Amherst Drops Heartbreaker to Williams, 24-23

NeSmithSenior Eric NeSmith finished his great career with 1,576 rushing yards.AMHERST, MA – The 123rd meeting between the Amherst College and Williams College football teams was one for the books, as the visiting Ephs spoiled the Lord Jeffs’ Homecoming festivities with a 24-23 victory on Pratt Field. Williams ends its season at 6-2 and in sole possession of second place in the NESCAC standings, while Amherst finishes at 5-3 in a tie with Middlebury for third place.

Despite overcast skies, rain and a sloppy playing field, both teams took to the air and combined for 419 passing yards on the day, with Amherst holding a slim 212-207 edge. The Ephs out-gained the Jeffs on the ground, 94-76, racking up 301 yards of total offense compared to Amherst’s 288.

The archrivals were similar in several other statistical categories as well, with each team picking up 16 first downs, intercepting two passes, sacking the opposing quarterback once, scoring three touchdowns, and converting on one field goal. Williams held possession for 30 minutes and 30 seconds, with Amherst possessing the ball for 29:30.

With the teams so identical on paper, it was no surprise that the game came down to something as minor as an extra point. With just 1:08 remaining in the third quarter, after the Jeffs took a 23-17 lead on a 6-yard rushing touchdown by senior Eric NeSmith (Newark, NJ), the ensuing kick by junior Matt Eberhart (Plano, TX) was blocked by the Williams defense at the line of scrimmage. The Ephs capitalized with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and their converted extra point attempt proved to be the game-winning score.

Eberhart kicked a 28-yard field goal to put the Lord Jeffs on the board midway through the opening quarter. The play in the defensive backfield for both teams was exceptional early on, as junior safety Fred Argir (Lakeville, MN) helped the Amherst defensive efforts by picking off a pass deflected by senior Fran Florio (Staten Island, NY) with 8:06 to go in the first quarter, just eight seconds after Eberhart’s first field goal attempt split the uprights.

Sophomore quarterback Alex Vetras (Clyde Hill, VA) opened the second quarter with a 27-yard completion to wide-out Andre Gary (Exeter, NH), igniting a scoring drive that was capped off by NeSmith’s first of two rushing touchdowns on the day, as Amherst held a 10-0 lead just 26 seconds into the second frame.

Senior Jake Spadafora had 3.5 sacks, 48 tackles and a team-high 8.0 TFL in his final season.
Williams scored its first points of the day on a 7-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Patrick Moffit (Turnersville, NJ) to senior Stew Buck (Amherst, MA) with 5:55 to go in the half. Junior Scott Sobololewski (Clifton, NY) tied things up by kicking a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left in the first half, with the clock showing 00:00 as the ball split the uprights. The teams headed into the locker room tied at 10-10, as the much anticipated matchup had lived up to its hype after 30 minutes of play.

Junior Mike Taylor (Evanston, IL) picked off Moffit with 10:05 to go in the third quarter, and the interception set up a 29-yard touchdown pass from Vetras to Gary, as the hosts took a 17-10 lead with 7:54 to play in the third quarter.

Prior to Gary’s touchdown reception, the Ephs had stopped the Jeffs on 3rd-and-11, but an offsides penalty against Williams on the ensuing punt set the Jeffs up for a much more feasible 4th-and-6. With the down and distance adjusting in the Lord Jeffs’ favor, head coach E.J. Mills took the kicking unit off the field and made the decision to take another shot at the first down, and Vetras connected with Gary on the ensuing play.

Late in the third quarter Sean Milano (Guilford, CT) picked of a Vetras pass attempt and returned it 22 yards to the Amherst 14-yard line. The interception set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Moffit to senior wide-out Ryan Powell (Fairfax, VA), who led all receivers on the afternoon with nine catches for 119 yards.

The Powell touchdown grab notched things up at 17-17 with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter, but the Lord Jeffs answered with a 74-yard kickoff return by sophomore Femi Oyalowo (Bowie, MD). Two plays later, Nesmith capped off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run for his second score of the day. The Jeffs carried a 23-17 lead into the fourth quarter and had taken back all of the game’s momentum, but the ensuing blocked extra point attempt would come back to haunt them.

Williams got right back to work in the final quarter and put together a nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive that ended with senior running back Brian Morrisey (Winchester, MA) finding the end zone with 12:54 to play. Sobolewski’s extra point was good, giving the Ephs a 24-23 advantage.

The Jeffs responded with a 14-play drive on their next possession and set Eberhart up for a 38-yard field goal attempt, but the ball sailed just wide right, as Williams held onto its one-point lead with 5:08 showing on the clock.
Scola Cropped
Senior A.J. Scola finishes his decorated career with eight interceptions.
Amherst had only 43 seconds to work with in its final push of the game, but junior Ikenna Iheoma (Holland, PA) decided he could not wait that long for the game to be over, as he picked off Vetras on the Jeffs’ first play of the drive, allowing Williams to run out the clock and hang on for the dramatic 24-23 win.

Morrissey’s game-high 87 rushing yards bumped him into first place on Williams’ Division III all-time list, while NeSmith had a team-high 53 yards on 15 carries to finish his impressive career with 1,576 yards on the ground.

Vetras completed 26 of 45 pass attempts for 212 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while Moffitt was 19-of-36 for 207 yards. Gary caught eight passes for 109 yards and a score in what was a breakout game for the promising sophomore, with senior Jim Eckenrode (Madison, CT) adding 41 yards on eight catches to finish his career with 589 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Taylor led the Amherst defense with 14 tackles (six solo), three pass breakups and an interception to finish the season as the team leader in total tackles (59), interceptions (three) and pass breakups (six). Finishing behind Taylor in tackles for the year were junior Eric Pender (Drexel Hill, PA) and senior Jake Spadafora (New London, NH), who each had 48. Spadafora led the Jeffs with 8.0 tackles-for-loss and had 3.5 sacks in his final season, with five of his tackles coming Saturday against Williams.

Also shining on defense Saturday to wrap up their careers were seniors Florio and A.J. Scola (Holden, MA). While Scola had five solo tackles and broke up a pair of passes, Florio matched Taylor with three breakups and added four tackles. Scola totaled eight interceptions in his decorated career, with Florio picking off three passes during his senior campaign.

Senior co-captain Trevor Powers (Danvers, MA) led all players with 15 tackles, with Milano adding 12 (eight solo) to go along with his interception.

In addition to Eckenrode, Scola, NeSmith, Florio and Spadafora, Saturday also marked the final game for 12 other Amherst seniors: offensive linemen Justin Wiley (Wellesley, MA), Sam Rudman (Charlestown, MA) and Tim Rose (Richmond, VA); linebackers Travis Doering (Branchburg, NJ), Alex Widen (Weston, MA), Pat Moriarty (Dover, MA), Mike Flanagan (Sherborn, MA), Guy Matisis (Hingham, MA), Carson Reed (Burtonsville, MD) and Preston Puryear (Tampa, FL); defensive lineman Greg Smith (Rockville, MD), and tight end Jay Hebb (Amherst, MA). In its four years, the Amherst Class of 2009 posted a record of 19-13.