The Jeffs racked up 21 points in the first half, and the defense held on for the win against the Bantams despite a late game charge by the Trinity offense.
Anchored by the play of Derrell Wright ’02 and Okey Ugwonali ’02, the Amherst offense rediscovered its recently dormant early season form on the field at Trinity. After trading touchdowns with the Bantams in the first quarter, with Kevin Kennard ’03 getting Amherst on the board first, the Jeffs went for the big offensive play.
With a minute left in the first quarter, the Jeffs found themselves with a first and 10 at their own 35-yard line. Amherst quarterback Peter Honig ’01 dropped back for the play and saw Wright streaking downfield, with two Trinity defenders close behind him.
Honig’s pass was slightly short, but Wright out-jumped the Bantam defensive backs, shook off a tackle and sprinted the remaining 20 yards into the endzone. The 65 yard reception put Amherst up by a score of 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Amazingly enough, this dramatic touchdown was not Wright’s longest career reception against the Trinity defense. Two years ago, he pulled down an 80-yard touchdown pass against the Bantams on the same field. This year, Wright has had only two receptions on the season, but the other was a 45-yard bomb that he caught despite triple coverage.
Amherst head coach E.J. Mills summed up Wright’s success against Trinity with an understatement, saying, “[Wright’s] definitely had some good catches on that field.”
The rest of the first half was dominated by Amherst, as the Jeff defense held firm, forcing the Trinity offense into several damaging three and out situations. Amherst strong safety Dave Frankel ’01 also contributed to the team effort, intercepting an opposing pass for the second game in a row.
The Jeffs’ third touchdown of the half came midway through the second quarter. After Trinity stopped the Jeffs on a fake punt attempt during the previous series, Amherst forced a Trinity punt and the Jeffs took over at their own 36-yard line.
Seeking to establish the run, the Jeffs entrusted the football to Ugwonali. He responded to the challenge by gaining 34 yards for Amherst on eight carries, including the last three yards of the drive, as Ugwonali carried the ball up the middle of the field for the first of his two touchdowns on the day.
The Jeffs also got a big play from tight end Matt Flavin ’02, who caught a short pass from Honig and then turned and ran upfield for a 22-yard reception. Mills said this drive exemplified Amherst’s offensive strategy for the game.
“[Trinity’s plays] are similar to what we do defensively, and we thought that we had to run the ball well and then throw it off the run,” he said.
Mills’ offensive strategy was executed with perfection, as the Jeffs tallied 237 yards on the ground. Ugwonali gained over 150 yards for the second straight game. Honig also had a good game, completing 11 of 18 attempts for 218 yards and a touchdown.
After a back-and-forth scoreless third quarter, Trinity managed to stage a comeback in the fourth and final quarter. Starting from their own 20-yard line, the Bantams finally found some offensive consistency with 10 minutes left in the contest. By effectively mixing running and passing, Trinity drove 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown.
On the extra point attempt, however, Amherst got revenge. Jeff lineman Pat Hayes ’03 broke through the Bantam line and blocked the kick, keeping the Amherst advantage at eight points.
Stung by the Trinity touchdown, the Jeffs responded immediately. On the ensuing kickoff, Brian Daoust ’01 returned the ball 22 yards, and was hit late. With the 15-yard penalty tacked on, the Jeffs started at their own 47-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Ugwonali took the handoff, found a hole in the middle of the line and ran untouched into the endzone.
Mills’ only complaint was that his team had scored too quickly, but he was pleased with the play of the offensive line, “The o-line played great the entire game, and we executed perfectly on that run.”
The Bantams did manage to score again, but the Jeffs held on for the win. “We played 12 good series of defense and one bad one,” Mills said, referring to the late touchdown. “But Trinity is a good football team that is young and is going to get better and better, so I don’t want to take anything away from them.”
Now, of course, the Jeffs are faced with playing Williams College, in what is called “The Biggest Little Game in America.” The Ephs enter the annual grudge match with a 5-2 record, while Amherst is having its best season since 1997 with a record of 6-1.
“We basically have an exactly matched season, except that we beat Colby and they didn’t,” Mills said. While optimism is running high at Amherst that this will finally be the year the Jeffs beat Williams, Mills remains cautious.
“They return a boatload of kids from last year’s team and they have as good a defense as any in the league,” he acknowledged. “People like to think that [Williams] is not very good, but that’s wrong. We have a huge battle on our hands, and we’re going to have to score some points to win.”
As always, though, the game will ultimately come down to special teams play and minimizing turnovers. In summary Mills said, “We’re going to have to have a great week of practice and we’re going to have to play a perfect game to win. Everyone here is definitely looking forward to playing.”