Looking to cap their undefeated season in style, Amherst’s football team (7-0) travelled to Williamstown on Saturday to take on their archrivals. Touted as the “Biggest Little Game in America,” the matchup would have had all the intensity of a playoff game even without the added stakes. A Lord Jeff victory would give Amherst the NESCAC Championship and perfect season, so the Ephs could not have been happier to get the chance to play spoiler. With both teams having beaten Wesleyan earlier in the season, the victor would earn the 2011 Little Three title, and, more importantly, the bragging rights to go along with it. Having lost to Williams last year, Amherst had more than enough motivation to pull out all the stops in this 126th meeting between the rivals.
Those incentives certainly seemed to motivate Amherst early on, as the visitors got off to a blistering start. On their very first possession, the Jeffs steadily made their way down the field in workmanlike fashion, securing first down after first down. Eventually making it deep into Williams’ territory, senior quarterback Brian McMahon finished off the drive himself, goading the Ephs defense to buy into a beautiful fake handoff that opened up the field for a 15-yard touchdown dash.
Williams, however, was not going to roll over so early and easily. While it took their offense nearly a quarter to get into a rhythm, the Ephs’ defensive line stepped up to match the Jeffs’. Eventually, Amherst blinked first, allowing Williams within field goal range in the final minute of the first. Although the Jeffs did manage to stop Williams short of the red zone, they did relinquish three points, as the Ephs’ kicker Joseph Mallock was successful on his attempt from 41 yards with 31 seconds left in the quarter.
With some momentum back on their side, Williams continued their strong play to start the second. After an unsuccessful drive for the Jeffs, Williams scored on their next possession, this time making it easier on Mallock, who threaded the posts from 23 yards out, cutting Amherst’s lead to a single point, at 7-6.
With Williams putting up scores on successive possessions, it was now the Jeffs’ turn to respond with an offensive display. Beginning the drive at their own 15-yard line, the Jeffs methodically worked their way down field, assisted in no small part by running back Eric Bunker ’12. Bunker contributed runs of 19 and 22 yards respectively, finding seam after seam in the Ephs’ defense. Fittingly, he capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run, his 12th of the season — good for a new single-season program record.
Amherst’s offense, however, was only getting started. After a Williams three-and-out on their next possession, the Jeffs came right back and scored again, as McMahon found Mike Samela ’12 in the back left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The score gave the Jeffs a 21-6 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the half. And yet, the scoring barrage was not over.
Amherst would regain possession for a final time when Kevin Heller ’12 recorded his second interception of the day, giving the Jeffs the ball at their own 49-yard line with 22 seconds to play in the half. After McMahon found Will Reed ’12 over the middle for a 21-yard gain, Amherst managed to call a time out with one second remaining to set up a 39-yard field goal. Kicker Matt Rawson ’12 came on and drilled the attempt, setting his own program record with 10 field goals on the season and giving Amherst a 24-6 advantage heading into the break.
The Jeffs began the second half right where they left off at the end of the first, dictating play on the defensive end. After the offense was stymied into a quick three-and-out to begin the third, Rawson came up with an impressive punt to pin Williams inside their own 20-yard line. It did not take long for the Jeffs’ defense to pounce, as junior linebacker Mike Aldo blind-sided the Williams’ quarterback on the initial play of their drive. The huge hit caused the ball to pop loose, allowing defensive back Kevin Ferber ’12 to recover the fumble in the end zone for another score.
With the lead now at an imposing 31-6, Amherst relied on their defense to carry them the rest of way. Although they did allow two final touchdowns, both one-yard scampers by the Ephs’ running back, the last one came with the game well in hand, as there were only 11 seconds remaining in the contest. Amherst’s special teams recovered the Williams’ on-side kick, and allowed the Jeffs to run out the clock, preserving their 31-18 victory and setting off celebrations, as Amherst students stormed the field.
With the victory, the Jeffs were able to walk off Williams’ Weston Field as undefeated NESCAC Champions for the second time in three years. McMahon, who was thrust into the starting role after an injury ended fellow senior Blake Grauer’s season, was key to the Jeffs success, orchestrating an impressive offensive effort with 205 total yards — 147 yards in the air via 14 completions and 58 on the ground. On the defensive side, the stalwarts included Ferber, with his four sacks, eight tackles and a fumble recovery, and safety Doug Gebhardt ’12, who led all players with 14 tackles.
The triumph marked Amherst’s second victory on the road against their archrivals since 1985. With the fourth perfect season in school history in the bag, and a NESCAC Championship to go with it will make for a happy offseason, as the Jeffs will look to enjoy their success before preparing for another solid run next year.