Football Edges Trinity, Remains Undefeated on Season
Issue   |   Fri, 11/07/2014 - 00:46

Small mistakes can often cost games, seasons and championships in sports. For the Trinity Bantams, missed field goals and extra points were the difference between victory and defeat against the Amherst College football team this past Saturday on Trinity’s home field. After snapping a 53-game home winning streak last weekend against Middlebury, the Bantams hoped to start a new streak against the Jeffs. As they have all season, the stalwart Amherst defense remained strong and helped secure a 7-6 victory to remain undefeated in the 2014 season.

“The defense as a whole really earned the victory and bailed the offense out drive after drive,” said senior captain Scott Mergner. He also gave credit to the special teams players for the Jeffs. “One group of guys who don’t get enough credit are the long-snappers (Jake Hines ’18 and Jake Shuman ’15), the holder (Will Brewster ’15), and the kicker (Phil Nwosu ’15). The game was decided by an extra-point. That’s all it takes sometimes to win a game. Just do the little things: snap, hold, kick,” Mergner said.

The defense kept Trinity to a mere 10 passing yards and an overall yard total of 233 yards. The Jeffs’ offense found lots of success through the air, with 102 passing yards and 156 yards total. Senior Max Lippe led the offense at quarterback once again and threw for a touchdown.

“Where our offense as a whole has really improved is capitalizing on scoring chances when we absolutely need them,” Jackson McGonagle ’16 said. “Every game we have found ways to score when it was essential that we do so. I think this shows the heart and dedication that all the guys on the team have."

The Amherst defense picked off the Bantams twice and forced two fumbles. “The defense played very well against Trinity,” senior Max Lehrman said. “Most importantly, everyone did their job very well. We made it difficult for them to move the ball and also forced a few big turnovers."

The weather definitely played into the very low score of the contest this week. Wind, rain and chilly temperatures made passes difficult and made kicking extra points and field goals increasingly hard. Adjusting to the weather challenged the Jeffs early, as they were unable to convert any first downs on their first possession. However, the real trouble came when Trinity’s Nathaniel Hitchcock forced Jaymie Spears ’16 to fumble a punt return deep in Amherst territory. The Bantams recovered the ball on the Amherst 11-yard line and were able to run the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Ben Rosenblatt missed the extra point, leaving the Bantams with a 6-0 lead. The missed extra point seemed secondary in the first quarter, but would later be the real difference in the game.

Neither Amherst nor Trinity could get drives going for the rest of the first quarter. McGonagle punted a total of 10 times during the game, and the Trinity punter kicked the ball away nine times. Four of McGonagle’s punts came in the first quarter. The second quarter opened up with exciting prospects for the Jeffs as Spears intercepted Trinity’s Hayden Jardine on the Amherst 46-yard line. The Jeffs were unable to move the ball as the Trinity defense was relentless on the run game. The rest of the half was a similar story; big defensive plays and little offensive movement on both sides. The Jeffs went into the locker room losing 6-0. “We really struggled in the first half,” McGonagle said. “We couldn’t sustain any drives and Trinity’s defense was laying some big hits.”

The Jeffs offense finally found its rhythm in the second half. Starting at their 30-yard line, Lippe and the offense worked patiently up the field, converting more first downs than they had in the entire first half. Lippe found Gene Garay ’15 and Adam Wallace ’16 on back-to-back third downs to move the Jeffs into Trinity territory for the first time all game.

“Gene Garay ‘15 had a big game receiving for us,” McGonagle said. “He took some brutal hits throughout the game, but it never seemed to faze him. He made some big catches when we really needed them in the second half to continue driving down the field.

“Lippe also rushed for nine yards on a third down play to move the Jeffs into the red zone. Unable to convert again, head coach E.J. Mills decided to go to his kicker, senior Phillip Nwosu. Although normally consistent, Nwosu wavered, missing he field goal from 36 yards out, preventing the Jeffs from getting on the board.

The offense would return quickly to the field after the missed field goal. Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16 recovered a fumble by Trinity’s Chudi Iregbulem. The Jeffs offense once again could not find any success against the Trinity defense. In the last minutes of the third quarter, the Jeffs’ defense forced another turnover as Chris Gow ’16 intercepted Jardine’s pass and returned the ball 35 yards to the Trinity 40-yard line. The interception ended the third quarter and put the ball back in Lippe’s hands. Working up the field, the Jeffs’ benefitted from a Trinity holding penalty, which gave them a fresh set of downs at the seven-yard line. Unfortunately, Lippe threw an interception to Tom Szymanski and the Jeffs once again failed to put points on the board.

The Jeffs were not ready to give up yet. Although the Bantams finally found success on the ground against the Amherst defense, junior Jaymie Spears would not let the Bantams get too far. Spears came up huge, forcing Trinity’s Spencer Aukamp to fumble and senior captain Chris Tamasi recovered the ball for the Jeffs. Lehrman noted this as the biggest play of the game.

“Jaymie made a great individual play to force the ball out,” Lehrman said. “Usually fumbles are forced when a second or third defender comes and strips the ball once a first defender secures the tackle. But, not only did Jaymie secure the tackle, he also forced the ball out. This took away Trinity’s momentum after the big interception they had made.”

Wasting no time, Lippe completed a pass to Garay for 17 yards before finding Jackson McGonagle for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The Jeffs’ bench erupted in cheers as they finally were able to convert on offense. Nwosu’s point after was good and the Jeffs took the lead 7-6. With lots of time left, the Trinity offense had a chance to put the game away. At the Amherst seven-yard line, the Jeffs held the Bantams to fourth down. Trinity sent out Rosenblatt again for the game-winning field goal attempt. Once again, Rosenblatt failed to convert the 24-yard kick and the Jeffs felt triumphant. Winning by only one point, the missed kicks and strong defense proved to be the difference in the game for the Jeffs.

Victorious against Trinity, the Jeffs remain undefeated on the season at 7-0 and face arch rival Williams for homecoming weekend this Saturday. “The biggest little game of the year” will kick off at 4 p.m. McGonagle said that pressure will be high as “Williams would love nothing more than to come to our house and spoil our homecoming. We have to keep that in mind throughout the week and realize that they will not go down without a fight. We will have to play a great game and execute as a team for the entire game,” he said.

A win would guarantee a perfect season and a NESCAC championship, a rare event that would make Amherst football history. The senior class experienced a perfect season their first year and hope to end their careers as Jeffs the way they started.

“It’s pretty simple: we don’t want to share the title with anyone; we want to earn it for ourselves,” said Mergner.

When asked what winning on Saturday would mean to him, Lehrman said “It would mean everything. That of course has been the goal since day one. It is something I have thought about since last season and really for my whole life. To say we have worked hard to put ourselves in this position would be an understatement. What could be better than finishing your last season playing the best game in the world with your best friends and going out on top?” Witness the homecoming magic Saturday starting at 4 p.m. on Pratt Field.