Football: Jeffs fail to shake the curse of Williams' Weston Field

With the loss, Amherst finishes its season on a three-game losing streak and in a three-way tie for fifth place in the NESCAC with a record of 4-4. This marks the first non-winning season Amherst has had under Head Coach E.J. Mills.

The close loss to Williams was even more disappointing considering that the Jeffs were playing without starting quarterback Marsh Moseley ’05, who had a career day against Williams last year. Starting defenders Dave Borgonzi ’05 and Chris Scarpelli ’05 were also sidelined.

Amherst looked to gain the early momentum when quad-captain cornerback Paul Whiting ’04 ended Williams’ first drive of the game by intercepting a pass by Eph quarterback Joe Reardon. Whiting, playing with a cast on one hand, returned the ball 20 yards down to the Eph 28-yard line. But the Jeff offense hit a snag on the first play of the drive when John Polignone ’07 was sacked while attempting the first pass of his first collegiate start. The Jeffs managed to work their way back down to the Eph 24-yard line, but were unable to secure any points as junior kicker David Bodner’s 42-yard attempt was well short and right of the uprights. The special teams play that concluded Amherst’s next drive would prove even more costly for the Jeffs.

Following three ineffectual plays on offense, Amherst seemed ready to punt the ball back into Eph territory. However, Eph defensive tackle Will McGrath exploited a missed blocking assignment and was able to block John Polignone’s punt. This critical play allowed the Williams offense to take possession of the ball at the Jeff five-yard line. One play later, Eph running back Tim Crawley carried the ball into the end zone to score the game’s first points.

“We gave them a freebie and you just can’t do that,” said Mills of the special teams meltdown.

Williams doubled its lead on its next possession, powered by a 15-play, 67-yard drive, easily the longest drive of the game for the Ephs. Williams converted two of their three third-down opportunities, and Jeff nemesis fullback Tyler Shea had one of his patented three-yard rumbles to convert a fourth-and-one situation for the Ephs inside the red zone. The Williams drive, which began late in the first quarter, ended early in the second when running back Mike Hackett found the end zone on a four-yard rush.

Down by two touchdowns early in the second quarter, the Amherst coaching staff decided to give Nick Kehoe ’07 a look at quarterback. Kehoe and Polignone have been neck-and-neck all year in their competition to land the backup quarterback position behind Moseley-in fact, Kehoe started the game against Tufts University earlier in the year when Moseley was out with a shoulder injury-so it was not surprising to see Kehoe get some snaps in the Williams game. What was surprising, however, was Kehoe’s poise and effectiveness in leading the Jeffs’ comeback attempt.

Starting from his own 32, Kehoe completed three of four passes for 33 yards on his first possession as he led his team down inside the Eph 10-yard line on the Jeffs’ first serious offensive drive of the game. The Jeffs were unable to get a first down inside the red zone, and faced with a fourth-and-three on the Eph eight-yard line, Coach Mills wisely elected to send Bodner on to the field to get his team on the scoreboard. At this point, the momentum of the game began to swing back in favor of the Jeffs.

The smothering Amherst defense forced Williams into a three-and-out on its next possession, and with just over three minutes to play in the first half, Kehoe and the Jeffs took control of the ball at their own 40-yard line. Needing to make their way down to the field, the Jeffs turned to their workhorse, quad-captain tailback Fletcher Ladd ’05. Ladd carried the ball three times for 37 yards on the drive, dragging many Eph defenders with him along the way.

This time, the Jeffs made the most of their stay in the critical red zone area as Kehoe connected with senior wide receiver Jim Devine on a 13-yard slant pattern over the middle to put the visitors in the end zone for the first time of the afternoon. The touchdown was the first of Kehoe’s young collegiate career and the sixth this season for Devine, who led the NESCAC in touchdown receptions this year. Going into the half, the Amherst faithful were riding high as the Jeffs had narrowed the deficit to 14-10. Unfortunately, the scoreboard refused to budge in the final half of play.

Amherst picked up right where it had left off in the second half as cornerback Rob Walsh ’05 intercepted Reardon near midfield to bring an end to the first Eph possession of the third quarter. The Jeffs got as far as the Williams 33-yard line, but the drive ended on downs when Kehoe’s swing pass to Ladd on fourth-and-two was batted down by Mark Rosenthal.

Williams’ one threatening drive in the second half came late in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Sean Gleeson connected on a 38 yard strike to wideout C.J. Bowker to bring the Ephs down to the Jeff 18-yard line. But Mills’ defensive unit refused to surrender any more ground on the drive, and Williams’ suspect kicking game was unable to convert on a 36-yard field goal try.

Amherst had its best chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. After a Polignone punt pinned the Ephs back at their own 10, Joe Reardon was flagged for an intentional grounding penalty which put the Ephs back at their own two-yard line, where they were forced to punt one play later. Following the Eph punt, the Jeffs took over the ball at the Williams 32. But a false start penalty took the offense out of its rhythm, and Amherst was only able to advance the ball to the Eph 30 before being forced to punt.

Amherst’s final drive began at its own 35 with just 28 seconds left. With one second to play in the game, Kehoe threw a 41-yard Hail Mary into the Eph end zone, but the potential game-winning pass was batted down by a waiting Williams defender, giving Williams a well-earned 14-10 win. Amherst has not won a football game in Williamstown since 1985.

Despite the loss, there were several bright spots for the Jeffs. Kehoe finished 14-22 for 123 yards and a touchdown in his commendable performance. Most importantly, the rookie quarterback did not throw a single interception and was sacked only once.

Ladd rushed for 138 yards on 27 carries in an impressive display of power running. This yardage brought his team-leading season total to 894 yards, averaging an impressive 111.8 yards per game.

On defense, the Jeffs held the Ephs to just 238 yards of total offense. Reardon only managed to pass for 79 yards on the afternoon. Quad-captain linebacker Ed Sylvester ’04 had an outstanding afternoon, finishing with 15 tackles. But ultimately, Amherst football is judged not on individual performances, but on wins and losses.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to lose, especially because it was against Williams, and also because we wanted the seniors to win their last game,” said Kehoe.

Although the class of 2004 ended its season on a three-game losing streak, they were able to post an impressive 24-8 career record.

“It was a very difficult way for the team and especially the seniors to go out, but looking back it was an amazing experience for all of us to play football at Amherst College,” said Sylvester.