A marquee matchup between two members of “Little Three” surpassed all expectations, as Amherst’s football team stunned the Wesleyan Cardinals in walk-off fashion, winning in a quadruple overtime thriller on Saturday, Oct. 30.
The Mammoths came into the game looking to play spoiler against the undefeated Cardinals on the road, where they have fared well so far this season, recording a 2-1 away record. Wesleyan, on the other hand, looked to continue their 2021 dominance, entering the game with a perfect 6-0 record, having outscored their opponents 176-113 during that span, and coming off of an impressive 24-0 win against Middlebury College the week prior.
The game’s opening quarter was marked by stout defense from both teams, with both offenses going three and out on each of their first two drives. The heavy rain played a massive role throughout the game, forcing both teams to rely heavily on their run game instead of their passing attack. Defensive lineman Manni Malone ’23 was a frequently called-upon member of the Amherst defense, recording three solo tackles against the Cardinals’ rushing attack. In the slippery weather conditions, offensive yards were especially scarce, as neither unit was able to muster more than 13 yards on any drive, none of which extended beyond three-and-a-half minutes in length. Thus, after 12 minutes of football, the first quarter closed with the score remaining at 0-0.
The second quarter marked a complete shift from the offensive stagnancy of the first quarter, as the Cardinals’ offense began to find a rhythm. Following a punt by the Mammoths to open the quarter, Wesleyan put together what was arguably their best drive of the half — advancing 60 yards on 15 plays — marked by a seven-yard connection between quarterback David Estevez and wide receiver Logan Tomlinson on a crucial fourth and four to extend the drive. However, two holding penalties on the Cardinals would prove costly, stifling any further advance and returning the ball to the Mammoths without a score. Following another three and out by the Mammoths, the Wesleyan offense maintained their rhythm, marching 42 yards on just four plays to set up a second and goal on the Amherst one-yard line. The Cardinals’ broke the deadlock on a one-yard run by tailback Charlie McPhee to put them up 7-0. The Cardinals’ extended their lead on their next drive, covering 59 yards on six plays to set up another redzone situation. A touchdown strike from Estevez to McPhee put Wesleyan up 14-0 at the end of the first half.
However, the Amherst offense did not wait very long to respond. Quarterback Brad Breckenridge ’24 jump-started the offense in the second half with three completions for 66 yards to put the Mammoths’ offense in the redzone for the first time all day. The offense capitalized immediately, executing a trick play to perfection, with junior receiver Carson Ochsenhirt ’23 connecting with fellow receiver Turner Garland ’22 on a nine-yard touchdown pass to put the Mammoths within one score. The Amherst response was completed with efficiency they hadn’t yet achieved: in just under two minutes, the team marched 65 yards downfield in only five plays. Neither team would threaten again in the third quarter, with the Cardinals’ drives being stifled by a number of penalty calls. Three of these such penalties would almost prove beneficial for the Mammoths to close the quarter, placing them within field goal range with 1:30 remaining. However, a missed 38-yard field goal attempt would keep the score at 14-7 to close the third quarter.
The Mammoths’ defense was the one to come out firing to open the fourth quarter, stuffing a Wesleyan run to prevent a crucial third-and-seven conversion. Linebacker Tim Swope ’24 produced a number of key tackles for the Mammoths, leading to yardage losses for the Cardinals’ offense en route to a turnover on downs. With two minutes and 26 seconds remaining in the game, the Amherst offense put together a crucial last drive. Utilizing all three of their remaining timeouts, the Mammoths’ marched 57 yards downfield in six plays, including four consecutive completions from Breckenridge. The last of these four completions was secured by wide receiver PJ Clementi ’22 on a six-yard touchdown pass to knot the game at 14 with only 17 seconds remaining on the game clock. Despite their struggles early in the game, the Mammoths’ offense made remarkable adjustments, once again summoning their fourth-quarter clutch factor, to force overtime.
Overtime marked the implementation of new NCAA overtime rules, wherein each team started their first drive on the opposing 25-yard line. Starting with the ball, the Wesleyan offense threatened immediately, advancing 18 yards on three plays to set up a potential game-winning situation. Once again, however, the Amherst defense would prove its might — stuffing the Cardinals on four consecutive plays to prevent the Wesleyan victory. The Mammoths’ offense was unable to capitalize on the defense’s remarkable stop, as Breckenridge’s pass was intercepted in the endzone by Cardinals’ defensive back Danny Banks, quickly ending the Mammoths’ drive.
Neither team was able to muster positive yardage for their second overtime attempt from the 25-yard line, resulting in two quick three and outs — and sending the game into triple overtime. In the third overtime, the new rule took effect, and each team began at the opposition’s two-yard line in a one-play, two-point conversion battle. Neither team scored on their first attempt, resulting in a replay (and thus, a fourth overtime period). Once again, the Amherst defense did not let up, stuffing the Wesleyan rushing attack on the goal line. On their second try, the Amherst offense mustered arguably their greatest clutch play of the season. The play began disastrously, with Breckenridge mishandling the snap, resulting in the mud-coated and drenched football rolling astray. Remarkably, Breckenridge immediately scampered on top of the ball, shook off a Wesleyan defender, rolled out of the pocket, and shovel-passed the ball to Ochsenhirt cap off the 16-14 walk-off victory for the Mammoths — it was their first lead of the game.
Joe Masterson ’22 paced the Amherst offense with 97 receiving yards on six receptions. Clementi added 69 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. On the defensive side, Swope led the team with 11 total tackles. Ricky Goodson ’22 added four tackles of his own, in addition to two interceptions, en route to his second consecutive NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week honor. Moreover, Malone recorded six total tackles in addition to a sack.
Having snapped the Cardinals’ undefeated streak, the Mammoths will look to maintain their dominant form against the Trinity College Bantams (6-1), who had their own undefeated streak broken by Williams this past weekend. The Mammoths will travel to Hartford on Nov. 6, with kickoff set for 1 p.m.