Fueled by a punishing running attack and a tenacious defense, the football team pummeled Bowdoin 20-3 on a soggy Pratt Field last Saturday. The Jeffs improved to 2-0 with the victory, having beaten Bates 20-7 last week.
While the offense played solid, unspectacular football, it was the dominating defense that again paved the way to victory. The Jeffs tormented Bowdoin quarterback Grant White into throwing three interceptions, and held the Polar Bears to just 94 passing yards and 74 rushing yards — a miniscule 2.43 yards per play.
“It’s still early, but I think this year we are all meshing really well together,” All-American defensive lineman Kevin Ferber ’12 said of the defense. “Also, we are playing fearless with a relentless attitude that has been wearing down offenses by the fourth quarter.”
The Jeffs trampled the Polar Bears for 199 rushing yards, with Eric Bunker ’12 leading the charge with 134 yards on 26 carries — 5.15 yards per carry. Complementary running back Mike Samela ’12 converted several crucial third- and fourth-down plays, while quarterback Blake Grauer ’12 avoided mistakes in the passing game, completing 13-of-26 throws for 81 yards without tossing an interception.
The contest against Bowdoin started slowly, as each drive in the first quarter resulted in a punt. At 13:46 in the second quarter, the Jeffs began a 35-yard drive that stalled at the Bowdoin 25. Amherst would walk away without points, however, as kicker Matt Rawson ’12 missed the 42-yard field goal attempt that would have tied his career long, and the game remained scoreless.
Buoyed by the field goal miss, Bowdoin went 72 yards on the ensuing drive. With the Polar Bears working the ball to the Amherst three-yard line, the Jeffs’ defense tightened up coverage at the goal line to limit Bowdoin to a chip-shot field goal.
Receiving the kickoff with 4:17 left in the half, the Jeffs engineered a 69-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-3 lead into the break. The pivotal play in the drive came in a Fourth-and-1 situation at the Bowdoin 28-yard line. With the Jeffs trailing 3-0, a failure to convert could have changed the total complexion of the game, and would have given the Polar Bears a surge of momentum.
Instead, Samela muscled his way past the line of Bowdoin defenders, picking up the crucial first down. Bunker followed with a 19-yard run, and later rushed for a two-yard touchdown with 59 seconds left in the first half.
On the first drive of the second half, Amherst received great field position after the kickoff, but fumbled the ball deep in Bowdoin territory. The Jeffs immediately regained the momentum, however, when Matt Pieterse ’13 caught an interception on the very next play. Moments later, at 11:33 of the third quarter, Rawson tacked on a 20-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-3.
The Jeffs got the ball back quickly as the defense forced a three-and-out. Amherst then grinded out an 11-play, 36-yard drive, with Rawson connecting on a 37-yard field goal to give the Jeffs a 13-3 lead.
The Jeffs’ defense throttled Bowdoin in the third quarter, as the Polar Bears actually finished the 15-minute period with negative total yardage (-1) on offense. With the defense consistently forcing turnovers and three-and-outs, Amherst dominated ball possession in the third quarter, holding the ball for 10:49 of the 15-minute period.
Two plays after Ferber sacked White for a 10-yard loss to end the third quarter, cornerback Kevin Heller ’12 exacerbated White’s misery by returning an interception 28 yards to the Bowdoin four-yard line. Samela then pounded through the Polar Bears’ defense for the rushing touchdown, giving Amherst a 20-3 lead with 14:10 to play.
Trailing by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, the Polar Bears mounted their first serious drive of the second half, moving the ball to the Amherst 32. Once again, however, the Jeffs’ defense came up with a big interception to put the nail in the coffin, as Greg Kutzin ’12 picked off White’s pass to seal the result with 10:28 left on the clock.
“Whenever you have a +3 turnover margin you’re going to have great field position, which is key when the weather is sloppy,” Ferber said.
“Bowdoin had a couple extremely costly penalties and turnovers that really gave us a boost,” Bunker said. “We were able to capitalize on their mistakes.”
The Jeffs will take on Middlebury at home this Saturday. In last year’s road contest against the Panthers, the Jeffs found themselves trailing 9-0 at halftime. Amherst overcame the deficit in a wild second half, prevailing 38-31.
Middlebury enters the game with some momentum after routing Colby 41-15 in Vermont last weekend. The Panthers amassed 553 of yards on offense, demonstrating an explosive passing attack. On defense, the Jeffs will have to “stop the run early and force them to be one dimensional,” Ferber said. “If we execute, we will have a ton of success come Saturday” Ferber said. From the Jeffs’ offensive perspective, “Middlebury has a stronger defense than Bates and Bowdoin so we need to be prepared,” Bunker said. “As long as we continue to succeed on the ground and continue to improve through the air we should be in good shape.”
Last season, the football team rode the arm of quarterback Alex Vetras ’11 – the Amherst record-holder in career passing yardage (5,141) – to a 6-0 start. While the passing game has been dialed down this year, the 2011 Jeffs have established their identity as a physical team in the trenches, pounding the ball on the ground on offense and stifling the opposition on defense.