Amherst Wins Wild One in Middlebury, 38-31

MIDDLEBURY, VT – Eric Bunker ’12 (Topsfield, MA) ran for a game-winning touchdown with only 2:32 remaining in regulation and Matt Rawson ’12 (Bethesda, MD) converted the ensuing extra point to seal a thrilling 38-31 win for the Amherst College football team Saturday afternoon at Middlebury College's Youngman Field.

The Lord Jeffs trailed 9-0 at halftime but rallied to score 24 points in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth, as they survived their biggest test of the young season. Bunker ran for 88 yards and a pair of scores, while Alex Vetras ’11 (Bellevue, WA) threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns to lead Amherst (3-0). Middlebury (1-2) was paced by 421 passing yards from Donald McKillop ’11, who was remarkable throughout the game.

An interception by Evan Rosenstein '12 allowed Amherst to take its first lead of the game.

With the score tied at 31-31 late in the fourth quarter, Amherst faced a 4th-and-2 situation from the Middlebury 48-yard line. Not wanting to put the ball back in McKillop’s hands, the Jeffs took a risk when Vetras dropped back and fired a pass to Andre Gary ’11 (Exeter, NH). Gary made the catch and leaped over a defender to pick up seven yards for a pivotal first down.

The Jeffs would face 4th-and-10 moments later and again came through, this time with Vetras finding Brian Murphy ’11 (Evanston, IL) up the middle to bring the visitors inside the 10 with only four minutes remaining. Vetras ran the ball down to the 1-yard line to set up 4th-and-goal, leaving Bunker to plow his way into the endzone for what stood up as the game-winning touchdown.

In a game that featured more than 900 yards of total offense and only one turnover, Middlebury won the possession battle thanks to several long, drawn-out scoring drives, while Amherst’s points came after quick strikes and big plays. The Panthers out-gained the Jeffs through the air (421-278), while the visitors held the advantage on the ground (133-73).

Middlebury scored on its opening possession when Anthony Kuchan ’11 kicked a 20-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead. During the drive, Middlebury successfully pulled off a fake punt to convert on 4th-and-1 and McKillop completed all nine of his pass attempts, leading a 17-play, 77-yard drive that ate up 6:35 of game time.

On the ensuing kickoff Amherst was pinned inside its 5-yard line, resulting in a punt that allowed the Panthers to start their next drive from the Lord Jeff 29. The visitors caught a break—their first of many—when a chop block penalty pushed the hosts back to their 44, followed by a sack for a 12-yard loss. Middlebury’s great field position suddenly turned into a 2nd-and-36 situation that resulted in a punt, as Amherst dodged a bullet and headed into the second quarter with only a 3-0 deficit.  

Amherst had scored at least 20 points in the first quarter in each of its first two games, but the Panthers shut them down early on. On the first play of the second frame, McKillop connected with Matt Rayner ’12 for a 4-yard gain, giving the senior quarterback 629 career completions, a new record for New England Division III football. McKillop received a nice ovation, but his team would wind up getting nothing out of the drive.

After Rawson pushed a 31-yard field goal wide right, Middlebury looked poised to score when it faced 3rd-and-2 from Amherst’s 2-yard line. A high snap sailed over McKillop’s head, though, allowing Kevin Ferber ’12 (Mahwah, NJ) to pounce on the ball and bail Amherst out of another jam.

The Jeffs could not take advantage of Ferber’s heads-up play, and the Panthers marched right back down the field to take a 9-0 lead when McKillop found Nick Resor ’12 in the endzone. The extra point attempt by Kuchan missed wide left, making it a 9-0 game in favor of Middlebury with only 22 seconds remaining in the half.

After a first half that didn’t feature nearly as many fireworks as fans had anticipated, both teams came to life in the second frame, combining for 60 points thanks to outstanding play from both quarterbacks. The Jeffs struck first in the half when back-to-back long completions to Ben Kettering ’12 (Fairmont, WV) set up a 37-yard field goal from Rawson, cutting Amherst’s deficit to six points at 9-3.

