Football triumphs 20-10 over Amherst at Homecoming

Izzy Polanco

Football “took the Walk” after their Homecoming win against Amherst, ending 3–6 and on a high note. Co-Captain Ian Devine ’23 called his final Walk “surreal.” (Photo courtesy of Sports Information.)

Football (3–6) finished its season with a homecoming win against Amherst. Both teams entered the matchup with 2–6 records, vying to bring home a win in the “The Biggest Little Game in America.”

The football team had a historic season last year, going undefeated during the first nine-game football season in NESCAC history. “[This season] might have looked a lot different,” co-Captain Ian Devine ’23 said. “But honestly, week-in and week-out in practice, where no one saw us, everything felt the same. We were practicing at a really high level, and we were really well-prepared going into each game. We were [competitive] in nearly every game that we lost this season.”

“There’s always a lot riding on the game when you’re going against Amherst, regardless of what your record is,” Devine said. “I know a lot of things didn’t go our way [this season]… We had a mindset of: ‘We can’t control what already happened, but we got one more left, so go out and play your best.’”

“Especially after the year we had last year, we didn’t expect to have a losing record,” co-Captain Dan Vaughn ’22.5 added. “But one of the things we say is that you can go 8–0, but if you lose the last game against Amherst, the season is kind of a wash… [Homecoming] was a big opportunity to set things right.”

From a strategic standpoint, football head coach Mark Raymond said that the team remained resilient despite a season characterized by a string of losses and injuries. “Obviously, [the season] didn’t go exactly how we thought it would as a record,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but as far as their approach to the season and practice, they were outstanding year-round.”

For standout running back Joel Nicholas ’23, the stakes of the game were also symbolic, as it marked his last game with the team. But he was unshaken by the pressure of the matchup with the Ephs’ perennial rivals, he said. “I like to really lock into the six seconds that each play consists of, and that’s something that Coach [Raymond] tells us all the time: ‘Give me six seconds of relentless focus and effort,’” Nicholas said. “I knew that if we could do that just once, we could do it again and again, and the score would take care of itself.” The four-year running back for the Ephs ended his career with a bang, helping the offensive line’s momentum by racking up over 200 rushing yards against Amherst.

A third-down sack by defensive lineman Devine forced an Amherst punt and ushered in Williams’ first drive of the game. Quarterback Vaughn seized the opportunity, finding a lane and running the ball five yards into the endzone to score the first touchdown of the game for the Ephs.

Amherst’s only touchdown came from a first-quarter turnover picked off by its defense, tying up the game at 7-7 after a successful conversion. On their next possession, the Mammoths capitalized on a 27-yard field goal to take the lead at 10-7.

According to Devine, the defensive line entered second-half gameplay with a renewed focus on execution. “We decided that we had to tighten up and that if we were going to finish the game and come back, we had to be at our best to do so,” he said. The Ephs’ defensive line remained vigilant, allowing the Mammoths only eight total offensive yards in the third quarter.

“I would definitely give a lot of credit to the defense grid,” Vaughn added. “Holding a team to 10 points is really impressive.”

Raymond echoed a similar sentiment, crediting the defense with stifling Amherst’s offensive drives. “Early in the game, the defense made some really key stops,” he said. “We forced them to kick field goals; we were really good on third downs and created a huge turnover; we really didn’t let Amherst run the ball at all. Certainly the best defensive performance of the year.”

In addition to stepping into a leadership role as a captain, Vaughn assumed the quarterback position after the starting and backup players both sustained season-ending injuries. Though Vaughn was initially recruited to play as a quarterback, he has spent more time playing in the wide receiver and running back positions for the Ephs. Against Amherst, Vaughn and Nicholas formed a dynamic duo and continued to lead the offensive effort in the second half, battering Amherst’s defense with a smattering of running plays.

“One thing about Dan and Joel is that they’re both very selfless players — they’d do anything for the team,” Raymond said. “Dan came in as a quarterback, but we had an incumbent when he got here, and he had such a good skill level, we thought that he was someone we had to get on the field…. When we moved him to quarterback [this year], he did a great job and got better every week.”

Vaughn acquired 90 more rushing yards and several crucial first downs for the Ephs. Wide receiver Mike DeGasperis ’23 ran a shallow over the middle to capitalize on another Ephs touchdown, extending the lead to 14-10.

“Dan and Joel are two of the best athletes in the entire NESCAC,” DeGasperis told the Berkshire Eagle. “When we had to move Dan to quarterback, that’s a whole other dimension for the offense to run the way he does.”

Following a wayward pass forced by defensive lineman Calvin Jackson ’24 and intercepted by defensive back Chaz Cotton ’23, kicker Ivan Shuran ’25 converted on a 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-10. With 30 seconds remaining in the game, Shuran found the field goal again from 18 yards out, solidifying the win at 20-10. NESCAC named Shuran its Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Amherst. The Ephs finished the game with 351 rushing yards, more than doubling the Mammoths’ 174.

For seniors on the team, the win represented both a win over arch-rival Amherst and a high note for the end of their time as Ephs. “I’ll definitely be taking away the relationships I made while I’m here with my teammates, classmates, and coaches,” Devine said. “I got to go through four seasons with everybody, and all of the ups and downs … really strengthened the bond that we have together. And obviously, I’ll be leaving with an Amherst win to go with it.”

The historic Walk up Spring Street, dubbed “The Best Post-Game Tradition in America” by Sports Illustrated in 1999, ushered in the Homecoming celebrations. Recently graduated teammates returned to Williamstown, joining community members in rallying around the football team as they marched up Spring Street. “As we were about to go out of the gate, the kids that we played with the last couple of seasons were right there, greeting us as we came out,” Vaughn said. “To go out with your best friends who you came in with, now four-and-a-half years ago — to be able to do it with them knowing that that was the last time we were going to be on the football field together — was very special.”

“I’ve done the Walk three times, and I think that was the most meaningful one, because I know there’s not gonna be another one,” Vaughn added.

Devine agreed. “Getting off the field and seeing the guys that we played with last year — I guess it didn’t really hit me until we got back to the locker room,” Devine said. “I can’t totally put it into words, but it was surreal.”

When asked whether he would return as an alum to join his former teammates in taking the Walk, Devine answered decisively — “Definitely,” he declared. “Of course.”

Nicholas said that his immediate family joined him on the Walk this year, making his last time even more special. “Having my older brother and my younger brother here just making the Walk with me meant a lot to me too,” he said.

Nicholas characterized his final Walk as summative of the cohesion of the Williams community, noting parallels with previous seasons. “After the game, just looking around and seeing that everyone was so happy — we could have been 9–0 this year, or we could have had the record that we have, but at the end of the day, [the win] felt the same,” he said. “I experienced last year, and I’ve experienced our season this year. We beat Amherst both years, and the feeling was exactly the same.”

Nicholas echoed the late long-time Coach Renzie Lamb’s axiom — “If you want to be happy forever, beat Amherst” — with a laugh. “After the Amherst win, I feel at peace,” he said. “I felt like [the win] was a great way to end my football career.”

“I guess the lesson is: Beat Amherst, and you’ll be happy,” Nicholas quipped.