Ladd, Jeffs run over Ephs in Homecoming classic
Heading into the 119th edition of “The Biggest Little Game in America,” it was understood that the game’s two featured running backs would get most of the attention. Fletcher Ladd ’05E and Tim Crawley entered Saturday’s game ranked first and second, respectively, in the NESCAC in rushing yards per game. Each had been the main cog in their teams’ offensive attack, but Crawley and Ladd both far exceeded reasonable expectations with their play on Saturday. Ladd carried the ball 34 times for 179 yards and a touchdown, while Crawley equaled Ladd’s rushing total on the strength of 39 carries. Both tailbacks seemed determined to impose their will on two very good defenses, but unfortunately for Williams, it was Crawley’s disastrous 39th and final carry that will likely be remembered most from this sensational game.
Trailing by three with under a minute to go in regulation, Williams had just entered Amherst territory and was only about 30 yards or so from being in range to attempt a game-tying field goal. But the Ephs’ hopes of a come-from-behind victory were dashed when cornerback Rob Walsh ’05 jarred the ball loose from Crawley’s hands and Chris Scarpelli ’05 recovered the fumble just before it rolled out-of-bounds. With only 33 seconds left in the game, the Jeffs simply needed to take a knee on offense to secure the all-important victory.
Crawley’s fumble was the last in a series of crucial plays that defined an exciting second half of play in which the lead changed hands three times. Amherst’s first score of the game came late in the third quarter on a short, two-play drive that showcased Amherst’s talented senior class. The Jeffs began the drive in excellent field position thanks to a 19-yard punt return by senior quad-captain Jay Wagstaff, which put Amherst on the Ephs’ 26-yard line. Wagstaff was back in action on the very next play, as senior quarterback Marsh Moseley connected with the speedy receiver on a 21-yard corner pattern. Ladd did the rest from there, carrying the ball five yards into the Williams end zone.
Two consecutive special teams plays allowed the Ephs to regain the momentum. First, David Bodner ’05 pushed his extra point attempt wide left to hold Amherst’s margin to 6-3. Crawley then returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards out to midfield. Five plays later, Williams was celebrating a touchdown of its own, as tailback Cory Catelli broke a couple of tackles to record a 10-yard touchdown run.
With Williams up 10-6 early in the fourth quarter, the capacity Homecoming crowd was temporarily silent, but Amherst would retaliate right away. After four consecutive Ladd runs advanced the Jeffs 27 yards to the Eph 39-yard line, Offensive Coordinator Don Faulstick wisely decided to call for a play action pass. The fake worked, freezing the defense for a second and allowing sophomore receiver Justin Macione to get behind the Williams secondary. Moseley threw a beautiful pass into the end zone, just out of the reach of cornerback Elliott Moffie and right into the waiting arms of Macione. The 39-yard touchdown was only Moseley’s third completion of the afternoon, but it was good enough to give Amherst a 13-10 advantage, a lead that the Jeffs would not relinquish.
Williams would get three chances to reclaim the lead, but the Amherst defense rebuffed the Ephs each time. Williams’ first attempt was brought to an end with senior free safety Bob Sargent’s second interception of the game.
The Ephs had more success on their next possession, however, as Crawley broke a 35-yard run to put Williams deep inside Amherst territory. The Eph drive stalled shortly thereafter, and Williams was faced with a fourth-and-two at the Jeff 20-yard line. Head Coach Mike Whalen sent the field goal kicking unit onto the field, and it looked as if Matt Gustafson would attempt a 37-yard field goal with the hope of tying the game at 13. But the play was a fake, which seemed to fool a number of Amherst defenders, but not senior quad-captain Dave Borgonzi. Borgonzi followed Gustafson all the way and leveled the hapless kicker five yards short of a first down. In addition to the fake field goal, Whalen also called a double reverse and a flea-flicker.
With just over five minutes to play, Amherst was in a position to run out the clock with a sustained drive. Everyone watching the game knew that Amherst would ride its workhorse, Fletcher Ladd, without fail at this point in the game. Sure enough, Ladd carried the ball seven consecutive times, picking up 38 yards and two critical first downs. But Ladd came up just short in his attempt to gain a back-breaking third first down, as the Eph D stopped Ladd just short of converting a fourth-and-one. Williams got the ball back at its own 41-yard line with 1:21 to play.
Williams scored the only three points of the first half on a 25-yard Matt Gustafson field goal that capped a methodical, 17-play, 59-yard drive to open the game. The Jeffs were fortunate to enter the break trailing by only three. Williams twice turned the ball over on downs in Amherst territory in the first half, including one stop at the goal line. Amherst, meanwhile, was one-dimensional on offense. Moseley was 0-2 in the first half with one interception.
This win was particularly meaningful for Amherst’s seniors, as this game was, in all likelihood, their last in competitive football. The Amherst class of 2005 has provided steady leadership all the season, and that was never more evident than in this final victory. Ladd of course stands out for his stellar performance-for which he earned NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors. It was one thing to carry the ball 34 times in week one against Hamilton College, but it takes a special runner to be able to undertake that same workload in week eight against Williams.
“I was definitely healthier going into the game than in years past; I honestly think the celebration on the field took more out of me than the 34 carries,” said Ladd.
Head Coach E.J. Mills had nothing but praise for Ladd and his impressive accomplishments. “Fletcher is the man,” said Mills. “He is a tough kid who has always risen to the occasion. He’s as good as you’re ever going to see.”
But Ladd was not the only senior to make a meaningful contribution on offense against Williams. While Marsh Moseley (3-10-75-2) has had better statistical days during his storied four-year tenure at the helm of the Jeff offense, he connected on the big passes when he had to. Moseley’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Macione was his last collegiate pass attempt, and his does not get much better than that. Jay Wagstaff was a central figure on Amherst’s first touchdown. His 19-yard punt return and 25-yard catch revitalized the Amherst attack. Matt Monteith ’05, who has had to play in Ladd’s shadow for much of the season, carried the ball 11 times for 39 yards to help keep Ladd fresh. Tight end Ryan Sykes had one of the three Amherst receptions on the afternoon, and was an integral part of Amherst’s blocking schemes. Senior offensive linemen Sean Carroll and Chris Riordan and fullback T. Bennett ’05 did much to facilitate Amherst’s success in this regard as well.
The seniors were equally impressive on defense. Senior linebacker Mike Salvatore had a career day against Williams. Salvatore was all over the field, recording a game-high 16 tackles. Fellow linebacker Dave Borgonzi courageously played through a nagging injury and certainly made his presence felt. Borgonzi snuffed out Williams’ fake field goal and helped to keep Crawley out of the end zone on fourth-and-goal in the first half. Bob Sargent also had a career day with two interceptions. Strong safety Chris Scarpelli ’05 and cornerback Rob Walsh ’05 combined to force and recover the Crawley fumble which assured the Jeffs of victory. Their classmates, quad-captain B.J. Gaddour and Chris Conroy, were forced to sit out this game due to injury.
Wide receiver T. Patterson, safety Bryan Dolan and David Bodner round out the stellar Class of 2005. The seniors had a career record of 23-9.
“We wanted to win the game for our seniors to send them out the right way,” said Mills. “Fortunately enough, we were able to do that.”