“The Biggest Little Game in America” lived up to its moniker this weekend as football (8-0) accomplished a laundry list of feats on its way to beating Amherst 31-16. With the win, Williams finished its season undefeated, claimed sole possession of the 2010 NESCAC championship and avenged last year’s heartbreaking Homecoming loss to the Jeffs. Head Coach Aaron Kelton became the first Eph coach to go undefeated in his rookie season. This year’s team is only the seventh in school history to go undefeated and the first since 2006.
The Ephs were easily the better team on the field last Saturday, but the outcome was not assured until the very end. The first half was particularly choppy for the men: Led by quarterback Alex Vetras, Amherst drove down the field after Williams won the coin toss and elected to kick-off. Amherst’s powerful passing attack went to work, and Vetras quickly completed a 10-yard pass and then a 35-yard pass to put the Jeffs in the red zone within minutes. The defense came up big and forced Amherst to kick a field goal, granting the Jeffs an early 3-0 lead.
After a series of three-and-outs, Williams was winning the battle for field position. With 8:20 to go in the quarter, Amherst started a drive at its nine yard line. After a facemask penalty gave the Jeffs a little breathing room, Vetras dropped back to pass but was picked off by defensive back Chris Rudnicki ’11. The Ephs took over with great field position but were unable to capitalize and found themselves looking at a third-and-25 after running back Alex Scyocurka ’14 was tackled for a 12-yard loss. Quarterback Pat Moffitt ’11 then forced a throw that was intended for tri-captain tight end Jon Carroll ’11 but found its way into the hands of an Amherst defender.
The defense, led by tri-captain Dylan Schultz ’12, who finished with 13 tackles and one sack on Saturday, remained sturdy and forced yet another three-and-out. This time the offense managed to finish: After running back Ryan Lupo ’11 rushed for a first down, Moffitt connected with wideout J.C. Stickney ’12 for a 15-yard score and a 7-3 lead. Lupo finished the game with 128 rushing yards on 33 carries.
Williams went ahead 10-3 on a Chris Cleary ’12 field goal, and the offense quickly put itself in position to score again. The Ephs rode Moffitt’s arm, a defensive pass interference penalty and a recovered fumble down to the Amherst five yard line. The Ephs, however, were quickly forced into a fourth-and-two, from which Kelton decided to go for the first down.
“They are good on offense, and we want to keep their offense off the field,” Kelton said. “We needed to give our defense some rest, and anytime we decide to go for it on fourth down we feel like we are going to get it.”
Moffitt handed the ball off to Lupo who, though he appeared to cross the first-down marker, was stripped by an Amherst defender after stretching his arm out to make sure he got the yards. The Jeffs proceeded to march down the field with the help of a few penalties, punching the ball in to tie the game 10-10 going into halftime.
The Ephs put together what was perhaps their best team effort of the season during the second half. Williams struck first after the break when Moffitt found Stickney for a 37-yard gain which allowed Lupo to go to work. The senior running back rushed for 23 yards to bring his team to the two yard line. Moffitt then rolled out and found Carroll wide open in the back of the end zone and connected to retake the lead, 17-10.
The third quarter wound down without another score, but Williams struck again early in the fourth. Lupo broke out for 19 yards to bring the offense to midfield before Moffitt took over, completing three consecutive passes for a total of 62 yards. His last pass was a 33-yard beauty to Darren Hartwell ’13, who ran it in to give the Ephs a commanding 24-10 lead.
Hartwell, who has caught a record-breaking 10 touchdown passes from Moffitt this season, was quick to praise his quarterback. “Moffitt had an amazing year, and it was great to see him finish it off with such a strong performance,” Hartwell said. “His stats speak for themselves, and I’m really glad I got to play with him this year. He makes all of the receivers better and his performance was definitely a big reason why we were able to win [on Saturday].”
The Jeffs, however, would not go down without a fight: Vetras made another touchdown completion for a 24-17 score in the fourth quarter. Though a few frustrating drives initially stalled the men’s progress, an interception from Ben Oliva ’12 gave Williams control of the game once again.
After baiting Amherst with the rushing game, Kelton changed things up and called for an outside route with just minutes left on the clock. Stickney, who finished with 135 yards and two touchdowns on six catches, made an incredible catch to put the exclamation mark on the game and give the Ephs a 31-16 win.
“This was the most important [game of the year] not only because of the rivalry, but because it builds on the tradition of Williams,” Kelton said. “It was a great way to end the season and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Fourteen seniors ended their collegiate careers on Saturday, but it would be difficult to imagine a better way to go out than beating Amherst en route to a NESCAC title and a perfect season. The men will look to return and dominate the conference again in 2011.