Defense Powers Football Past Wesleyan In Tight Game
Issue   |   Tue, 10/23/2012 - 21:57
Megan Robertson '15, Public Affairs Office
The 4-1 Jeffs face 0-5 Tufts this Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

Needing a victory to stay in the hunt for the NESCAC Championship, the Lord Jeffs faced a tough challenge at Wesleyan on Saturday, Oct. 20. Two weeks ago, the Amherst team suffered its first loss of the season, a demoralizing 24-3 setback at the hands of Middlebury. Now, the squad knew it would have to win out to catch Williams and Trinity atop the conference standings, and the tough road ahead was to begin in Middletown, Conn.

Unlike in past years, this year’s matchup with the Cardinals would certainly not be an easy victory. Wesleyan came into the game undefeated on the season and looking to move to 5-0 for the first time since 1993.

On this day, though, the Jeffs were just good enough to keep their championship hopes alive. With a lock-down defensive effort down the stretch, Amherst escaped with a 17-9 victory.

The win moved the Jeffs to 4-1 on the season and extended their winning streak against the Cardinals to 10 straight games. Impressively, the Jeffs managed to pull out the victory despite being out-gained in total yardage, 356-303, relying instead on timely defensive stops to earn the win.

For the second straight game, the team was also without starting running back Ryan Silva ’14. The Jeffs made up for the loss by taking to the air, gaining more yards via the pass than on the ground for the first time this season.

It was this aerial attack that got Amherst on the board first. After a forced fumble by defensive back Robbie Heflin ’13 (fresh off a three-interception effort against Colby), Amherst regained possession at the Cardinals’ 40-yard line.

Working with a short field, rookie quarterback Jonathan Pieterse, in his first action this season, orchestrated the Amherst attack. Needing a third-down conversion early in the drive, Pieterse found James Durham ’13 for a 10-yard completion that kept the chains moving.

Two plays later, Pieterse looked to the air again, firing a screen pass to Jake O’Malley ’14, who took advantage of solid blocking to get into the end zone. The touchdown, coming with 12 minutes left in the second quarter, broke the scoreless tie and gave the Jeffs some early momentum.

Wesleyan, though, fought back. Unable to put a solid drive together until the end of the half, the Cardinals squeezed in a field goal as time expired to cut into the Amherst deficit heading into halftime. Building on that momentum, the Wesleyan offense started to find its rhythm early in the third quarter.

The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead, but an inopportune flag cost them dearly, as an illegal contact penalty negated what would have been a touchdown pass. Instead of jumping in front of the Jeffs, Wesleyan faced a fourth down and was forced to line up for a field goal. Still reeling from the missed opportunity, the Cardinals let those three points slip away, too, as kicker Sebastian Aguirre left the 40-yarder short to leave the score at 7-3.

When the Jeffs took over, they looked to capitalize on the mistakes of their opponents. The offense marched to the Wesleyan 20-yard line, where it stalled and forced the Jeffs to settle for a field goal. Jake Schimdt ’14 came on for the kick, and his 33-yarder just had enough distance to extend Amherst’s lead to 10-3. The one touchdown lead, though, was certainly not safe, as Amherst would soon learn.

Looking to close the deficit, Wesleyan came up with a string of big plays that would lead to their only touchdown of the game. Receiving the ball at their own 14-yard line, the Cardinals needed only three plays to cover the length of the field. Quarterback Jesse Warren first looked to the air for a nine-yard gain, before a 15-yard run put the Jeffs’ defense on its heels. Taking a chance, Warren then looked downfield, firing a strike to Josh Hurwitz for a 62-yard touchdown.

With the game all but tied up, however, Wesleyan again committed a glaring error, as Aguirre’s extra-point attempt glanced off the right post, allowing Amherst to retain the lead, 10-9.

Barely daring to breathe a sigh of relief, the Jeffs could not allow themselves to be vanquished by Wesleyan’s big drive. Clinging to their one-point advantage, Amherst responded with a long touchdown strike of their own. The Jeffs’ offense began the fourth quarter by sticking to the ground game, running the ball on their first seven possessions. It seemed to be a lost cause, as Amherst was handcuffed by back-to-back penalties for a total loss of 20 yards. Facing, second-and-29, though, offensive coordinator Don Faulstick finally deviated from the running plan. Pieterse found Durham with a short screen pass that looked to be good only for a gain of a few yards. Durham, however, managed to break a tackle, and, with that single maneuver, he was off to the races, beating the defense 64 yards for a touchdown. The score finally gave Amherst a little cushion, putting the lead at 17-9.

From that point onwards, Amherst’s defense ensured that Wesleyan could not threaten again, as back-to-back interceptions closed the door on the Cardinals. Chris Tamasi ’15 picked off a Wesleyan pass on the drive following Amherst’s score, while Michael Aldo ’13 followed suit on the Cardinals’ subsequent possession, intercepting a tipped pass. A turnover on downs ended Wesleyan’s final drive of the afternoon, and, with under a minute remaining, Amherst was able to run out the clock.

Overall, despite the narrow margin of victory, the Jeffs have to be pleased with their effort in the win. On both sides of the ball, Amherst found ways to get the job done, getting stops on defensive and executing well on offense.

Needing to be near-perfect for the remainder of the season, the team will look to ride their momentum into Saturday’s Family Weekend matchup against Tufts. The Jumbos enter at 0-5, but the Amherst squad will carry the additional pressure of facing a must-win as it looks to stay in the NESCAC Championship race.