The story behind Amherst’s victory was the phenomenal effort put forth by their offensive unit-a unit that had been struggling in recent games-and senior wide receiver J.P. Zito ’03. The Jeffs knew going into the game that they were going to need to put a lot of points on the board if they were going to beat Williams and its vaunted offense. Led by a career performance from Zito, Amherst scored six touchdowns-including three in an unbelievable third quarter of play-and amassed just over 400 yards of total offense.
Zito was a one man wrecking crew, finishing the game with seven catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Six of those catches came on either third or fourth downs. Amherst also got an unexpected boost from freshman tailback Ngai Otieno who had 97 yards rushing on just 13 carries to go along with 34 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Not only did Amherst’s offense put up impressive numbers, but they also avoided committing the devastating turnovers that had put immense pressure on the defense in previous games. Williams scored no points off of Amherst’s only turnover, while the Jeffs scored 24 points off five Eph turnovers.
On defense, Amherst did surrender 35 points and 445 yards of total offense to a talented Williams team, but they were able to get several crucial turnovers and to hold the Ephs at bay when necessary.
Things did not look good for the Jeffs at the beginning of the contest, as the Ephs put together an impressive drive on the game’s opening possession. Williams marched the length of the field without ever having to confront a third down situation before fullback Tyler Shea gave Williams an early 7-0 lead by rumbling into the end zone from one yard out on a play that looked reminiscent of his game-winning touchdown against Amherst last year in overtime.
But Amherst responded two possessions later as they faced a difficult fourth-and-15 on the Williams 33-yardline. Head Coach E.J. Mills elected to go for it and the result of his gutsy decision was a 33-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Marsh Moseley to Zito.
Williams’ first turnover of the afternoon set up a 30-yard field goal by placekicker David Bodner ’05. The field goal gave the Jeffs a three-point lead and also gave Bodner sole possession of the NESCAC record for most field goals in a season. Williams coughed the ball up again on the ensuing kickoff and this time the consequences were more severe. A few plays later Fletcher Ladd ’04 plunged into the end zone from one yard out.
The Ephs responded with a touchdown on their next possession and were threatening to take the lead late in the half. However, as they marched deep into Jeff territory, Williams quarterback Joe Reardon threw an ill-advised pass which cornerback Joe Rubbone ’03 alertly corralled at the goal line to preserve Amherst’s 17-14 lead at the half.
Amherst got the ball to start the second half but were held to a three-and-out. Williams fumbled the following punt, however, and the Jeffs were back in business. Otieno caught a 34- yard Moseley offering and on the next play, the freshman tailback celebrated his first collegiate touchdown with a 1-yard run. Williams would never again be within one score of tying Amherst.
Zito extended Amherst’s lead to 31-14 on Amherst’s next drive as he caught a nifty 3-yard fade pass from Moseley in the east end zone. However, the Ephs were unwilling to let the Homecoming crowd feel too secure as they cut the lead to 10 on their next possession after Shea’s third and final touchdown of the afternoon. Shea, only a junior, has six career rushing touchdowns against Amherst. The Jeffs easily kept pace with Williams in this second half shootout as Zito answered Williams’ score with a gorgeous 69-yard touchdown reception down the Amherst sideline.
Williams cut Amherst’s lead back down to 10 points and was in possession of the ball but was thwarted by Reardon’s second interception of the day, this one at the hands of strong safety Paul Miceli ’03. Three plays later, Otieno sent the crowd into a frenzy as he took a simple running play 43 yards into the end zone, giving his team a very secure 45-28 advantage. Williams added a late touchdown to make the final score 45-35, but the Jeff faithful were already sizing up the west goal post at that point.
Amherst, known for its stingy defense and run-oriented offense shocked a lot of people with its explosive offensive performance against Williams. “Our offense does great when we can make a few big plays during the course of a game,” said Zito. “The games where we don’t score many points are the games where we don’t make any big plays.”
“On Saturday, we knew we’d have to score points and make some big plays to win. Everything finally clicked. All year long we’ve been one step away from making big plays and everything came together against Williams,” Zito added. They did not respect our pass game and gave us opportunities for one-on-one matchups. By exploiting these matchups, we were able to make big plays all day long.”
Moseley had a career day as well, going 13-20 for 237 yards and three touchdowns. This is the first time Moseley has surpassed the 200-yard passing mark at Amherst. Zito was rewarded for his efforts by being named NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week and the honor of NESCAC Rookie of the Week fell to Otieno. Ladd’s 56 yards rushing left him only 72 yards short of breaking the College’s single-season rushing record of 1,220 yards. Linebackers Ed Sylvester ’04 and David Borgonzi ’05 made nice contributions for the defense, finishing with 13 and 12 tackles, respectively.
With Saturday’s result, the class of 2003 becomes only the second senior class in 16 years to end its football career at Amherst with a win. In addition to Zito’s superb performance, Rubbone contributed an interception, fumble recovery and 11 tackles. Senior tackles Rob Vernicek and Brendan Carolan gave Moseley plenty of time to find open receivers, and Paul Miceli’s interception all but sealed the win for Amherst.
“[The Class of 2003] went 25-7 over four years, making them the most successful class we have had since I have been at Amherst,” said Mills. “They are just a solid group of kids, they are great citizens off the field and are classy people. They have worked extremely hard these past four years and they deserve to end their careers by beating Williams.”
Amherst should remain a contender for the NESCAC crown in 2003 despite losing a talented senior class to graduation. Seven starters return on the offensive side of the ball and six return on defense.