Football Pursues Record-Breaking Third Consecutive Perfect Season
Issue   |   Thu, 09/01/2016 - 16:34
Rob Mattson
Amherst’s offensive line was one of the most impressive in the NESCAC last year, helping protect the dominant purple and white running game.

Amherst has long sported a proud football tradition dating back to the days of legendary head coach, Jim Ostendarp. Yet not even the famed “Darp” could match the feat achieved by last year’s purple and white, which became the first in the program’s history to put together back to back perfect seasons. As such, the purple and white enter this season riding high expectations and seeking an unheard-of third consecutive 8-0 season.

However, perfection is never easily achieved and head coach E.J. Mills’ squad faces a daunting series of obstacles in its search of the trifecta. Six members of last year’s senior class garnered all-NESCAC accolades, including Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn, who won the conference’s defensive player of the year award. The team must also replace the production of senior leaders Jackson McGonagle and Kenny Adrinka who keyed the purple and white’s offense to a conference best 27.6 points per game.

Even with these losses, Amherst still returns seven all-conference performers. These top players include Reece Foy ’18, who passed for 1,542 yards and 10 touchdowns and was expected to power Amherst’s dominant offense until an ACL tear cut his junior season short before it even began. Foy will now take on the role of working with the other quarterbacks, who will be fighting for the starting position.

Amherst’s starting quarterback will surely be working closely alongside wide receiver Devin Boehm ’17, who led the team with 41 receptions for 555 yards last year. The promising offense is expected to be complimented by a dominant offensive line anchored by Elijah Zabludoff ’18 and a power running game built on the backs of Jack Hickey ’19 and Nick Kelly ’17 who combined to rush for nearly 900 yards in 2015.

Meanwhile, the defense also has enormous shoes to fill as the team must find a way to replace the spine of last year’s defense that surrendered a conference low of 9.9 points per game. Yet even more so than the offense, the purple and white return a deep pool of talent in all three levels of the defense. Headlined by Paul Johnson ’17 and Niyi Odewade ’17 on the defensive line, inside linebacker Evan Boynton ’17 and a group of talented defensive backs, Amherst boasts the potential to improve upon last year’s dominance.

Replacing key personnel isn’t the only challenge the team faces, as Amherst once again must navigate a treacherous schedule full of potential pitfalls. While Amherst easily handled most of their opponents last year en route to perfection, the 2015 season did suffer its fair share of nail-biting contests. Most notably the purple and white eked out victories in their last two matches against Trinity at home on Family Weekend and at Williams to clinch their eighth win, prevailing by only nine and 10 points respectively.

This year figures to only be more of a challenge, with an even bigger target painted on Amherst’s back and even stronger opponents. While the season’s opening fixtures present a series of seemingly easy wins for the team, the team faces what will likely be its first true challenge on Saturday, Oct. 22 against Little Three rival Wesleyan in Milton, Connecticut. Even though Amherst prevailed over the Cardinals in last year’s homecoming match in a comfortable 27-18 victory, no match-up against a Little Three opponent is ever a given. Nor will this year’s Family Weekend matchup against Tufts, who will likely be seeking revenge for last year’s 32-7 embarrassment at the hands of the purple and white.

Amherst’s hopes for an unprecedented third consecutive perfect season will likely once again come down to the last two games of the season. On Nov. 5, Amherst travels to Hartford, Connecticut to face Trinity in a bout of two NESCAC titans who finished first and second in the conference last year. And on Homecoming, Saturday, Nov. 12, Amherst plays host to archrival Williams in a game that has the potential to be a legendary affair.

This season promises to be one of the most intriguing and exciting in recent history for Amherst football with its fair share of both challenges and opportunities. How the team responds will ultimately determine whether or not this team achieves perfection and solidifies themselves in the history of Amherst athletics. This journey begins at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 against Hamilton on Pratt Field.

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