Throughout the season, football (7-1) has lived on the edge, relying on clutch plays and fourth quarter comebacks to overcome their mistakes. Their uneven play finally caught up to them as Amherst (6-2) upended the Ephs 45-35 at Amherst on Saturday.
While the Lord Jeffs played inspired football, the Ephs helped them every step of the way. The five turnovers committed by the Ephs, three of them inside their own territory, combined with inopportune mistakes on defense doomed them.
“We had too many big errors,” Head Coach Dick Farley said. “We gave them the ball five times; we had two big breakdowns in the specialty games. You don’t win football games in tough circumstances under those conditions.”
The loss, the Ephs’ first in 16 games, with the last being the Williams-Amherst game played at Amherst two years ago in 2000, put the Ephs’ final season record at 7-1. While the loss allowed a three-way tie for the Little Three title, the Ephs can still claim the NESCAC title, as their early season victory over Trinity gives them the tiebreaker over the Jumbos, who likewise finished the season 7-1.
The opening drive against Amherst, however, gave no indications of the troubles that lay ahead. Getting the ball at their own 23-yard line, the Ephs methodically marched down the field in 10 plays, with the drive culminating in a Tyler Shea ’04 one-yard touchdown run, giving the Ephs a quick 7-0 lead. After the Williams defense stopped the Amherst offense on the next series, things appeared to be running very smoothly for the Ephs.
In the next five minutes, however, the momentum shifted dramatically in favor of the Lord Jeffs and the Ephs never fully recovered it. On their next possession, the Ephs stopped the Lord Jeffs at the Williams 33 after a sack by Mark Rosenthal ’03.
However, on fourth-and-15, Amherst quarterback Marsh Moseley found receiver J.P Zito over the middle and the senior receiver and his mullet streaked past the Williams defenders to tie the game at seven.
On the ensuing possession, Amherst got the ball back in Williams territory after the Lord Jeffs recovered a Mike Hackett ’04 fumble and turned into a David Bodner 33-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
On the next kickoff, the ball slipped through the arms of returner Jon O’Hanlon ’06 and was recovered by the Jeffs at the Williams 12-yard line. Five plays later, running back Fletcher Ladd ran in from one yard out and a shocked Williams team found themselves down 10 points.
The offense, though, responded in fine form. On a controlled, patient 16-play drive that took over seven minutes, the Ephs again went down the field and scored on a Shea one-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 17-14 and to quell Amherst’s momentum.
On the next series, Scott Farley ’03, playing in his last game in an Eph uniform, dove in front of an Amherst receiver and made a spectacular interception, giving the Ephs the ball with a chance to score once more in the half.
Driving down the field, the Ephs seemed primed to take the lead by getting inside the Jeff 10-yard line, but on second down, quarterback Joe Reardon ’04 made an ill-advised pass back across the field which was intercepted at the two-yard line, securing for Amherst a slim halftime lead.
Despite three turnovers, the Ephs were only down three at the half. However, the mistakes that plagued the team in the first half only reappeared in the second. After stopping the Jeffs without a first down to start the half, cornerback Johnny Kelly ’03 mishandled the bouncing punt and the Jeffs got the ball back in midfield. On a subsequent play, Kelly suffered a broken leg, taking a key player out of the secondary.
Taking advantage of another Ephs turnover, the Jeffs scored five plays later on an Ngai Otieno touchdown. After stopping the Ephs, the Jeffs drove right back and scored again, this time on a leaping touchdown catch by Zito.
Down 17 points, the offensive unit tried to muster one more comeback in a season that has had its fair share. Driving down 71 yards, the offense again scored on a Shea touchdown run, cutting the lead back down to 10 at 31-21, setting the stage for another comeback.
Instead, Zito and the Amherst offense put the game away. After the Ephs defense stopped the Jeffs on first and second down and looked ready to give the ball to the offense, Moseley threw a perfect pass to Zito down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown pass, erasing the Shea touchdown and putting the Jeffs back up by 17 points.
The Eph offense tried valiantly to comeback and cut the lead back to 10 with 10 minutes remaining when receiver Jamaal Mobley ’04 made a brilliant catch in traffic in the back of the endzone.
On their next possession, though, Reardon was hit when he threw and Paul Miceli intercepted his altered pass. Three plays later, Otieno cut back against the grain and raced to a 49-yard touchdown, putting the Jeffs up 45-28.
With time running out, Reardon found receiver Ryan Friend ’03 in the endzone for a touchdown, which cut the lead to 10 again and gave the senior receiver the school’s single season touchdown reception record. But it was too little and too late as the Ephs suffered their first defeat in over two years.
Still, Farley praised his team for its effort and its achievements over the season.
“I’m proud of the kids,” he said. “They played hard. I think we reached our potential with the talent level we had. Someone once told me that when one streak ends, another begins, so we’ll try to do that next fall.”