amherst and Tufts.

The win was the 11th straight for the Ephs, an unbeaten skein that began with victory number one in an undefeated 2001 campaign. Williams also extended its unbeaten streak against Bates: since play began in 1988, the Ephs are a perfect 15-0 against the Bobcats.

Playing its best game of the year, the defense suffocated the helpless Bobcat offense in every aspect of the game. Besides keeping the Bobcats off the board, the defense allowed only nine first downs and 127 total yards, numbers most defenses give up in a half.

“I think that we showed the ability to move the ball well against their defense,” quarterback Joe Reardon ’04 said. “When it came time to score we just couldn’t convert and that’s something that could come back to haunt us in the big games. If you can’t convert in the red zone you can’t expect to win the tough ones.

“We haven’t had trouble with making good on our opportunities so far this year but we struggled with it against Bates – hopefully it’s something that we can figure out and fix this week.”

The pass defense was exceptionally strong against the Bobcats, as Bates quarterbacks only completed six passes for a meager 50 yards and were sacked seven times, with two and a half of those sacks credited to defensive tackle Bill McGrath ’04.

The standout defensive play also helped the Ephs overcome a sloppy offensive performance. Even though the Ephs gained over 400 yards, they made mistakes at crucial moments, allowing Bates to stay in the game into the second half.

Out of the seven times the Ephs reached the Bobcat red zone, they only converted on three occasions. The Ephs were stopped inside the Bobcat five-yard line on downs three different times and were intercepted twice more inside the 20, showing an inefficiency inside the red zone that was not present in the first two games.

While the offense was unable to finish off many of their own chances, they were able to convert on the opportunities given to them by the defense and special teams. After a scoreless first quarter, defensive back Kevin Greener ’06 charged through and blocked punter Nat Carr’s attempt, giving the Ephs the ball at the Bates’ 21-yard line.

On their first play, Reardon connected with wide receiver Jamaal Mobley ’04 for a 21-yard touchdown pass. A missed extra point, though, kept the score at 6-0.

Two possessions later, the offense again was opportunistic. After the Ephs recovered a fumble at the Bobcat 15-yard line, tailback Tim Crawley ’05 bolted down to the Bates one-yard line with defenders clinging to him every step of the way.

On the next play, fullback Tyler Shea ’04 tumbled in for the score. Going for the two-point conversion, Reardon hit tight end Mike Rabiner ’03 in the endzone, giving the Ephs a 14-0 lead.

After the defense held Bates in check yet again, the offense made one last push before the end of the half. Starting at their own 32, the offense moved 64 yards in just a 1:37 before Scott Farley ’03 converted a 21-yard field goal at end of the half, giving the Ephs a 17-0 advantage.

In the second half, the Ephs continued to manhandle the Bobcat offense while struggling on offense. With Reardon sitting out the second half with an ailing shoulder, backup Jake Moore ’04 ran the offense. While the offense still moved the ball, mistakes continued to plague the team and the Ephmen were unable to build upon their 17-point lead.

The defense, though, made the lead stand up, as they continued to smother the Bates offense.

Finally, midway through the fourth quarter, the Ephs sustained a long touchdown drive. Starting inside Bates territory, the Ephs chewed up nearly five minutes of clock, moving 48 yards in 11 plays. Moore’s run from one yard out gave the Ephs a 24-0 lead, putting the game completely out of reach.

Despite missed chances, there were still impressive performances by offensive players. Crawley ran for 86 yards on just nine carries and combined with fellow tailback Mike Hackett ’04 to give the Ephs most of their 172 rushing yards.

Moore and Reardon combined to throw for 245 yards, and wide receiver Ryan Friend ’03 caught six passes for 108 yards, giving him his third straight 100-yard game.

“I think some of it is timing with Joe,” Friend said of his success this season. “That’s something that comes from playing with the same quarterback for three years.

“We’ve been getting great protection out there as well, the line’s been playing great, we’ve been coming into the games with good game plans, good schemes.”

With their excursion to Maine out of the way, the Ephs will return to Weston Field this weekend to play the Middlebury Panthers. The Panthers are 1-2 this season, having suffered difficult losses to the Ephs’ Little Three foes, Wesleyan and Amherst. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.

The Ephs took it to the Panthers last season, coming away with a convincing 23-3 victory in what was the fourth game of the season in 2001 as well. Farley and Reardon starred against Middlebury last season, which should bode well for the team’s chances in the game on Saturday.