Football Tops Trinity in Family Weekend Showdown
Issue   |   Wed, 11/06/2013 - 00:48
Rob Mattson, Public Affairs Office
In a game that largely lacked offense on both sides, the Jeffs Gene Garay '15 provided one of the higlights when he caught the game-winning touchdown from quarterback Max Lippe '15 midway through the fourth quarter.

In a game with significant NESCAC Championship implications, Amherst football edged the Trinity Bantams 17-16 on Saturday to move to 6-1 on the season.

Playing at home with a large Family Weekend crowd on hand, the Jeffs’ defense came through in the clutch, making several important stops in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. The winning effort was aided by a missed Trinity extra point in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter that would have tied the game.

For Trinity, the loss marked their second in a row after their streak of 15 consecutive victories came to an end last weekend at Middlebury. With the loss, the Bantams have now mathematically fallen out of the race for the NESCAC title.

Before the conclusion of the Amherst game, Wesleyan hung on to beat Williams, 16-14, securing the Little III title (their first in 43 years) in the process. The Jeffs needed a victory in order to remain in contention for a share of the NESCAC title. The Bantams, meanwhile, hoped to set themselves up to control their own destiny in the final week of the season. Unfortunately for them, Amherst was just a bit better in the late moments.

That said, the Jeffs were a bit better in the early moments as well. Getting off to a quick start, Amherst’s defense set the tone with an interception on Trinity’s second possession. In a critical play, the Bantams lined up for a 42-yard field goal on fourth down but instead ran a fake. It did not fool the Jeffs, however; Max Lehrman ’15 picked off first-year quarterback and holder Sunny Puzzo’s pass, returning the ball to the Bantams’ 45-yard line.

“We always talk about doing your job, and Max did his job on that play,” coach E.J. Mills said. “He’s a defensive tackle who’s not normally in that mode, but he just sniffed it out. That was a huge play in the game that gave us momentum and field position.”

Taking advantage of the outstanding field position, the Jeffs worked the ball inside the 30-yard line before the Bantams’ defense stepped up. Putting an end to Amherst’s drive, Trinity forced the Jeffs to settle for a field goal, a 44-yarder from senior Phillip Nwosu that split the uprights and gave the Jeffs a 3-0 lead.

Looking to pad that advantage, Amherst forced another turnover on the Bantams’ next possession. This time, it was Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 who stepped up, making a diving catch at the Amherst 37 to snag the Jeffs’ second interception of the game.

Hoping to capitalize on the Bantams’ mistake, the Jeffs’ quarterback tandem of Alex Berluti ’17 and Max Lippe ’15 put together an impressive drive. With his first pass, Berluti found senior wide receiver Wade McNamara for a 36-yard reception that got the chains moving. Later in the drive, McNamara was the beneficiary of a Lippe pass as well, saving a third-and-eight situation with a 13-yard reception.

After picking up five yards along the ground, Lippe fired a 16-yard strike to wide receiver Jake O’Malley ’14 that got the Jeffs to the one-yard line. The junior quarterback kept it himself on the next play, running it into the end zone to give Amherst a 10-0 lead.

With their backs against the wall, however, the Bantams finally found their offensive rhythm. Buoyed by a 38-yard return of the Amherst kickoff, Trinity started with solid field position at the Amherst 49-yardline.

Looking to the air, the Bantams quickly moved downfield, marching inside the Amherst red zone within five plays. Unfortunately for them, they were unable to move any further, as Amherst’s defense came up with three big stops to force a field goal. The kick cut the deficit to 10-3, and that score would hold heading into halftime.

Returning from the intermission, both teams struggled to score. Turnover troubles plagued the offenses as each squad squandered great opportunities. Amherst botched a handoff on a read option at the Trinity ten, while the Bantams also lost a fumble inside Amherst territory.

With the sheer number of opportunities on both sides, it was inevitable that one offense would eventually break through. Unfortunately for the Jeffs, it was Trinity who regained its rhythm first.

Looking to the air, the Bantams came up with two big plays to spur their comeback. A 17-yard strike early in the drive got the Bantams into Amherst’s half of the field, and, one play later, Puzzo found wide receiver Chris Ragone for a 29-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at ten.

After the evaporation of the Jeffs’ lead, the pressure was now squarely on the hometown offense. Amherst responded with poise, as Lippe completed four consecutive passes to begin the drive, moving the chains and building confidence in the offense. That effort included a big connection with first-year Nick Kelly, who broke a tackle and gained 27 yards before being brought down in Trinity territory.

Building on that momentum, Lippe connected with O’Malley for 16 yards to get the Jeffs inside the Trinity red zone. One play later, a 17-yard touchdown strike from Lippe to Gene Garay ’15 gave Amherst the lead once again, 17-10, with under seven minutes to play.

Trinity, though, did not go away. Their offense retook the field, making multiple big plays to strike back quickly and efficiently. Starting at their own 22-yardline, Trinity covered 78 yards in eight plays to cut the deficit to one point, 17-16.
First-year Bantams’ kicker Ben Rosenblatt, however, gave the Jeffs a tremendous gift as he failed to convert the extra point attempt. With just under four minutes remaining in the game, the kick sailed wide left and gave Amherst a huge opportunity to run out the clock and escape with the victory.

“We always talk about the importance of special teams,” Mills said. “We preach giving great effort on extra points, and our guys were working hard off the edge to get pressure. I believe we affected that kick.”

To their credit, however, the Bantams still did not relent. The Jeffs needed to convert at least one first down to seal the victory, but the Trinity defense stepped up. Putting up a wall, the Bantams forced Amherst into a three-and-out to give their offense one last chance to score.

Fortunately for the Jeffs, their defense bailed them out once again. Needing to prevent the Bantams from reaching field goal range, Amherst did just that, making two tackles for a loss to put Trinity in a tough spot.

Facing fourth-and-12 inside their own territory, Trinity had one final opportunity to keep their hopes alive, but the Jeffs forced an errant pass to seal their victory. Taking over with under a minute to play, the Jeffs took a knee and put the finishing touches on a wild fourth quarter.

With the victory, Amherst head coach E.J. Mills earned his 100th career win.

“That was such a hard-fought game,” Mills said. “They have such a good program, and I have so much respect for their staff and their team. In all phases, we did the little things that you have to do. I was really proud of the guys; they played really hard in all phases, and we were able to answer. When [Trinity] scored to tie it, we came right back down the field.”

While their fortune is not entirely in their hands, Amherst will try and do their part by finishing out the season with a victory next Saturday. The Jeffs will travel to Williamstown to take on their archrivals, looking to spoil the Ephs’ Homecoming and end the season on a high note. With a win and a Wesleyan loss, the Jeffs would claim a share of the NESCAC Championship.