Amherst Falls to Middlebury, 19-16, for First Loss of Season

Sophomore Lucas Loeffler set a school record with his 46 pass attempts, finishing with 182 yards and two touchdowns.

AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College and Middlebury College football teams put their undefeated records on the line this afternoon, in what was expected to be a close game between two defensive powerhouses. The visiting Panthers took a 19-9 lead into halftime, which proved to be too much for the Jeffs to overcome, as Middlebury hung on for the crucial 19-16 victory. Amherst drops to 2-1 on the season, while the Panthers improve to a perfect 3-0.

After Amherst went three-and-out on its first possession to begin the game, first-year quarterback Donald McKillop led his team down to the Amherst 36-yard line, where senior running back David Randolph took control. Randolph rushed for four yards to move the ball to the 32-yard line, and then broke free two plays later for a 32-yard scamper into the end zone. Senior Jack Britton converted on the extra point to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.

Amherst sophomore quarterback Lucas Loeffler (New York, NY) completed a 10-yard pass to senior Mike Myers (Foxboro, MA) to kick off the Jeffs’ next drive, and junior running back Eric NeSmith (Newark, NJ) followed up with an eight-yard run, as it looked like Amherst was getting into a rhythm. The Middlebury defense came up big on the next two plays, however, as the Jeffs were forced to punt on fourth-and-three.

McKillop got right back to work and completed passes of 16 and 23 yards to march the Panthers right back into Amherst territory. Middlebury faced first-and-goal on the eight-yard line and would get as close as the two-yard line, but the Jeffs held the visitors to just a field goal, as Britton made it a 10-0 game with 3:33 remaining in the opening quarter.

The Jeffs once again went three-and-out and were forced to punt, but senior Keith Erzinger (Denver, CO) placed a beautiful kick deep in the Middlebury zone, as the Panthers took over on their own two-yard line. On the first play of the drive, junior Guy Matisis (Hingham, MA) stopped Randolph well-behind the line of scrimmage, as the Jeffs put two points on the board with a safety and regained possession.

Amherst took advantage of Matisis’ great play, and used a good combination of Loeffler passes and NeSmith rushes to march down to inside the Middlebury 10-yard line, setting up a nine-yard touchdown pass from Loeffler to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Bullock (West Orange, NJ). Sophomore Matt Eberhart (Plano, TX) nailed the extra point to complete the drive, as Amherst trailed 10-9 with 12:50 to play in the second quarter.

Four minutes later, McKillop began an impressive drive from his team’s 43-yard line. A 31-yard completion to sophomore Tim Dillon brought the Panthers to Amherst’s 20-yard line. Facing fourth-and-two, McKillop was able to pick up the two crucial yards using his legs, setting up a Randolph 10-yard touchdown run on the next play. After the extra point conversion, this time from the foot of first-year Anthony Kuchan, Middlebury held a 17-9 lead with 5:38 showing on the clock.

The Amherst offense once again went three-and-out on its next possession, but this time failed to send a clean snap to Erzinger, as the ball sailed over his head and into the end zone, resulting in the second safety of the game. The Panthers’ lead increased to 19-9 after the two points, which is where the game stood heading into halftime. Middlebury had another chance to score before time expired, but Kuchan’s 27-yard field goal attempt missed wide-right.

Senior Guy Matisis led the Jeffs with 13 total tackles, including three tackles-for-loss and seven solo tackles.

The third quarter featured much more of a defensive battle that people expected, as neither team managed to put any points on the scoreboard. The fourth quarter was much of the same, as Amherst failed to cut its deficit and Middlebury failed to pad its lead. It wasn’t until there were two minutes and 40 seconds remaining in regulation that the Jeffs began another scoring drive, with Loeffler leading the way. The drive was highlighted by an 11-yard run by Loeffler when his team faced fourth-and-10, as he carried the ball down to Middlebury’s 46-yard line.

The Jeffs once again faced fourth-and-10 just moments later, but Loeffler connected with junior Jim Eckenrode (Madison, CT) for a 16-yard completion. Loeffler followed up with another 16-yard completion, this time to Bullock, and another seven yards were tacked on after a Middlebury penalty. Loeffler completed his impressive drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Bullock, as the Jeffs found themselves trailing 19-16 with only 63 seconds to work with. Amherst’s only option was to attempt an on-side kick, but Middlebury was able to come up with the ball and run out the clock, as the Panthers held on for a nail-biting 19-16 win.

The Amherst running game had been stealing the show in games leading up to today’s showdown, but the Panther defense was able to hold the Jeffs to 82 rushing yards. Sophomore Aaron Rauh (Hudson, OH) led the way with 54 yards on 14 carries, while NeSmith finished with 28 yards on 13 carries.

Loeffler set a new school record by attempting 46 passes, surpassing the previous mark of 45, and finished with 182 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His first touchdown of the day also marked the first of his collegiate career.

Bullock wowed fans all day with his well-balanced performance, as he caught eight passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns, adding an impressive 105 yards combined on his three kick returns, including a long of 53 yards. Erzinger punted the ball eight times on the day, with four of them landing inside the Middlebury 20-yard line.

Matisis and Middlebury linebacker Erik Woodring were all over the field throughout the game, as Matisis finished with 13 total tackles to lead the Jeffs and Woodring racked up 15 to lead the Panthers. Nine of Woodring’s tackles were of the solo variety, while Matisis made seven solo tackles and had three tackles-for-loss. Amherst senior Chris Mottau (Holliston, MA) added eight total tackles and led all players with four pass break-ups.

McKillop was 15-of-34 on the day with 168 passing yards, with Dillon accounting for 75 of those yards to lead the Middlebury wide receivers. Randolph racked up 68 rushing yards on 18 attempts to go along with his pair of touchdowns.

The Lord Jeffs travel to Colby College next weekend, while Middlebury will take on Williams at home.