Football slips by Amherst, 24-23

Thirteen Williams football players ended their collegiate careers on Saturday having never lost to Amherst. Saturday’s 24-23 victory marked the fourth time that the senior class has beaten its archrivals. The victory also gave the Ephs their fourth straight Little Three title and spoiled Amherst’s Homecoming.

The seniors completed their sweep of Amherst (the first since the Class of 2000 accomplished the feat) in Williams’ historic 999th football game. The win gives the Ephs a record of 609-343-47. With a .632 winning percentage, Williams ranks fifth among all NCAA teams with at least 500 victories. Saturday’s win also leaves the men with their 46th outright Little Three title, compared to Amherst’s 28 and Wesleyan’s 12.

As the Ephs made school history, co-captain Brian Morrissey ’09 broke individual records. With 86 yards, Morrissey became Williams’ all-time leading rusher since 1973, when Div. III play started. Finishing his career with 2681 total yards, Morrissey eclipsed Fred Storz ’01, who rushed for 2,644 yards while wearing purple and gold. He also led the NESCAC this season in yards rushing (995), touchdowns (11), yards per game (124.5) and carries (224).

“I am so happy for our 13 seniors,” Head Coach Mike Whalen said. “They are a very talented and dedicated group, and I don’t think there is a better way for them to end their football careers than beating their archrival on their home field. Amherst is a very good football team and to bounce back after a tough first quarter would not have been possible without outstanding senior leadership.”

That tough first quarter began when Amherst forced a Williams three-and-out and then marched down field. On third-and-nine, Tim Batty ’09 broke up the Amherst pass attempt, and the Jeffs settled for a field goal to go up early, 3-0.

After the initial shakeup, the Williams defense settled down and held the Jeffs scoreless for the remainder of the first quarter. “On defense we really played as a unit,” linebacker and co-captain Trevor Powers ’09 said. “Standing in the huddle we were very confident and trusted each other. We knew we were going to win even when we were losing early in the game.”

Unfortunately the offense didn’t rally as quickly and, after the first 15 minutes, had not yet put a point on the board.

To start the second half, the Jeffs completed a drive that took them from their own 17 into the Williams end zone. With the extra point, they went up 10-0.

About five minutes later, the Ephs responded with a touchdown drive of their own. Quarterback Pat Moffitt ’11 hit stride when he found Todd Schnuck ’11 on a 12-yard pass on third-and-long. Two downs later he connected with Ryan Powell ’09 on a 23-yard completion and then with Stew Buck ’09 on a seven-yard touchdown play. Buck finished with four receptions, one touchdown and 42 yards.

Replicating last week’s speedy work against Wesleyan in the waning seconds of the first half, the Ephs again used a hurry-up offense to drive downfield and set up Scott Sobolewski ’10 for a long field goal opportunity. With about 10 seconds left on the clock, Moffitt and Buck again connected, this time on a 24-yard reception that brought Williams to the 26 yard line. Sobolewski made good with a 43-yard field goal to send the Ephs into the break tied, 10-10.

“I told our players that this game would be decided by our senior’s ability to make ‘big plays,’” Whalen said. “It was a tough first quarter for us offensively, but our defense kept us in the game.  Then with the seniors leading the way, we got some things going and managed to tie up the game at halftime.”

Amherst regained the lead seven minutes into the third quarter. On fourth-and-11, Amherst benefited from an offsides penalty on Williams, convincing the Jeffs to go for it on fourth-and-six. The risk proved to be a wise one as Alex Vetras hit receiver Andre Gary, who took it into the end zone and gave the Jeffs a 17-10 lead.

Once again, the Eph defense kept Williams in the game. With three minutes left in the third quarter, defensive back Sean Milano ’09 snagged a Vetras pass and returned it 32 yards to the Amherst four, although a penalty brought the ball back to the 14. From there, Moffitt and Powell did the rest of the work, as the Eph quarterback scrambled out of the pocket and found the senior receiver in heavy coverage on a miraculous 13-yard touchdown pass.

Moffitt went 19-for-36 with two touchdowns and 202 yards, as well as two interceptions. His favorite receiver, Powell, finished with nine receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.

The momentum shifted back to the Jeffs quickly as Amherst’s Femi Oyalowo returned the ensuing kick 75 yards to the Williams 15. Two plays later, Amherst was in the end zone and back in the lead. But in a play that would eventually prove the game-breaker, the Ephs blocked the Amherst PAT to keep themselves within six, 23-17.

As the rain began to pick up in the fourth quarter, the Ephs’ spirits didn’t dampen, as they put together one of the most impressive drives of the season to reclaim the lead. Moffitt again hit Buck and Powell, on plays of 10 and 22 yards, respectively. The scoring play itself was completed by none other than Morrissey, who, from four yards out, broke through the line and into the end zone. With a successful point after attempt, Williams was in the lead, 24-23.

Amherst had most of the fourth quarter remaining to wrest the lead away, but the Williams defense, so successful throughout the season, came through when it counted most. The team held Amherst scoreless for the remaining 12 minutes.

The Jeffs almost got on the board in a 49-yard drive. After working deep into Williams territory, however, the Jeffs missed the 38-yard field goal and, more importantly, ate up over nine minutes of the clock.
Unable to answer themselves, the Ephs handed the ball back to Amherst, but again stopped the Jeffs cold. This time, Amherst actually lost two yards on their four play drive and turned the ball over on downs.

Stopping the Ephs again, the Jeffs gave themselves one last chance. However, a diving interception from Ikenna Iheoma ’10 ended all Amherst hopes for a comeback and gave Williams the 24-23 victory.
Powers led the team with a monstrous 15 tackles, including two for a loss. With 68 tackles this fall, Powers finished seventh in the NESCAC. Milano also came up big in his final performance with 12 tackles and an interception.

“We just played with more heart,” Powers said. “We were down in the beginning of the game but showed what we were made of by continuing to play hard and staying in the game. The offense got it done when they needed to make a big play.”

With a 6-2 record, Williams finished second in the NESCAC, behind undefeated Trinity. The Eph seniors hang up their pads with a four-year record of 26-6.