Amherst Fires on All Cylinders in 44-0 Win Over Bates

Amherst's defense held Bates to eight first downs and 143 yards of total offense. (Photo by Jon Crispin)

By John Howe ’11

AMHERST, MA - The Amherst College football team ran for a pair of touchdowns, threw for two others, returned a fumble for six points and was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts in its 44-0 season-opening win over Bates College Saturday afternoon at Pratt Field.

The Lord Jeffs improve to 1-0 and increase their winning streak to nine games dating back to 2009, while the Bobcats get off to a 0-1 start after posting a 1-7 record in 2009.

Coming off their first undefeated season since 1984, the Lord Jeffs scored early and often to dash any hopes of a Bates upset, showing little rust from last season’s incredible run. Three-year starting quarterback Alex Vetras ’11  (Clyde Hill, WA) threw for 165 yards and two touchdowns, while Eric Bunker ’12 (Topsfield, MA) led a powerful running game with 96 yards and a touchdown.

Led by inside linebacker Brandon Quinn ’11 (Atlanta, GA), the Jeffs’ defense showed its might by recovering three Bobcat fumbles and holding Bates to eight first downs. Amherst more than doubled Bates in total yards with a 391-143 edge on the day and dominated every facet of the game, scoring on all six of its trips to the red zone.

Starting with great special teams play, especially from first-year kicker Phillip Nwosu (Derwood, MD) and kicker/punter Matt Rawson ’12 (Bethesda, MD), the Bobcats began possessions inside their own 30-yard line for most of the day. From there, the defense stifled the Bates running game to give the offense great field position. The offense took advantage of their teammates’ hard work and scored on five of Amherst’s first six drives, carrying a 34-0 lead into halftime.

After combining for only six points in first-quarter action last season, the Lord Jeffs hung up 20 points in the opening 15 minutes before Bates had a chance to get settled. On the second play from scrimmage, the Jeff defense disrupted a hand-off from Bates quarterback Ryan Katon and Jeff Katz ’11 (Cheshire, CT) recovered a fumble on the Bates 22-yard line. With great field position for his first drive, Vetras scrambled away from pressure on 2nd-and-7 and snuck into the endzone for a 17-yard score, giving him the first rushing touchdown of his career and handing the hosts an early 7-0 lead.

After another quick defensive stop, the offense began just behind midfield and Vetras connected with Andrew Reed ’12 (Riverside, CT) for a 50-yard bomb down the sideline to bring the Jeffs inside the Bobcat 5-yard line. The offense could only muster a field goal as Rawson nailed a 25-yarder, but with only five minutes expired in the opening quarter the Jeffs held a 10-0 lead.

Rawson would tack on another 33-yard field goal five minutes later, and with a minute left in the quarter Vetras connected with senior Andre Gary (Exeter, NH) for a 2-yard touchdown, bringing the score to 20-0.

Bates’ offense struggled to establish a rhythm with its triple option offense and was forced to throw in order to overcome the early deficit. Katon was 7-of-23 and threw for 67 yards on the day, also carrying the ball a team-high 12 times for a net gain of eight yards. The Bobcats’ committee of running backs gained 76 yards, with Patrick George ’13 and Jared Jammal ’11 leading the way with 21 yards apiece. Shawn Doherty ’14 caught a team-high four passes for 30 yards.

Eric Bunker '12 accumulated 103 total yards of offense and ran for a touchdown against Bates. (Photo by Jon Crispin)

The Lord Jeff defense did not allow the triple option to gain much momentum thanks to great pressure from the defensive linemen, forcing the Bobcats into several 3rd-and-long situations. Kevin Ferber ’12 (Mahwah, NJ), Brady Benelli ’11 (Braintree, MA), Matt Sponheimer ’13 (Orange, CT) and Katz made a living in the Bates backfield, holding the Bobcats to an average of 1.9 yards per carry. Amherst sophomore linebackers Sam Clark (Andover, MA) and Matt Pieterse (Springfield, MA) punished any backs that escaped the front line, accumulating a team-high 11 tackles each.

Amherst’s biggest defensive play came from the secondary in the first minute of the second quarter and essentially closed the door on any Bobcat comeback. After Evan Rosenstein ’12 (New Canaan, CT) forced a fumble on a quarterback option, classmate Gordie Lockbaum (Worcester, MA) snatched the ball out of the air and scampered 38 yards to paydirt, giving Amherst a 27-0 lead.

The next points of the game would not come for nearly 13 minutes, when Vetras and Reed once again connected for a long completion, this time for a 38-yard score on a nice over-the-shoulder catch. With the score 34-0 at halftime, Amherst head coach E.J. Mills was pleased to give others playing time as quarterback Blake Grauer ’12 (Claremore, OK) and first-year running back Ryan Silva (Bristol, RI) put the finishing touches on an impressive day for the offense. After Bunker’s 3-yard touchdown marked the lone points of the third quarter, Jake Schmidt ’14 (Santa Monica, CA) would add the final score of the day with a 24-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.

Neither offensive line allowed a sack on the day, but it was seniors Rick Morgan (Cleveland Heights, OH) and Marcus Richtel (Castle Rock, CO) who led an Amherst line that opened up holes for Amherst’s running backs to accumulate 226 yards on the ground.

Bates linebacker Brett McAllister ’12 stood out throughout the game and led all players with 13 tackles, while tri-captain Myles Walker added nine. Kevin Helm ’12 and Cam Evans ’12 each had seven tackles and broke up a pass for the Bobcats.

Bates first-year Andrew Kukesh accounted for the game’s only interception, picking off Vetras in the second quarter on a fabulous catch down the left sideline. Kukesh’s heads-up play gave the visitors the ball at Amherst’s 33-yard line, but the Bobcats would go four-and-out to hand the ball right back.

While Mills and Vetras were pleased with the result after the game, both acknowledged that there is a long season ahead of them. “The season is uphill from here and we are going to take it day by day,” Vetras said. “It starts with a good practice tomorrow.”

Both teams will hit the road next Saturday, with the Lord Jeffs taking on Bowdoin College and the Bobcats facing Tufts University.