Football Returns, Aims for NESCAC Title After Near Miss
After a heartbreaking loss to Williams in the final game of the 2017 season resulted in Amherst finishing one game back of Trinity for the NESCAC crown, the Mammoths will look to bounce back and add another conference championship to the mantle.
Last season started out well for Amherst, as the team erased any memories of its disastrous 2016 campaign, during which the team went 4-4 and saw its streak of three straight NESCAC titles come crashing to a halt. In 2017, Mammoths won seven of their first eight games, including a massive victory over 2016 champion Trinity, which had won 16 games in a row entering the contest. The win over the Bantams gave even more importance to “The Biggest Little Game in America,” the season-closing matchup against archrival Williams that Amherst had recently dominated.
In front of a raucous crowd in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the Ephs jumped out to a 24-3 lead halfway through the third quarter. The Mammoths weren’t done, however, as former Second-Team All-NESCAC quarterback Reece Foy ’18 led a furious rally capped off by a pick-six by John Ballard ’20 to send the game to overtime. The Amherst magic ran out in the extra period, though, as NESCAC Rookie of the Year Bobby Maimaron of Williams threw for a touchdown and Foy’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete, sealing the 31-24 victory for the Ephs and clinching Trinity’s second-straight NESCAC title in the process.
While the Mammoths lost several important players to graduation, including Foy, All-NESCAC running back Hasani Figueroa and All-NESCAC offensive linemen Kevin Sheehan and Mitch Arthur, Amherst arguably boasts the most returning talent in the conference. On the offensive side of the ball, the development of quarterback Ollie Eberth ’20 will be critical to the success of the team. Eberth started all nine games as a sophomore last season, completing 58.7% of his passes for 1,382 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing only three interceptions and adding another five touchdowns on the ground. He’ll be asked to do even more in his second year running the offense as Foy saw plenty of playing time last season, often serving as a change of pace.
The good news for Eberth is that he will have plenty of help on offense with multiple weapons at his disposal. First Team All-NESCAC running back Jack Hickey ’19 finished 2017 with 6.0 yards per carry and nine rushing touchdowns, both numbers good for second in the entire conference, and his role will likely increase with Figueroa having graduated. Second Team All-NESCAC wide receiver James O’Regan ’20 ranked in the top five in yards, yards per catch and touchdowns in the NESCAC. Additionally, Bo Berluti ’19 and O’Regan combined to form one of just two pairs of teammates in the NESCAC to each record at least 500 receiving yards.
For opposing teams, though, the most terrifying part of this year’s Amherst squad is the enormous potential on the defensive side of the ball. After finishing fourth in the conference in points allowed, the Mammoths will return almost every starter on defense, including star linebacker Andrew Yamin ’19. Yamin racked up the hardware last season, earning NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, a spot on D3football.com’s All-East Region Second Team Defense and, most impressively, the Joseph P. Zabilski Award for the best Division II/III defensive player in New England. His stats backed up the accolades as Yamin led the NESCAC in both sacks and tackles for loss with 13.5 and 21.5, respectively. The hype around Yamin’s final campaign in the purple and white has already started, as he garnered a place in the Preseason Starting Lineup by College Football America. In addition to Yamin, the Mammoths also boast First Team All-NESCAC honorees in defensive backs Avery Saffold ’20 and Nate Tyrell ’19, as well as a fearsome front seven led by Greg Franklin ’20 and Andrew Sommer ’19, who both earned second team plaudits.
Amherst is confident going into the season, thanks to this wealth of talent, but the team is well aware of the challenges ahead. “I’m really excited about this upcoming season,” cornerback Ricky Goodson ’21 said. “I’m looking forward to growing close with this team over the next few weeks as well as meeting the first-years and showing them the ropes here on campus. We have a lot of talent this year, but we will have to work hard to get us where we want to be and that starts with day one.”
Senior captain and safety Zach Allen echoed the same sentiment. “We have a great group of guys who have persevered through a lot this year,” Allen said. “All of us are hungry for a championship and recognize that it’s going to come from hard work and competing as a team every day this fall.”
Led by head coach E.J. Mills, the Mammoths kick off their season on Saturday, Sept. 15 at Bates.