It wasn’t fun and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but Amherst braved the cold and rainy conditions over Family Weekend to secure a 19-13 win over Tufts on Senior Day. Despite temperatures in the 30s and wind gusts of up to 20 miles per hour, the Mammoths’ defense stepped up when needed and the offense did just enough to escape with the win.
Tufts received the opening kickoff and made no progress, quickly going three-and-out. Amherst took over at its own 40-yard line and the offense went to work, with quarterback Ollie Eberth ’20 and running back Jack Hickey ’19 systematically marching down the field until the Mammoths were faced with a fourth-and-5 at the Tufts six-yard line. Coach E.J. Mills sent out the kicking unit to seemingly attempt an easy field goal, but he had a trick up his sleeve. The ball was snapped directly to senior wide receiver Bo Berluti who powered right up the middle and into the end zone to put Amherst up 7-0.
The Mammoths’ defense neutralized the Tufts offense once again on the Jumbos’ second drive by forcing another three-and-out. Amherst got the ball back and again marched into Tufts territory, eventually leading to another tough call: fourth-and-3 at the Tufts 35-yard line. Positioned just outside of senior kicker Andrew Ferrero’s field goal range, Mills opted to leave his offense on the field, but Eberth’s pass to Berluti fell incomplete and the Mammoths turned it over on downs.
The Tufts offense did manage to record its first first down of the game on the succeeding drive, but any momentum quickly dissipated when senior linebacker John Callahan intercepted quarterback Ryan McDonald to set up Amherst with good field position. Ferrero finally got to attempt a field goal and nailed a 39-yarder to put Amherst up 10-0 early in the second quarter.
After trading punts, Tufts at last put points on the board thanks to a long touchdown run by McDonald, which closed the gap to 10-6 after a two-point conversion attempt failed. With only four minutes remaining in the half, Amherst quickly moved down the field before having an almost identical decision to make as before: fourth-and-8 at the Tufts 33-yard line. Eberth’s pass to Berluti fell incomplete once again and the Mammoths jogged to the locker room up 10-6 at the half.
The second half proved to be more of a defensive struggle as the teams punted back and forth several times before Callahan stepped up once again, forcing a fumble and returning the ball 65 yards all the way to the Tufts 2 yard line. One play later, Hickey burst into the end zone to extend the Amherst lead to 16-6 after Ferrero missed the extra-point. On their ensuing possession, the Mammoths added another field goal from Ferrero to increase their lead to 19-6.
Tufts wouldn’t go down without a fight, however, as the Jumbos drove 75 yards in 12 plays and cut the lead to 19-13 thanks to a two-yard rush by Dom Borelli with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. After a few more punts, Tufts regained possession with three minutes remaining, needing to go 63 yards for the go-ahead score. After a solid defensive effort by the Mammoths, the Jumbos faced a fourth-and-17, and senior Zach Allen sealed the victory with an interception that allowed Amherst to to run out the clock on the 19-13 victory.
Hickey had a big day in his return to the lineup, carrying the ball 20 times for 89 yards and a touchdown. James O’Regan ’20 paced the Mammoths in both receptions and receiving yards, with seven and 80, respectively. On defense, Amherst forced three turnovers and sacked McDonald twice, following up last week’s domination of Wesleyan with another excellent effort.
The Mammoths will face Trinity in Hartford, Connecticut next Saturday at 1 p.m., knowing that a victory over the Bantams will clinch the 2018 NESCAC title.