Football's Offense Comes Alive Late In Win at Colby
Issue   |   Fri, 10/18/2013 - 00:36
Public Affairs Office
Senior receiver Jake O'Malley finds the end zone against Middlebury. Against Colby, he also played a pivotal role catching a late, 72-yard touchdown strike.

Behind an impressive fourth quarter effort, Amherst football (4-0) escaped Colby with their fourth win of the season on Saturday.

After struggling for much of three quarters, the Jeffs offense finally came alive when it mattered most, putting together two scoring drives to erase a seven-point fourth quarter deficit and earn a 14-10 victory. In the wake of three relatively easy wins to begin the season, this was the Jeffs’ first true test, and the team came through in the clutch.

On the afternoon, the Jeffs were led by a quarterback tandem of Max Lippe ’15 and Alex Berluti ’17. In his first real action of the season, Berluti was impressive, completing four of six attempts for 90 yards. The first-year also connected with senior wideout Jake O’Malley for a 72-yard touchdown that tied the game early in the fourth quarter.

The veteran, Lippe, was just as solid. The junior threw for 165 yards on 28 attempts and engineered the game-winning drive in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. However, the game did not begin so smoothly for him.

Instead, Amherst hit a wall on their opening possession. Lippe could find no seams in the air, and first-year running back Myles Gaines was similarly stuffed as he tried to find room along the ground. The Jeffs were forced into a three-and-out, setting the tone for the remainder of the half.

Amherst’s second drive of the game came to a similarly abrupt halt. Although Lippe seemed to be finding his rhythm, connecting with Gene Garay ’15 and Brian Ragone ’16 on consecutive passes, that momentum was quickly stuffed by an interception. Colby defensive back Zach Padula read a screen pass perfectly, jumping in front of the intended receiver to snag his second pick of the season.

Looking to take advantage of that interception, Colby quarterback Justin Ciero wasted no time in leading the Mules inside the Amherst red zone. However, with their backs against the wall, the Jeffs’ defense stepped up, forcing the Mules into a third-and-long situation. Ciero tried to find a receiver, but his errant pass instead ended up in the hands of a diving Steven Jellison ’14. It was the senior’s first interception of his career and gave the ball back to the Jeffs at their 18-yard line.

Even with the momentum swinging back in Amherst’s direction, however, the Jeffs’ offense still could find no traction. Amherst sputtered to yet another empty possession and continued to struggle throughout the second quarter.

Fortunately for Amherst, Colby was suffering through its own set of problems. The offense threatened to score multiple times, marching inside the Amherst red zone twice, but failed to take advantage of each of those opportunities. A missed field goal and an Amherst interception halted both drives and kept the game in a scoreless deadlock heading into the intermission.

The Mules, though, broke through in the third quarter. To their credit, their offense stuck to the passing game, even after two interceptions, and that confidence was rewarded. Ciero came through with two impressive completions, including a touchdown strike to Luke Duncklee, and Colby finally took the lead 7-0.

That touchdown finally woke the Amherst offense. Facing a second-half deficit for the first time all season, Amherst needed to score quickly to keep the game within reach. In only his second series of the game, Bertuli came on and did just that.

From inside Amherst’s two-yard line, Bertuli strung together two first downs to get the offense rolling. Then, selling a play action beautifully, Berluti found O’Malley wide open and hit the senior in stride for a 72-yard touchdown. The completion marked Berluti’s first touchdown of the season and could not have come at a better time, tying the contest at 7-7.

The Mules would not go down easily, however. Responding to Amherst’s challenge, Colby engineered an impressive 10-play, 28-yard drive of their own. That effort put the Mules inside the Amherst red zone once again, and this time Scheepers did not disappoint. The Colby kicker put the field goal directly through the uprights, allowing the Mules to regain the lead, 10-7.
With less than four minutes remaining in the game, Amherst faced a tall task as they retook possession at their own 25-yard line. However, a big third-down completion between Bertuli and Garay got the chains moving and pushed the Jeffs up to the 39-yard line.

Coming in for Bertuli, Lippe kept the momentum rolling with consecutive passes to Kenny Adinkra ’16 and O’Malley. Finally clicking in the air, Lippe found O’Malley with two more passes before looking to Garay for a nine-yard strike that got Amherst into the red zone for the first time all afternoon.

Wasting no time, Lippe looked to Wade McNamara ’14 on the ensuing play, finding the senior just inside the right pylon for the go-ahead score. With only 33 seconds to play, Colby was unable to respond, allowing the Jeffs to sneak away with the 14-10 win.

With the victory, Amherst extended their dominance of Colby by winning their seventeenth consecutive matchup against the Mules. The Jeffs now lead the all-time series 32-4-1.

On Saturday, Amherst draws Wesleyan for their first Homecoming tilt on the new Pratt Field. In the past decade, the Jeffs have had little trouble with the Cardinals; in fact, Amherst has taken ten straight decisions against Wesleyan. Last year, though they found themselves in a tight battle on the road, the Jeffs were able to prevail by a slim 17-9 margin.

This weekend’s Wesleyan matchup, however, promises to be tougher than those in years past. Wesleyan boasts one of their stronger squads in recent memory, and, so far, they have yet to be given a serious test. All four of their wins have come in emphatic fashion, including a 52-point offensive attack against Tufts and a 41-0 throttling of Colby. The Cardinals have two almost equally dangerous threats out of the backfield, LaDarius Drew and Kyle Gibson, each of whom has already amassed multiple 100-yard performances. Helped by his team’s punishing ground game, Jesse Warren has also been solid as the Cardinals’ quarterback. Defensively, outside linebacker Myers Beaird has two interceptions, but the rest of the corps has been equally stingy, allowing a total of just 22 points in four games.

The Amherst defense has already proven that it can shut down an elite passer (Middlebury’s McCallum Foote). It will need to show that it can do the same against an elite ground attack. Still, the Jeffs will undoubtedly present the Cardinals with their stiffest test of the year thus far.