Jeffs Eye NESCAC Title in 2014

Mills.jpgContact: Mike O'Brien

(Courtesy of Megan Robertson '15)

(Courtesy of Niahlah Hope '16)

The 2013 season was a historic year for the Amherst College football team as they finished in a three-way tie for the NESCAC title with a 7-1 record. It marked the second league title in three years for the Jeffs as they joined Williams and Middlebury with three total, second most all-time. Head Coach E.J. Mills also reached the 100-win milestone and the historic Pratt Field underwent a major renovation.

The season opened on the road as Amherst’s defense forced five turnovers en route to a 23-7 win at Hamilton. The Jeffs hosted Bowdoin and Middlebury, respectively, on the new turf over the next two weeks. Following a 27-11 win against the Polar Bears, Amherst picked off the Panthers five times on its way to a decisive 37-16 win. At the halfway point, the Jeffs remained unbeaten (4-0) as they escaped with a 14-10 win on the road at Colby. Trailing 7-0 entering the fourth quarter, Amherst scored two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes of regulation, including a 17-yard reception with 33 seconds remaining to pull off the win.

The second half of the season started with a matchup between two undefeated teams at Pratt Field as the Jeffs dropped a tough decision to Wesleyan, 20-14. However, they responded nicely with three consecutive wins to end the year. Following a 10-point victory against Tufts (17-7), Amherst held off a fourth quarter comeback to edge Trinity, 17-16. The Jeffs ended the 2013 season strongly with a 20-7 win on the road against archrival Williams to earn a share of the NESCAC Championship with Middlebury and Wesleyan.

Matt Ballard will take over offensive coordinator duties in 2014 after serving as offensive line coach for the past 10 years. He replaces Don Faulstick, who has been promoted to Director of Athletics after 17 years as OC. Ballard will take over a unit that averaged 21.1 points per game a year ago and 346.9 yards of total offense (fourth in the NESCAC). Amherst’s balanced attack racked up 214.6 yards per game through the air while rushing for 132.2 on the ground, ranking second and fourth, respectively, in those categories.

“We have the pieces offensively to be consistent in moving the football and scoring points,” said Mills. “I’m excited and think this can be a very strong group.”

Mergner.jpgOffensive Line
The Jeffs have a difficult task of replacing two All-NESCAC selections from a year ago, but return a talented and experienced core that allowed just nine sacks in 2013. Headlining the group is senior co-captain and three-year starter, Scott Mergner. He will be joined on the right side by classmate Jonathan Woodrow. Woodrow earned the starting nod at center last year and will make the move to guard his senior year.

Colman Duggan ’15 provides experience on the left side of the line and will be joined by junior Sam Hart, while Jim Daniels ’16 will take over the center position. Together, the group looks to continue to be one of Amherst’s strengths.

Amherst has plenty of experience at the quarterback position as well and welcome back Max Lippe ’15, who spent the past two seasons at the helm of the offense. Lippe ranked second in the conference a year ago with an average of 182.4 yards per game while tossing 10 touchdowns, third most amongst his peers.

Alex Berluti returns for his sophomore season and looks to play a major role after a first-year campaign in which he saw action in six of the team’s eight games. “Their (Lippe and Berluti) skills complement each other very well,” said Mills.

Amherst also welcomes newcomer Reece Foy ’18 who has had a strong preseason.

Adinkra.jpgRunning Backs
The Jeffs are loaded with talent and depth at the running back position. The team’s top rusher from a year ago, Kenny Adinkra ’16, provides the most experience in this group. The junior averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year and totaled 448 yards on the ground.

Looking to build on a strong 2013 campaign will be Nick Kelly ’17. In his first year donning the Purple & White, he ranked second on the team with 208 rushing yards. Amherst also has the luxury of talented sophomores Myles Gaines and Raheem Jackson who figure to make a strong impact in 2014.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Despite losing First Team All-NESCAC selection Jake O’Malley ’14 to graduation, Amherst’s receiving core will feature a bevy of talent headlined by the dynamic Gene Garay ’15. The senior led the team in receptions in 2013 (42) while racking up 400 yards, averaging 50.0 per contest. His three touchdowns also ranked eighth in the league.

