Following the perfect season of 2009, 2010 brought the Lord Jeffs a respectable 6-2 finish. The dawn of 2011, however, leaves the Jeffs without several veterans and with a lot of question marks.
Will senior quarterback Brian McMahon be able to fill the shoes of the record-breaking Alex Vetras ’11? Will the defense step up and prevent teams like Tufts from scoring nearly 50 points? Can the Jeffs avenge their only two losses in the last two seasons? Most important, will this gridiron gang maintain the program’s winning ways, and could they reach that elusive 8-0 mark?
While most of these questions can only be answered in time, the quarterback question is one that should be answered within a couple of games. McMahon is relatively inexperienced, not having thrown a pass since 2009, when he went 11-for-21 with 129 yards as a backup to Vetras.
Still, he has shown promise, and opening the season with games against Bates and Bowdoin will give his arm plenty of time to warm up before facing the tougher opponents down the road. The speedy senior also has the potential to give headaches to opposing defenses with his ability to run the ball.
Nonetheless, Vetras’s shoes will be hard to fill. Vetras, who started at quarterback for three seasons, re-wrote the Amherst record book, setting high marks in career passing yardage (5,141), career touchdowns (43) and single-season touchdowns (16). Vetras’s trademark though, was his consistency; in each of his 24 career starts, Vetras threw at least one touchdown pass. During one dominant stretch last season, Vetras threw 224 consecutive passes without an interception — a remarkable streak at the collegiate level.
While Vetras provided a steady presence at the helm, the Jeffs’ offense was balanced by a dynamic rushing attack led by Eric Bunker ’12. The Jeffs earned an average of 174 rushing yards per game, and Bunker placed second in the NESCAC last season in rushing yards per attempt (5.2). With a mobile quarterback, a dynamic backfield and a talented receiving corps, the Jeffs might still be capable of producing high offensive numbers.
Even without the Class of 2011, the Jeffs received preseason individual honors for two seniors. Kevin Farber ’12, who recorded 59 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble last year, was named to the Div. III Preseason First Team squad as a defensive tackle for the North. Matt Rawson ’12, one of the premier placekickers in Div. III, was named as an Honorable Mention for North, as well as taking a position on the Fred Mitchell Award Watch List. Look for these seniors to make an impact on this year’s gridiron squad, and especially for Ferber to lift what was, at times, a shaky defense in 2010.
That defense is a pivotal question mark heading into the season. While the Jeffs were able to dig their heels in and stop drives when it counted, allowing less than 20 points per game, they allowed opposing offenses to gain an average of 375 yards.
Most of those yards — over 260 per game — came through the air, which puts pressure on the secondary to step up and stop the passing game. On the other hand, Amherst wants to keep its turnover ratio in the neighborhood of their NESCAC-best plus-10 from last season. The Jeffs have proved in the past that they can run up the score on offense, which puts the ball in the hands of the defense when it comes to reclaiming the conference crown.
The season opens on Sep. 24 at Bates, a team that was blanked at Pratt Field by the Jeffs last year en route to a 2-6 finish. After taking on the Bobcats, the Jeffs have back-to-back home matchups against Bowdoin and Middlebury. Bowdoin dropped the ball in the previous contest, with Amherst cruising by a score of 38-7, but the Polar Bears have historically been a team that can give the Jeffs a real challenge.
The Panthers, on the other hand, were much more competitive against Amherst, losing to the Jeffs by a single touchdown in 2010. Middlebury was leading Amherst 9-0 at half-time last season, before the Jeffs offense exploded with 21 points in the third quarter to secure an impressive 38-31 win. This fall, the home matchup against Middlebury will most likely be the first real test of the season for the Jeffs.
The next week brings an early road challenge in the form of the Mules, another 4-4 team in 2010. Amherst will be looking for its seventh consecutive win against Colby. On Oct. 22, the Jeffs return to Pratt Field for the Homecoming matchup against Little Three opponent Wesleyan. Amherst has dominated the Cardinals consistently in recent history, but expect the old rivals to make a game of it on the Jeffs’ home turf.
As the season winds down, the Lord Jeffs will travel to Tufts to take on the only team to score more than 32 points on them last season. Even though the Jumbos put up only a single win in conference play, it’s impossible to count them out of any game, and the Jeffs will look to hone their winning edge against them before taking on the only two schools to defeat Amherst in the last two years.
The first of those schools is Trinity, a team whose 28-13 upset last season dashed hopes of a repeat 8-0 mark and ended a 14-game winning streak for the Jeffs. This season, the Bantams travel to Amherst to try and repeat their feat, but the Jeffs will put them to the test in their quest to avenge last year’s loss.
Nov. 12 brings Amherst to the home of the team responsible for two of its last three losses, archrival Williams. The season finale matches up the two squads in the most long-standing rivalry in Div. III football, the “Biggest Little Game in America” — a game in which the Ephs outlasted the Jeffs 31-16 last year.
Despite Williams’ historical dominance, with the Ephs leading the series 71-48-5, the Jeffs will invade cow territory with nothing but victory on their mind.
All in all, 2011 looks to be an exciting season, matching up the talents of the Jeffs against those teams who stand between Amherst and the NESCAC crown. There might be questions now, but the Jeffs are going to answer them game by game as they look to put an exclamation point on the end of the upcoming season.