With NESCAC title hopes on the line, the football team hosted Trinity on Saturday in one of the most anticipated matchups in the rivalry’s history. Both teams came into the contest with undefeated records, sitting at 6-0, and with only two games left in the season, the victor was guaranteed a share of the NESCAC crown. For the Jeffs, it would mean a chance to earn only their second-ever outright title, while the Bantams, quite accustomed to regular-season success, were looking for their fifth title in the past decade.
With these stakes on the line, the contest was sure to be a highly competitive battle. The Jeffs and Bantams have very similar teams this season, as they both rely on running games to carry the offense, while boasting two of the best run defenses in the country. With these strengths colliding, the game proved a true test for both teams.
Playing in front of family and friends, the Jeffs used the home crowd to jump out to an early advantage. After a first quarter dictated by strong defensive stands, Amherst finally broke through when quarterback Brian McMahon ’12 found Wade McNamara ’14 over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Senior Matt Rawson’s extra point made him Amherst’s all-time leader in career scoring among kickers.
Amherst built on that momentum in the second quarter, capitalizing on a pair of Trinity miscues. The first came on the Jeffs’ initial possession of the quarter, when the Bantams were called for roughing the kicker on a fourth-down punt attempt. The Jeffs kept the ball with a fresh set of downs and were able to convert the extra opportunity into seven points, when McMahon found room for a 14-yard touchdown dash.
Later in the quarter, the Jeffs benefitted again from a Bantam mistake on a fourth down punt attempt. This time, Trinity fumbled away the punt, which was recovered by Amherst’s Gordie Lockbaum ’12.
The Jeffs did not take long to exploit their excellent field position, as running back Eric Bunker ’12 ran in for the nine-yard touchdown on the very next play, giving the Jeffs a commanding 21-0 lead. This margin would hold going into halftime, as both teams’ defenses locked down through the remainder of the second quarter.
Amherst’s momentum did not last long, however, as the second half proved to be a very different story. Less than two minutes into the third, Bantam quarterback Ryan Burgess executed a beautiful fake handoff, creating room for a 56-yard touchdown dash down the left side of the field, finally putting Trinity on the scoreboard, 21-7.
Faced with the threat of a Trinity comeback, Amherst picked up their own level of play, countering with a pair of impressive scoring drives. Following Trinity’s huge run, McMahon responded with his second passing touchdown of the day, connecting with Mike Samela ’12 for a 60-yard score. Samela’s athleticism was impressive on the play, as he caught the ball at the Trinity 40-yard line with his back to the end zone, before proceeding to turn and sprint past the Bantam defense for the score.
The Jeffs followed that drive with a touchdown on their next possession as well. With the ball spotted at their own 25-yard line after a fair catch, the Jeffs scored on the first play of their drive, as Bunker ran for a career-long 75-yard touchdown, giving the Jeffs a 28-point lead. The score also gave Bunker 11 touchdowns on the season, putting him in a tie with Josh Mason ’97 (1995) for the school record.
Facing an uphill battle, the Bantams did not relent, showing impressive poise in fighting back. Spurred by a blocked punt, the Trinity defense came alive to record two interceptions, allowing their offense to settle in. The Bantams’ star running back Evan Bunker (Eric’s brother) led the charge with back-to-back touchdowns, before tight end Allen Even caught a touchdown for a 4th-and-goal score that brought the Bantams within seven points at 35-28.
The Jeffs nearly gained back some breathing room on their next drive, draining a good portion of clock and setting up a 32-yard field-goal attempt. Trinity miraculously blocked the kick, however, setting up one last chance to tie the score. Fortunately for the Jeffs, that hope was sucked away as Landrus Lewis ’13 snuck in for a timely interception, sealing the victory.
With the win, the Jeffs now sit alone at the top of the conference standings (7-0). The team will travel to Williamstown this weekend, looking to secure the NESCAC title, as they close out the season against archrival Williams.