Garay will be joined by juniors Brian Ragone and Jackson McGonagle while senior Henry Falter returns from injury and looks to make a significant impact at the tight end position.

The Jeffs continue to boast one of the top defenses in the NESCAC and look to continue its dominance in 2014. Led by defensive coordinator Luke Bussard, the unit returns three all-conference selections from last year’s squad that allowed a league-low 11.8 points per game. The unit also led the conference in sacks (22) and interceptions (20), and ranked second in total yards (297.9 per game) and rushing yards (99.1 per game).

Defensive Line
Anchoring the defensive line will be Max Lehrman ’15, a First Team All-NESCAC selection a year ago. Lehrman is a quarterback’s nightmare, racking up 6.5 sacks as a junior to rank third among league leaders.    

“He (Lehrman) has done a phenomenal job over the past couple of years of making himself into an all-league type player,” says Bussard. “He takes great pride in doing what he’s coached to do; he listens and is an incredibly smart player.”

Lining up next to him will be nose tackle Paul Johnson ’17, while Sam Caldwell ’16 looks to build on a successful sophomore season at the tackle position. Also providing depth and expected to make an impact in 2014 are Niyi Odwade ’17 and Reid Singer ’16.

Amherst has an exceptional linebacker core with senior co-captains Chris Tamasi and Ned Deane leading the way. Tamasi, a 2013 First Team All-NESCAC selection, ranked 10th in the league with a team-high 62 tackles (53 solo), averaging 7.8 per game. He also led the NESCAC with 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage while registering four sacks.

Deane is the squad’s signal caller and defensive leader. As a junior, he registered 61 tackles (47 solo) with four sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He also picked off two passes and broke up three others.

Also looking to make significant contributions to the front seven will be juniors Tyler Mordas, Taylor Dean, Jack Drew and Thomas Kleyn. Mordas ranked fourth on the team a year ago with 45 tackles (37 solo) while Dean, Drew and Kleyn all missed 2013 due to injuries.

The Jeffs must replace two First Team All-NESCAC selections from last year’s squad, but return a dynamic and physical cover guy in Jaymie Spears ’16. Coach Mills is also excited by the return of strong safety Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn ’16, an aggressive player who has the ability to make a game-changing play. Fairfield-Sonn ranked third on the team a year ago with 53 tackles (45 solo), he also recorded two interceptions, while he and Spears broke up six passes each.

Christopher Gow ’16 will step into the free safety position this season while Ryan Duzyk ’15, Jake Shuman ’15, Derek Ward ’16 and Stefan Soucy ’16 provide plenty of depth for Bussard.

The special teams are led by Eddy Augustin, who enters his seventh season on the Amherst sidelines. Augustin has the luxury of senior kicker Phillip Nwosu, a First Team All-NESCAC selection in 2013. Nwosu plays an integral role in the Jeffs’ success and led the league as a junior with 10 field goals.

McGonagle will resume punting duties for Amherst, while Shuman remains the team’s long snapper. Last year, McGonagle landed 11 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Garay and Spears will return kicks and punts again this year, respectively. Garay totaled 343 yards last year on 15 attempts with a long of 55 yards, while Spears averaged six yards per punt return with a long of 23.

Amherst opens the 2014 season at home against Bates on Sept. 20 before heading on the road for back-to-back games. First, the Jeffs will visit Bowdoin on Sept. 27 and will travel back north the following weekend to face Middlebury on Oct. 4. Amherst hits the midway point of the season on Oct. 11 when it hosts Colby.

The Jeffs have a tough stretch to end the season beginning with an Oct. 18 meeting at Wesleyan as they look to avenge last year’s loss. On Oct. 25, they will host Tufts on Family Weekend before looking to end Trinity’s 51-game home winning streak (Nov. 1). Amherst will close out the 2014 slate on Nov. 8 with the “Biggest Little Game in America” on Pratt Field against archrival Williams.