On the ensuing drive a McKillop pass was deflected by Sam Clark ’13 (Andover, MA), but it was Evan Rosenstein ’12 (New Canaan, CT) who came up with the interception. The Jeffs did not let the turnover go to waste, and on 3rd-and-4 Vetras rolled to his right before hurling a 26-yard pass to Andrew Reed ’12 (Riverside, CT) in the corner of the endzone. Rawson converted the extra point to give Amherst its first lead at 10-9.

The Jeffs kept rolling on their next possession after Gary returned a punt to the Middlebury 30. On the first play of the drive, Vetras lofted a pass into the left corner of the endzone. In a full sprint, Kettering got to the ball in time and hauled it in for another touchdown, with Rawson adding his touch to make it 17-9 with 8:06 to play in the third.

Brian Murphy '11 came up with a big catch on 4th-and-10 late in the fourth quarter.

Another long Middlebury drive handed momentum right back to the hosts, with McKillop completing passes of at least 10 yards to Resor, Zach Driscoll ’13, Andrew Plumley ’11 and Rayner to set up 1st-and-goal from the Amherst 3-yard line. Plumley would finish things off with a 3-yard touchdown run, and Kuchan tacked on another point to bring the score to 17-16 in favor of Amherst.

Not to be outdone, Vetras wasted no time marching his team back down the field for another touchdown. A 26-yard diving catch by Murphy in the middle of the field was followed by completions to Murphy and Kettering, as the Jeffs were suddenly on the Middlebury 25. On the next play Vetras faked a hand-off to Bunker and took care of the rest, picking up a 25-yard rushing touchdown for a 24-16 Amherst lead, which is where the score stood heading into the final quarter.

The shootout continued early in the fourth when McKillop hit Driscoll for a 38-yard touchdown that capped off a 7-play, 73-yard drive, during which McKillop was 4-of-4. The Panthers followed up with a two-point conversion on a pass from McKillop to Driscoll, tying things up at 24-24.

A pass interference penalty against Middlebury brought Amherst down to the visitors’ 12-yard line, and the next play went to Bunker, who broke two tackles before finding paydirt for the go-ahead score. The Jeffs held a 31-24 advantage, but it was no surprise when the hosts pushed right back with an 11-play, 66-yard drive that featured an 11-yard rushing touchdown by Plumley with 7:47 to play.

When Amherst broke the 31-31 tie with Bunker’s second touchdown of the afternoon, there would be no counter punch by the Panthers, who handed the ball over on downs with 1:40 to play. Facing 4th-and-1 from their own 29, the Panthers fumbled the ensuing snap and recovered it behind the line of scrimmage, allowing the Jeffs to run out the clock and close the door on a wild second half.

Vetras was 26-of-49 with two scores and no interceptions on the day, with Murphy catching eight passes for 67 yards and Kettering picking up 93 yards on six grabs. Eight Amherst players caught at least one pass and had at least 10 receiving yards. Plumley (14 catches, 97 yards), Resor (13 catches, 148 yards) and Rayner (13 catches, 84 yards) all had big days for the Panthers, as McKillop was 47-of-62 with two touchdowns and a pick.

Five Lord Jeffs recorded at least 10 tackles. Ferber and Greg Kutzin ’12 (Eastchester, NY) each had 13, Nick Edwards ’11 (Greenwich, CT) and Rosenstein had 12 apiece, and Landrus Lewis ’13 (Pennsauken, NJ) finished with 10. Ferber also broke up a pair of passes. Vetras and McKillop were each sacked once, marking the first time all season the Jeffs' offensive line has allowed the opposition to get to its quarterback.

The Lord Jeffs will look to add to their 11-game winning streak next Saturday when they host Colby College (1-2) at 1 p.m. The Panthers will hit the road to take on Williams (3-0).